The Influence

For choreographer Jo Lloyd, the discomfort of Leos Carax’s film Holy Motors is part of its uneasy brilliance. By Kate Holden.

Jo Lloyd

A scene from Holy Motors (above), and Jo Lloyd (inset).
Credit: Fetch Publicity (above) and Peter Rosetzky (inset).

Jo Lloyd is a Melbourne-based dancer and choreographer. A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, she is known for her works OVERTURE at Arts House Melbourne (2018), CUTOUT at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for the Melbourne International Arts Festival (2018), DOUBLE DOUBLE at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Liveworks, Mona Foma, and Archive the Archive for the National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition KNOW MY NAME: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now (2020). This month she was announced as a 2021 Sidney Myer Creative Fellow.

For The Influence, she is discussing Leos Carax’s 2012 film Holy Motors, in which a man named Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) travels around Paris in a luxury limousine taking on various roles in apparently obscure stagings.

I’m very curious to know how your dance work relates to this crazy film, which I watched last night. I confess I was a bit tired; I was enchanted but slightly lost…

I was in the shower before and trying to remember when I first saw Holy Motors. I always thought it was through a good friend and collaborator of mine, but the other day he said he’s never seen it! How many times have I seen it? Did I watch the whole thing the first time?

The film is difficult because it’s in bits. My memory is that I got distracted the first time, or I fell asleep halfway through. Or I didn’t. But that’s what the film is like: it keeps uncovering, there are things that unfold. I’ll never be able to watch the whole thing. It’s always delivering more perspectives. The last time I watched it, it became brilliant; the perspective shifts I find just glorious. It’s that I’m interested in, when some kind of work has the ability to shift your perception: it offers some proposition of how to see something differently. Or it hooks into something that’s been sitting dormant. That’s why it came to mind for this.

I’ve learnt over the past five years what my mode is with my dance – I tend to feel comfortable in something that other people might find uncomfortable. Also the body has a lot of movement in it I don’t understand: that’s what I relish. The psychology of the movement is becoming more interesting to me.

Sometimes you come across something in which someone has made something, that you realise you were maybe getting at in your work. It has the feedback of reassurance: “that’s why I’m doing that”, or “that’s what I do in my work”. Reiterating or making a visual representation of what I have going on. That’s what Holy Motors is for me.

Can you explain what this film is like? It’s stunning, but what exactly is going on here?

Hah, yes, it’s perhaps not a great film to watch now, it’s slippery and wonky and distorted, and we’re already in that mode at the moment! It’s a work where you experience a man performing, or taking on these different identities or roles, throughout an evening.

He gets driven around in a limousine and he gets into character physically, and goes to these different scenarios. There’s a sense that there’s a theatre; each experience is a little play or cinema – but there’s no audience, so he’s this actor for these different roles and he’s morphing and augmenting himself, but there’s no performance really because there’s no audience.

There’s a great scene in it where his boss gets into the limousine with him while he’s removing make-up and preparing for the next act, and his boss asks him, “Do you think you’re doing well in this job anymore; you seem to not be as interested in it, what keeps you going?” – and the main character says, “It’s the beauty of the act”. It’s that lovely thing: what’s the act unless you have an audience watching? It’s romantic in a way, for someone like me, with my dancing: I embody certain things, and I sometimes feel I do the dance on behalf of another. I want to give myself permission to be unappealing or to not judge what I’m doing. This uncomfortable place that might be what’s needed. In the end it’s not me; I’m presenting what might be a problem. I might not be endorsing it.

Back to the film: it finishes with limousines talking to each other, so it’s quite surreal at the end. The director said he was watching limousines and he thought of them as “engines for fiction”. I love that idea. They’re empty and morbid and erotic all at once. They want to be seen, but they also conceal. That was amazing to hear. The limousine in the film is like a container, it’s where he gets prepared for his roles, he comes and goes and he has a relationship with the driver. The thing about concealing; this container; this coming and going: when I think of dancing I think of my body as a container, and I also think of revealing and concealing. Even if I can be seen, what if I can’t see those that are watching me? Lately I’ve been working on a bit of choreography based on the idea that if I can’t see you, you can’t see me, right? 

And again here’s that feedback loop of something that gives you back what you’re mining in your own work. It confirms and clarifies something. To hear the director say these things: “Oh, so that’s why I love this film!”

The film is rich with symbolism and references. Does that chime with you? Condensing a whole set of implications in, say, the gesture of a body?

Totally, and I’m glad this has come up. Leos Carax said something I really love: “references depend on other things”. In dance there are so many things that can be loaded in a gesture, and I’m often a bit frightened of gestures, I think they’re too easy; is it just a convenience store? Everyone can go, “I’m a teapot.” [She makes the pose]. So come on Jo, you’re in your 40s, you’ve got to get a bit more sophisticated with your investigations! So how do I find the gesture or representation that is unreferential, how can I find the posture the body hasn’t been seen in before? I’m on a mission to find those new locations of the body, so the reading of them isn’t so “yep, got it, so that’s someone holding a gun”.

To get into the uncomfortable place, to get into the place that’s unresolved, that’s what I’m interested in. That oscillation, of what is being represented or what it proposes to one viewer as opposed to another. I stand next to my friend who’s from Malaysia, we’re two bodies that move similarly but we’re read differently; even naked is not naked in dance. How do you strip the body of references? You can’t, so you just keep rolling with what it is.

Sometimes films aren’t that enjoyable at the time but later, that’s when it works. That film isn’t comfortable but it hangs around, like a friend. It is still coming back to me over all these years.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 23, 2021 as "Jo Lloyd".

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Kate Holden is the author of The Winter Road.