Melanie Lane’s new creations: a case study

11 Oct, 2022

Choreographer and Established Artist in Digital Innovation Melanie Lane pursued an ambitious agenda to develop her knowledge and skills in digital robotics and digital gaming environments, realising this with two new works-in-development that have already been recognised in national and international contexts. Both digitally sophisticated new works explore a post-humanist world as ‘an archive of acts of human intimacy informed by choreographic, emotional and aesthetic parameters’.

‘New Creation’ reimagines a garden of Eden, a reworking of a post-humanist world. Ultimately, the work will be performed around a large, central body of water, with dancers inhabiting the space for performances outside of gallery hours. Audiences will visit during gallery hours and experience an immersive digital environment projected from the ceiling into the water. ‘Judy’ is a feminist response to ‘Punch and Judy’ shows. Two robots with beautiful human faces and skinned in black fabric sit on a plinth on top of a red carpet. They perform a looped dance sequence, an intimate pas de deux built around a kiss. The completed work, visible from every side, will include dialogue and a sound score.

The Creative Recovery and Resilience Residence afforded Melanie opportunities to access technologies and to collaborate with experts in other fields. A very productive and ongoing partnership was formed with Associate Professor Damith Herath of UC’s Robotics Lab, supported by UC undergraduates Chris McCourt and Adrian Rodriguez Durand. Melanie says:

I was able to collaborate with people that had completely different crafts from my own, which is so different to any other collaboration I’ve ever had …  Just as rewarding as collaboration I would do with a musician or a designer, even more so because you’re learning completely new skills.

While the residency built on Melanie’s already-substantial skills as a collaborator, she emphasises the significance of her access to UC’s digital technologies and the way the residency afforded open exploration to discover what that technology is, and what it can do. Free exploration also produced further new work-in-progress through access to UC’s Workshop7 and the expertise of technician Bill Shelley:

… those masks I made with Bill that I had initially intended to be on the robots, I decided I wanted to try on humans. … it was another offshoot that was not planned at all, but I thought was really exciting to discover by accident.

The prototype robot masks were transformed into Javanese style masks, worn with a little bit of leather in the mouth, and explored with the support of dancers Sara Black and Max Burgess at Belco Arts, residency co-hosts.

With support from UC and the Digital Innovation residence, Melanie succeeded in gaining funding from Australia Council for the Arts to implement her research to develop ‘New Creation’ at the Substation (Melbourne). ‘Judy’ will travel with Damith Herath to the workshop ‘Algorithmic futures’ in Paris in December 2022, with Melanie participating via video in a discussion panel. ‘Judy’ has also been selected from a competitive field for performance at a new dance festival (formerly Dance Massive) in March 2023.

Melanie’s Creative Recovery and Resilience Residence story illustrates how the mutually beneficial relationships fostered between artists, universities and arts organisations produce economic benefits, and further benefits from innovation borne through collaboration, as the ‘Develop’ Strategy in the Minister’s Statement of Ambition for the Arts anticipates. The CRR Residence in Digital Innovation helped to sustain Melanie as a Canberra-based artist in 2022, and her national and international profile help to build the ACT as a creative destination.