How did you get into dance?
I was an eisteddfod girl: ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary dance, musical theatre, everything. My mum and dad met in in a show, Brigadoon, so my sister and I are named after two of the characters. I was destined to be in musical theatre, but I became a contemporary dancer, much to my mum's horror! I’ve sung in bands and performed in productions, but contemporary dance is where it is at for me.
Tell me about your show Parallax, and what your preparation has been like.
Parallax comes out of my PhD research. I was looking how to use stereoscopic imagery, which is 3D imagery seen with glasses like at the movies, and how that could be used in a theatre environment. The theatre is a much different environment to the cinema experience; having people moving around, backstage spaces and lights creates a whole series of technical difficulties, and that's just the beginning! Through my PhD research, I was testing short animations with dance and finding out how to make them work together. Those initial test pieces have been expanded to make up the greater part of this work.
How do you balance working on the choreography, dancing in the show and creating the animation?
I primarily think that I have a choreographic practice. Even though I’m animating, I’m still working through that practice of time, space, movement and energy. The process begins with mapping my ideas with animation, then I take that into the studio and work it with a dancer or myself, then I go back and reanimate, before returning once again to the studio with the dancer. I keep going back and forth to pull the animation and dance into one unified whole. I’ve seen a lot of work where the dancer dances, then there is some video, animation or technical wizardry, but they are essentially two separate things; I am bringing both technology and dancer together so one does not work without the other.
The pre-production phase is enormous. It might take me 3 months to get a 30 second to 1-minute animation that will work. The advantage is that because I do the animations myself, I don’t have to go to an animator and explain the changes to them for reworking. I can sit on the studio floor with my computer and tweak things as I go!
How did you learn to animate?
I was a gamer. While I was training at the VCA I would go home and game at night, spending a huge amount of hours trying to level up. It's not too much of a leap to go from gaming into animation - I really love the aesthetic, I love the environments and I was fully immersed in the digital worlds. It seems inevitable now that having had this digital immersion while I was training full time, I would end up combining the two. At that time, I was also reading about cyborgs and watching a lot of sci-fi. I was really into exploring cyber-theory and cyberculture and an essay called The Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Harroway blew my mind! So I started animating body parts to extend the dancer’s body and turn them into cyborgs, and this initial idea has grown into Parallax, as we see it now. Dance is ephemeral, but there is something about the animation that gives it a longer life.
You’ve attracted some interest from the video gaming community, as you obviously speak the language. What has your experience been like working within in the world of gaming?
I use open source software and I’m on blogs and forums. I don’t necessarily use my name, but I’m out there researching and having conversations with people; I’m immersed in the culture. I collaborated with Alison Bennet and we’ve had international success with Virtual Drag, for which I created the VR environment. I found that once I started animating, all my knowledge has become cross-platform, and has lead me to other technologies and skills.
Why is it important for people to come and see new contemporary dance and cross-platform works like yours?
I think that we are increasingly living in a digital world and having to engage in digital environments, platforms, and ideas. It’s important for me to explore those interactions through my artistic process. I think that might make the transition a bit easier for some people, allowing them to come to grips with this new digital age. Sometimes, I make works because I think the concept will be really cool, sometimes I explore a technical or philosophical idea and in this particular work, I’m grappling with all those thoughts. As new technologies appear, I always consider how they could work within my practice.
Do you have a pre-performance routine?
Yes! Perhaps oddly for a contemporary dancer, I’ve got a half hour ballet barre routine that I bash through because I know it does everything and it doesn’t take up any space backstage. Other than that, I lie on the floor and roll around! The other thing I do that is a bit different from other dancers is a full technical run, to make sure everything is working. If I’m in a theatre like Gasworks, though, I'm lucky and I can just trust the technicians!
What is one piece of advice you wish you’d had when you were a young performer?
Find your tribe. Gather the people that are interested in your work and who inspire you and find ways to work with them! They don’t have to be dancers either, they can be any kind of artist; anybody who gets what you do. Don’t worry about what other people think - just make great work and enjoy it.
See Megan Beckwith's Parallax at Gasworks Arts Park from March 1. More information and tickets available here.