Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A captivating season and a fitting farewell

Review: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year dance students, ‘Verge’ ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 16th November ·
Review by Lauren Catellani ·

This year’s “Verge” season, from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts’ dance department, is an expansive celebration of dance, with four diverse works passionately performed by the students. “Verge” is an annual mixed bill program of classical and contemporary dance that showcases both the graduating and second year students, and this year’s program is well constructed and provides an opportunity for audiences to appreciate dance in both its past and present forms.

The evening kicks off with Coppelia Suite, a montage of scenes from the famed Romantic ballet, remounted by WAAPA’s Kim McCarthy and Danielle Hunt. The audience is greeted with an energetic live performance of the Leo Delibes score – arranged by Gennaro Di Donna and performed by Di Donna, Caitlin Malcolm, Peter Evans and Robyn Blann – which sparks engagement and adds intensity throughout. The curtain rises on an enchanting village scene. Warmly lit, the stage is adorned with strings of flowers that complement the autumn-hued villager costumes beautifully.

‘Coppelia Suite’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

McCarthy and Hunt’s arrangement of excerpts from this comical ballet exudes playfulness and joy as the dancers perform the lively Harvest Festival and pageant day scenes. With storytelling a crucial part of this particular ballet I yearned for more vibrancy and facial expression from the supporting dancers positioned around the stage, in order to match and boost the impressive soloists. Among many exceptional dancers, standout performers were Brent Robert Carson, Beatrice Manser, Chloe Hinton, Ruby Gibbons and Sarah Ross.

Following Coppelia Suite, second year Bachelor of Arts students performed Cass Mortimer Eipper’s Black Gold. A new contemporary work exploring the growing culture of excessive consumerism and the human capacity for gluttony and oppression, the work cleverly interlaces  abstracted images and sounds relating to the global oil industry to explore its theme.

Cass Mortimer Eipper’s ‘Black Gold’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Mortimer Eipper’s choreographic style is thrilling and the dancers, dressed in bold red jumpsuits, perform a unique collection of eccentric and robust movements. A rhythmic marching in unison that transforms stylistically throughout the work is a repeating motif that  drew me into a deep trance. Performing with unwavering commitment, the students’ embodiment of the movement style was impressive, with notable performances from Campbell Gateley, Samantha Smith and Jack Tuckerman. During the interval that followed, the energy and excitement in the foyer – sparked by this bold work – was palpable.

A small group of third year dancers, selected by audition, re-commenced the show with Leigh Warren’s award winning 1997 work Shimmer, remounted here by Delia Silvan (original cast member and founding member of Leigh Warren & Dancers) and Kynan Hughes (also a former company member). This contemporary work was inspired by Graeme Koehne’s musical score Shaker Dances and the Shaker movement itself, a Protestant sect that emerged in America in the late 18th century. Named for the style of the dancing that was part of their faith, the Shakers were also known for their belief in celibacy and in gender equality.

Leigh Warren’s ‘Shimmer’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

In Shimmer, six dancers perform under spotlights and in gendered couples. On opening night Natassija Morrow, Estelle Brown, Millie Hunt, Nathan Turtur, Nathan Crewe-Kuge and Brent Rollins executed the movement in a detailed manner, a credit to Silvan’s direction. Warren’s choreography displays both confidence and modesty, and the costumes are used to show both concealment and spontaneous sexual freedom, a harmonious duality around which the work – intriguingly – revolves.

The third year students closed the show with Ludum Vitae,  a contemporary work choreographed by Belgium-based choreographer Helder Seabra. The work’s chaos and disconnection is hinted at in an ironic voice-over at the beginning, and only makes any sense at its conclusion. The dancers begin and end in an exhausted physicality. Stumbling, slumped and crawling around in a circle, they move though varying states – vigorous convulsing, careful and consoling gestures and high impact fight scenes. Seabra’s choreography is an impressive demonstration of physicality and displayed the power of these dancers as a group.

