Sightings – In Conversation with Gabrielle Nankivell.

In the lead up to our final presentation for 2022 – Sightings, a new performance and portrait of place – creator, director, and choreographer Gabrielle Nankivell dropped past to talk about heat on the road, points in time, and Grandma’s shortbread…

Firstly, tell us about Sightings. I know that much is unknown right now, but what should audiences expect?

Sightings is a strange and lovely project. It’s an evolving map that charts the travel of getting to know a place – on foot, through debris, in conversation and across all the messiness of witnessing and composing reality-based fiction. As a performance it’s something like a cabinet of curiosities, a backyard cinema, and a collective ritual rolled into one. Audiences should expect an invitation to explore – to wander, look, touch, read, sit, try, make, watch…

Weirdly, it contains all the things I use to make dance performances, but which don’t usually end up in the performance. I guess I’m usually more associated with epically physical contemporary dance outcomes – I’ve performed in plenty of work like this and most of the commissions I receive are with intensely virtuosic contemporary dance companies – Sightings sits a long way outside of this world.

You’ve been developing this piece for several years now – what has changed along the way? What’s been surprising about the process?

Figuring out how to work on this project has been quite a process, we’ve tried lots of approaches that have totally failed! Finding the right medium/s-language/s with which to manifest it has also been a story of trial and error. One of the things I realised changed along the way was that we were creating the blueprint for a site-specific performance making model rather than making a standalone performance – i.e.: the performance can’t exist without the residency. This was a huge surprise for me as prior to that I had mostly used the opportunity of residencies as seeding grounds for future works and as a time to take stock of where my practice was at.

Learning a lot more about time has been a surprising side-effect of the Sightings process, especially since I come from the very labour/time intensive world of choreography. In a residency situation it’s tricky to balance the lead-time required to implement an encounter or adventure with the time required to actually fulfil it. Some ideas require a lot of comms, and therefore time, to secure access to a site and/or people. Because we are working with people, individual personalities, ways, routines, and relationship with time need to be respected – this can be a bit of an intangible thing until you are in it. Some mediums are more labour intensive – working with analogue film for example, processing and conversion time has to be considered and then there’s time for editing… It’s been an invigorating experience to work in a paradox – intensely planned and organised but also meandering and offering time to the abyss.

What does it mean to be bringing this piece specifically to Yerta Bulti-Port Adelaide? What do you hope to discover about the Port?

Yerta Bulti-Port Adelaide holds a lot of mystery for me. It’s absorbing and reflective at the same time, like heat on the road or fog on the river, mirage-like perhaps. The yarns, myths, and tales – held and told by earth, walls, people – make it dusty and shifty and full of life. I feel like it’s a natural environment for tuning and receiving. If we do that well, hopefully the performance will reflect a very real-feeling fiction or imprint of place.

We hope to discover the Port exactly as it reveals itself in this particular point of time.

The work utilises both mixed-media and crowd-sourced stories/locations – how do you and your team wind that all together into a performance piece? What should people do if they want to get involved?

Collectively our occupation is some kind of imagination fabrication, we’re all quite into getting our hands dirty, figuring out how things work and general tinkering. Any chance to try something we’re not particularly familiar with is exciting, therefore it’s pretty easy for us to get on board with the eclectic range of enthusiasts we meet along the way. These encounters tend to generate a variety of material – found or made objects, photos, videos, written material, physical skills.


Sightings is a process of following – guided by what we’re offered and what we find, rather than just something we impose. The ‘enthusiast’ spirit really seems to suit the project, it allows for a different kind of finesse in the content we are producing – one where warmth, care and effort are perhaps privileged over glossy, high-end noise. Think the difference between a handmade photo album and a ‘For You’ memory compilation made by your phone, or Grandma’s shortbread versus Arnott’s Shortbread Creams… I think it’s a project where you really feel the alchemy of the people and the place involved.

If people want to get involved they can provide us with some breadcrumbs via the ‘Participate’ link on the Sightings website,

Anything else audiences should know?

The Sightings team are artists who work across dance, sound, writing and visual design. We spend a lot of time making live performances but are equally invested in developing research projects where we can learn more about the places and people we meet through the itinerant nature of our work. We welcome reflections on the performance so if any audience members feel inclined to leave us a handwritten note, have a chat or drop us an email following the season – we would love to hear from them.