2016 Blog

TRAILBLAZE- Japan Jan 9 - Feb 4 2016 Trail 1 to Trail 27


This project explores maps. And it examines the idea of mapping:
Mapping as a way of finding our place in the world; as a way of trying to make sense of that world; and mapping as a metaphor for the way we go about making art-

Why maps?

I just happen to like maps. I like their shapes and designs and rich colours and the  promise they hold- of adventure. I like the idea that mapmaking closely resembles the craft of creating art. I like their connection to history. I like their accessibility. I like being able to quickly communicate ideas using lines and shapes and colours and markers. I like being able to quickly draw a mud map of our block of land on a napkin for my granddaughter to indicate strategic places to hide the easter eggs. And I like the idea of the mental map- the one you create in your mind before you set out on a journey or try to remember the house you lived in as a child. . 

This current journey has led me into some unfamiliar territory - a good enough reason for any artist to set out. Trails made by rescue teams across flooded fields in the town of Yamamoto near Sendai in Japan  following the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 . And new trails - dance trails created in January 2016, working with a group of survivors who made a dance across that same landscape.
It has also let me see my own surrounds in a new light- the trails made by soldier crabs at Shoal Point in Queensland and their connection to the whole ecological balance of the region. And finally to those outback trails in Winton and Longreach walked down by our elders and the stories they told me about their journeys.
Framing the blog

I am interested in the way art is created. In the making of any art, the forces of control and spontaneity are always at work, wrestling with each other in the struggle of trying to create something new and something fresh. And in between the forces of control and spontaneity, the blank space of possibilities. Each blog entry will explore the influence these two dynamic forces have on the journey, the maps and the art works being created. And also how language, both spoken and unspoken play a part.

And finally, this journey is about creating access and opportunities for Queensland artists and communities to participate at an international level. It continues to build upon our company's strong cultural relationship over 3 years with Able Arts and Tanpopo and community organisations such as Polaris -helping to plant seeds for further cultural exchanges and collaborative projects.

Disability dance artist Mathew Deane will join young mentoree Kyla Ranger in a series of dance workshops, performances and films during the tour.
Dance artists Shin Sakuma and Yayoi Watanabe from Tanpopo will join me in Yamamoto cho to create dances with a group of people with disabilities from Polaris. These dances will based around their work cleaning duties and their reflections of the Tsunami of 2011.
And the dance films made in Australia in September 2015 with elderly residents from aged care centres in Longreach and Mackay Queensland will be screened at the Nara Happy Spot Arts Festival and at the Osaka B1 exhibition space. A selection of these films will then be entered into the London Frame Dance Film Festival and the Los Angeles Dance West Film Festival.
TRAIL 1:  Lost in Transition -  from 2D to 3D 




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                                        CONTROL                                             PRETENDING TO BE IN CONTROL                                                                UNCONTROL                                                               





The Japanese rail system is one of the most efficient systems in the world.
Trains arrive and depart precisely at the time set down. People line up in a respectful and orderly manner alongside designated platform markers indicating the carriage number that corresponds to your ticket. And the carriage door stops precisely at that designated marker. The Tokyo rail system is a highly controlled and efficient system of 21st century engineering. Clinging to our map of the Tokyo rail system, it appeared that everything was under control.




Maps give the impression of authority. And its authority that you need when you enter the Tokyo rail system. But moving from the neatly ordered two dimensional representation of train lines to the thee dimensional world of a busy airport station with the clock ticking away, lack of sleep, too many bags and using a different language system, is something else altogether.  



A visual artist faces the opposite dilemna in trying to render a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional blank canvas. Illusion is the part of the trick.



For me, the map had become an illusion. It wasn't giving me what I wanted. The map only provided the necessary important information.  Maps of course are meant to do this. They are not meant to show everything.  But for me that night it seemed there were gaping blank spaces on that piece of paper that didn't tell me which platform to go to, how long it was to walk from the JR office to the platform or that we had missed our train link to Sendai. After misinterpreting a direction from a train guard to get a bus we waked around in circles. I was accompanied by Kyla Ranger who had worked with me for 2 years as a mentoree.  . We were stressed and definitely not in control. I was running a dance workshop the next morning in Sendai, 400 kms away.  At that point a young woman came over and calmly pointed us in the right direction. She even walked us to our platform entrance. For me she was Circa poitning Odysseus in the right direction.





" I will set you a course and chart each seamark,

  so neither on sea nor land will some new trap

  ensnare you in trouble, make you suffer more."


