Plenary 3 – Contemporary dance as collective gathering


Lizzie Thomson, Erin Brannigan, Rhiannon Newton, Latai Taumoepeau, Amaara Raheem


Contemporary dance as collective gathering

This Dance Plenary will take the form of an introduction by Latai Taumoepeau with her work In Continuum (2020, commissioned by Kaldor Projects), a choreographic participatory paper by Lizzie Thomson, followed by a group discussion led by UNSW dance researchers Rhiannon Newton, Lizzie Thomson, and Erin Brannigan, with guests Amaara Raheem and Latai Taumoepeau. The framework is the relationship between language and embodiment, written score and enactment, with a reference point being DANCE. Dance in this context is understood as a collective practice (in counterpoint to solo practice). In recent definitions of dance and choreography, a traditional understanding of dance and singularity has been set against a new emphasis on collectivity. A network of specificities, possibilities, and limitations produces the autonomy and singularity of the dance. In counterpoint, the special condition of dance as social, relational, and medial is articulated by American choreographer Jennifer Lacey; “dance is about people spending time together, thinking by behaving, and modify [sic] their thoughts by modifying their behavior: it is potentially a very powerful work.” This collective impulse in dance can then be extended to include not only the choreographers and dancers, but the audience and context. Frédéric Pouillaude links to this condition of dance in performance to the term contemporary. He describes contemporaneity as “a neutral simultaneity, a contingent coexistence … all that belongs to a particular time.” Contemporary dance as collective gathering. These performed scores, instructions, panel and open discussion consider this aspect of dance and choreography through text, action and dialogue.

Please note: This session involves audience participation. We will invite you to turn on your cameras and microphones together for a section of this collective online gathering. We will not be recording this session and would like to extend a request to all participants to refrain from recording.

Lizzie Thomson, Inside Inside (2019), Murray Art Museum Albury, Videographer Kim Cianco

In Continuum – 2020, commissioned by Kaldor Projects (10 mins)


open a clear space to be upright and soft in your body.
notice your breath and let your thoughts fall away freely.
take your focus to your navel.
imagine your umbilical cord inverted,
gently pulling you backwards,
making you walk or traverse a slow circle around yourself.
you are moving at 1mm per second.
recite aloud your genealogy.
say your name.
name your siblings.
name your parents and their siblings.
name your grandparents and so on. let them pass you.
complete a full circle to close.

do it (australia) | Kaldor Public Art Project 36. This project is the latest incarnation of do it, the longest-running and most far-reaching artist-led project in the world.Initiated by Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1993, the project asks artists to create simple instructions that generate an artwork, whether an object, a performance, an intervention, or something else entirely. 

The Choreographic Paper led by Lizzie Thomson: ‘Breathing into Corners’ (35 minutes)

Based loosely around an investigation into relations between language and embodiment, this workshop exists in written form and is delivered through spoken word to participants. It is structured in five parts, with each part offering a different entry into dance. The underlying frame of attention throughout the workshop is the question, ‘how do we attend to this dance?’. Underneath this frame, is the unspoken question, ‘what is this dance?’. We explore exercises that approach dance from a number of contemporary and ancient Western perspectives including ancient Greek beliefs about organs, the etymology of various words we use for body parts, Western binaries pertaining to space and bodies, and exploratory practices of listening through touch and memory. 

Group discussion 20mins lead by UNSW Dance researchers; Rhiannon Newton, Lizzie Thomson and Erin Brannigan with guests Latai Taumoepeau and Amaara Raheem.  Followed by open dialogue with online participants 20mins.


Lizzie Thomson is a choreographer, performer and researcher living and working on Gadigal and Wangal lands of the Eora Nation. Her choreographic work is driven by interests in affinities between dance and language, as well as in the political potency of practices of attention. Lizzie is currently undertaking a PhD in dance theory at the University of NSW. Her writing on dance has been published in books, journals and exhibition catalogues. Over the past 20 years, Lizzie has performed throughout Australia and Europe with many artists including Rosalind Crisp, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Mette Edvardsen and Jane McKernan.

Erin Brannigan is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at the University of New South Wales and works as a writer, academic and curator. 

Rhiannon Newton is an Australian dancer and choreographer who grew up on Dunghutti land (Crescent Head) in regional NSW. Her creative work and research draws attention to ecofeminist ways of understanding interdependence between bodies and the world. Rhiannon currently works from Gadigal land (Sydney) where she contributes to community and culture through creation, performance, collaboration, teaching and curation, leading the artist-run venue, ReadyMade Works, and the lecture-performance series, Talking Bodies.

Latai Taumoepeau makes live art. Her faivā (performance practice) is from her homelands, the Island Kingdom of Tonga and her birthplace Sydney, land of the Gadigal people. She mimicked, trained and un-learned dance, in multiple institutions of learning, starting with her village, a suburban church hall, the club and a university. Her body-centred performance practice of faivā centres Tongan philosophies of relational space and time; cross-pollinating ancient and everyday temporal practice to make visible the impact of climate crisis in the Pacific. She conducts urgent environmental movements and actions to create transformation in Oceania. Engaging in the socio-political landscape of Australia with sensibilities in race, class and the female body politic, she is committed to making minority communities visible in the frangipanni-less foreground. In the near future she will return to her ancestral home and continue the ultimate faivā (performing art) of sea voyaging and celestial navigation before she becomes an ancestor.

Amaara Raheem is a Sri Lankan born Australian grown dance-artist who lived in London fifteen years and is now based in Black Range (regional Victoria). Amaara is completing a practice-based PhD at School of Architecture & Urban Design, RMIT University. Her practice-research is in movement and words, how they meet, intersect, collide, run in parallel and inhabit particularly in relation to the built environment. Amaara works as a solo and collaborative artist. She’s currently working with UK choreographer Janine Harrington (winner of Bonnie Bird Choreographic Award, 2020) on a new work ‘Satelliser’, a collaborative, durational dance and conversational choreography made for galleries.