“Verge” is a captivating season and an impressive farewell to the graduating dancers as well as to Nanette Hassall, who is retiring after 24 years of dedicated service as head of the WAAPA dance department.

“Verge” runs until November 23.

Pictured top is “Ludum Vitae” by Helder Seabra, performed by graduating students from WAAPA’s dance department. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

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Calendar, Dance, May 18, Performing arts

Dance: Rise

5-11 May @ Geoff Gibbs Theatre, WAAPA, Mt Lawley ·
Presented by the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts ·

WAAPA’s first dance season for 2018 showcases new works by visiting international choreographer Ori Flomin, Melbourne-based dancer/choreographer Daniel Roberts, and well-known local artists Jayne Smeulders and Natalie Allen.

Rise will be performed by WAAPA’s 2nd and 3rd Year Dance students in WAAPA’s Geoff Gibbs Theatre from Saturday 5 May through to Friday 11 May at 7.30pm.

With these four eclectic dance works on the program, Rise promises to be an evening of contemporary dance at its most exciting.

GEOFF GIBBS THEATRE, ECU, 2 Bradford St, Mount Lawley
Tickets $28 / $23 Concession and Friends
Sat 5, Mon 7, Tue 8, Wed 9, Thu 10 May, Fri 11, 7.30pm
Choreographers: Ori Florim, Daniel Roberts, Jayne Smeulders and Natalie Allen
Performed by: WAAPA 2nd and 3rd Year Dance students
BOOK NOW: Tel: (08) 9370 6895 or online at:

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Photo: Christoph Canato

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William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle
Children, Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A winning reinvention

Review: Frank Enstein, The Farm with Co3 Australia ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 12 February ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

When I first heard that Co3 Australia was remounting Frank Enstein, I was sceptical. A retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic classic by Gold Coast-based duo The Farm, the work made its premiere in WA just a year ago and it felt too soon to watch it again.

My fears, however, were unfounded. Watching Frank Enstein “2.0” (to borrow Co3 executive director Richard Longbottom’s nickname for the show) it was apparent that this is, indeed, a new version of the work rather than a simple reproduction.

The bones of the story are the same as last time. Frank’s a lonely inventor with a physical impairment who creates monsters in an effort to find friends. It’s a tale about acceptance, of both others and ourselves. Frank’s workshop, with its electric generator, crate of mannequin parts, fluorescent signs and AstroTurf surrounds, is also familiar.

So far, so recognisable, but there’s one key difference this year. Two of the five characters, Frank and his romantic interest Liz, are played by teenagers rather than adults. While the recast was made for practical rather than creative reasons (lack of availability of the original Frank, Daniel Monks), the decision to replace them with young performers has worked a charm.

As in the first rendition, both Frank and Liz are a sweet mix of awkwardness, enthusiasm and eccentricity. Casting them as teenagers gives a context for their idiosyncrasies that makes them more relatable.

William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young
William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia guest artist Luci Young. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

Guest artists William Rees (Frank), 16, and Luci Young (Liz), 15,  have put their own spin on their respective characters. Both gave highly engaging performances on opening night, at once comical and sensitive.

As Frank, Rees had the audience giggling as he ricocheted between triumph and terror, interacting with his newly enlivened creatures. Like Monks, Rees has a physical disability, in his case restricting the use of his left arm. As in the first version of Frank Enstein, the difference between Frank’s arms is acknowledged in a moment that is deft and poignant, without being overly sentimental.

Young’s Liz was full of delightful bravura, whether tossing her head wildly to the instructions of an “advanced at-home dance class” issuing from her old-school ghetto blaster or losing herself in a spine rippling solo, performed with an exuberance and abandonment beyond her years.

As well as cast changes, there have been adjustments to both the narrative and choreography, making this version of Frank Enstein that little bit darker and kookier. The “vacuum cleaner scene” was, if anything, even funnier on second viewing, as various body parts fell victim to the power of suction. I don’t seem to recall a disco scene in last year’s version, but it shone golden this time.

