Testing Grounds

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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Dan Newell studio


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Newell is the creator of performance hybrid DANDROGYNY and is currently working on queer, multi-modal performative critiques of Australian masculinities, its contradictions and toxicity, through their project NED KYLIE, which will be a focus of their studio with Testing Grounds.

Daniel Newell is a dancer, maker, performance artist, and graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts. Cat-walking the fine-eyeliner of the pop cultural and political, Daniel’s work can be defined as creatively chaotic and cathartic often outing itself as homo-erratic. Having performed in over 20 countries, highlights include working with Shelley Lasica, Deanne Butterworth, Bollywood Film, Opera Australia, Strange Fruit, Melbourne Festival, Dance Massive, Rafael Bonachela and Kylie Minogue.


Dan Newell as Dandrogyny

November 2019

The first month of studio practice has been a process of relating to a more conventional studio space, understanding how my physical / performance practice relates to space/s. My process has been grounded in bodies, movement, and physical articulation; explored in locals of dances studios, drag stages, amongst large audiences and diverse peoples. From configuring the space in a way that allows for the imagination of my body, to learning to surround my self with objects which are physically imbued with practice and meaning in close proximity with other studio artists. This process of allowing, integrating and realising the limitations of my first defined studio space has been a playful and intimate mapping of my process. In conjunction with the development of a stronger understanding of the texts, I will use as central to the theatrical work I’m creating, allowing my research of these texts to inhabit the space in their own right.

On day two of the residency, I was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition. The news shocked and shook me; forcefully urging me to re-question the resonance/vibration, need and desire of Art and Performance within my life. Genetics, Family (logical/biological), Heteronormativity and Uncertainty resurfaced to my consciousness. Knowing that a huge empathetic muscle pumping inspiration, ancestral lineage and cellular data through my being could stop at any moment… without warning… is both numbing and confronting. A pace-maker?

Within my studio, I have been experimenting through reading many – but two prominent texts:‘Gender Trouble Down Under: Australian Masculinities’ by David Coad 2002 & ‘The Decent of Man’ by Grayson Perry 2016. I have been reading, while writing, while teaching/playing with ideas on children & young people, manipulating costume & props, while also preparing/presenting performance propositions/outcomes for Melbourne Fringe Festival, Honcho Disko, variety events, club nights, performative dance classes and collaborating with a dear Sydney performance comrade, Betty Grumble. Working with Signal and House of Dēvine in a supportive capacity was a beautifully affirming moment in preparation for their House Warming Ball set to unfurl at Kensington Town Hall on November 9th. Assisting Vogue workshops and sharing of cultures and dance with Young People ignited a severe emergence of community, passion, dance, love and fire. Inspiration and reclamation! A clear sign that activation and bringing together; worlding of worlds is important and is often hugely neglected within solo studio practice.

Survival is a true provocation… working/revisiting previous modes, previous works/outcomes and ways of creating work has lead to notions of extinguishing patterns of distraction and destruction while allowing new ways of working to manifest. Accepting – slowly – my vulnerabilities and the need to conceal process from others is quickly shifting and allowing my creative expression to refine and inhabit more space. A blank canvas, an empty notebook; still is the most inspiring yet most daunting place to project creative thought.

December 2019

This month has been a full embrace of organised mess and vigour… perhaps in preparation for the madness ahead, the whack season! corporate cannibal capitalist Christian consumerism… corruption. rubbish. Introducing more objects and materials ( performative and structural bits ) within my studio has been telling of the way in which my process evolves through and by relying on properties, things, objects and implied histories and tellings… while the strength of colour (hi-vis), construction paraphernalia and masculinity is shrouded and reflected throughout the exaggeration and over-stimulation of bestrewn array. Experimenting with Aussie – Slang and iconic Aussie – objects have seen to have a co-shared focus this month.

A question I have been thinking about is- How Queer is our fella, Ned (Kelly)? And how much Queerness does pint-sized princess Kylie need to survive? Conversations around queer-ness and how much-ness and femme-ness and female-masculinity within the Bush Ranger realm has been intriguing and really fascinating to unpack.. still only scratching the surface.

I’ve been exploring this question through object manipulation, further reading, chats of works gone by and newness & expansion, the exploration of celebrated monuments of these two icons, and also performative outings through addressing recurring themes and performance plots and potential narrative has been of ongoing approach to my research and experimentation toward NED KYLIE.

This month, a magnetism has thrown me to value and be alarmed at how much technology and wireless networking structure/s are required to support, allow and enhance creative ‘infrastructure’. The firm nod to reading from page, from book, reading a room/space, engaging in old fashion chat, showing ideas ( one on one and in small gatherings ) has been a firm and kind discovery that screens and unseen radio-waves don’t own the practise, and definitely don’t rule the roost… and in most cases could be used as a perceived easy way out.

