Australian Dance Awards September 2015

The beginning of 2015 was spent catching up on post-production aspects of 2014. There was Flaunt footage and recital footage to cut, a music video to choreograph, and a business to keep running (Mill Street Studios).

Some fantastic news came mid-year: the shortlisted nominations for the Australian Dance Awards:

Actually, prior to this step, there’s a list of eligible works for nomination, on which people can vote. To make the shortlisting is a massive deal. My film Pulse was shortlisted back in 2013, and I flew to Canberra to check out the awards and see some amazing performances.

To be shortlisted again was (this time for Ward of State) was an honour. In 2015 the ADAs were being held in Adelaide and the focus was on Australian Dance Theatre (being based in Adelaide). As much as seeing ATD would be enough to coax me to attend, 2015 was a very busy year and I initially I didn’t think I could take the time to attend. It took some convincing from friends and colleagues to get me to go. I was glad I went as I got to see some amazing work by ADT, and Ward of State won the dance on screen category!

Garry Stewart read out the nominations, opened the envelop and read out “And the winner is, Ward of State by Claire Marshall”. It was definitely a moment I will always remember. Being presented the award by Garry Stewart and Carol Wellman Kelly was probably as much a highlight as it was the film winning the category! To be presented by Mr Garry Stewart was such an honour as his work is amazing and ADT is one of my favourite companies for a long time. Here I was, this relatively unknown choreographer from Brisbane, being presented with an award by one of my dance heros.  It was surreal!

Her Majesty’s Theatre is so beautiful, and it was such an honour to be standing there in front of many of my dance heroes and thanking those who were a key part of the making the film (be it funders, cast, creatives etc). Following my speech, I was escorted backstage and out for some photos with Garry and Carol, all while feeling quite overwhelmed! Here’s a few of these photos (by Shane Reid), almost as proof to myself that this actually happened!

It was also amazing to have the support of Ann McLean and Ausdance Qld attending the awards with me. Former head of Dance at QUT Dr Cheryl Stock was also present and her encouragement was appreciated. ,

WARD OF STATE by Claire Marshall

Ward of State is a 30-minute narrative dance film about a girl who was taken from her mother and stepfather and placed the care of the state in a Magdalene Convent Laundry. Set in the 1930’s- 1940’s Ward of State depicts the journey for both the daughter and her mother characters and their relationship. It delves into subject matters of abuse, neglect, and mental illness.

Ward of State is inspired by research into my family genealogy and my quest to understand things that occurred in the past. A significant portion of the narrative and characters are based on what I learned about my family’s history going back a few generations. I also drew from research and interviews with women who were wards of the state.

On Ward of State my role was as a choreographer, storyteller and producer. I know a little bit about film from being on film sets over the past 15 years, and I made my first 10 minute dance film at the Powerhouse in 2012, which was inspired by the space and its history. That creative development became more about working with the camera, lens and the space/location.

Ward of State spanned 2.5 years from research and the birth of the idea to the screening in December 2014 at the New Farm Cinemas. However, despite things taking longer than I anticipated, with my experience working on film sets, I was aware of what when into a film and was involved in most aspects of the film or was able to go to my brother (film director) for advice, guidance and mentorship.

What makes this different to a traditional live dance work is that it is choreographed with the camera, the lens, and framing in mind. It’s also choreographed with the location in mind. We also rehearsed 
in a studio, so often that meant having to adapt choreography to a different space, or far more squeaky bed. Working with such high caliber dancers, we were all able to work quickly together.

I’ve learnt a lot from choreographing music videos over the past 15 years, but it was most rewarding to take dance – as an abstract form, and use it as the language of dance in conjunction with film language to make a narrative work about something so close to my heart. No dialogue was required – the movement and film and music allow audiences to read the narrative. Dance and film and “dance film” is also a highly transportable form.

As an independent artist in Queensland, it often seems like there’s an expectation that artists work from one project to the next. However, the past 2 years I have been operating more as a one person company with various projects on the go, some spanning a 2 year period and some ongoing through it. Projects were sometimes put on hold for other project, at other times I was working on 3 projects at once (ie, Ward of State, SlowDive, Flaunt), as well as managing a business, teaching, choreographing some music videos, and numerous other little short term jobs.

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