"The origin of this idea was a fairly simple one. Last year, I took a subject at university which covered performance artwork and endurance work. We focussed on artists like Marina Abramović and Tehching Hsieh, and my friends and I marvelled at the level of commitment and ideology of these artists," she explains. "It prompted me to think about whether I was capable of creating an endurance work - if so, what would I be willing to push my mental and physical limits for? The answer I came to, at first jokingly, was dance."
"But I soon realised that my feelings about dance were very rich and significant. I had the material to create a work that could be incredibly special: my own personal test, a love letter to dance, a celebration of the way dance brings us together," McGrath continues. "This was an idea that could be fun and irreverent and allow me to express something very sincere. It also appealed to me that by facilitating The 24 Hour Dance Project I would be creating an artwork that brings joy to others as well as myself.
McGrath had previously staged this work as a 12 hour performance last year as part of the University of Melbourne's Mudfest, the largest student arts festival in the southern hemisphere. "I pitched the work in response to the Mudfest provocation: How do we respond to an increasingly frightening world? My response was, and still is, to dance. In the lead up though, I was quite worried about failing and that no one would come to tap me out and I wouldn't be able to make it through the 12 hours. However, I think I spent about one hour alone in the space before a steady stream of participants began to fill the space," she recalls.
"My friends came, other Mudfest artists dropped by, my sister slow-danced with me at the 11th hour and random students entered, slightly confused but excited and energised. I was hugely moved by how many people came to help me, and how joyful the experience was for everyone who entered the space. When I reached the finishing line, I think I knew then that I wanted to do it again, that this idea really had legs, that I could absolutely go for another 12 hours."
Dancing for even thirty minutes without a break can be exhausting, and it's impossible to not notice the sweat dripping off professional dancers after a one hour show, so how does someone prepare to dance for 24 hours? "So far my preparation has consisted of lots of cardio and regular dancing sessions. I'm very lucky to live with my producer, Harriet Wallace-Mead, and she's been helping to motivate me in my physical training," McGrath says. "She and I have been going for early morning runs and following YouTube yoga tutorials in our living room. I like to have some variety in the kind of exercise I'm doing and I find it a lot easier to exercise with friends. I've also recently been contracted to run a weekly casual dance class at the University of Melbourne which has been a brilliant opportunity for me to regularly practice dancing and hone my choreography and teaching skills."
24 hours of dancing also means 24 hours of music, which means a lot of songs to select. McGrath and her team are currently in the process of compiling a playlist for the evening, which could be over 400 songs. "All the songs we're selecting are connected to various thematic sections in the 24 hours, including an 80s section, a relaxed mum & bubs playlist, a queer dance section and a rave cave," she says. "Some of the songs that will feature in the project have also been selected by people who have contributed to our Pozible campaign."
There's many audiences who shy away from audience participation in shows, let alone ones where they are asked to be the centre of attention and show of their dance moves, but with The 24 Hour Dance Project, an open attitude is all McGrath says you require. "If people think they are not good enough at dancing, I would say to them that this show is not about that. It's about losing your inhibitions, moving your body any way you want, whatever feels right to you," she tells me. "I think the joy of dance is that it allows people to break away from their day-to-day motions, and to do something different with their bodies. Also, it needs to be said, that I am by no means an exceptional dancer, I'm just an enthusiastic one, so dance ability is not required at The 24 Hour Dance Project, just willingness."
Five Quick Ones
1. Art is how we respond to the world, make sense of and find strength in ourselves.
Jellyfish - because I'm a water baby and would love to live in the ocean. Also, I appreciate the way jellyfish move slowly and gracefully, but are full of sting.
3. What song would you play on repeat to torture someone?
"All Star" by Smash Mouth.
4. How long would you survive in a zombie apocalypse?
I think I could last one year. I would hole myself up and then make some savvy plans to secure and defend my hideout, but as we know, that can only last so long.
5. It just isn't a Fringe Festival experience without a disco ball. Filled with alcohol.
Venue: Testing Grounds 1-23 City Rd, Southbank.
Season: 9am Saturday 29 September until 9am Sunday 30 September.
Length: 24 hours - ticket holders can come and go as they please.
Tickets: $27 Full | $24 Conc
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival