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Regional Art Stories Interview | Madeleine Krenek and Frankie Snowdon

Can you give us some insight into your artistic practice?

Our artistic practice sits in the realm of experimental/contemporary dance – our training, investigations and practice into and of the physical moving body underpin all the facets of our dance making, teaching, choreography and general obsession with/love for the form. We like making work that sits a little outside what the layperson might understand to constitute how dance is experienced, often creating site specific, immersive projects that require our audience to be both inquisitive and trusting of what we ask of them. In our work as dance educators, we wholeheartedly believe in the empowerment of young people through their investigations of what dance can be for each of them and champion always imagination, risk and bravery above technical excellence or “perfection”. This sort of thinking/approach is of course not exclusive to young people, but all people we teach, our collaborators and ourselves. We strive to make work and hold space that sees dance act as an instigator for greater conversations and ponderings on the world at large and our experiences as people in it.

Tell us a bit about your backgrounds, how you met and came to be working together.

We met when we started our tertiary dance training at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2006. Maddy was born and grew up in Christchurch NZ and Frankie was born and grew up in Alice Springs/Mparntwe in the NT. Both of us had moved quite a long way away from the places we grew up and were without many other people to support us in Melbourne, and we found an easy understanding and pretty solid friendship from the get go. Undertaking tertiary dance training is a really gruelling and confronting experience, especially when you know you’re preparing for a life in an industry where the likelihood of a long and sustainable career is extremely rare, so your allies and co-conspirators are hugely important – we’ve relied on each other a lot over the past 11 years both professionally and personally and its this super solid foundation that has enabled us to weather all sorts of storms.

In our second year of university, we formed a collective called 2NDTOE with 5 other exceptional dance artists and began making work together and teaching in highschools around Melbourne while we were studying. We debuted our first full length work in 2009 and continued work together as 2NDTOE up until 2015, in which time we Independently created and presented 3 full length works, established dance programs in multiple schools around Victoria and cheered each other on as we all managed to be employed as dancers for major companies including Chunky Move and Lucy Guerin as well as working with seminal and prolific independent dance artists including Jo Lloyd, Antony Hamilton and Lee Serle.

Maddy and I spent a majority of our time bouncing between Europe, The US and Australia from late 2013 – 2015 finding spaces to work on projects for ourselves and also collaborating with other dance artists on major works, small independent projects, residencies and research before deciding to re-focus our time and energy in the Central Australian Desert. 2NDTOE founded a dance education program called Alice Can Dance in 2012, which in its first iteration involved groups of students from 5 schools in Alice Springs, and has grown to include over 250 students from 10 public schools in the Central Australian Region, including Ntaria community to the west of Alice Springs. This program and our ongoing efforts to see more contemporary dance in schools anchored us here at a time when we were both at a bit of a loss, and since then we have made a huge effort to contribute to the recognition of Regional Australia as a fertile and important place for the fostering of dance practices and projects on multiple levels. We premiered our first new professional work The Perception Experiment in 2017, on which we collaborated with 8 artists from the Northern Territory and Victoria and will present our second full-length work The Lost Dance Projectin May this year (2018).

You recently received Regional Arts Fund funding for The Lost Dance Project. Could you tell us a bit about this project?

Recent evidence suggests our diminishing willingness and/or ability to communicate through person-to-person conversation, and a growing tendency to shy away from interaction and emotion. The Lost Dance Project is an investigation and comment on the rise of a digital generation, the effects of social media on interpersonal relationships and ability to communicate, and the need to cultivate physical human interactions and connections despite both of these things. It is also an experiment in engagement with live art, which will include contemporary dance, the Internet, street art and pop-up performance. One of the main aims of the project is to encourage a broad cross-section of the community, to re-discover their connections to their surroundings, to art and to each other.

The project incorporates multiple processes and outcomes including a school holiday program engaging young people in the creation of a dance piece of their own and 4 large scale paste-up images which will be installed around the CBD of Alice Springs. In the lead up to the final season of the full length work - which will be created and performed by 8 professional artists from the NT and wider Australia – a treasure hunt ensues with those who interact with the art works by social media sharing or submitting to the hotline becoming part of a web of people who receive anonymous clues and invitations to different dance happenings up until they are led to the site of the final work at a disused location in the CBD.

