Renowned choreographer Vicki Van Hout’s brilliant new solo performance ‘plenty serious TALK TALK’ is set to dazzle audiences

Vicki Van Hout, plenty serious TALK TALK, 2018. Photo: Heidrun Löhr.

Vicki Van Hout’s writing and performance examines the elements of Indigenous art-making that is often behind-the-scenes. Ahead of the 2019 Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art at Performance Space, Vicki shares what motivated her to create this new work.

How does it feel to be performing your new work – plenty serious TALK TALK at the 2019 Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art at Performance Space?

I have developed a long-lasting relationship with Performance Space, which began when I popped a VHS cassette into an oversized bubble wrap envelope and sealed it with a hopeful kiss before pushing it into the mail shoot. The bulky antiquated contents were part of an application for a residency at Carriageworks, the proposal of a new work utilising the very latest of interactive media technologies.

Fortunately, the panel overlooked that blaring irony and Briwyant was developed to production. The show was well-received, and Performance Space with Harley Stumm as consultant toured the show – the first independent Indigenous work to tour nationally in over 20 years.

Performance Space has also co-produced and/or presented my work Long Grass (with Harley Stumm, Intimate Spectacle), inspired by the plight of the Aboriginal people living rough in and around Darwin; and Les Festivities Lubrifier, which was featured in previous Liveworks’ lineups as a work in development in the foyer, and in Bay 20 as a three-hander with Thomas ES Kelly and Caleena Sansbury.

What can I say? – those guys get me and my ridiculous pursuits.

plenty serious TALK TALK explores the parts of Indigenous art-making that often remain unseen. What are those aspects and how did you go about developing this work?

Making an Australian Indigenous artwork – small or large, community or professional  – involves a lot of negotiation, consultation and mediation.

This show opens with a tongue-in-cheek behind-the-scenes look at some of the bureaucratic red tape involved in staging a Welcome to Country when last minute plans go awry.

In another scene, a soundtrack of a conversation is featured where I discuss with a fellow graduate of NAISDA Dance College, the challenges involved in improvisation and choreography after learning other communities ‘traditional dances’. At NAISDA, a core part of dance training involves exposure to and learning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, both on campus and on country. Challenges include whether to develop contemporary dance vocabularies that differ, but are derived from, those source communities and/or to even acknowledge those original community sources. Through this recorded conversation I ask – if learning traditional dances from communities with an unbroken lineage after the advent of colonial settlement is such a contentious act – then is it relevant or beneficial to the Australian Indigenous urban diaspora?

plenty serious TALK TALK combines visual art, stand-up comedy, new media, dance and theatre. Why did you decide to use these artforms to make this piece of work?

My previous work Long Grass was challenging to make because the subject matter was confronting. I didn’t want to white-wash or romanticise the harsher day-to-day realities of those who live rough (Long Grassers). It was difficult for audiences to bear witness to, and for the performer/collaborators and myself to embody. So, for now, I am content to make audiences laugh first, then think on more complex issues after they leave the theatre.

I am greedy with the props and set. I made eight small wooden stools for my cast to sit on in Wiradjourni; several ant mounds out of hundreds of wooden clothes pegs in PACK for Dirty Feet; and a 16m river of playing cards, with 2,500 playing cards individually glued into 47 jigsaw mats. Each card was represented as a dot as a reminder of the homespun casinos which spread wealth from the proceeds of paintings amongst the wider community. Yuendumu women surveyed this river of cards. They walked the length of it, crouched down low to touch it and surveyed from many angles before giving me the thumbs up.

It was through this last process, I realised how potent and critical this aspect of preparing and transforming my dance ground was. I also realised performance happens on many levels and is not just confined to the hours spent on stage in front of an audience.

The enactment of medium is a chance to relive, reconstruct, consolidate and transform those spaces.

Tell us about the performers you collaborated with to make plenty serious TALK TALK

In his own solo works, my dramaturg Martin del Amo has a signature voice. Martin’s use of observational text is renowned for its idiosyncrasy. His unusual syntax, born from his German accent, takes the audience down unexpected paths of discovery.

Kuku Yalanji artist – Henrietta Baird who is the voice on the other end of the phone, was a consultant on several scenes.

Clair Drew ­– the other featured voice – is a childhood friend who used to attend drama lessons with me and shares my sense of the ridiculous.

Glen Thomas – who plays the straight man in the opening video – began as a student of mine and recently acted in a version of Jane Harrison’s Stolen, which I directed.

Cloé Fournier is a versatile performer/collaborator who works across many mediums including dance, acting and physical theatre. She, along with the other chosen artists, is in her element working within an improvisational context.

With his keyboard, Phil Downing created and kept augmenting a world for me to inhabit three days or so before bumping into the theatre.

Original lighting designer – Frankie Clarke – laid the foundations for an austere setting with muted ochred tones and boxes of light that pinned me into a world of interrogations.

Lighting designer – Karen Norris – is one of the most highly sought-after designers in the country and her use of bright colours to light the woven mat heightened the element of humour and lent the work a much-needed air of surrealism.

Two other unsung heroes worked on this show. Taree Sansbury who lent her unwavering physicality and kindly unquestioning patience; and Kay Armstrong who had a big hand in the development of the specific word play I attribute to this work.

As a choreographer and dancer, you have developed your own movement and style, based on the flight-or-fight response. Can you tell us what interests you about this and how this feeds into plenty serious TALK TALK?

The flight-or-fight response is vital. It’s necessary for survival and is prevalent in a sporting context where outcomes are never predictable. What started as a physical tactic to excite an audience, to almost make them want to get up and try the dance for themselves, has become part of a greater ethos to slay predictability of any sort.

I still have a dream – that a technique I was invited to seed at NAISDA titled Contemporary Indigenous Dance Technique (CIDT), may one day be widely taught in a mainstream context alongside classical ballet or release technique.

Performance times (Carriageworks):

Wednesday 23 October 2019 at 7:00pm

Thursday 24 October 2019 at 7:00pm

Friday 25 October 2019 at 7:00pm

Saturday 26 October 2019 at 7:00pm

Get tickets here:

Image: Vicki Van Hout, plenty serious TALK TALK, 2018. Photo: Heidrun Löhr.