Amrita Hepi in conversation with Tamsin Rose
Tamsin Rose: You're well known as a dancer, but your work spans a huge range of practices. Why have you diversified your output?
Amrita Hepi: People often say that dance has to be solely what your doing - when you’re an independent dance maker you have to document what you do; you have to write and talk about it. I work in dance so exploring everything about it is important as I love it all
All of these extra things are bits in my armour that make me a better dancer. We tend to be quite reductive about dance and think of it only as this beautiful, expressive thing - If it’s anything like the rest of art, dance is a way to understand things in a deeper and more connective way.
TR: Do people often find you and your practice online?
AH: People do find me online, although I think I could work on my web presence. My internet being is a reflection of all of the things I am interested in. It gets my goat when people complain about how online everything is nowadays. Technology is going to happen so let’s use it to our power.
TR: Who are some people you enjoy in the digital realm?
AH: Solange Knowles, Bhenji Ra, and India Salvor Meneuz, amongst others.
Another thing I have been thinking about is that there are some people who you can’t watch online; you’ve got to be there in that real life experience. In an age of capitalism and theatre performances, how do we create intimate, small, one on one performances? And is that valuable? I am interested in small acts, small movements and small groups. I think that’s the next thing for me, once I’ve finished all the other work.
TR: What are you working on at the moment?
AH: Soon I will be in WA with contemporary Indigenous dance company, Ochres. We will be constructing a new work by visiting and learning from different Indigenous communities. I am looking forward to being a body in the process again, to the surrender. We will also be teaching a few workshops while we’re out there, but mostly just learning and creating.
TR: How open are the communities to you coming in?
AH: Some are completely not open to it, and that’s totally understandable. They are allowed to say fuck you. It reminds me of that Drake lyric: “You can't listen to me talk and go tell my story.” There’s a history of trauma and a lack of trust, so it takes time. When we have a dancer in the troop that’s from the place we’re visiting place it’s great. Then they can see that someone is keeping it culturally sound and intact.
TR: Between Ochres and your other gigs you travel a lot. What is it like moving around so much for work?
AH: I am so over flying, but I just became a Virgin lounge member! Touring is so in-and-out and can really wreck you; often I find myself asking if I want a beer, a burger or a sleep at the end of the day. Until mid-November I’ll be in WA, and back and forth between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. When I’m feeling really sad and I can sometimes forget what a privilege it is to do what I do. In saying that, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
TR: You’re doing so much amazing stuff, like speaking at TEDxSydney this year. How was that?
AH: I had a really shitty dress run. The night before they had a mixer and I got into this conversation with a woman who had worked in the Tiwi Islands - she made some awful remarks about Aboriginal people not wanting to work. It upset me a lot - . It’s so funny how this one stupid person can completely debased you from the greatness of what was actually happening.
On the day it was surreal walking up to the Opera House to give a talk to thousands of people. Once I got onto the stage my performer instinct set in and there was a sense of calm and clarity. It felt really fun, sincere and playful.
TR: I gave up dance right around puberty so your talk really resonated with me.
AH: As soon as I was becoming a woman I wasn’t allowed to do things. My body was changing, so it felt like my movement and expression had to change. It was such an uncomfortable time, but also a really great time in retrospect. I have some fond memories amongst that discomfort. I see it all the time, especially with tweens: they have these new bodies, new smells and new hairs. I remember telling my mum that by the time I didn’t have acne and puppy fat anymore, I’d have wrinkles and I’d be old. I really had to check whose standards of beauty I was engaging with. I grew up in a place where there was a lot of good looking white girls hanging out.
TR: Where did you grow up?
AH: The Northern beaches of Sydney, where they film Home and Away and it’s all about the bro-isms of surf culture. I remember feeling like I was special because I was the ‘exotic’ one in Avalon and that I had to play into that stereotype or feeling threatened whenever there were other girls that were a little bit exotic around, because my boyfriends had this fucked up thing about yellow fever.
TR: That is the worst.
AH: It’s the worst. It’s so disgusting. I’ve had people I went to school with apologise for being racist assholes - which I guess is good.
TR: When you do have moments of downtime, how do you get into that relaxed space?
AH: Gosh, I am such a lush. I love saunas, steam rooms, massages and eating good food. The feeling of being tender after being in hot water. If I am relaxing, I am laxin’ to the max. I find it really nourishing to go back to Avalon. Swimming there I can feel my skin recharging.