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OVERTURE: Watching and Thinking

OVERTURE: Watching and Thinking is an interview with artist Jo Lloyd conducted by John Bailey, who is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.

OVERTURE by Jo Lloyd is presented by Arts House as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival on 2-6 October at North Melbourne Town Hall.

Click here to book your tickets. For more shows at the Melbourne International Arts Festival, please visit here.

It began with an overture.

Choreographer Jo Lloyd had the urge to create a really physical, tightly realised dance work, and at the same time had been listening obsessively to Felix Mendelssohn’s overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The two began to blur.

“I wanted to make the physicality as meticulous and impressive and remarkable as what he’d done. Almost do an old-fashioned pairing of this and that. Not as a competition but if he can do that, I can meet it physically.”

Her fascination only deepened when she began to research Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny. “I learned that like a lot of history there were two people making art, but one isn’t seen. She was told to stay in the home, not write, not play, not publish. She had these Sunday sessions in her home and Felix backed up her father and said no, you shouldn’t play. Fanny Mendelssohn had a sad time but she made incredible music and a lot of it’s still not even released by the family.”

You might see Fanny Mendelssohn in OVERTURE, if you know how to look. Lloyd’s choreography might not be literal or representational—this isn’t a play about the Mendelssohns—but neither is it purely technical.

“I think of dancing as watching the thinking,” says Lloyd. “You’re watching us think. If we’re thinking ‘5-6-7-8’ that’s a problem to me. If we’re thinking of a reference point to a film where in the final moments everything’s got to be in that frame and everything’s got to work together, if you’re thinking of that when you gaze out at the audience, they’re going to see it.”

When Lloyd says ‘we’ she means it. Unlike most of her peers, she still performs in the work she creates. “I always felt I made better choices from the inside. If I made work from the outside I didn’t really like my choices. I guess it’s not so much I still want to be on show. It’s more I’m still interested in the process of preparing and performing.”

Lloyd says the goal of her work is to stir desires that we can’t necessarily name. Her own choreography aims to provoke a more lingering response, and to have audiences questioning why they react a certain way. Lloyd was baffled to discover more than a few viewers crying during OVERTURE’s initial season. Just as strange is the way her work can generate laughs among the crowd and even from the choreographer herself.

“In the studio we try and we try and there’s this moment where we realise we’ve struck gold, and I’m often in fits of giggles,” she says. “I’m incredibly serious, I’m intense about what I do. It must be the joy to have found something.”


Image by – Bryony Jackson