The Odyssey  by  Homer






We got to Tokyo Station at midnight, took a room at an expensive hotel close to the railway and left the next morning on the 6.30am Shinkansen express to Sendai.


CONFESSION:   It wasn't the fault of the map. It was a combination of factors..sleep deprivation, language and a tight schedule that left little room for error. 





So what has this got to do with making art?



The blank spaces on that rail map is perhaps a good place to begin. 



"It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me......... Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annhilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour, and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snow."

Moby Dick  by Herman Melville






TRAIL 2  - THE BLANK SPACE   -  A Wide Landscape of Snows  - Finding Mount Zao 





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 Trail 2 to a field of snow                                                                 We start with a blank: a world of possibility and try to make our mark                                 I am here




11th January

After leaving Sendai we make our way towards Mt Zao. The clouds promise snow. We are not disappointed. But it's light, whispery snow. 

I wonder what Matsuo Basho would have made of all this. Trudging through forest trails with cameras, sound equipment a mobile phone and two pairs of thermals.

Like Wordsworth, Basho was a walking poet. He loved trails. Basho would have walked through this region over five hundred years ago.


New Years first snow-ah-

just barely enough to tilt

the daffodil


Hatsuyuki ya

suisen no ha no

tawamu made


Narrow Road to the Interior by Matsuo Basho 1644-1694


Basho would have embraced the blank space.   The simplicity of his Haiku allows us to fill in the spaces with our own thoughts, feelings and images.  








For some of us that blank space can mean the dread of staring at an empty page for days on end, without knowing what to say...."the dumb blankness"

I think Basho would have had his moments.



But it can also present a world of possibility.  Easier said than done. 





 Thoughts on blank spaces......


In theatre, writing, music and dance it is the blank space that gives me the opportunity to let go of control and embrace moments of sponteneity. 




As a teacher and as a student it was the space provided by the question rather than the explanation.


It was about letting go of the well planned blueprint of a workshop lesson plan and responding to what a participant has said.  It can sometimes lead you up a garden pathway to nowhere or it can lead to new understandings, new perspectives and fresh ideas.



As a theatre director it was that space between the actor and the audience - a space where the audience and the actor could inhabit together.  During rehearsals I would often draw an imaginary moveable line between the audience and the actors on stage.  If the writing was too forced and bombarded the audience with too much meaning, too many words or dumbed down the meaning, I would imagine the line moving away from the centre and pushing the audience back into their seats or lulling them to sleep. Between exposition and discovery.  If the writing was too sparse or the actor's not fully engaged then it would mean the audience had to work too hard and that line would lead to frustration.


As a director I found I enjoyed it more when I worked with actors who understood the freedom the blank space offered and I could leave them to change their blocking each night, adding freshness to the play as their actions were played in the moment. 














 TRAIL  3:  Snowflakes on the Pavement



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      3 different trails outside Monterey Hotel in Sendai                The hexagonal snow crystal                        commuters below me follow their designated trails


     It's -4 deg and snowing in the northern Japanese city of Sendai. Outside on the pavement of Monterey Hotel in the northern Japanese city of Sendai are 3

     different trails. The first trail is made up of bricks. This is the trail that most commuters walk along to get to their destination. The second trail is made of 4 metal

     parallel lines that are raised above the pavement. These lines run through every street in Sendai. They are designed for blind people.  The third trail is made by

     the snow. This trail is more illusive and probably wouldn't rate as a "proper"  trail. It's all over the place and has no real course or direction.


     But it's the trail I'm most interested in. The snow crystal is a powerful metaphor for trying to describe the tensions that operate between the forces of control

     and the forces spontaneity in art making. Film editor Walter Murch makes this observation:                                                     

