Liesel Zink (Interview 25)

5 August, 2011 by No Comments

Liesel Zink is in rehearsal right now for a new work coming to Metro Arts Allies; she has created, choreographed, and is performing in A Collection of Various Selves, an appropriate title, perhaps, for this multi-faceted artist.

I ask Liesel whether she thinks of herself predominantly as one or other of these roles?  It’s flexible. ‘I have done a few movement rather than dance projects,’ there is a difference, ‘and I am now working more with actors as choreographer and beside them as performer.’ She continues, ‘I really enjoy shaping natural movement with actors, and I’m starting to combine the two in my own practice more and more.’ What also emerges as we chat for about an hour is her interest in psychology, research, body language, and the minutiae of daily human exchange as feeders for her own creativity.

A QUT graduate in Fine Arts (Dance), Liesel’s Honours research delved into body language. As she developed as a dancer she started to become interested in how we communicate in everyday ways through gesture and body-language. As far as story-telling is concerned, she examined the ways these are told through movement rather than words, and at how we abstract natural movement and the move from pedestrian into dance and heightened states. ‘It seemed quite natural to move into theatre – not high end virtuosic dance but messages through physical story-telling.’

Liesel grew up in Bowral in NSW where she learned ballet and thrived on its demands and the strict training regime. ‘I loved the challenge of ballet, never to be perfect, to stretch a bit more, try a bit harder. But I also enjoyed academic studies, and am fascinated by the body and psychology.’ She began contemporary dance training in second year at QUT and also branched out into choreography, which she likens to ‘a maths equation. Choreography engaged with my intellect in a different way and, all of a sudden, I was trying to find a balance between spatial patterns, shapes, spaces, and dynamics. That engaged me in a different, analytical way.’ She likes examining simple human behaviours, ‘how we organise our spaces, how we relate as human beings. When I procrastinate, for example, I clean.’ She confesses to loving studying the psychology and what she calls ‘the weight’ behind very simple situations.

Liesel mentions the influence of Lloyd Newson from physical theatre in London. ‘What I like about his practice is the prioritising of the idea or the message of a work over the virtuosic skills of a dance.’ She goes on, ‘Like music, movement has such power to communicate, and it can open up movement and dance not just for dance audiences or those with an arts background. I want to broaden those audiences.’

Speaking of broadening audiences, Liesel engaged via social media, especially Facebook, with over 800 people during the developmental phase of A Collection of Various Selves. I’m keen to hear how this happened and why, and whether or not she has plans to continue engaging online with her virtual ‘collaborators.’

The thematic heart of the work is that of personal identity, and she has been using general and specific questions to engage with friends online. ‘There are so many perspectives on a theme that, if I open up questions, then people can respond in a way that opens up other possibilities.’ She found that there was a keen interest ‘out there’ for her process to be shared, and not just from colleagues but also from interested non-artists. I ask if the collaborative audience loop will continue with, perhaps, video or even streaming live performance of the work. Will it be shared to these people? There will obviously be face to face feedback and engagement after live performances, but the online world and social media ‘… open up the opportunity to converse on creativity and artistic practice; any opportunity to normalise arts practice is attractive if it’s not closeted away. It opens the rehearsal studio and gives a sense of engagement to people.’

We chat further about social networking, and Liesel admits to being ‘an addict’ on Facebook and Twitter. I wonder what she considers ‘addictive’?  ‘I’d definitely be online and engaging at least twice a day. With Australia’s being such a large country and distances between centres so vast, and with the dance community being so small, social networking is a wonderful, valuable way to stay engaged and connected around the country. I am quite committed to staying in Brisbane and building up a local and wider community in this way.’

And A Collection of Various Selves – will there be text I ask, and what does it address. ‘Yes, it does use text,’ she assures me, but it also examines behaviour in movement terms, through touch and movement and spatial relationships. ‘I like to work with small narratives but this project doesn’t necessarily have narrative, which can be equally frustrating and challenging.’  Brisbane’s recent floods got Liesel thinking about how people connect in public and private. She talks about the expression of feelings in public and private and the way people, more often than not, reject sadness seeing it as a sign of weakness or of not coping. ‘What I saw during the floods was a sense of beauty through the sharing of a common tragedy; people were able to express sadness and they started to connect in a way that was raw but incredibly real and honest. The sense of touch became so potent, and I saw the worth of that physical connection between people. It took an awful event like that to assist us to connect as humans.’

