I Left My Shoes on Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain
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I Left My Shoes on Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain

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I Left My Shoes on Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain is a highly evocative phrase. For me, it speaks of the summers of my coastal adolescence. It is those midnight downpours that catch you unaware on the trek home from the foreshore. It is welcome warm droplets that erase the sins of the preceding hours, washing away the lingering scent of stolen ciggies and the sweaty palm-prints of pimply suitors. It is spinning and laughing on empty bitumen streets, with a mix of self-consciousness and sincerity only summonable by a teenage girl.


For you, it probably conjures something completely different. This is why dancer Gabrielle Nankivell chose it as the title for her latest solo work. Nankivell hopes that similarly personal associations and memories will be triggered when viewing the show itself, providing enough space for each audience member to become an active maker of meaning rather than its passive recipient. “I’m trying to create an experience for the audience where they have a chance to put themselves into the performance,” explains Nankivell. “They each have that moment where they go, ‘Oh, that’s about me’ or… ‘That’s something that I totally relate to’. So it’s not just watching someone else’s story. They’re helping to create the story. It’s as much about their world as it is about the world of the performer on stage”.

It is through sensory combinations of movement, sound, lighting and text that Nankivell evokes this experiential world. She has worked closely with sound designer Luke Smiles, whose background as a dancer has engendered a special understanding of the relationship between sound and movement. Text also forms an integral part of the show (Nankivell refers to it as a “player”), which she hopes will provide the audience with another avenue of entry into the work – especially those who may feel alienated by the esotericism of contemporary dance.

I Left My Shoes… will begin its season at the Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall on August 11, but for Nankivell, the choreography already feels as if were written by a different person. She devised the work while undertaking Dancehouse’s Housemate residency in 2009 – a research and development program in which artists can engage solely in practice based research – and has performed in several other shows in the two years interim. While there are things Nankivell knows she’d do differently now, however, she’s not altering the choreography too much. “It captures a specific point in my thinking and my career, and I’ve tried to stay true to that,” she says.

Considering the breadth of Nankivell’s performance background, it’s no wonder her attitude to dance and performance is perpetually evolving. After graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 1999, Nankivell received the Martin Bequest Travelling Scholarship which allowed her to set sail for Europe. Setting up camp in Brussels, Nankivell had the opportunity to work with choreographers such as Wim Vandekeybus and Alexander Baervoets – a far cry from her upbringing in the South Australian countryside. Here she discovered physical theatre and improvisational techniques that have shaped the unique style of performance that she practices today. She has been living and working between Australia and Europe ever since.

That said, Nankivell says she’s excited to return to the Arts House. The last show she performed in Australia, Open Space Hotel (2006), premiered there – a collaboration between Australia and Slovenia, and notably the final project for the company OX which she started with Slovenian Jurij Konjar.

When asked to describe the style of dance employed in I Left My Shoes…, Nankivell avoids pinning it down with a title. “It’s developed over many years of working as a performer over different kinds of forms,” she explains. “So it’s really about the way that I like to move and like to communicate… I’m dictated more by the energy and the idea and the atmosphere than the form that I use”.

For this piece, Nankivell uses movement to explore the idea of struggle, an experience that she sees as being universal. “I really wanted to look at it as a broad thing, so not placing any sort of judgment that there are kinds of struggle that are really worthy and there are kinds that aren’t…. Struggle is just something that is, and it’s something that is an integral part of being human. Everybody understands it on some level and it exists in a multitude of ways”.

This metaphor of struggle might well be used to describe of the experience of devising and performing a solo show – one that Nankivell has found physically taxing but ultimately gratifying. “If you’re having a bad day, if you’re tired or your sick or whatever, there’s no escaping that,” she says. “So it’s challenging in that way, but it’s also rewarding in that you rarely have the ability to communicate that directly with an audience.

“I think often performers are not able to communicate with people socially in that same way… On stage, they get the ability to express a kind of truth about themselves”.

I Left My Shoes on Warm Concrete and Stood in the Rain will run for a short season at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall from August 11 – 13. Tickets are $30 full price or $25 concession. For bookings, visit artshouse.com.au or phone (03) 9322 3713.