The Master and his Muse
Internationally lauded dancer Paul White has returned to Australian Dance Theatre to star in the Sydney season of Garry Stewart’s acclaimed Be Your Self. As opening night looms, both Paul and Garry speak to Garrett Bithell.
Garry Stewart, the Artistic Director of Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), and multi-awarding-winning dancer Paul White have long-standing relationship. The two worked together extensively during White’s three-year stint at the company a decade ago in his early career, before he became one of Australia’s most revered and in-demand dancing exports.
“Paul is really blessed kinaesthetically,” Stewart tells SX. “The way his body and musculature and neurological system are put together is amazing. He has a particular kind of intelligence, and is extremely inquisitive and receptive. He also has a calmness about him, which is extraordinary.
“Some people are just born dancers and he’s one of them. There are rare individuals who are just put together that way.”
After periods with London-based DV8 Physical Theatre, Meryl Tankard, Tanja Liedtke, Narelle Benjamin, Nigel Jamieson, as well as developing an impressive reputation for transcendent solo work including Tankard’s The Oracle, and Anatomy of an Afternoon with Martin del Amo, part of this year’s Sydney Festival, White is performing in the Sydney season of ADT’s Be Your Self, which premiered at the Adelaide Arts Festival in 2010.
Integrating ADT’s famous high-impact contemporary dance, music, spoken word, video and architectural design, Be Your Self explores the body and mind, from the biological to the psychological.
“We have regular Buddhist mediations at ADT,” Stewart says, “and when we first started doing that a few years ago it was with a Buddhist monk. A lot of the discussion seemed to focus on the notion of the illusion of ‘the self’, the illusion of ‘I’. The primary underpinning of Buddhism is a deconstruction of ‘the self’, and calling into question the centrality of the ‘I’ in our world.
“It made me wonder about what ‘the self’ is exactly, and that it could be interesting subject matter for my next work.”
For White, he is thrilled to have some company in the rehearsal studio. “The last few years I’ve been working mainly as a solo or duo artist, so it’s actually nice to be around people and have some interaction,” he tells SX. “It’s high-velocity dance – it is ADT after all – so there has been a physical shock because I haven’t been dancing like this for ten years!
“I think Garry has chilled out a bit though!”
White started dancing in Mackay in Queensland when he was three years old, and his first professional gigs were commercial bookings. “It was all tits and arse,” he laughs. “Sleaze Ball, Queens Ball, fashion parades, dance clubs – I was a total commercial bunny.”
But it’s the cerebral aspect of dance that ultimately sustains him. “Particularly with contemporary dance and dance theatre, in order to find new movements or create a work you’ve never seen before, the whole process is always about inquiry,” he tells. “So that’s the driving force of my work day to day – and sometimes dance hurts so you’ve got to have something that pulls you along!
“In terms of performance, it’s the connection and the sharing that goes on between performer and audience that I really enjoy.”
Whereas theatre is always going to have a level of specificity due to the use of language, dance is endlessly interpretive and more intensely expressive, White asserts. “Dance can always be interpreted by an audience. During Anatomy of an Afternoon, some people thought I was just impersonating animals – which I was at some points – and others felt that I was this man on another planet!
“The broadness of people’s interpretations is what I really like about dance.”
It follows that one of White’s biggest bugbears is the slashing of arts funding. “I think people underestimate the arts in terms of what it can provide people,” he says. “It’s been on my mind for the past few years – why is the government cutting arts funding? Clearly the arts contributes to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing in a way that a broadband network or the army certainly can’t.”
Photos: Regis Lansac
Be Your Self, Sydney Theatre (22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay) from May 31 – June 3. Bookings at www.sydneytheatre.org.au.