The artist Jo Lloyd creates conceptually rigorous and unabashedly physical choreographies that hover on the borders of propriety and legibility. Based in Naarm/Melbourne, she has been making performances for over fifteen years. In the leadup to the upcoming NZDC premiere of ‘What They Said’, her first work in Aotearoa, I zoom Jo Lloyd to talk about the making of a dance. Our conversation unspools as if we’re involved in languorous preparations for a meal: a request for an ingredient provokes the discovery of three other necessities on the way to retrieve it, and sometimes an answer needs time to cook before it’s ready. Jo speaks carefully, with a propensity for merging theory and colloquialism in dizzying and clarifying ways. I relish the wit and candour with which she speaks. Her love for dance and dancemaking is evident in every minute of our conversation. Below are excerpts from our ninety minutes together, condensed for clarity at parts.

AN: You seem to have arrived at a pretty specific way of making dance. From the outside, it seems that you’ve refined a practice which has become the main engine of your work.

JL: That’s a good thing for me to stop and think about. For a while now, my process has tended to shift depending on what the work needs. With this work, I still don’t know exactly what’s playing out. I think there’s something to do with elements of dissociative behaviour. Not to tie it back neatly to the title [‘What They Said’], but the initial digging I wanted to do was around how things are remembered: how we understand and receive things, and what we do with what we receive. It’s an ambiguous place, and I think that while making work that deals with ambiguity can sound like a default—too convenient; a convenience store… I still think that hovering in ambiguity is an interesting bracket to be in.

In some ways it goes back to a previous piece I made in 2015, called ‘Confusion for Three’. At that point I was destructing my process, in a way. Not deconstructing, but destructing. Destroying. That’s the word! Destructing…? I was wanting to abandon responsibility to a certain way of working. I think maybe I’m still doing that.

I want to un-know. I want to be working in processes I don’t have a familiarity with. Some of what I’ve been doing here has been that. In the midst of it I’m thinking: I’m kind of drowning, and I don’t know how to fix it. That’s a good place. I try to make the work I don’t know how to make, so it doesn’t end up in that complacent location.”

AN: What is it that you want from dance? What is it that you ask for?

JL: I want something other. I’m always running away… Lately I’ve wanted the peculiar—in rhythm, or in the behavioural. Maybe I want something where I’m a bit terrified. Not terrified like in a horror film, but I want to feel, where are we? It’s not as if I want to be the hero who finds the new dance. I’m just asking, what is the situation or mode that is occurring? I’m interested in the moment between the people doing it and the people viewing it. What does that do in terms of desire?

AN: What is your relationship to the viewer? I always return to this predicament: so you’ve found something that’s interesting to you, but why are you asking other people to come and watch it? What is it that you want to offer an audience?

JL: It’s about an invitation to watch the thinking. I like to watch someone think, or cope, or attempt something. There’s a section [in ‘What They Said’] to do with attempting, and I like to say: the attempt is the choreography, and the choreography is the attempt to do what? It’s the good old dramaturgical question: what do you want this work to do? To be with a live experience is highly valuable, especially now. There was a very long period where that was taken away.

As a viewer myself, I love when things that I experience shift my perspective—that feeling where the whole globe almost seems to shift the other way.

AN: Can you talk about rehearsal? What is your idea of the rehearsal, and what is your relationship to that mode of working?

JL: I get this thing where I really want the form and the precision, but I also just want it to go away. It’s a paradox which I think we can all relate to. Yet there has to be a specificity to the destruction. For example today in rehearsal, in the section where there’s more [improvisational] permission, some of the work went quite off-track. It’s not like it can be anything or everything—actually, it’s very anchored. You have to believe that the form is so substantial, so tasty, that you have a tension with it. Then you can go against the instruction— you can boycott it, or enter into a sort of behavioural protest. I’m interested in the choices that are made in the room, but there has to be a reference point. It’s very hard to find [the faithful destruction], and I don’t want to fake it.

I’m obsessed [with dance]. That’s what I’m finding lovely about this group [of performers]. There’s a lot of them on the obsessed train.

AN: So I’m hearing that when you improvise, if you’re deviating, or becoming deviant, it has to come from a loving attention. Can you talk more about that?

JL: You have to listen to what’s going on. This balance between thinking, it’s just me. It’s just me in the world right now… and knowing that it’s not just you. How can you be self-indulgent—almost obnoxious—whilst reading everything else that’s happening in a hyper-perceptive way? I call it a room of dramaturges, because it’s as if everyone is dramaturg-ing the work into what they want it to be. If what’s happening is dissatisfying to you, what are you going to do to fix it? To do that, you have to be hyper-perceptive.

AN: How do you bring the specificity of your practice into the frame of a commission?

JL: I want it to resonate for [the dancers]. But sometimes, that can be a time aspect. Through being a dancer myself, I’ve learnt that some works exist very differently in performances. I remember being in processes where I wasn’t really convinced by what we were doing, but then in performance, it clicked. As a doer [for other choreographers], I know that. The audience is a huge aspect of the context of the work. And you can’t completely prepare for that, ever.

There’s also something valuable about the experience of going through the uncomfortable phases… With a new group, I want to give them something to chew on. It’s like making something for someone else to eat.

AN: Our conversation so far has been quite cerebral. What is the place of emotions in your work? Is that something you attend to explicitly?

JL: I guess it’s to do with energy. For this project specifically, I’m trying to ask, how can you hover in ambiguity? The thing is, you don’t really know how you are in the world for other people. You can formalise it in relationships, but there’s still an ambiguity in how we feel in relation to others. I think that’s special. Like you said about dance before, that’s why we’re in this form. We’re working with dance because it lends itself to an experience of ambiguity. That’s not to say that [dance] is nonsense, or it’s just whatever. I’m not interested in exploiting dance’s ability to just be ambiguous.

It’s more about empathy. Can you feel what I feel? I wouldn’t mind you feeling that. Can we share it, in performance?

‘What They Said’ premiered in 2022 at Rangatira, Q Theatre as part of Tempo Dance Festival: Te Rerenga o Tere 2022.