Bodytorque choreographers: Alice Topp

13 June 2014 | By Behind Ballet

Alice Topp, Bodytorque favourite and dancer of The Australian Ballet, will make her fourth work as part of Bodytorque.DNA. We spoke to her about her vision of a world where similarities are just as important as differences.

Tell us about the inspiration for your work Same Vein.
This year, we were working with the theme “DNA”. Instead of focusing on DNA as a blueprint for an individual, I started to think about what makes us the same. We’re all born into different countries and conditions and religions, but ultimately, we’ve all got flesh and blood and bone, we all bleed, we all want to be happy and healthy. There’s a shared human condition that connects us. Then I started looking at animals, and how closely related we are to them. We’re all made of the same matter; we’re all going to die.
I also decided to make a male-male pas de deux for the piece – because all love is the same.

Your works have always had a collaborative aspect – can you talk about that?
I love to be inspired by other artists. For me, creating a work is as much about the process as the product, and think we all learn a lot about ourselves and each other on that journey. The first work I ever made, Trace, was part of the Bodytorque.à la mode season, where each choreographer was paired with a designer. I worked with Georgia Lazzaro and Crystal Dunn, and the costumes became part of the choreography, with the dancers stretching and moving within the garments. For my next work, Scope, I collaborated with directing duo The Apiary, who made projections for the piece. For Tinted Windows, Toni Maticevski did the costumes: I’d seen his work on the catwalk, and there was such a dancing, floating quality to the pieces, even on models who were just walking; I thought, “Imagine if you were turning or jumping in those!”

The costumes for Same Vein are being designed by Gwendolynne – can you talk about this collaboration?
It’s been a different process for me with this work, as Gwendolynne came onto the project late in the piece, when all the movement had already been choreographed; so it’s been more about adapting some of her designs to dance. But that’s been beautiful: a lot of her stuff has really delicate beading, and is gorgeous to dance in, as it’s really feminine and soft. The beads pick up the light on stage and create patterns that are almost like feathering, which fits really well with the theme of DNA. The black-and-white costumes work really well: no single dancer is standing out with bold colour, they’re all synchronised, which is what I’m trying to say in the work – that we’re all essentially the same. And Gwendolynne’s been gorgeous to work with, she’s such a lovely person and just loves dance, so it’s been really harmonious.

With whom else have you collaborated on Same Vein?
The artist Brendan Harwood has created projections for the piece. They’re like ink blotting that morphs in and out, it’s quite kaleidescopic – everyone will have a different version of what the shapes are, it’s like any work of art! They’ll evoke different emotions in different viewers, and I wanted it to be open in that way.
I also worked with Kalman Warhaft, who was the dramaturge on the piece, and who was instrumental in its development. He was a dancer with Sydney Dance Company, and he’s been the person who’s posed a lot of questions for me, and forced me to think about how each part of the work relates to the whole, rather than getting carried away with movement and ideas. And he was enormously helpful organising things in Melbourne while I was performing in Sydney.

What’s your working process like with your dancers?
It’s a lot of workshopping; it’s quite time-consuming, but it means that the movement is bespoke for that dancer. It’s not like I go in with “these are the steps that I want!”. It’s more like “I was thinking this …” and they’ll try it, but they might come out of it differently, in a way that’s more consistent for them. This process eliminates the awkwardness of trying to do something that doesn’t fit your body. It’s much more tailor-made for each dancer.

See Same Vein and five other innovative new works as part of Bodytorque.DNA – three shows only! Get your tickets