Filling the Space: In Conversation with dancer and choreographer James Batchelor

Each year the dancers of Quantum Leap take to the stage, exploring complex ideas and relationships through the medium of contemporary dance. In Filling the Space the Quantum Leap ensemble explore the dynamic relationship of body and architecture by breaking open the frames and borders that guide our movement in and out of space. In this new work the theatre stage becomes a world of potential, of space filling and emptying, of new cosmic dances.

My brother, dancer and choreographer James Batchelor, and I have been a part of Quantum Leap for most of our lives. The organisation has played a significant role in shaping us not only as dancers and artists but as people. We sat down together to discuss the impact of Quantum and what it has been like to return home to work with the next generation of Quantum Leap dancers to create a new work Proscenium as part of Filling the Space.

Emma: You and I have been a part of Qantum Leap Youth Dance Ensemble for over eighteen years now and so are very well acquainted with the organisation and its important work. But not everyone has been as lucky as us. What is QL2 and Qantum Leap?

James: QL2 is a leading organisation for youth dance based in Canberra, which we are very lucky to have here. Quantum Leap is the remarkable ensemble of young dancers that every year have the opportunity to create a contemporary dance work which is presented at the Canberra Playhouse.

E: Yes, the Playhouse season was always the highlight of the year and was always something I was proud to be a part of.

J: Yes, a lot of work goes into it, and it really was so exciting to perform on a stage like the Playhouse.

E: It is a beautiful theatre. This year you are back to choreograph a work as opposed to perform in one. What is it like to come full circle?

J: It is really interesting to come back as a choreographer, knowing what I took away from it — like learning how to use dance as a way to express myself, collaborate and think about the world.

I think what I have tried to do is not replicate the experience we had but to try different things perhaps… things that feel challenging and exciting right now.

E: Your work is called Proscenium. Tell me about what the word means and why you decided to create a work on it.

J: The proscenium has come to be understood as the metaphorical frame or barrier that separates the audience from the performers in a theatre. I wanted to make a work about this frame, drawing on my experiences performing at the Playhouse and thinking about the potential of the theatre architecture. I like to think of the proscenium in an expanded way, not just as a frame but also maybe as a window, mirror or time portal.

E: The exploration and translation of abstract ideas such as this through dance can be challenging for both dancers and audiences. Take us through your process for bringing these ideas to life.

J: Yes, I often get asked ‘how do you make a dance about that?’ It’s not as abstract as we might think, I simply start by asking questions. When we look at the theatre space, what questions are conjured? I started by asking the dancers to come up with their own questions about the space that they were curious to explore. Then we started working with the materials that were already in the theatre like the costume racks, ballet barres etc. and just experimenting with ways of making them move. Getting started is always the hard part but once something is put in the space a logic in a new creative world starts to emerge.

E: Being able to discuss big ideas and to make decisions on how to communicate them both individually and as part of a group was probably the most important thing I learned from Qantum Leap and are skills that I use today. How do you think being a part of Qantum leeap has shaped your career as a dancer and life more generally?

J: I think it opened for me the possibility for dance to be a complex and stimulating way to think about my body as a hyper mobile and changeable form. It helped me to be brave, to be open and perceptive and develop a strong spatial awareness.

E: You live mostly in Europe now but you regularly come back to Canberra to perform and create work. Why is it so important to you that you keep coming home and giving back?

J: I was born here, I kind of feel a responsibility to continue contributing to the culture here. I love coming back and working with Quantum Leap and seeing it evolve.

QL2 Filling the Space

The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre
Thursday 8 – Saturday 10 August at 7pm + 10 August at 2pm

Bookings: 02 6275 2700 canberratheatrecentre.com.au

Photos by Lorna Sim

Emma Batchelor

Emma Batchelor

As well as a near obsessive interest in fashion, Emma is a former scientist, occasional contemporary dancer, avid reader and self-confessed cat lady (she has three). Emma lived in Leiden in the Netherlands as a baby and Leiden ought to have been her middle name had her mother thought of it at the time and not chosen Louise instead.

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