When Liesel finally introduced actors in her process, she wondered what to do with them at first. Words are the actor’s bread and butter and, in terms of text, she admits to finding the potential for language to be deceptive. ‘A lot more honesty can be experienced via body language; text can be superficial – almost as if we are answering facile questions on social networking,’ She continues, ‘It’s been interesting working with words because you don’t want to spoon feed your audience by telling all the time.’ She’s become interested in crafting the words of a text in a way that doesn’t do that. ‘I have found value in almost saying something and not being able to complete. Silences and gaps are important especially when using just a few words. Words can be difficult in communication; it can be awkward and clumsy but that speaks volumes as do pauses, tone, rhythm.’ Aside: She speaks to my inner voice coach!

Liesel is currently being mentored as part of the JUMP program for Australian artists. She is enthusiastic about what she describes as a wonderful program and about being mentored by choreographer Vanessa Mafe-Keane. ‘Her practice is different to my own. I felt I needed to rush into performances straight from Uni and that every movement had to mean something.’ Liesel has learned from Vanessa to take her time and to enjoy fitting in the unknown. ‘Often Vanessa will choreograph by just looking at movement for movement’s sake. It’s been enjoyable working with her and finding more balance not just in my work, but in learning how to sustain a career in the arts – taking a more holistic view of life and by not being overwhelmed by ideas and expectations. Trying to find that balance and learning how to switch off so I don’t burn out is really important.’ Liesel goes on, ‘Since I left Uni I have been very driven by the desire to produce good outcomes. That’s still important, but it often came at the expense of growing as an artist and finding new ways. Vanessa has been really helpful to me in that way.’

Liesel’s next project will be performing with La Voix Humaine in the upcoming Brisbane Festival. Like lots of artists around town, she is looking forward to being absorbed in ‘the wonderful array of creativity’ that is the Brisbane Festival environment.

Feeding the Inner Artist:

How do you get into the creative state? Trying to balance an independent career, you have to get business acumen too. I think I have learned to make space in my life to be inspired. Sitting in cafes and drinking lots of coffee helps to focus – listening to music, with a notepad and watching people. There is something about being slightly caffeinated and on the edge. Producing quick choreo quickly – go with the gut instinct. My scratch pad has words, what I see  with lots of arrows. I write an idea and another idea. It’s like a mind map for choreography. I write statistics too; I love doing doing psych research into stats, random interesting facts.

What are you listening to right now?  The Mountain Goats and Emma Davis – every song on her album  is a beautiful combo of music and lyrics. Even if  lyrics appear mundane, there is a profundity that provides a connection.

What are you reading right now? Eric Wilson Against Happiness. It’s a psych book that looks at the danger of self-help books in the US culture. There is an over-emphasis on happiness over sadness, even though sadness is integral to our creativity. There is much value to be found in stillness.

How do you chill out, wind down?  Finding the time is hard. I love the country and turning off in the countryside. I love Tasmania, and Bowral is gorgeous. I also love long-distance running and, oddly enough, being away from Faceook!

A Collection of Various Selves choreographed by Liesel Zink is performed by Gemma Contini, Ron Seeto, Liesel Zink and Alex Bryce with Lighting Design by Scott Barton and Set and AV Design by Jacob Livermore. It plays at Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre from Wednesday 10 to Saturday 27 August. Information from the Metro Arts website.

Liesel’s Twitter Follow Recommendations
@m_zero (dramaturg/live artist Melbourne)
@room_60 (a cultural space in Brisbane run by Clare Dyson)
@jmdonellan (writer)
@TheMattmosphere (Matt Cornell – Dancer Sydney)
@d_santangeli (drama director in Brisbane)
@stereosleswick (drama producer/director/performer Brisbane)
@nicholaspaine (producer)