Dance, Features, News, Performing arts

A brave new step

What makes a father-of-two with no formal dance training sign up to dance in a major regional arts festival?

Nina Levy spoke to Carl Heslop, dancer in Annette Carmichael’s new work The Beauty Index, which will premiere at Denmark’s Brave New Works Festival this November, to find out.

Nina Levy: Tell me about yourself…
Carl Heslop: I am a Registered Nurse and Public Health PhD candidate from the south coast of WA. I’m also the father of two fantastically precocious young boys who are my drive for being involved in The Beauty Index. Prior to this work, my dance and performing arts experience is largely summed as enthusiastic participation in large scale recreational dancing experiences (festivals and concerts). The Beauty Index will be my very first time performing and a major running leap away from my comfort zone.

Annette Carmichael rehearsing the cast of ‘The Beauty Index’. Photo: Nic Duncan.

NL: And The Beauty Index? Tell me about the project.
CH: The work explores localised resonance of global events in the context of beauty and terror. It is our interpretation, reaction and examination of a world of beauty and terror and our ability to control and understand it. The work is by amateur performers with Annette [Carmichael, director] guiding us through the stages of creating movement and shape with our bodies. The work is constantly changing and growing as we become more comfortable in our role as “performers”.

The Beauty Index will be my very first time performing and a major running leap away from my comfort zone.

NL: How did you come to be involved in the project?
CH: Picture a dark carpark, nestled next to a football oval and a scout hall. The Creation of Now [an intergenerational community dance project directed by Carmichael presented at Brave New Works 2015] has just finished a wonderfully successful run of shows. Imagine a fleeting conversation between the director (Annette) and a slightly emotional husband of a community dance performer (me). Fast-forward eighteen months; my wife coming home, informing me Annette was going ahead with the men’s dance project I’d inspired her to pull together, try-outs were coming up – and she was looking forward to me attending. I could hardly remember the conversation, let alone agreeing to commit, or being terribly inspirational – but couldn’t leave Annette hanging. I was also eager to show my sons that dancing and performing is something all men can do if they want to – and that if they ever wish to explore dance they can and I’ll support them.

The work is constantly changing and growing as we become more comfortable in our role as ‘performers’. Photo: Nic Duncan.

NL: Who else is involved in the project?
CH: Annette Carmichael is our director, choreographer and drill sergeant – whipping a group of 16 men with little to no dance experience in to a team that can pull off this incredible vision. Annette is working with an amazing sound designer in James Gentle, and teaming with visual designers Kevin Draper and Indra Geidans; costume designer Symantha Parr; producer, Sandi Woo; project co-ordinator, Anna Boaden; and photographer, Nic Duncan.

Filmmaker Robert Castiglione hovers amongst us at rehearsals and invites us for tear-inducing interviews as part of making a documentary about the process of The Beauty Index. Scott Elstermann and Samuel le Breton are our polished (and experienced) performers who provide our work with appreciated technical ability through the middle of the performance.

I was also eager to show my sons that dancing and performing is something all men can do if they want to.

NL: How often do you rehearse? And what do rehearsals involve?
CH: Group One, the core performance group, began rehearsing five hours per week in June, meeting for three hours on Sunday afternoons and a two-hour session on Mondays. Sundays are about creation and development of our choreography – working together to build on the performance with Annette guiding us through the process. Mondays are about strengthening our bodies through Pilates and refining our work from Sunday. We were joined by Group Two at the end of July, and we will work together on Mondays in the run up to the performance in early November.

NL: What has been the highlight, so far, of working on The Beauty Index?
CH: Performing our group’s entire core work to the newly arrived Group Two troupe, Scott and Sam, and the rest of the production team. To know how far we’d come in a matter of weeks, from literally learning about the concept of movement and breathing to performing such a complex piece of choreography was a tribute to of our hard work and commitment – and Annette’s vision and trust. Bring on November.

NL: And what has been the greatest challenge?
CH: Aside from my lack of flexibility, memorising steps and not counting out-loud, one of the greatest challenges has been the time commitment. With a “full and interesting” home life and a work schedule that often involves night duty – being punctual and full of energy can be taxing.

Find out more about ‘The Beauty Index’ and Brave New Works here.

Read more about Annette Carmichael’s work here.

Top photo: Carl Heslop rehearsing ‘The Beauty Index’. Photo: Nic Duncan.

Below: A short video about the project.

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