Once again, guest artist Andrew Searle and Co3 Australia’s Zachary Lopez and Talitha Maslin were sensational as the three monsters. Wonderfully funny in their interactions with one another and with Rees and Young, it was in their solos that we saw their incredible physicality as movers. Searle moved through his mass of spirals with his trademark grace. Lopez both amused and amazed as a series of crazed vibrations overtook his body. And Maslin appeared inhuman, her limbs contorting at seemingly impossible angles.

Finally, mention must be made of the sound design, with its evocative layers of melody and machinery, created by James Brown with Laurie Sinagra.

Kudos to the creators of this work, The Farm’s Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood, as well its cast – Frank Enstein 2.0 won me over.

Frank Enstein plays until 15 April and is suitable for ages 8 to adults.

Read Seesaw’s interview with Co3 Australia’s artistic director Raewyn Hill to find out more about Frank Enstein.

Pictured top: William Rees as Frank with Co3 Australia dancer Andrew Searle. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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Frank Enstein
Dance, Features, News, Performing arts

A tale of two companies

Raewyn Hill, artistic director of Co3,  takes Nina Levy behind the scenes of the contemporary dance company’s upcoming season of Frank Enstein, a darkly comic retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic tale, with a message for young and old.

RaewynHill by Naomi Lee
Raewyn Hill. Photo: Naomi Lee.

WA’s Co3 and Queensland’s The Farm may be dance companies based on opposite sides of Australia but their respective directors go back a long way. The common link is Townsville-based company Dancenorth (An aside: if you were lucky enough to catch Attractor at this year’s Perth Festival then you saw Dancenorth in action). Gavin Webber, now co-director of The Farm, was artistic director of Dancenorth from 1997-2005. “And I took over Dancenorth when he left,” explains Co3 director Raewyn Hill. “When I left Dancenorth, Gavin had just arrived back from Berlin, and was setting up The Farm on the Gold Coast [with co-director Grayson Millwood].” It was 2014, the same year that Co3 was established in WA.

As the two newest contemporary dance companies in Australia, it made sense to collaborate, continues Hill. “Because we’d had such a long artistic association I invited Gavin to be one of our guest choreographers for  Co3’s launch season. Then the opportunity came about for a full-length work. Gavin and Grayson had been talking to me about Frank Enstein and I decided it was a great time for it.”

Frank Enstein
‘Gavin and Grayson are constantly push the boundaries in terms of concept and in terms of content delivery’. Pictured: Co3 dancer Talitha Maslin rehearsing ‘Frank Enstein’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

And so, in April 2017, Frank Enstein premiered in WA. Webber and Millwood are no strangers to our state capital – they toured to Perth as Splintergroup with lawn in 2006 and roadkill in 2009, and collaborated with Ochre Contemporary Dance Company to present Good Little Soldier last year – and those who have seen the pair’s work will know it ranges from blackly comic to downright disturbing. Frank Enstein sits at the lighter end of their spectrum. As the name suggests, the work references Mary Shelley’s famed nineteenth century novel, with a lone scientist who creates a monster (or three)… but Frank Enstein is full of quirky touches. A monster pops out of a smoking wheelie bin, a vacuum hose wreaks suction-based havoc… it’s classic Webber and Millwood, lavishly kooky.

Gavin Webber. Photo: Stefan Gosatti
Gavin Webber. Photo: Stefan Gosatti
Grayson Millwood. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.
Grayson Millwood. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

“Gavin and Grayson are… some of the bravest, most courageous artists working currently. They constantly push the boundaries in terms of concept and in terms of content delivery,” muses Hill. “They have a very distinct style of work, a very clear and established aesthetic in terms of movement language, design and working process. They come with an enormous amount of personality, an enormous amount of desire to create something original, they have this incredibly ability to tackle big subjects and balance them with humour and irony.”

