From a residency at sea to a dance-off between street dancers, 20 productions question what dance is.

In January this year, award-winning choreographer and dancer James Batchelor embarked on a two-month residency on board Australia’s state-of-the art marine research vessel the Investigator. The resulting work, Deepspace, which plays at the intersection of arts and science, will be one of the productions at Dance Massive in 2017.

James Batchelor on board the Investigor. He will present Deepspace at Dance Massive. Photo © Charles Tambiah

Dance Massive is Australia’s largest platform for contemporary dance: an event showcasing innovative work from established and emerging choreographers, dancers and companies from around the country. Curated by a consortium comprising Arts House, Dancehouse and Malthouse Theatre in association with Ausdance Victoria, the fifth iteration will take place in Melbourne from March 14 to 26 with a programme of 20 productions, 12 of which are world premieres. Featuring choreography across a board spectrum, organisers hope it will have audiences and artists alike questioning and debating what dance is, and how far it can be taken as an artform.

Reflecting on his maritime residency, Batchelor says: “It was quite unusual because this is the first time they have invited an artist to do research on board the Investigator. It just so happened that I got invited because the chief scientist, Professor Mike Coffin, is really interested in dance and the arts and he had been to see one of my shows, as a punter, so it was very serendipitous.”

James Batchelor on board the Investigator, photo © Charles Tambiah

The production that Professor Coffin saw was ISLAND, which Batchelor presented in 2014 at Dancehouse, for which he won a Green Room Award. Batchelor describes the experience on board the Investigator as “pretty crazy because it’s two months at sea, and there’s no getting off. It’s quite relentless in a lot of ways but very inspiring in other ways. When we got to Heard Island and McDonald Islands, these are some of the most remote places on earth. It was such a new experience across the whole expedition because I’d never even been to sea before.”

During the voyage, Batchelor did a lot of improvisation. “I also keyed in to what the scientists were doing and asked them a lot of questions so the whole voyage really made me think about inquiry and navigation and mapping something unknown, and how we do that in science and art. It’s not that different because we are trying to gather information and draw a representation or translate something from what we are seeing. So it was very rich, that kind of dialogue,” he says.

Batchelor has created a 30-minute duet for himself and another dancer. “Because the other dancer hadn’t been on the ship. I had to translate the experience and embody how it felt to be in that unstable environment, the constantly shifting platform that is a ship. But I guess that is what the work has to do for the audience: communicate what makes that space and environment specific to people who will probably never go there,” he says. Presented through Arts House, Deepspace will be performed in The Stables at Melbourne’s Meat Market. “It’s a gallery style performance so the audience will be standing and they will move through the gallery and there will be different installations and sound and movement,” says Batchelor.

“It will only be on for one day but we are going to do it many times on that day, so it’s a different take on a festival format, and it will be quite different to the other work that is being presented [at Dance Massive].”

Between Tiny Cities. Photo courtesy of Dance Massive

Other programme highlights include an ambitious new project from Chunky Move called Anti-Gravity, which sees Artistic Director Anouk van Dijk collaborate with Singapore’s internationally renowned multimedia artist Ho Tzu Nyen to explore the role of clouds as ethereal influences that disturb or heighten human existence. Lucy Guerin Inc, which recently had a big success at the Melbourne Festival with its latest work The Dark Chorus, presents the world premiere of Split, a work exploring the ever-diminishing dimensions of space and time.

Rising choreographic star and Bundjalong woman Mariaa Randall presents the world premiere of Divercity, a playful and multilayered exploration of place, people, landscapes and language, while Australian/Maori artist Victoria Hunt presents a large-scale, immersive production exploring indigenous creativity through Pacific, Asian and Western dance practice in Tangi Wai… the cry of water

In a free outdoor event at Federation Square, 32 of Australia’s best street dancers will battle it out in Battle Massive, while a three-year dance exchange between Darwin’s D*City Rockers and Cambodia’s Tiny Toones youth program will culminate in a project called Between Tiny Cities, in which Sydney hip-hop artist Nick Power has worked with the participants to explore their shared hip-hop culture and the dramatically different worlds they inhabit.

Martin Hansen’s If It’s All In My Veins. Photo courtesy of Dance Massive

Originally from Germany but now based on the Gold Coast, The Farm, in association with Performing Lines, will present Cockfight, a game of comical one-upmanship and power play between men, dubbed “a cross between The Office and a cage fight”. Emerging from an initial work as part of the Keir Choreographic Award Finals this year, Martin Hansen presents If It’s All In My Veins, using animated GIFs to explore the history of dance and the re-imagining of its future. 

Other artists participating at Dance Massive 2017 include Nicola Gunn in collaboration with choreographer Jo Lloyd, József Trefoil and Gábor Varga, Rebeca Jensen, Nat Cursio Co, Lz Dunn, 2015 Green Room Award winner Lilian Steiner, Shian Law, Sandra Parker and Rhiannon Newton.

Dance Massive is in Melbourne March 14-26, 2017

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