Paul Malek, founder and director of Collaboration: The Project, (with a daunting résumé that, apart from his acclaimed work as a dancer, lists his contribution to the likes of Dancing With The Stars, So You Think You Can Dance and countless other productions as a choreographer), is readying himself for the fourth instalment of the Underground series, Underground Summer. Underground aims to put dance back into the club environment and further breaking down the fourth wall between audience and artist.
“We started doing it because I’m very big on building the industry and making the dance community thrive as much as possible and the best way to do that is to connect in the environment,” Malek says. “We do Underground four times a year, we have up to 18 choreographers and within that live music, DJs and hip hop artists,” he explains with an almost immeasurable amount of enthusiasm. “It’s all within a club environment – you’ve got the bar open, people are having drinks and the DJ is playing while everyone is dancing and then the artists get to get up and showcase their work. It’s the cream of the crop in Melbourne up there while you’re in a club atmosphere. The artists and the audience always interchange. The artists are in the audience for the entire show and then they get up and do their thing. Very rarely is anyone backstage; it’s not that kind of show. Once they perform, they come into the audience, people are talking to them, someone gives them a drink and then they get back on stage.”
Uniting the idea of dance music and hip hop culture with dance – the artistic medium, is such an obvious options for attracting a new audience that Malek is perfecting. “It’s making dance accessible,” he says simply. “Every young person likes to drink, most go to the footy, so I was thinking, ‘How do we get them to see dance?’ People get to come out and have a dance themselves, even if they don’t drink, they get to see awesome dance and all the while we’re promoting each performer’s own shows that are coming up. We plug those shows, give out tickets as well, and hopefully people go, ‘Hell, I really enjoyed this, maybe I will go to that other show.’”
Malek is also tackling the cultural issue of dance that seems prevalent in Australia – that dance is somehow not athletically skilled and for male dancers, is simply not manly – Aussie manly, ya know? It’s an ignorant premise, but one that has seeped into our culture nonetheless. For sport fans, the athleticism of these artists is just as astounding as the physical proficiency of any player within the various football codes (and probably even more so than cricket, dare it be said). He hopes that “a father can see their son up there dancing, and realise the strength and ability he has.”
Underground has completed one round of seasonally-based appearances with this fourth summer show and Malek is amazed at the response they’ve had from both punters and performers. “We’re looking to do theme nights eventually,” he says. “At the moment, people from all corners of dance are jumping on it so we’re doing really eclectic nights and I don’t want to mess with that just yet. When things start to become a lot more consistent we do things like, put on a Michael Jackson night where you’ll have people from the ballroom industry that suddenly have to choreograph to a Michael Jackson song. It’ll bring a whole new level to what you’re watching as well as pushing the boundaries of what is dance within their own genres.”
Malek is also working on expanding the Underground series out of Melbourne and into other capital cities. What began as a response to what Malek saw as an overflow of dance talent suffering from limited performance opportunities in Melbourne, looks set to catch the overflowing talent that exists throughout the rest of Australia as well. Malek had his own doubts in the beginning, but the faith he had in his art has overcome that early trepidation. “I didn’t think having Underground so consistently was going to work,” he admits. “I wanted the need to be there but I didn’t think it was. We never have a shortage of performers, the word has spread and it is getting massive. Down the line, we’re looking to branch out into Sydney and Brisbane, doing one show in each city this year, and hopefully, if all goes well, from 2014 we’ll have 12 different Underground shows a year.”
BY KRISSI WEISS