What does a typical day involve for you both?

We’re not sure if there is such thing as a typical day in our world! As independent artists we find ourselves wearing multiple hats often and have to juggle a lot of different things in order to stay financially afloat as well as creatively fulfilled and engaged. In every week we will: teach multiple classes to various participants including school kids, adult beginners and professional level dancers, we’ll serve a lot of coffee to the population of Alice Springs from The Goods which is a small business that Frankie and her partner own, we’ll attend various art related events/meetings with our peers, we’ll conspire to create the next “big thing”, we’ll laugh a lot, drink wine and almost always work on one of the multiple grants/budgets/plans for projects which is a never-ending aspect of working as an Independent and trying to sustain a career in the arts. On top of this we’ll maintain our relationships, spend time with our friends and family and try and get enough sleep. There’s not really such thing as a “quiet week” and there are moments when we’re on top of everything and feel invincible, and moments when nothing falls into place and we find ourselves clawing back to a stable position. It’s unfortunately not particularly romantic, BUT it is exceptionally rewarding when months of this sort of stuff culminates in the creation of a new work, a breakthrough in our individual or collective practices, the chance to dance as much as possible, and the solidification of relationships with the many people who collaborate, participate or egg us on along the way.

What is the best part about living and working in Alice Springs/Regional Australia? And what are some of the challenges that you face?

Alice Springs/Mparntwe (the area’s Arrernte name) is a unique, beautiful and significant place. It’s geography, social constructs and diversity make it complex and sometimes challenging, but also a loyal and fierce teacher and ongoing source of inspiration (talking about the place as if it is a person may seem strange but it does feel as though it takes on the nuance and shifting temperament of a living thing, more so than anywhere else we have lived or worked). There are many things to be said and unpacked about Alice, but from an artistic point of view we have found a community here that is at once ready to support, enable and challenge our philosophies and practices with a realness and generosity that can be hard to access in major cities.

The isolation could be seen as a deterrent for some, but we’ve found that we are able to focus in on our practice and make more time for art and fulfilling all of our ambitions with it from here, as well as deeply investing in relationships with people whom we want to work with/learn from/spend time with. Frankie grew up in Alice, and this helps to feel connected and supported here, and also provides a lived history, understanding and respect for the place that would take longer to develop if neither of us had set foot here before. We think there is generally a rapidly growing interest in professional artists choosing to work outside major centres for all sorts of reasons – economic, social, political – and we feel privileged and proud to be counted amongst some of the most hard working, intelligent and inspirational people we’ve ever met.

Of course there are challenges – the competitiveness of successfully securing funding from increasingly diminishing pools is a reality anywhere in Australia, and not one we are immune to here. Unfortunately most of the challenges relate to money, which is a boring but real problem/conversation. When we’re budgeting projects we have to add thousands of dollars in order to bring in collaborators from outside of Alice Springs, which is somewhat unavoidable as the pool of professional contemporary dancers is extremely small. To gain exposure for our work, we try and allocate funding to bring in programmers/producers/potential partner and peers when we premiere work, but again, this adds thousands of dollars onto our budgets, which can make or break a project.

Finally, which artists do you most admire? What is it about their work that makes them stand out to you?

There are a handful of dance artists in Australia who have been particularly significant to both of us throughout our careers and whose work we think epitomises some of what is so extremely special about the Independent Dance Sector in Australia. As young dancers (and some of them have been previously mentioned in this interview) Antony Hamilton, Jo Lloyd, Lee Serle and Luke George mentored, championed and inspired us, and their work today is testament to a life lived with a commitment to rigour, creative risk and excellence against all odds. They have carved spaces for themselves and their individual distinctive practices with a tenacity and belief that we hope we can emulate. Of our generation, we are keenly following our dear friend Lillian Steiner as she continues make her mark as one of the most breathtaking performers and astute dance makers of our generation. I think it’s also important to say that whilst these people are specifically worth mentioning, we possess a profound respect and general awe for most artists of our generation who are brave enough to continue to push for the evolution and recognition of arts practice - in particular dance and other performance based forms – against mounting odds, and particularly those belonging to minority and far-too-long overlooked demographics.

Solidarity with the makers, movers and shakers, no matter where you’re doing it, forever.

Thanks so much Maddy and Frankie!