Ashley Alexandra Wright.
Questions on creation, conflict
and the power of music
by didier ambact
I'll start with a question that may be annoying: You are a great choreographic interpreter, you have worked with people like Emanuel Gat, Olivier Dubois, institutions like the ballet of the opera of Lyon... Is there, in your career, someone or a structure with whom you would not want to work any more...if yes, who and why...if no, it was really perfect every time?
I had a wonderful time with every company that I had the privilege to work for. Of course I faced more difficult moments along the way but these struggles or challenges are often so valuable and moments in which we learning the most about ourselves and our profession. Nothing is perfect. Each company was nourishing in its own way for me at that period of my life. I would not have remained working as long as I did with them if that had not been the case. I can say I am very grateful to have been surrounded by so many talented, generous and humble artists.
You come from elsewhere. Why did you move to France at some point in your life? Professionally, what did you about it there? Is there anything there that you can't find in Australia?
I moved to France after working for the Royal ballet of Flanders for 6 years. It was a beautiful transition at this moment as I was simply looking to be part of a smaller group with a focus on a more contemporary repertoire. I enjoy change in general so the opportunity to move once again, live in another country, learn another language & re-integrate culturally was all very attractive.
Was the logical continuation of your career as a performer to choreograph? Is it rewarding?
Absolutely. I find choreographing very satisfying, even more so now that I am starting to produce music, combining the two is definitely a future prospect. Theres something so magical about theatres creative process/ research and performance though its ephemerality can sometimes be frustrating. It is only living in that precise moment. Thats where I find music so enjoyable. Though not tangible per se, it can be captured within many formats and relived over and over again.
You have directed yourself and others. How do you use your experience as a performer to work with yourself and with others?
As I am still on stage myself it’s somewhat easy to see eye to eye with the dancers. I aim to create a healthy and humble working atmosphere, focused but lighthearted, encouraging yet challenging. I tend play a lot with (dark) humour in my choreography so the more fun in the studio usually the better the material that comes out. I’ve learned that patience is a key quality also for my process, not settling for the quickest solution but allowing time to manifest something other, unforeseen.
There are inevitably power struggles between dancers and choreographer. How do you deal with this? As a performer and as a choreographer.
As a choreographer you have the power to guide, influence and control. Power is not inherently negative. Obviously we are living in a moment now where balanced relationships—one in which power is, for the most part, held equally is a paramount aim. One where both positions know their value. Listening and communication, like in any relationship are key qualities of respect. Both choreographer and dancer should feel as though they have a platform to talk to each other, especially when issues develop or miscommunications occur.
I wanted to do this parallel interview because you have another talent, another passion: electronic music. Tell me about it. How did you come to compose?
Music has always been huge part of my life, inside the world of dance but even more so outside.
In Australia I grew up with a lot of reggae and dub, my Dad playing records from the great King Tubby, dub syndicate and Thievery Corporation. Though with my parents originating from the UK I investigated my roots early on and quickly fell in love with the iconic UK vibe, classic breakbeat, and garage which remains a huge influence to this day.
In 2018 I took an unanticipated break from the stage during which time I completed a sound production for course in Paris. This provided me with a necessary technical base and propelled my curiosity for music further. Since then I have mostly been learning from people close to me. Here in Berlin I am blessed to be surrounded by many amazingly talented musician friends that inspire me on a daily basis. Composing is still very fresh for me so I find myself in this beautiful bubble of naivety where every new thing I learn feels fascinating.
You create under the alias CIVIC GRACE. Why this name? You live in Berlin. I imagine that the city has a strong influence on your music given its notoriety in the electro culture.
Grace holds elegance within movement. To me the meaning of grace is specific to a type of presence. Its' ethereal, elegant and benevolent. It’s a way I feel towards music. (It’s also another word for a musical trill or an embellishing note ...'to embellish with grace notes'. Civic being for the community. I guess that I can hope that through my music I can try to contribute to the emotional health of the world.
Where is the electro scene in Australia?
Music has long been a vital cultural element in Australia. Though the countries electronic music scene is still relatively young, its artists are ungoverned by genre or preconceptions of how their productions should sound. As a result, the scene has been producing everything from galactic synth psalms to ambient breakbeat. Melbourne probably has a more liberated club culture than most of the countries other cities, which I guess has helped to spread the popularity of unorthodox electronic sounds but on a whole the scene is definitely growing.
Violence seems to be an absent component in your music and dance creations. What does violence evoke in you?
I have never been fond of conflict. It’s not at all in my nature.
There is necessary contrast and dissonance in both my music and choreographic work but rarely violence. Violence comes from our not having had the help to build our capacity to feel. This leads to our feeling like we can't bear what we feel. And this, in turn, leads to our finding ways to escape from the feelings. So though there may not be violence as such present in my creations maybe they are vessels to escape certain feelings or maybe better still feel our feelings even harder.
Am I wrong in saying that you come from a background that is relatively protected from everyday violence? Has the violence of the world become intolerable because information is ubiquitous...almost oppressive?
Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. Of course retrieving relevant, unbiased information is the challenging part as we are bombarded daily with false and irrelevant propaganda. It's up to us to filter information for an educated awareness and points of view on situations.
What is your favourite outlet: music or dance? And for partying, do you prefer music or dance?
Depends the moment but both are of equal value. I love to make music in the morning when I am still only half awake. I feel my mind in a state of calm that I find to be most efficient for composing.
Before my head is loaded with thought and unnecessary judgement. Most of the time I experience waves of motivation for either dance or music.
When I party I cannot dance if I don't like the music!! The music rules my body so when the sound is great I’ll dance like crazy.
The Irish poet Yeats said: "Man created death”.
The opposite of death is life. If man has created death, then he has also created life, his own life. Meaning that because we are conscious animals, we may be burdened by our knowledge of death but we are also relieved by our knowledge of life. Specifically, our ability to give meaning and purpose to our own lives which can overshadow death. And in doing so, find a sense of comfort with the eventuality of death because each individual has the opportunity or perhaps even a responsibility to take on the dread and hope associated with being alive.
- Interview by Didier Ambact for Poetic Journal @MaisonDieu.
Listen to CIVIC GRACE on refuge Radio Berlin -