Object on my studio desk

February 2020

Dandrogyny as creation has played between the lines of being both characters, and self. Drag like much of art, cannot escape being autobiographical, though as we world with our characters, there is a pain in the stretching of old skin, the renewal of essence, and the tiring of muscles. January has been about retroactively consuming old performance works, inviting them back onto the stage, and asking what is held, what has changed. The second part to this process was designing and creating a costume with my mother, as a ritual of healing, holding and worlding together, tying myself back to deeply carved histories, and imagining futures together. It has been a month of taking inventory in order to see one’s self through time and process.

Performance/drag is magic, is worlding, processes, is ritual, is right, is the essence. My practice though always contextualised within social assemblages and political waters are anchored in a sense of essence, of performance as reducing and distilling. Stages house great acts of alchemy, of religion, of transformation. Working forwards to a more directly durational theatre piece means working back through the archives of practice, which has directly lead to my curiosity around what was the original essence of these ideas, how did they transgress across the stage, and may I reduce them further. This retroactive play is providing new space for character and self-growth, as well as a humbling interrogation of one’s practice and vulnerability.

March 2020

Thinking about the way architecture, assemblages and spaces inform work and performance. The way the drag as ever-shifting simulacrum responds to codified spaces, and performances changes in each ecology. I’ve been experimenting with theatrical rhythm also, heavier climaxes to form of the act, slow somewhat – lost – drawn-out spaces between theatrical explosions, ultimately conjuring the anti-climax. Form and rhythm, I feel somatically a linkage, and hence why I have been exploring the two harmoniously. Both are held deeply in the body and respond to complicated\ environments.

I feel as though these contemplations arose from working across multiple different settings, from the Melbourne Immigration Museum, the NGV, from the Town Hall of Daylesford to the Foothills of the Dandenongs and Moomba Parade. As I have been thinking about the ways my practice responds to spaces, I’ve gravitated towards working with tension control and rhythm/s in my act writing as a counterbalance. To feel, be with and tweak what I have control over while noticing space as an informant, and often the lack of control one has on space/landscape/structure they perform in.

Photo by Suzanne Phoenix

April 2020

Ned Kylie: a theatrical slur exploring Aussie iconography, queering national treasures and exploring Australian fragilities through Performance Art. Newell’s latest work aims to explore their rural upbringing and queerness, becoming a vehicle for audiences to interrogate the myth of Australian pride, masculinity and settlement; as well as the narrative of masculine “endurance” that pervades rural Australia. Designed for a 30-40 person audience, to be toured across the sticky locals of rural and cosmopolitan Victoria, the work focuses on facilitating intimate audience questioning. Currently seeking additional funding, the desired outcome as follows; personal theatrical growth and successful sustained audience engagement, to foster queer perspectives in Australian critique.

Ned Kylie is still within its preliminary stages. The work has been deeply supported through the incubation of integral ideas, concepts and research found through my Testing Grounds studio. With COVID-19 affecting all future plans and most aspects of many peoples worlds, it is uncertain to see how far forward one can project artistic optimism and design. The downtime and change of pace allows more internal perspective and gentle sieving of practise, potentiality and potency, while also focusing on integrating tech elements into artistic practise. The shift allows new focus on digital connection, branding and reach.

Having someone who could peer in on Ned Kylie unfurling, the need for further funding for development, space to rehearse, a dramaturg and producer are among the primary needs in order to evolve this into a fully realised work.

Should presenters, creatives or donors wish to contact me… my website www.dandrogyny.com is the most direct and effective mode of contact. Should any cinematographers, screen directors &/or screen writers wish to connect also, I have entire trust that a filmic iteration of this work would be of professional, performative and social importance.

Invaluable… has the time, space and community at TG offered. I have found the infrastructure and the location of the grounds, and the mapping of the site convenient, secluded and safe for the trying/testing of new ideas. I feel uneasy leaving, especially with minimal funds or opportunity of relocating while COVID-19 still looms with precarious-undulating-urgency. I really enjoyed the past months when Bridget Chappell and I were sharing the space. For sound and physical performance, more ‘actual’ space proves important in order for expansion and to allow full activation of ideas and spatial play. I reflect upon the initial month, and how it was so foreign, everything, my commitment to the space… I now find it difficult to foresee the idea of not having a mortal space in which to fully isolate and dedicate my practise too. I thank dearly all other studio artists that have made space, shared feedback, conversation, interest and allowed for a continued dialogue during our six month residency. I especially thank Arie for his assistance, guidance, suggestive spark and support throughout the residency. I acknowledge and thank the tradition owners of the lands in which I have been creating; the lands of the (Woiwurrung) Wurundjeri and the Boon Wurrung peopled of the Kulin Nations. I further acknowledge, how influential and rich this time has carved upon my practise.