It was at the Stamping Ground, a dance festival for men in Bellingen where Darren and I first met back in 1997. Some people would often mistake us for brothers, which I think had something more to do with the colour of our eyes more than our personalities. But over the years I somehow lost track of Darren since he departed the University of Western Sydney, which is where I last saw him last teaching at an Options Tertiary Dance Festival. We recently reconnected after I encouraged him to present something for the Arts Activated Conference in Sydney. This I hope has staged the beginning of his return to dance.
Can you share with us your history growing up as a kid?
I was brought up on army bases throughout Australia, from Puckapunyal (an Australian Army training facility and base 10 km west of Seymour, in central Victoria, south-eastern Australia) to Townsville (adjacent to the central section of the Great Barrier Reef) and therefore moved every two or so years as a child. In adolescence I lived in Wodonga in the army area of town. I would ride my bike 5kms to school from east Wodonga to West Wodonga. It was a great rural upbringing in a way and I had the pleasure of tropical hills to bush and have developed a love of nature because of it.
Mum is highly creative in the craft area and was always bringing home half-mad antique reproduction dolls. I’ll never forget being looked at by those heads with no eyes and arms half hanging off. Dad was either at work or in the shed making things and I remember little of his influence except massaging and scrapping the dead skin from his feet. My parents are now separated as soon as I left home at 16 to go to university.
I have a sister who is 4 years older than me and she used to dress me as a girl. I was the good boy at school academically and she was the trouble maker, left school early etc. I am the first one on both sides of family to finish high school let alone university.
I had a facial reconstruction at age 15 in which I spent from the age of 8 in preparation.Two sets of braces plus rapid maxillary expansion plate to widen my maxilla. My face was shortened and my mandible pulled back. I believe this to be a major reason in my moving toward dance from literature and was a blessing amidst a long process of physical and psychological issues. The operation was called a Mandibular Maxillary Osteotomy.
I will always mourn the boy that was taken and wonder what my life was to be and what is now. My mother kept me on a leash as a youngster in public as I would become rambunctious hiding in clothes and pulling clothes off of racks.
Did you ever think you were different in some way?
I never really fitted in and was always a few years younger than my class mates as I skipped a few years at school due to moving and me getting bored and being disruptive because the work was too easy. I would pretend to have broken legs or have an epileptic fit in public to work the social and public stressors on my parents.
When did you start dancing?
When I went to university to study an eduction degree in language and literature. I chose drama and dance as minor subjects with the hope to be a drama major as I didn’t make it into the auditions. In second year I achieved that goal and become a drama major but continued on with literature and dance. My passion for dance grew exponentially that year as I slowly began to show progress. By my third year I was dance-obsessed but still studied literature and drama. I become a dance major by fourth year and was deeply passionate about dance and education as well as having started uncoordinated and the worst in the class to the guy who moves faster, broader, longer and deeper. It seemed there was no looking back and my passion in men in dance and community art fuelled it to continue until I was a professional choreographer, youth arts practitioner… but also dancer and physical theatre performer on an international scale.
Very strange how it all happened as I never had any childhood aspirations to being a dancer at all. In fact, I don’t really like most dance or watching it generally. But I love doing it and the intrinsic nature of dance is still to this day what I believe is the foundation of education itself.
I also remember ‘Stamping Ground’ in Bellingen having a huge influence on me and (was) where I got my first paid gig with a dance in education group touring schools throughout Queensland and NSW.
But really I started dancing because of Garry Lester whose dance class was extraordinary and all my being was challenged physically and most importantly intellectually and theoretically. I would not have ever taken dance so seriously without him and the understanding that dance crosses and is the form where education. arts sociology. psychology, biology can meet and allow interdisciplinarity and break down the traditionalist concepts of purist form, independent learning and the autonomy of mind and body.
Can you tell me the highlights in your career and why?
Career highlights was performing in South America on the streets of Venezuala and Columbia. Huge crowds and chanting. I felt like a rock star haha. Infact generally the 3 years touring Europe, Asia etc extensively with Strange Fruit was amazing. I saw the world. What more can I say. Other than that one choreography I did for Quantum Leap at the Australian Choreographic Centre called Age of Man. All ages – 40 boys and men about the development of man. I loved this process and result.
I love working with diverse groups of people and abilities as I believe in the strengths in our limitations. I also loved performing on the streets, allowing access to all. I believe art should be free and accessible to all people. Even the homeless.
What do you think is your responsibility as an artist?
I use to believe it was my responsibility to help change the face of Australian culture from what I saw as ignorant, sport focused etc to a place where artists were glorified like in Europe. I think this drive was a contributing factor to my psychosis. I deliberately chose to stay in Australia as an artist to contribute to the education of this country and build a stronger contemporary art understanding and network. Pedagogy is important to me as I was touched by an artist on a profound level and I would hope I have touched a few on a profound level… this to me is responsibility. To pass on the inspiration passion and knowledge to others in that it may continue and grow.
You’ve recently learned you have bi-polar disorder and HIV. Can you tell me a little bit about your journey of surviving a mental illness then realising you’re contending with another medical condition? How do you manage both?
