Photo: Sam Roberts
When established choreographer Garry Stewart stepped into the role of Director at Assemblage, Flinders’ Research Centre for Creative Arts, the long-awaited next step for Flinders’ Dance was put into action and an Honours degree was introduced.
Alix Kuijpers was excited to accept the opportunity to be the first Dance Honours student in Flinders’ history. In collaboration with Flinders partner institution Adelaide College of the Arts and led by principal lecturers Peter Sheedy, Alison Smiles and Fiona Sherwin, Alix helped develop the framework for the Dance Honours year. As opposed to a fourth year of full-time training, the Honours year at Flinders allowed Alix to develop his own practice without regimented constraint.
“Creation and having your own practice were the key focus of this Honours year. There are so many incredible dancers that are incredible technicians and know what they are doing with their bodies but don’t know who they are. It’s a blessing to be able to put my energy into a process that taught me a lot about how I work, create and do things, and at the same time was uncompromising to my ability. I knew I was probably going to get some flak because a lot of people don’t see drag as a high art form. But I do and I needed to put it in a context where I could give it its proper recognition.”
Photo: Eric Brumfield
How Alix’s passion for dance developed
Alix says dance had always been at the back of his existence. “My mother’s favourite story to tell people is how I tried to run up the walls and backflip after seeing ‘Singing in the rain’. My parents had to ban the movie so I didn’t snap my back, I was a hyperactive kid. When I was eight, I signed up for dance classes at school. ‘Just Dance’ by Lady Gaga had just come out that week and I was parading around the house, doing the choreography from the music video. Lady Gaga has always been one of my biggest inspirations.”
At the age of 14, Alix discovered contemporary dance and became familiar with the Adelaide College of the Arts and the Australian Dance Theatre. Contemporary dance introduced him to a world away from the gender roles traditionally portrayed in other forms of dance. “I didn’t want to pretend to do these masculine things. That’s not me. I didn’t want to be this macho alpha male. I wanted to twirl around in the corner and do what I wanted to do.” With contemporary, Alix felt liberated, he didn’t feel the need to conform to masculinity or femininity at such a young age.
Alix first encountered drag through a recommendation on YouTube – Adore Delano’s ‘DTF’. “I had no idea what it was, but I liked it. After a bit of digging, I found out she was a drag queen from season six of ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race’ and I binge-watched the whole show. I was hooked.” It was at the age of 18 in nightclubs like Mary’s Poppin that Alix started performing in drag himself. “I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, I didn’t know what had hit me, but I was obsessed. I needed to understand every single one of these people. I loved and still love them all. They eventually learnt to love me, too, because I think they knew I was going to be here for a while.”
Photo: Eric Brumfield
Creating his Dance Honours project “IMMATERIAL”
Finding his identity wasn’t an easy task – going from an androgynous look and camp performances to doing a more feminised drag presentation took Alix several years. He also soon realised that what he wanted to do wasn’t what people in the drag scene expected him to do. This is where his Honours project for the Flinders Bachelor of Creative Arts (Dance) came in. Alix wanted his show to be a kind of antithesis, a melting pot of all his influences, aesthetics and ideas true to the motto “This is what I want to do. You can like it or not but you’re not going to stop me.”
Majorly influenced by the sudden death of Scottish transgender music producer Sophie Zion, Alix started working on his Honours masterpiece. Sophie had been Alix’s “end goal” – once he had made it as a contemporary dancer, he wanted to work with her. He thought about how she had influenced him, what it was that fascinated him about her, how her message had spoken to him. He especially gravitated to the song “Immaterial”. After stumbling over a quote by the Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic, about the immateriality of performance art – how it only exists for a fleeting moment and should you miss that one moment, it’s impossible to get it back – the title of Alix’ show was set. “I found the title for the show in the Sophie song. And then I found the meaning of the structure in the Abramovic quote.”
The concept for the show was to deconstruct drag’s mainstream ideals and search for its emotional intentions and spirituality, dividing the work into a dichotomy of materialism versus immaterialism. This journey was the key focus. Alix wanted to break free from norms, he didn’t want to be bound by expectations, he wanted to challenge the status quo.
Alix’s Dance Honours show evolved as a series of trial and error. He experimented in the studio, listened to music, conducted research and discussed theories he came across with his supervisors. “There were lots of days that were really hard and I just felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. But honestly, the days where I sat and did nothing with the data, I always ended up having another idea. You’re always thinking. I thought of another three works I want to do from making this show – ideas that didn’t make the final cut but could be their own thing entirely. I will hopefully get to bring those to fruition in the future”.
Alix wore many hats in his Honours project. He performed, dramaturged and choreographed the show and made its entire soundtrack. All other elements of the show were also auteured or designed by him with the help of his network of technical crew and support staff. “I have done so much work for this show that it seriously has been my baby, my brainchild from start to finish.”
The long hours and hard work paid off. “Getting to this point, seeing everyone come together and rally behind it has been so rewarding and emotional and having people that I’ve looked up to for years coming to my show and telling me I’ve done an incredible job – and I didn’t have to compromise myself to get there. I just stayed true to myself, and it’s been incredible.”
Empowering fellow queer artists is especially important to Alix. Growing up he was heavily influenced by role models from the queer world and says he needed to see their work in his formative years. Now Alix wants to be able to have the same inspiring effect on people. Collaborating with the LGBTQIA+ community is a big part of his work and something he wants to continue. For IMMATERIAL’s promotional assets, Alix worked with photographer Eric Brumfield and digital render artist Xai, both queer creators. “I also have a lot of queer friends that I think are brilliant. I think more people need to know about their work, and I just want to grab them and take them with me on whatever journey I go on.”
When it comes to future plans, Alix wants to go with the flow, whether that’s having his own Adelaide Fringe show or living and working in Los Angeles where drag is a big part of the independent art scene. That being said, completing a Masters or PhD overseas would be his dream come true and Alix is very clear on his vision. “I think you can expect that drag is not going to be separated from what I do anymore, you’ll probably see me coming out in drag for a contemporary art show. I think that’s just going to be the way things are for me for a while now. And it doesn’t mean that I need to be in drag all the time, that everything I do is going to be around drag. Knowing who you are is going to be a big part of the message that I want to send people. Because I think it’s really the one message that I know how to send.”
Alix’s recommendation to anyone wanting to study Dance is never to compromise anyone or anything. After being told by many people he couldn’t be or do what he wanted to, Alix set up a show that was in line with his vision and got praised by people he never thought would recognise his unique talent. “I did that by sticking true to who I am, and doing what I wanted to do, not compromising for anyone, and fighting tooth and nail to get this show off the ground. It was the best feeling ever. So, anyone that’s going to do this next year – stick to your guns, do what you need to do, go out, grab it by the balls. Just go for it. Don’t let anyone sway you!”.