Rising From The Underground: Paul Malek Brings Melbourne Dance Party To Brisneyland

| June 6, 2014

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Words by Kristoffer Reynoso

IT’S sometimes daunting for a journalist to experience pre-interview jitters – especially when you’re about to converse with one of the nation’s most recognisable, innovative and forward-thinking choreographers. But when that person happens to be none other than So You Think You Can Dance mentor and independent dance producer Paul Malek, one’s heart palpitations calm at the thought of his chirpy, cheerful nature. A prolific entrepreneur in his industry, Paul is set to spread his love of movement, beats and energy nationally when his highly successful Underground ‘dance extravaganza’ hits Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in August. I contacted this charismatic chap to take me underground to talk about Australia’s dance culture, academic opportunities for adolescent performers, and the sheer chills Paul feels when he discovers raw, rhythmic talent.

The big hand passes the 11 and so I begin to dial his digits. Two rings. “Hello, Paul Malek speaking.”
“Good morning Paul, it’s Kris Reynoso from Moustache Magazine, how are you today?”
“Well, thank you. I’m just halfway though my first coffee.”
I would inject caffeine straight into my veins if I could, I think to myself, and I’m sure Paul would share the same sentiments. Casual, civil small talk ensues. He is audibly easy-going; his passion for dance bleeding through the iPhone speakers.

For someone who doesn’t wear pink on Wednesdays, Paul’s a lover for all things Queen Bey and prefers Channing Tatum to Alex Pettyfer (which is, in a sense, quite a problematic decision), and yet he fancies You Got Served rather than the Step Up series. But don’t be fooled by the rocks that he’s got, because old mate here’s got a CV that’s not only impressive, but inspiring. With extensive training from classical ballet and jazz to hip hop and kinetic awareness (what what?), his involvement with SYTYCD extends to choreographing routines for Dancing With The Stars and to his dance production company, Collaboration The Project. With Underground, he wants Brisbane to “have one of the best nights you’ll ever have”.

“Underground is a great part of me and my best friend Kim Adam and it’s only come into fruition in the past 24 months here in Melbourne. It is an event where you can bring the entire community together, but also mix it with amazing DJs, amazing vocal acts, and also smash a bit of alcohol back; a good dance, bring your friends,” Paul describes of his clubbing-cum-dance festival, to be held at Brisbane’s HIFI Bar on Friday 8 August. “It is like dance extravaganza gone crazy. This night has about 30 dance acts. You have DJs going off, vocal acts going off. It’s incredible, you have three different sets of shows throughout the night so you can still socialise. If you don’t like something, in three minutes time something else will be up on stage. It’s just mad.”
The idea for such a massive event stems from his and Kim’s desire to develop the dance industry and uncover hidden talent by mixing their fervour in a clubbing atmosphere, and in turn, revamping the pedantry of the generic clubbing experience.


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“Basically, we put a call out to the Melbourne dance industry; we’ve held industry nights before in the theatrical sense, so we held it in a big theatre, a lot of upcoming choreographies together including some established choreographers; we really wanted to get more of the, I guess, ‘underground’ newcomers to really expand the industry and create more performing platforms. In doing that, we wanted to redo the ‘club’ format, everyone goes to clubs, everyone loves a dance party, but it’s the same format everywhere you go, it gets a bit stale, and Underground gives it a different flavour.

The formula works, and as such, the hottest night of dance is now held quarterly and continues to gain momentum since its inception. And while his work is praised in the Australian dance community, it gets me thinking, do we really have a dance culture? “Look, I think we do,” Paul says. “The thing is, is that it fluctuates too much. I spent my entire performing life overseas, so from 19 – 26, I lived overseas and performed. And I came back to Australia, and in Melbourne especially, I was seeing my old friends, going, “What are you doing?” “Oh, I’m teaching.” “Oh, what have you done?” And those were the best dancers I’ve ever danced with growing up in school. And I just went, “Let’s just put on a show, let’s create our own work.” At the moment in Australia, there is the corporate work, very minimal at the moment because we used to have so much dance on television, all these dance shows in the 80s and 90s, and it’s kind of dropped off the face of the Earth. But you have musicals, nothing really in the corporate sector, and all these amazing independent choreographers going, “Let’s just get out there and do it ourselves,” and it’s really, really working. We’re just trying to make it sustainable.”