      Snow is made up of billions of snow crystals.
     The crystals first begin in the clouds.  
     Tiny molecules of water vapour begin to freeze into ice.
     The water molecules stack together to form a lattice in the shape of a hexagon
      The basic molecular shape of a water molecule is a hexagon - six sides.
      A crystallising process begins to take shape
      The water vapour which is freezing into the snow crystal is trying to control the process but can't keep up with spontaneity of the crystallising process.
     The snow crystal is crystallising faster than the water molecules can keep up with it.  The water molecules are essentially saying slow down slow down I can't  keep up with you.
      If the water molecule could keep up and form the perfect hexagon, all snow flakes would look the same...like the pavement bricks- boring. BUT as the crystals form faster and
      fall through the clouds at different temperatures, the shapes of the crystals change- While they still retain the basic hexagonal shape of having six sides ,
      each snow flake is different and each has a unique design.
     Spontaneity over total control of the water molecule.
     It is this tension that artists operate with everytime an art work is being constructed.  
    How fresh can my idea be, without giving in to excesive control and having the work turn out like those paving bricks?
    As we will be in the northern hemisphere's winter, snow will play an important part in how the stories and dances are played out. 
    Most of our journeys today are on asphalt or concrete.   Most cover the streets of our towns. 
    But In Longreach and Winton the desert sand held the imprints of our feet -even if fleetingly, before the wind swept it away
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   In Japan the winter snow will also make our marks and tracks visible before they melt or are covered with more snow. 
   But the nature of snow itself plays an even more important role in this project than a mere surface to walk or dance upon.  
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                                                                                                           Trying to work out where I stand in the spectrum between spontaneity and control." 
  The forces of Spontaneity and Control
   In the process of making art whether it be a dance, or film or painting or sculpture, we are continually wrestling with
   2 conflicting forces.  
  The act of spontaneity - in  to trying to create something, new, free of constraints, fresh and pure. And on the other hand trying
   to control the form.
  Too much spontaneity can at times feel chaotic, yet as artists we continually strive for its freshness and vibrancy.  
  Too much control over it can render it lifeless, uniform and dull - almost machine-like.. Control it too much and the art work can become too laboured.
 How does this link into the way we work at Crossroad Arts?
  The very nature of the way we work at Crossroad Arts contains a strong degree of spontaneity. In the case of Troika, many of the dances
  were invented in the moment on location and improvised during the execution.  We had little control 
  of the weather and the surrounding environment. So we used what was around 
  us..  .Boulders, dust, water and rocks.  We had to also work with the capabilities, inspiration of the performers. Often we had little control on
  what might take place.... Sally in water.... Mathew in the forest.  
  There were however other times when the conditions needed greater control: Choreographing Mathew at Beach, dancers in hallway etc.
After learning the text of The Fishwife and the Changeling's narrative, we had control over the story....but the most interesting and satisfying performances occurred when we spontaneously created  sub plots and invented character histories. Or when we improvised dance and creative movement during the story.  That's when the story became fresh and alive and...sometimes risky.
During rehearsals I often would strive for control of a scene ...script perfect, stage positions etc... Believing at that time that this was the way to play it, until somebody did something different , moved a different way, spoke a different line ,often by accident and suddenly it shone a new light on the scene and there was another.         way of playing it...Fresh and Alive.  It was a case of setting up an environment which gave the actors permission to do this...to make mistakes and invent something.         new.
Capturing the spontaneity of the girl riding the bicycle in Yamamoto Town as opposed to setting up the shot and choreographing the movements.
So as artists, whether we are film makers, editors or visual artists, we are continually wrestling with these two forces: Spontaneity and Control.








 TRAIL  4:     Marking the route



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 Kyla R makes her way upstream marking the way                                                 A trail of sorts                                                 Snow falls::Kyla connects to the stones and begins her dance


 The earliest maps were thought to have been created to help people find their way and to reduce their fear of the unknown.   Marks were made on trees and in the soil.

Markers were created by piling stones on top of each other for others to see from a distance.   At the base of the volcano Mt Zao, we create an instalation of stones and twine.

 Some kind of order is established before the snow becomes too heavy.   



 8000 kms away on Newport Beach in Sydney a similar installation is erected around water

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Spontaneous creation: A wave hits the rocks and the stones come               Sue M-M's installation                                                                                          Stone spiral

crashing down.       












TRAIL  5:   Ichigo Hunters  -  Hunting for strawberries in the blank space



One of the reasons I came to Japan was at the invitation of Able Arts, to work with people in the Sendai region who had been affected by the 2011

earthquake and Tsunami. This was my 3rd visit. I had previously run creative workshops and made 2 films with participants in Koriyama and Yamamoto Cho.

Many of these people had a disability and had been left homeless.  In Australia I had run creative recovery projects in Mackay and in Rockhampton following

the 2009 and 2011 floods. 


BACKGROUND: 15, 893 people died in the Sendai region following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11 2011. 228,863 people had lost their homes

and were living in temporary housing. 15 of these people turned up at a strawberry farm in Yamamoto cho at 10.30am Sunday morning 10th January 2016

to take part in a dance workshop.  The participants worked at the farm carrying out cleaning duties and some harvesting.  GRA operate the hydroponic farm

for the purpose of rebuilding the strawberry industry in the region.  They work in partnership with Polaris a local NPO who work with people with a disability and

they in turn partner with Able Arts who are located in Tokyo. Everyone was working towards rebuilding the lives of the people in the Sendai region.



