It’s important for me to make work that I want audiences to see rather than making work that audiences want to see: Interview with Dan Daw

Colour Photograph of Dan Daw performing. He is dressed in a flimsy, short white lace dress and wears black thigh-length stockings. He is partially sitting on a black stage with black background, leaning back, head turned looking at the floor, arms stretched out slight to the front of his body. His legs are raised off the floor. He has short, fair hair and tattoos on his arms.Dan Daw is an Australian-born artist, currently based in the UK. He collaborates with a growing network of companies and artists to develop new dance work for UK and international audiences. Among his most recent works are Beast and On One Condition. Beast is a 2015 Greenwich Dance and Trinity Laban Compass Commission, created in collaboration with choreographer Martin Forsberg, designer Jenny Nordberg and lighting designer Guy Hoare. On One Condition is directed by Graham Adey in collaboration with Dan Daw, and in partnership with Murmuration (AUS). Its world premiere was at Skånes Dansteater in Sweden in 2015.

Dan received the Dame Ruby Litchfield Scholarship, the Outlet Dance Award, the Russell Page Fellowship in Contemporary Dance and the Adelaide Fringe – Best Dance Award.

He is Associate Director of the Sydney-based, integrated performance company, Murmuration. He works closely with a collective of multi-disciplinary artists dedicated to creating innovative contemporary dance theatre.

Gaele Sobott: How do you describe yourself professionally?

Dan Daw: I’m a dance-maker and artist.

GS: I know you were born in South Australia but where?

DD: Whyalla. I was born and grew up there. A population of about 20 000 so it’s big enough to be called a city, a small city. I went to a mainstream school.

GS: Why do you say that?

DD: I say that because there was also a special school in Whyalla and my grandmother fought long and hard for me to be educated in a mainstream school. I recall my mother and grandmother standing in the headmaster’s office and refusing to leave until he agreed to allow me to enrol. They didn’t want me to be in the special education unit.

GS: You were close to your grandmother?

DD: Yes, very close.

GS: How did your interest in performance start as a child in Whyalla?

DD: Performance in my family goes way back. My grandmother choreographed for calisthenics and for graceful girl competitions. She choreographed a lot of routines, including routines for my mother. My mother was national ‘Most Graceful Girl’ champion. As a boy, I remember sitting on the sides watching them rehearse their routines. Going through my family history, I came to find out that my great uncle, my grandmother’s brother, was the dance critic for The Advertiser, The Australian and the magazine, Dance. So, there was a bit of a dance culture within my family.

I developed more of an interest in dance when I joined D’faces at Youth Arts in Whyalla when I was thirteen back in 1996.

GS: Tell me more about that organisation.

DD: It was and still is a youth theatre company. When I was involved, artists were flown from Adelaide to Whyalla to lead weekly dance and theatre workshops. The workshops were more rehearsals for developing new pieces of work which were staged at the Middleback Theatre in Whyalla. The director, James Winter, and choreographer, Ingrid Voorendt, had such a huge impact on me as a teenage boy. I knew I wanted to be a performer almost immediately, but still didn’t know how I could make that happen for myself.

GS: In 2002 you joined Restless Dance in Adelaide.  How did that come about?

DD:  Restless Dance came to Whyalla in the late 90’s and performed a work called Sex Juggling. I was really blown away by it. I hadn’t seen anything like it before.

GS: What was it that appealed to you?

DD: It was dance with an integrated ensemble and the work was of very high artistic quality. I’d been involved in D’faces and it was integrated but seeing Restless that afternoon was a light bulb moment. It was then that I understood my place in D’faces and that I could absolutely have a place within the sector as an artist. I understood that this was an ambition that could become real. An ambition that I could make happen.

GS: Had you previously thought that you may not have a place in the sector?

DD: I was told by my family several times that there may not be a place. Although they supported me in the beginning and in youth theatre, they kept saying, “Just remember it’s a hobby.” I was going to have none of that.

Restless helped me really come into my own. I began to think, actually there are things happening in Adelaide, in the city, that I need to find a way to access if I am going to begin the journey.

Read full interview

Access2Arts Making disability and art work

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