In some ways surviving mental illness and hospitalisation enabled me to contend with HIV better. I already have a regime of reducing stress and anxiety in my life. More stable and consistent patterns and the responsibility of maintaining medical checkups and medications. In some ways I see HIV as a symptom of my bipolar disorder. Controversial maybe but I do believe depression and mania indeed or moods determine our willingness or inability to reason in times if crisis or in situations.
HIV is almost a physical manifestation of quite a metaphysical illness bipolar. It’s almost like so many tragedies have occurred in my life from guns, homelessness etc that I was like hahh well get on with it. It feels quite minor in comparison to the emotional and psychosomatic torture of many periods in my life. As many my main issue was, “who will love me now?” Hmmm well… myself.
I have grown deeply happy with my own company, gardening etc in the last five years that even this concept of aloneness for the rest of my life didn’t really bother me. Strange I was always so scared of HIV and now it’s just an inconvenience and I’m a little disappointed. This all may change of course but I have had to come to terms with great loss due to my bipolar and HIV came at a time I have come to peace with my behaviours due to bouts of mania and depression
What do we need to learn about people with mental illness?
I can’t speak for all I suppose but I believe people with mental illness are highly sensitive and aware individuals. Easily disturbed or hurt by aggression, negativity or general “dark” behaviour. I believe they can sense people’s intentions and this awareness can be difficult to manage. I believe mental illness comes with gifts, it’s just that society sees these attributes as negative as they may seem non productive. I also believe the metaphysical, spiritual and conceptual realms are highly active and we often move faster than others in our thought process. With this comes extraordinary lateral thinking attributes which people find confronting, absurd or just plain weird.
I believe people need to understand that their tension and anxiety is the main cause of a person with mental illness was their own state of being. In some way we mirror the environment back to itself. In calm natural surrounds usually people with mental illness feel at peace. People with mental illness pick up the emotions of others.
You recently attended the Arts Activated Conference and Catalyst Dance Masterclass series in Sydney. How was this experience?
Amazing, not just in the event but the changes in my life since.
It was like I performed a ritual of ownership and acceptance publicly and ever since my confidence and ability to interact have increased. I feel like I am allowed to be me again. Everything seems to be going right for me as now I don’t blame others for the events that unfolded. I have an objectivity like never before. Shame is gone and I can see that no-one is to blame, there is just a lot to be done, understood and developed in the area of mental illness.
I realised that my ownership makes me accessible to people again, I have found people are genuinely interested in the experience of mental illness and the ways they can assist people in an altered state or even what symptoms are and how to identify when someone needs assistance. I feel liberated and that my opinions are not only valid but unique and valuable.
Your recent work in progress, ‘My Only Destination’ which you presented at the conference was a powerful autobiographical account of your experience discovering what’s underneath your skin. It exposes the harsh reality of surviving a mental health condition and is an honest account of facing death in the midst of madness. How has disclosing your medical conditions within an artistic community impacted on the direction you’re now traveling in?
It has been extraordinary. I feel vindicated in some sense, free of my own fear of expression after my lived experience. I cannot express its power. Since then I have secured independent stable accommodation, transformed my life and relocated to a location I actually want to live in. I have just received a grant from Accessible Arts and Arts NSW to develop My Only Destination and learn skills in understanding the nuts and bolts of grants, marketing etc. It’s an amazing opportunity to create new networks and define myself as an artist again after many years of stasis and a sense of a lost identity.
Congratulations on receiving an ‘Amplify your art’ grant through Accessible Arts. What’s getting you excited at the moment?
I am excited about working with other people with mental illness and finding process which allows an exploration of this area in order to bring understanding to others and validate our experiences. I am excited to work and look at the physicality of the emotional landscape of chemical imbalance and its relationship to shamanism and spirituality. I am excited to create my own work and be acknowledged as an artist again. Mostly I am excited that not only have I survived but I am not angry anymore.
‘Amplify your art’ is a devolved funding program administered by accessible Arts on behalf of the NSW Government through Arts NSW, Aging Disability and Home Care.
If you could turn back the clock in your life, where are you and what are you doing?
That’s very hard, for many years all I wanted was to be back with my ex in Sydney and successful just before my psychosis however, thinking now confronted with this question this (thankfully) seems irrelevant and unimportant. The experience I most cherish, remember and seems the only response to this question. I’m at Macchu Pichu in Peru. I’m in a trance dancing, unaware of the tourists around watching. I am connecting, improvising, channeling the spirits of the sacred animals of the snake (underworld), jaguar (earth) and the eagle (the heavens). I am fulfilling a dream. I realise I am everywhere and already know everything.
Darren Green has a B.Ed in drama/dance/literature from Deakin University and is a performance artist, contemporary dancer and choreographer. He has toured throughout Europe, South America and Asia performing with Dance Elixir, Strange Fruit and Stalker Theatre Company. He has been regular resident tutor at Shopfront Theatre for Young People and engaged with multiple youth events as mentor and facilitator including the Australian Youth Dance Festival, Australian Theatre of the Deaf and Stamping Ground Mens’ Dance Festival. Darren has been an Associate Lecturer at UWS where he taught at the Centre of Contemporary Performance in Dance Studies, worked with Quantum Leap and presented solo work for One Extra Dance Company.
Darren has spent the past few years recovering from major psychosis and has a diagnosis as bipolar 1. He hopes to infuse this experience into his practice and find new pathways for himself and others whom suffer social and career isolation from mental illness.
Photo: Hayley Rose Photography