Having trained overseas all through Asia, northern Europe and the eastern coast of America, and performing on cruise ships, he highlights Hawaii as his favourite place as he “just loved the sun”. He even hints that Brisbane could very well be his new home in the next five years, due to our quintessential Queensland weather, and probably because Lonely Planet called us a hip city.
“I have to say that Brisbane culture is coming through, and the potential it has and the amount of people who dance is about to explode. I think it’s got the most potential. I read in a Lonely Planet article that you apparently have the best coffee in Australia and as a Melbournite, I will have to disagree.”
“Ouch. Some honest opinion right there,” I confess.
“[Laughs] Yeah! But I do love Brisbane, but actually, the dance culture there is incredible. Everyone loves to dance there. Everyone’s a really good dancer there too. Two of the four winners of So You Think You Can Dance have been from Queensland. So you definitely have an abundance of talent coming out of there. Now we have to make Brisbane a centre point for dance and give people opportunity to stay in Brisbane to work and love it.”

Hard work has definitely paid off for Paul; a former employee at Red Rooster, he played tennis in his early teenage years and is still, to this day, a “sucker for PlayStation 2”. Being the driving force behind Collaboration, Paul also articulates his pride for its youth-directed enterprise, Project Y, which has also seen soaring success and is currently developing its first film.

“Collaboration [came about] when we asked why is there no work here in Australia? Why aren’t people creating their own shows? So we created our own shows, and we created 12 theatrical productions and out of it has come an incredible youth dance company that is, in the moment editing its first short movie, which is called Up Here, to be released later this year. And also we’re doing online web content. So we have an incredible online dance chat show called Dance Chat – that’s a monthly dance program, and that’s hosted by myself and the incredible Yvette Lee. And that’s a wonderful online program. It runs for 30 minutes every month, and it really is about filling in the gaps, I guess; finding out what’s missing to reinvigorate the industry.


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“Project Y gives young people the opportunity to work in a professional context in an uncompetitive environment to produce professional work and go through all the choreographic processes and the technical side of things and then perform a full season – not just one show. They perform to up to four to five performances in a theatre over the space of a week.”
Always scattering goodwill and joy to everyone, Project Y coincides with high school students’ education and brings them out of their comfort zone, simply because they’re collaborating with other kids from other schools.
“It’s kind of like professional work experience. It’s kind of like you’re in year 10, you do your personal work experience, but you’re actually doing a production. You learn the chory, you learn how to make costumes, you learn how to set lights; it’s the whole caboodle in a non-competitive environment. So we help you become an artist and a dancer in a professional context,” Paul explains.

“What’s your advice to all the young hopefuls out there who want to be like you? A nationally renowned choreographer and dancer?” I ask of him. He responds immediately; his words preaching self-acceptance and to face challenges head on.
“Never stop being yourself. Full stop. Never try and be what other people think you should be. Always be who you are. Never stop creating. And never think you should wait for your turn – go for it. Never stop working, because if you work hard, everything will come your way, even if you hear the word ‘no’ all the time. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.”
Perhaps his optimism for young people has roots in his country town upbringing, where having a dance teacher for a mother, and a father working the night shift left Paul to be supervised by “ten babysitters at the dance studio”.
“I worked in a bar once. Like literally, once. Like, I sucked at it. I dropped so many glasses. I was walking around, and I looked great, but the amount of glass I smashed – it was never meant to be,” Paul embarrassingly recalls.
“I pretty much grew up in a studio. It was really supportive and I was born to dance.”


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