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 For Motohisa Fujisawa (Amu) the reality of working in the                Participants circle the blank space                           Amu hunts for the imaginary strawberry and finds it

 controlled world of the strawberry farm soon became                                                                                                        His capacity to create something from seemingly

something very different when he saw the possibilities of                                                                                                    nothing brought a smile on everyone's face and

creating a spontaneous playful  world of creativity in the                                                                                                     gave them confidence to tackle the empty space.

blank white space of the dance workshop.


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     The dance begins                                                                        Amu the hunter tastes the victory of the hunt                        Tatsuya Katsube the manager of the farm sees the possibilities of

                                                                                                                                                                                                 creative play in a game of Grandma's footsteps. 

















TRAIL  6:   "...hearing what's not there.."    Paul Simon



 On Wednesday January 13, we travel 600kms south by train to join a group of Japanese musicians in a potato field in the city of Nara.  Crossroad Art's dancer

 Mathew Deane flies in from Australia with Jemima Hazel, our new sound recordist.  This section of the journey was about music and dance.



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     Shin and Mathew bounce off each other in the empty space                 scribbled map readings                                Spontaneous movements from Mathew create

                                                                                                                                                                                           spontaneous reactive movements from Shin-

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Art is made in the moment

                                                                                                                                                                                                         Fresh, alive and vibrant.




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                          Kumiko Yabu   and    Naoki Homma                                                                                                          Makoto Nomura



      Shin has kindly organised for 3 musicians to work with us for the day in Nara.  They take their cues from the surrounding sounds, sights and the 2 dancers.

      Music is made in the moment- there is no sheet music or remembered tunes.  Just music...raw, alive and playful.  And plenty of room for sience between the notes.  


      Just as maps and writing and dance have empty spaces, so does music?


      In a profile of the songwriter Paul Simon, AlexWilkinson observed that  " As a tour progresses, musicians....tend to play more. A lot of what Simon hoped to do in

      rehearsals was strip away parts. 'There's always a lot of clutter,' he said. "After a while, it gets a little roccoco. "  He tells the musicians.  "You don't have to play the

      whole phrase. Leave out the notes. It's that thing of tricking the ear into hearing what's not there....Drop two notes now and then play the shadow of it."
















TRAIL  7:  Hotel Asyi to Seven Eleven and back



 Any chance of following exotic trails through the ancient city of Nara and tasting it's fine food is quickly diminished in direct proportion to the amount of film editing

 before me. As the project continues so does the film footage. My trail now becomes a routine journey of 150 metres between the hotel and the Seven Eleven store.  

The only empty space here is my stomach which now feeds on a steady diet of cabbage soup, noodles and a half bottle of saki. 



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TRAIL  8:   " I dare you!"


That's how Wayne Shorter describes playing jazz.



There's a kind of danger in the air today at Tanpopo's main hall where 12 musician's and dancers have come together.  Lot's of daring is going on.



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Walk into this room and you might think there's a riot going on.   Chaos rules!!


One moment a person throws themselves wildly across the floor followed by another person in a wheelchair yelling out at the top of their voice.

Someone else is banging loudly on a drum with no definite beat, while another thumps their open hand across the keys of the piano. Mallets are banging down across the metal bars of a Gamelan mettallophone.



This once flat Raushenberg empty space has now become a Jackson Pollack three dimensional painting of chaotic, spontaneous, discordant and wild colours of sound and movement.  This is no foot tappin' music. No point and tap here. No pirouettes.  It appears to be absolute anarchy. 


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White Painting by Robert Raushenberg  (three panel) 1951               Autumn Rhythm No 30  1950  by Jackson Pollack



To someone who likes to sit down and listen to Bach or watch ballet this can be very intimidating.



But very soon something begins to change.  Makato the piano player begins to settle into a repeating jazz like riff. A gamelan gong now creates a steady rhythm. The other players slow down and listen.


Soon there are more silences than there are notes.   The other players pick up from the riff and start to improvise.  The dancers slow down and begin to move closer together. They now connect with each other's bodies and a sort contact improvisation takes place.


I love this coming together of easten and western instuments, of dissonance and harmony and of people with and without disabilities with open minds that say 'I dare myself, I dare you."






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TRAIL  9:    Between two trees






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