The ___, Tra Mi Dinh
Ari Tampubolon

This month Performance Review is partnering with the Keir Choreographic Award (KCA) to bring you interviews with this year’s finalists: Alan Schacher & WeiZen Ho (NSW); Alice Will Caroline (VIC); Jenni Large (TAS); Joshua Pether (WA); Lucky Lartey (NSW); Raghav Handa (NSW); Rebecca Jensen (VIC) and Tra Mi Dinh (VIC). In this interview Ari Tampubolon speaks with Tra Mi Dinh about her KCA work The ____, 2022.

Tra Mi Dinh, The ___, 2022. Photo by Gregory Lorenzutti.

AT: What was the idea you proposed for the Keir Choreographic Award?

TM: I'm looking at how we know where things end or whether it’s clear that some things are coming to an end. I vaguely say “things” because I mean a broad range of things.

AT: It’s a big philosophical question.

TM: Yeah! So you know how the end of the kettle boiling is the end of the water getting to the point that you need it to get to and an alarm going off means the end of sleep? Is death the end of life? I’m exploring these questions and playing with them in the studio. So far, it’s two dancers. We’re experimenting with movement, but I’m also interested in how I can create tension and mood through theatrical elements like staging and lighting.

AT: I think this has been on my mind for a while, this concept of an end. It feels like lately everything in the arts has been coming to an end. I don’t know if it’s just me but do you also feel like there’s been a lot of bad art, TV and movies coming out recently?

TM: Yeah, I know what you mean.

AT: Is this the end point that you’re trying to explore? The end of not just, small, everyday things, but the end of a time, era, or culture in general? Is this something that you want to dissect a bit more and see as a continuation of or into something else?

TM: Yeah, it’s definitely something I feel is continuing on, because what I’ve discovered looking at “endings” is that they’re a circular situation. Where something ends is also where something else begins. Working in the studio, I’ll often get to an ending, then look back and realise how important the middle section was, but I couldn’t appreciate it in the moment. When you’re in the middle of something, you can never tell you’re in the middle, it’s unclear, unless you can see an indication of where you are, like the end of the ribbon at the end of the race.

AT: I think there’s always this tense anticipation before getting to a finish line and it comes from seeing the finish line as the end. I feel like that thought is applicable to a lot of different things.

TM: I’ve been thinking about my grandma a lot throughout this process. She passed away in 2014. I grew up Buddhist and my dad brought me up following Thích Nhất Hạnh, which is more of a “zen” Buddhism. My grandma was a more traditional Buddhist and believed in reincarnation which is probably why I’m thinking about her. For me, her end, her death is also a beginning for another life. I was taught as a kid that your ancestors are in you and I feel that strongly, that she’s still here, in me. So, I think I’m questioning where the end truly is.

AT: Reincarnation is a very sustainable way to philosophically live your life because there’s a comfort in knowing that things can just reset. But it’s also interesting thinking about it through the circular motion that you mentioned earlier. I’ve been obsessed with circles lately and the idea that things cycle over and over again in the cultural landscape. I feel like the Tumblr indie sleaze aesthetic that shaped me back in 2012 is coming back. And even that was pulled from punk rock aesthetics, which makes me think that everything just kind of recycles itself.

I think that’s something we’re getting at here, that tension, waiting for something to happen. No one likes waiting. Waiting is such a banal, anxiety-inducing thing to do. People are only comfortable waiting when they know what’s going to happen. But when it comes to larger-scale things like life, no one likes questioning what happens after. It’s uncomfortable and it turns time into a form of capital where the more of it you have the more power you wield.

TM: I definitely feel like waiting is a key idea in my practice. There was a lot of that last year when I made Holding and I’m definitely thinking about that during the KCA process. When I’m waiting, sometimes it makes me feel like I could be doing lots of other things instead. Whenever I’m idly waiting for something, I’ll often go back and scroll through the many tabs in my phone because they’re like little notes or memories of things that I need to research or check out later. It’s like I’m trying to be efficient but not being efficient at all.

AT: It’s this illusion of productivity. Whatever spare time you have, you have to fill the gaps with something to relieve yourself of the tension of waiting. As if every waking second is capital to be used and economised.

