The Language of Loss

By Grace Kirk/ Dance/Physical Theatre
Using physical theatre to express the collective loss a community experiences from disaster is a major undertaking. This can be even more challenging when working across cultures. Director Jeremy Neideck and producer Dave Sleswick experienced this first hand with Deluge: 물의기억 (Mului Gieok), a five year international experience to represent those affected by the harsh reality of nature.

I caught up with Neideck and Sleswick to talk about their experimental dance project, Deluge: 물의기억, which depicts the destructive cycles of nature, in particular the floods and droughts Australia experiences.

Jeremy Neideck

Director, Jeremy Neideck

Producer, Dave Sleswick

Producer, Dave Sleswick

Whilst the environmental impacts of the piece are in an Australian context, the work uses symbols of Korean culture to draw together these two countries. Being an experimental piece of theatre, the work is open for interpretation and is relevant across both cultures.

Contextually, Deluge: 물의기억, draws on the impacts of the 2011 Brisbane floods. However, it was also put into the context of the Sewol ferry disaster when it was performed on the anniversary of this tragedy in Seoul in 2015.

The background of Deluge

The project Neideck imagined was realised by an international group of Australian and Korean artists and was produced by Sleswick, director of Brisbane based Motherboard Productions.

Neideck has had a long association with Korea, thanks to his involvement with the Australian- Korean International Cultural Exchange (AKICE), which was established by his now deceased mentor, Roger Rynd.

This program gives physical theatre performers and artists the opportunity to participate in a cultural and artistic exchange.

It was as a QUT undergraduate student in 2004 where foundational blocks of what would be Neideck’s transcultural PhD formed.

Since its inception, Deluge: 물의기억 has been through five cycles of collaborative development by both Australian and Korean artists.

“The first round was in 2011, just after the floods. It started off as a research project…we were trying to bring the Korea connection back to QUT a little more,” says Neideck.

The underlying message of the piece intersects the cycles of grief and the environment at the hands of a disaster, such as the 2011 Brisbane floods.

Neideck says, “I wanted to create a space where the audience could have a collective emotional response to lose, especially through a disaster”.

“Those places where we come together and experience and remember together have become quite lost in Australia.”

Throughout the cycles of the piece’s development, Neideck says, “it became a lot about the absence of water because in Australia we go through these periods of drought”.

In order to portray the presence and absence of water without actually using it on stage, Neideck and other collaborating artists had to make strategic creative choices.

“We had these beautiful laser cut fabric streamers that come out during the show to give the sense of a tsunami or an overwhelming feeling and it is also shown through the manipulation of objects and the dancers’ bodies.”


Presenting Deluge in Korea

Deluge: 물의기억, which was variously supported by a number of organisations, including Red Moon Rising, the Australia-Korea Foundation, REM Theatre, Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, QUT, Arts QLD, The Australia Council for the Arts and Brisbane City Council, was first premiered at the Brisbane Festival in 2014 before touring Korea immediately after.

“The response was interesting, I think the context in which we were presenting the work was very different to when we premiered it here in Brisbane,” Sleswick explains.

“The main thing that happened was that on the final performance of that tour the director of the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture saw the production and in her periphery had the Sewol ferry tragedy in the back of her head when she was watching it.”

The South Korea Sewol ferry tragedy occurred in April 2014. More than 300 people died when the passenger and car ship sank off Seoul. On the anniversary of this disaster Deluge: 물의기억  was invited by the Seoul Ffoundation of Arts and Culture to perform at the Namsan Arts Centre.

Coming back the second time, the Deluge: 물의기억  cast were met with street banners and giant billboards on all the subways, advertising their performance, “I don’t think we quite realised the scope of the work… it was actually a little bit daunting at first”.

“I guess the context in which we were presenting it (the second time) was really different and perhaps it was received better in the face of a tragedy,” Sleswick explains.

“I think it was just contextualised a lot better and it had a bit more meaning for the Korean people watching it at the time. The audience didn’t run away saying we love it but there was a deep sense of reflection and appreciation that happened out of the work.”

Cultural differences

Having spent five years on an transcultural project that toured in Korea twice, both Sleswick and Neideck have a lot to say about artistic practice across cultures.

“People assume a lot that language is a big barrier, which it is, but language is language, you can get around that,” Neideck explains.

“Beyond that there is also the kind of cultural constructs that are quite large, concepts of space and time, concepts of what makes a good performance.”

For example, working more than five cycles of creative development was different to the traditional ways Korean artists usually work, “therefore negotiating the way of working has been a big thing,” says Neideck.

Sleswick, as producer, was managing the logistical side of Deluge: 물의기억, which came across a number of cultural barriers.

“Those cultural differences, they do transfer into the management of the business, which is hard when we’re dealing with long geographical distance. You can’t spend time in meetings with people. You’re getting things through translators, you never know if you’re getting the full story about something.”

These challenges they faced did not seem to deter their experience, but actually enriched it. In particular, as director and performer in Deluge: 물의기억, Neideck believes a transcultural experience can make you a better artist by giving you improved communication skills.

“Learning how to communicate and learning how to negotiate in a clear way is something artists should be good at,” Neideck says.

“Every person is speaking a different language. Collaborating across cultures is a really great experience for all artists, but they are skills we can practice every day.”

The physical theatre scene in Brisbane

Sleswick and Neideck both started out in the drama faculty at QUT together. Where Neideck’s study focus was on Drama and Music, Sleswick completed a Bachelor of Creative Industries with a Drama and a Business major.

“My pathway was very creative but also very business orientated, as I was very interested in making a sustainable future,” Sleswick says.

Since completing university, Sleswick has been in a number of positions with varying festivals and arts organisations. He currently juggles different roles, including the projects he is producing under Motherboard Productions and his position at the Powerhouse.

“At the moment I work with a number of artists, helping them with their projects and realising their vision where I can.”

Sleswick explains why he decided to create Motherboard productions: “I saw a whole bunch of friends who had these fantastic ideas and really not the means or support to make them happen. I thought, I’ve got some skills in that area so let’s join forces and make our visions come true”.

In particular, Neideck believes the performance community in Brisbane is very supportive.

“I like to think of Brisbane, well everyone says it’s a big country town, but in the live performance and theatre scene, especially, it is like an extended family…it’s really warm and welcoming and I think that’s this idea of QLD and Brisbane being isolated when we’re not really,” says Neideck.

Whilst it is supportive, both Sleswick and Neideck believe the theatre scene in Brisbane and the rest of the world is on the precipice of a change.

“The work is changing, the work people are making is very different and that’s changing our audience… as all the venues and funding changes, as the ecology changes, as does the work, as does the audience,” says Sleswick.

This change in the ecology of physical theatre could have impacts for both Sleswick and Neideck, who will no doubt be a part of creating other projects as fascinating as Deluge: 물의기억 in the future.