Bodytorque choreographers: Joshua Consandine

23 October 2013 | By Jane Albert

Josh Consandine is a former principal artist with The Australian Ballet.  He returns to the company to make a work on our dancers for the Bodytorque season, and took time out from choreographing to chat with Jane Albert. 

What have you done since leaving The Australian Ballet?
I’d been at The Australian Ballet for ten years when I met Alexa Heckmann [the two are now married and have three young children]. We went over to Sydney Dance Company and did two-and-a-half years there. After a while Alexa wanted to keep dancing and I decided I needed to reskill so I did a post-graduate diploma in movement studies at NIDA, which I really enjoyed. I’ve worked in the industry with Jim Sharman, on his Cosi fan Tutte for Opera Australia, and as a movement consultant and choreographer with actors. I’m now working part-time at a Sydney highschool [SCEGGS Redlands] as the co-ordinator of ballet and I work casually at McDonald College and Alegria and Sydney Dance teaching ballet.

Why did you want to be part of Bodytorque?
Alexa and I entered the Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Ballet Project, a competition where you had to submit a synopsis, and choreographic and music ideas for a full-length ballet. We didn’t win but we came very close and David McAllister told me he’d really loved it and suggested I come and do Bodytorque. I’ve done a lot of choreography but it’s usually making people who don’t have the best technique, or aren’t the best dancers, look good, which is pretty challenging! I’ve choreographed some classical dance and musicals like Thoroughly Modern Millie, and worked with actors doing musical interludes, but this is good for me, it’s outside my routine.

Tell me about your work and how it relates to the theme “technique”?
Dance or art is not just about devising a formula or a process to create something. You can’t just put in a code and come out with a perfect ballet or a perfect ballet dancer, there are so many variables. But a dancer has a textbook picture in their mind about what a shape should look like, what an arabesque should look like. You work from a young age to create a product in your imagination but at the same time you know full well there is no perfection. There is no finite. So I’ve called it In-Finite – you’re in this state where you’re pursuing the finite but it’s an infinite struggle! It’s about my experience as a dancer, but it can be more universal than that. You can look at life, people getting up and trying to get along and do what they can. There’s no perfect life. Then over the top of that I have five dancers who represent aspects of the same person. We have three girls (Madeline Eastoe, Karen Nanasa, Heidi Martin) and two boys (Andrew Killian and Brett Simon) and they all play the same individual, the different parts, the inner dialogue we all have. I got the idea from the movie Adaptation and it was only on my second viewing when I realised Nicholas Cage and his twin brother are the same person, they’re not twins. There’s the laid-back guy and the one filled with anxiety, and there’s a beautiful moment when they look at each other and realise they’re nothing without each other. And that’s what life’s like. Although to set up that scenario, for people to understand and get it resolved, is a real challenge. At the moment it’s simplistic. Dance can be at its best when it’s simple. Very convoluted intellectual ideas can be lost. So they’re the ideas I need to communicate to the dancers, who need to be able to understand it and put flesh on the bones.

How does it feel to choreograph on your former colleagues? I’ve known Andrew [Killian] since he was in The Australian Ballet School and I was in the company. I remember him back then being very dynamic, very strong. He has a lot of experience and is extremely sharp. Madeline Eastoe is a very close acquaintance because I’m good friends with her husband Tim Harbour; we’ve spent time with each others’ kids, we danced together in Swan Lake, so I’ve worked with her at the top level. I love having her there because she’s so smart. Just having her in the room sharpens up the whole thing. But it’s not like I’m featuring them heavily, it’s not the Andrew and Madeleine show, it’s equal weight. Because they’re one person. But they’re principals, and they didn’t have to do it if they didn’t want to. Andrew has been involved in many Bodytorque seasons, I think maybe there’s a precedent that he and Madeleine are often involved in them.

Is your piece classical or contemporary dance?
It’s between classical and [the style of Czech choreographer Jiří] Kylián. The girls are on pointe. It’s Vivaldi, so it’s baroque. It starts fast and finishes fast. The girls are wearing black, because of the title: finite = black, sharp, it’s quite slick looking.

Is Kylián a choreographer who has influenced you?
I very much admire him. When I was young I was completely enamoured. I met him when he came out to stage Bella Figura with the Australian Ballet. He worked with us and was wonderful and when we were doing Bella I used to skip in to work. I do admire him very much, especially the counterbalance he uses in his choreography, those moments that seem so simple that you go, “of course”. Some of his pas de deux and trios, the simple, beautiful shapes are magic and you wonder, “where did that came from?”

What do you hope audiences get out of In-Finite?
I hope they sit there thinking, “I know that feeling”.

Get that feeling when Josh’s work goes on stage at Sydney Theatre as part of our Bodytorque.Technique season, five shows only from 31 October. Tickets here.