TM: It’s funny. I’m making a work about endings and it’s going to end. The work has to end and then we’ll all clap and then we’ll see the next work and then that’ll be over. I’ve been stewing over this for the past week and I’ve reached this point where I’m thinking of how the work can be aware of the cycle of beginning and ending it’s going through.

AT: If we’re only thinking about how a work has to formally end, then we’re only thinking of the work in the context of that space rather than what’s happening outside of it. But what if an ending is just a change instead of a death?

TM: Hmmm, yeah, I’m going through a lot of personal, emotional change at the moment. I feel like I’m coming into a time in my life where I’m constantly looking towards the next decade. The last two years have been lost to waiting, with all the stopping and starting caused by the lockdowns. I feel like I’m figuring out how much to hope again and whether I’m okay with waiting for hope.

AT: It’s like meditating, isn’t it?

TM: Yeah, I’ve always struggled with meditation. I grew up going to Buddhist mindfulness retreats, but I always found myself waiting to meditate.

I think that’s why I dance, because things are constantly happening when I dance. I’m moving and I don’t have to think it through too much because I’m living and being it. Whereas if I’m just sitting, my body will go into my mind and I find it hard to calm it down. So, when I’m waiting or trying to meditate, I’m still searching.

AT: It’s funny how I keep on waiting for you to say something that isn’t just about waiting, but it always comes back to that. I’m really curious to see how this work will come out! How’s that process been so far?

TM: Good! I’m just looking at things that end and what I like about it is that you can spin up so many different things, so many different versions of the idea. My hope, with this work, is that people can walk away and have it live with them in their memory.

Ari Tampubolon is an emerging artist and arts worker based in Naarm/Birraranga. Through the use of film, installation, expanded writing and performance, Tampubolon’s practice engages with the legacy of institutional critique methodologies, reconfigured from the position of queer diaspora. Tampubolon has shown recent works at SEVENTH Gallery, BLINDSIDE, KINGS Artist-Run and is one of the recipients of the 2021 Multicultural Arts Victoria Diasporas Commissions. As an independent producer, Tampubolon has worked for RISING, Hyphenated Biennial and Jenn Ma Collaborators.

Tra Mi Dinh is a dance artist and emerging choreographer interested in movement that is surprising, absurd, rhythmic and presentational. As a dancer she’s worked with artists and companies including Lucy Guerin Inc., Chunky Move, Victoria Chiu and Michelle Heaven. Her choreography has been supported through residencies at Tasdance’s On the Island Program, Sydney Fringe’s Art in Isolation, Critical Path and March Dance. Her current choreographic curiosities lie at the “edge” of things – blurring the lines between random and deliberate, significance and insignificance. Dinh graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2014 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Dance).

Tra Mi Dinh will perform The ___ at Dancehouse on 23—25 June and at Carriageworks on 30 June—2 July.

An innovative commissioning partnership between Dancehouse, The Keir Foundation and the Australia Council for the Arts, with presenting partner Carriageworks, the KCA is Australia’s largest contemporary dance award showcasing new, choreographic short works by eight Australian artists.

Held over two weeks, this year all eight commissioned works will be presented at both Dancehouse, Melbourne and Carriageworks, Sydney in a rotating program of two bills (four works each).

The KCA is an extraordinary, fully paid opportunity for independent Australian artists to develop and share works with audiences and an esteemed jury of dance luminaries. The jury of international dance leaders tasked with selecting the recipient of the 2022 Keir Choreographic Award and awarding the $50,000 jury prize on Sunday 3 July at Carriageworks includes Daniel Riley (Wiradjuri/Australia); Eko Supriyanto (Indonesia); Laurie Uprichard (Ireland); Lemi Ponifasio (Aotearoa/New Zealand) and Nanako Nakajima (Japan).

Melbourne season at Dancehouse
23 June – 2 July
Book tickets for Melbourne

Sydney season at Carriageworks
23 June – 2 July
Book tickets for Sydney

Performance Review acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we operate. We pay our respects to their Elders; past, present and emerging and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.