Miranda Wheen - Contemporary Dancer - "Champions"

Miranda Wheen – Champions

Champions

Contemporary Dance and Soccer not two things you would usually read about in the same sentence. On the surface they seem miles apart but it doesn’t take much scratching to start to see the similarities between the two. Both take hours of training, dedication and determination. Both face issues of gender inequality and neither escape the expectation of a great performance.

‘Champions’ is the latest production from FORM Dance Projects, an organisation based in – and advocating for – dance in Western Sydney. ‘Champions’ celebrates the talents of elite sporting performers colliding with contemporary dance to producing surprising parallels between the two.    

The Westies spoke with associate artist Miranda Wheen who grew up in Richmond and attended Penrith High School before going onto University of Western Sydney, at their Werrington campus when they still had beautiful dance studios, and the amazing School of Contemporary Art. 

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Let’s work with the implications of having a show with just women. What does it mean to have 11 women on stage and no men?

 

The Westies: Can you tell me about the project you are working on?

Miranda: It’s called ‘Champions’. It was born from Form Dance Projects, who are an excellent independent dance organisation that foster dance in Western Sydney and beyond. They cooked up this idea of some sort of partnership between dance and the Western Sydney Wanderers.

At that start, it could have been anything, we thought maybe it was going to be – a half time act, or something like that. Then FORM brought on Martin del Amo as the choreographer and his works are quite abstract. It became clear it’s not half time material, the show is still very much rooted in the world of contemporary dance.

The Westies: Champions is an all-female cast interpreting the world of sport, was that a conscience decision?

Miranda: No, it wasn’t the initial intention to have a female only show. Martin mentioned people he wanted to work with, they just happen to be women, and we thought, we should just go with this. Let’s work with the implications of having a show with just women. What does it mean to have 11 women on stage and no men? And of course, that reflects so much on sport – inequality between genders comes up immediately.

It’s been really interesting and shocking to find out about the inequality and I think it does exist in the dance industry as well. A lot of really high up positions of artistic directors are more often held by men than woman, despite there being so many more women involved in dance. I think in contemporary dance we have it pretty good in terms of equality, but still. I do see it.

I recently read an article about the Olympic gold medal woman’s rugby 7’s team who are in Dubai at the moment. One of the players got injured and two of the other players, who are trained physiotherapists had to do emergency procedures for her on the field. So they are obviously not even traveling with their own physiotherapist.

And the headline was something like, “What can’t these girls do?” And I was like, how is that the headline…

The Westies: …oh God, talk about missing the point

Miranda: The headline should be, “Not only are they elite gold medal winning sports people, they’re trained medical professionals.” Since we’ve been doing this project I’ve become very curious about the sports pages. I get the paper on the weekend and there’s probably about 20 pages of sports, and I recon 5% of the articles are about women.

Champions

we’re doing all this soccer training, and we look like soccer players, because dancers are quite good at imitating – but you introduce a soccer ball and it all falls apart

The Westies: What have you been doing to prepare for the show?

Miranda: We started by observing training of the women’s Wanderers side, and going to a few games. We had a soccer coach come in and we were basically doing soccer training without a ball. We are borrowing some of the structures in sport, like tactical stuff, and the physicality of soccer. There’s not so many dance moves in the show, but there’s a lot of choreography. There’s a lot of planning of where the moves go.

The Westies: Have you found many similarities between dance and elite sport?

Miranda: Yeah definitely, dancers are very disciplined and will spend a lot of their time toning and training the body. Dancers can be little bit masochistic which is very similar to sports players, it’s repetitive and it’s sweaty and hard, I think we had a lot of common ground on that sort of stuff. Also injuries, how you deal with injuries, how they impact on your work and your life.

There are also similarities in our structures, things that we would refer to as such; as the stage, they refer to as the field. The game, or the show. The locker room, or the back stage. The dressing rooms. Half time, interval.

The Westies: It’s interesting how a slight change in terminology can make something seem so different

Miranda: Yeah and what they do is almost a show as well. Especially when you go to Pirtek Stadium, it’s really a show, there’s lights, there’s halftime acts, there’s songs.

The difference in it is they’re really in it for the win. It’s this kind of single minded approach to how we’re going to win this. Which I think is slightly different to the dance world, which is about delivering the performance, it’s not focused on the win. It’s more about the whole look of the thing. For instance, we’re doing all this soccer training, and we look like soccer players, because dancers are quite good at imitating – but you introduce a soccer ball and it all falls apart. We can imitate the movements, but we can’t imitate the real skill of winning.

The Westies: Do you think this show will help open both dance and soccer to a new audience?

Miranda: Yeah! I have a lot of friends that have said, “Oh, it’s about soccer, alright, we’ll come along.” One friend of mine who is a female soccer player said, “I’ve got a whole team coming, everyone’s coming”, and she wouldn’t otherwise come to see contemporary dance. I am super interested to hear what Wanderers fans think.

 

You can catch Champions at Carriageworks as part of the Sydney Festival Program January 17-22 book tickets here.

 

Interview: Katrina James

Photos: Katrina James