The connection between contemporary dance and football might not be entirelyapparent at first glance.
After all, dance these days tends to be thought of as belonging to the exulted uppermost crust of hoity- toity delights – all the way up there with such distinctly middle-class pleasures as fox hunting and fine dining. Football (or soccer), by contrast, is often frowned upon as a mere distraction, an excuse for a group of brawny players to run around the place getting sweaty.
Indeed, it’s that very divide that has inspired Champions, a new contemporary dance piece directed by Martin del Amo. The work aims to disrupt generalisations and clichés about both dance and football as art forms, and by combining the two not-so-disparate sports into one mucky, adrenaline-filled package, Del Amo believes he can radically alter audience preconceptions about both.
“I think I’ve always been fascinated with the rift that seems to exist between the football camp on one side and the dance camp on the other,” he explains. “Personally, I am both an artist and an avid sports fan, and I feel that the similarities between football and dance actually outweigh their differences. After all, both strongly rely on physical skills, rigorous training, a sense of rhythm and an understanding of performance, strategy and team spirit.”
For Del Amo, poring over dance techniques on one hand and football skills on the other never seemed like a contradiction in terms. “I grew up in Germany where soccer is pretty much the national sport. I never really played myself but a lot of my friends did, and I avidly followed soccer on TV and in the sports pages.” He laughs. “I think I could probably name all the World Cup winners from the last 60 years, as well as the winners of the Women’s World Cup since the early 2000s.”
That expertise and talent has translated nicely into Champions. The work has been conceived as a kind of fully fledged football match, complete with all the trimmings you’d expect if you flicked on your TV one lazy Saturday arvo and caught a game.
“It’s a dance piece presented as if it is a sporting event,” Del Amo explains. “It will feature pre-show analysis, running commentary and backstage interviews by Channel 7 sports presenter Mel McLaughlin. We also have a mascot. The aim of the work is to playfully challenge audience expectations of what dance is and how it can be presented.” Though Del Amo has a wealth of personal knowledge to draw from in creating the piece, he isn’t a dictator, and he takes great strength from involving others in his practice. “I would say I’m usually responsible for the original concept and the overall vision for the work. The actual development process tends to be highly collaborative though … I closely collaborate with the performers and we often share the choreographic credit.”
It helps as well that Del Amo has worked with a lot of Champions’ performers before. He likes to develop a productive, stress-free environment in which all feel like they can contribute to the evolving product, and as a result, he carefully hand-picks those he works with. “The cast of Champions is a mix of dancers who I worked with in the past and wanted to work with again and dancers I never worked with but always wanted to,” he says. “I’m not a great fan of auditions and try to avoid them at all costs.”
Ultimately, all those separate, essential creative elements have been combined to produce something truly special – the kind of danceshow as rare as it is hypnotic. “I hope that audiences will have an exciting, unusual, and ultimately unforgettable viewing experience,” Del Amo says.
Champions is playing at Carriageworks from Tuesday January 17 – Sunday January 22 as part of Sydney Festival.