International Women’s Day 2019: Creative Women in Charge – Bonnie Curtis

An interview with Bonnie Curtis, creator of Girls, Girls, Girls and artistic director and founder of the Bonnie Curtis Projects dance company.

By Irena Bee

Ms Bonnie Curtis is an Australian trailblazer. After completing her training at the Sydney Academy of Performing Arts and a research and performance tour of Europe, particularly Germany, she founded the Bonnie Curtis Projects dance company in 2017 to explore themes of gender, culture and social mores.

The company’s first full-length work, Girls, Girls, Girls, has successfully toured in Queensland, Melbourne, Sydney and is currently in New Zealand. The show is a mash-up of conceptual and cabaret that involves the audience throughout.

The work was developed together with all the dancers; each contributing their experiences and stories to create a range of funny, ironic and serious vignettes.The work holds a mirror to the stereotypes we force women into – the dummy, the bimbo, the insta-influencer and the limits these put on our choices.

Girls, Girls, Girls begins with the dancers posing in stillness in piles of clothing. The audience is encouraged to play ‘dress up’ with the ludicrous clothes and create their own ridiculous doll. The dancers then work with the clothes where they are – even if it means undies on their head or pants on their arms.

The scenes then wind their way through various shared female experiences from the frivolous; a selfie tutorial or beauty pageant; to the serious. Individual pieces tackle issues including domestic and sexual violence, romantic love, menstruation, the advertising industry, body modification and body positivity.

Why did you decide to start your own company?

Bonnie: “I wanted my own dance company with dancers I can work with to create the work we cared about and wanted to bring to the public.

“I realised that I can’t wait for other people.

“There’s not a lot of opportunity for dancers in Australia. If you have your own company you don’t have to wait for funding or jobs you can make the work you want together.”

Tell me about the origins of Girls, Girls, Girls?

Bonnie: “It’s personal for each of us. It’s also funny. The scenes come from our own experiences and so our meaningful to the dancers and myself. It’s the work we wanted to make and to showcase and the kind of work we weren’t seeing made in Australia.

“We wanted to make a work about gender. To consider what does it mean to be a woman today and what does it mean to be a man? We look at obesity, objectifying bodies and women, expectations of women, femininity and turning those ideas on their head.

“Provocative but not insulting or offensive. It needs to be entertaining to be welcoming to all audiences and to engage them.

“I call it ironic social commentary, but it’s delivered with a light touch. It’s meant to be entertaining, a fun experience.

“It’s been really well received by people who see a lot of dance and people who just want to see a great show. People really like the work. They like that it’s different and that it’s interactive. The humour really lands as well. A lot of people don’t expect humour in a dance show like this.”

What are some of your early inspirations?

Bonnie: “Early on I traveled overseas and I found that Australian audiences can be more prudish than European audiences. It’s something that I want to explore in my work back home and to open up Australian audiences to dance works that our outside what’s expected or what they are used to.

“Those early travels helped me frame what I want to create and thats works for dance-lovers that are also accessible and enjoyable to audiences that have never seen a modern dance performance, or don’t think that dance is for them.

What are you working on next?

Bonnie: “We’re working on a new piece that’s a choose-your-own-adventure so that audiences will have a different journey every time.

We plan to premiere the work in Sydney in winter this year. (details will be on the website).

“The interactivity parts of Girls, Girls, Girls had such positive feedback. People loved that – playing in the dance space – and really engaged with the work when they were part of it.

“I want to recreate and lean into that feeling.

“This new work also involves all our dancers.”

How do you choose who becomes part of your company?

Bonnie: “We have 13 members at that moment. They are from all over Australia, Norway, New Zealand and Hungary.

“I like to have great dancers that also look like fit, healthy and healthy-sized women.

What’s your take on the body positivity movement?

Bonnie: “Obviously as dancers the body is where we hold our art, how we express our art.

“I think it’s very important to showcase different body types on stage, even in the context of dancers. Women are judged for their bodies, its ubiquitous in our society and we shouldn’t be judged.

“When I was in Europe I found they were more comfortable with different types of forms and bodies. There was a lot more nudity in the works as well. It’s not about the bodies, how they look, but about what they can do and what that looks like and what it means.

“The body is made sexual and fetishised and it’s really just ‘stuff’. It’s the stuff that I work with, that all the company works with to create our art.”

What’s been the most challenging parts of running your own company, what’s been most rewarding?

Bonnie: “The most challenging part is simple – time and money.

“I’m always thinking that without funding how do I put on shows? How do I pay for rehearsal space, costumes, travel.

“We don’t have grants or funding so often I’m funding a tour off my own credit card. I’m looking for help and mentoring on looking after the business side of the company right now. Looking at workable models I can apply to how we work.

“This has been, still is, a huge learning curve but it’s been an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for security.

“I’ve proven that the company can be successful. We’ve brought Girls, Girls, Girls to audiences around Australia and now to New Zealand.

“The advice I’d give to anyone thinking of starting their own company is to save more and be prepared for everything to take five times longer than you expected.

What drives your creativity come from? What inspires you?

Bonnie: “I want to tell a story but also to share a social message. I’m not looking to be super confronting but to make a point with the work. To engage people at the heart and the head level with the themes we care about.

“Life can be serious but also we can live superficial lives and we don’t stop to process what’s going on around us. It’s only when it’s put in front of us – on stage – that we can really engage with life in the abstract. To notice.

“That drives the creation of my work but what keeps me motivated are the small moments. I love  watching when a group of women come and see the show together. The have so much fun dressing up the dancers. They create the energy.

“The  audience in general brings the energy. They are an intricate part of the work. It’s collaborative in a way and that’s what I’m looking for in all our work and from the company. It’s inspiring and different for me every night.

The Bonnie Curtis Project is bringing Girls, Girls, Girls to the New Zealand Fringe, March 14-17

BCP are also running a dance workshop at the New Zealand School of Dance on March 16 https://bonniecurtisprojects.com/shop/nzdance/