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In Conversation with Dance Plant Collective

We chat to Bella Wilson, Brittany Kohler and Natasha Kohler from the collective about the power of contemporary dance as a vehicle for change, the themes explored in MEAT, and what they hope audiences will take away from the work.

Goodbye conscious consumer, hello capitalist perfection… Dare yourself to question the ethics of your consumption in Dance Plant Collective’s new work MEAT. After a sell-out season in Auckland, the collective will make their Australian debut at the Convent as part of this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival from 28 – 30 September 2018.

We chat to Bella Wilson, Brittany Kohler and Natasha Kohler from the collective about the power of contemporary dance as a vehicle for change, the themes explored in MEAT, and what they hope audiences will take away from the work. 

Tell us about Dance Plant Collective and the type of work you do.

Dance Plant Collective was co-founded by six 2016 Unitec Dance graduates. Our intention for creating this Collective was simply to continue making together. We were just about to leave full-time training and decided to band together and come out with a bang by developing our first full-length work. We aim to make work of our time – work that is political, or simply explorative, and commenting on situations we find ourselves in. However, every work we do is different (which is the blessing of working with six people) and is not bound by a certain ‘type’. We make work about what we are currently interested in, and that is always going to change.

Your latest work, MEAT, will be making its Australian premiere at the Convent as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival in September. What led you to apply for the Melbourne Fringe Festival?

We all have the desire to spread ourselves and our work as far as we can. Whenever something pops up that feels right, we go for it. Melbourne Fringe seemed like a perfect opportunity to remount the show and present it internationally for the first time, Melbourne is a place away, but not so far away, from home, a place where these topics are heavily discussed. When we think of Melbourne, we think of a city that is politically progressive, supportive of the arts, and environmentally proactive. We think that MEAT is the type of work that Melbourne audiences will want to engage with.

The show deals with notions of consumption, particularly in relation to the meat industry. Why did you choose to create a performance work about this topic? 

We chose to make a performance work about this topic because the world is in a state of environmental crisis. We want to join the conversation about the meat industry and raise questions in a non-judgmental way. MEAT is already beginning to do that. It gets people talking, and more importantly, thinking.

Tui Hofmann, who is part of Dance Plant Collective and the choreographer of MEAT, had been researching these topics for a few years, back in tertiary study. It was a long time coming, and for her it felt like the right time to delve into such a project. I think these topics are very current, and what better time to question them through performance? It is the language and art form we have chosen to communicate through. Contemporary dance is a wonderful way to engage with these ideas as we work in an abstract way and often connect to audiences on a ‘feeling’ level.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the performance? 

I would love if audiences walk away with a sense of confusion and questioning but also confrontation in regard to the show’s topics. The best reaction we could ask for is for people who have not ever necessarily thought about their own ways of consuming to be deep in thought post-show.  We all hope that people will recognise the power of contemporary dance to start such conversations around these issues…

You recently completed an Auckland season of MEAT. How has the audience reaction been so far? Do you feel audiences have been receptive to the ideas presented in the piece?

We were absolutely blown away with the support and feedback we received from our Auckland season. We sold out two days before opening and added an extra show which also sold out. We have received so many messages from people saying how this show really affected them, both in terms of the ideas raised and also the performance itself. People have definitely been positive and receptive – II think this is due to the fact that MEAT is not trying to place blame or judgement on anyone. The show is a conversation starter, so a lot of our audiences could watch the work and really take it on board without needing to feel defensive of their own consumption.

Many members of Dance Plant Collective are vegetarian or vegan. How has personal experience influenced your storytelling in this show?

To go into realistic and often literal explorations of the meat and dairy and consumption processes was often overwhelming but felt incredibly important. It is like treading on a line and questioning ‘How far do I go?’ Everyone enjoyed the process and performance immensely, but it was also a challenge for sure. Portraying so much of the horror is an intense emotional and physical journey. Dancer Bella Wilson has quite a different role in the work to the rest of the cast. As a vegan, she found it easier to connect with the character of the abused animal rather than the more aggressive roles.

While saying this, it is also important to remember that not all of Dance Plant Collective are vegan. We embrace our divergences openly, and with love. What we share is the desire to investigate what it means to have flesh and to be sentient. What it means to consume, and what it is that consumes us.

Dance Plant Collective focuses on creating work that is politically challenging. From where do you draw your inspiration?

From our relationships to the world, from our beliefs and values, from our relationships with each other, from our own questions, ideals, interests. There is incredible variety within our collective, but also an incredible sameness to our values and motivations for making work.

We draw our inspiration from real issues that are currently happening in the world. This manifests in different ways within each show, however there is always an inherently political context to our work.

The members of the collective actually spend a lot of time together, so we are naturally influenced and inspired by each other.

Dance Plant Collective were the winners of the 2018 Auckland Fringe Best Newcomer Award. What did it mean to you to be recognised with this award?

To be recognised as Best Newcomer as a company was super encouraging for a collective of artists reasonably new to this freelance life. For hard work to be recognised is always going to send the future trajectory in a positive direction. To know that people are interested in what we make and believe in our little community is such a good feeling. Also, to be recognised as a collective means we can open up to collaborate with other artists as well.

What’s next for Dance Plant Collective?

We will complete our current artist residency at Studio One Toi Tū in Auckland in mid-September, which means that Melbourne Fringe is our next endeavour. We have ambitions to take MEAT around New Zealand and are considering what’s next for us with future residencies and festivals overseas. Coming out of show season, there are many conversations to be had!

Dance Plant Collective will perform MEAT at the Convent from 28 – 30 September 2018.