Frank Enstein will have its second outing in Perth this April, but the production won’t be quite the same as last time. In the premiere season, the cast was entirely composed of adults, with Daniel Monks taking the lead role of Frank and Brianna

Kell as the young woman who discovers the inventor and his creations. This time those two characters will be played by teenagers, William Rees, a young actor based in Canberra, and Luci Young, a West Australian dancer and Co3’s Act-Belong-Commit CoYouth Ensemble member.

The recast took place because Monks was not available to do the repeat season. “That led to lots of different conversations about the work and where it could go next,” explains Hill. “We were drawn to idea of creating the characters using younger performers, to bring a new voice and perspective to the work.” For Hill, incorporating young performers was a philosophical decision too. Co3 was formed by amalgamating Buzz Dance Theatre and STEPS Youth Dance Company, two companies that focused on working with young dancers and young audiences, and Hill is conscious of upholding that heritage. “Youth and education are a big part of the company’s legacy, but I also believe that’s where our future is,” she reflects. “I hold that responsibility really strongly, to nurture the next generation of dancers. That idea of the younger dancers joining the company dancers onstage will continue as the company develops.”

Frank Enstein
‘We were drawn to idea of creating the characters using younger performers, to bring a new voice and perspective to the work.’ Pictured: William Rees rehearsing ‘Frank Enstein’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

As well as strengthening the link between generations of performers, the recast has seen the work develop and change, says Hill. “The way we work as a company is that the personality and character of the performers plays a big part in how the work is developed. So there are big changes to the work because of the cast changes. Luci and William bring an enormous amount to the work in terms of their life skills and where they’re at, in relation to the subjects that Frank Enstein deals with. Gavin and Grayson have drawn on that and also on their particular personalities.”

Like the works made by Co3’s predecessor companies, Frank Enstein is pitched at both children (eight and above) and adults, with its story line about Frank, a lonely guy who wants to bring his imaginary friends to life. Managing a physical impairment, Frank longs for acceptance by others… a concept that we can all relate to, says Hill, no matter what our age. “That idea of the struggle to find our place, our worth… we all experience that regardless of age, race, religion,” she reflects. “A 10 year old’s concept of fitting in and finding place and worth is actually the same as an 80 year olds, just on a different level. The work is a reminder, too, to be a little less judgmental and a little more accepting of others around us. It’s as much about acceptance of others as about self-acceptance.”

Frank Enstein plays the State Theatre Centre of WA, 11 – 15 April.

Pictured top are (L-R): Luci Young, Andrew Searle and William Rees, rehearsing the 2018 season of ‘Frank Enstein’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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Dance, Features, Performing arts

Dance makes the heart grow fonder

WA choreographer Ellen-Hope Thomson made her first work for Fringe, Ophelia, in 2016, while she was still a full-time dance student at WAAPA, and her second, Her Crown, just months after graduating.

Ellen-Hope Thomson

Two years later, she is not only bringing a third work to the Fringe stage, but a new collective, Fonder Physical Theatre. Seesaw caught up with Ellen for a quick Q&A ahead of Fonder’s debut.

Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
Ellen-Hope Thomson: When I was three years old my mum wrote in a time capsule that I had dreams of becoming a dancer but that I changed my mind frequently and that she couldn’t see this dream lasting very long haha. I guess I had always been imaginative but finding contemporary dance was when I really decided I wanted to be an artist. Being around the thinkers and movers of my days at STEPS Youth Dance Company was probably the first time I even knew what an artist could be. I was incredibly inspired by the way I was allowed to see and respond to the world.

S: Tell us about your training
EHT: My younger sister started dancing before me and will never let me forget that I owe my path through dance to her. We both danced for many years under loving teachers in Bunbury before I made the move to Perth at 16 to pursue training at WAAPA.

‘Here.Moving.” is a triple bill of works by Ellen-Hope Thomson (back), Lauren Catellani (middle) Ayesha Katz (seated). Photo: Dan MacBride.

S: What inspired you to start Fonder Physical Theatre?
EHT: Fonder is an emerging female performance company that I have been wanting to get started for some time now. Fonder emerged from a desire to gain momentum and create more platforms for emerging dancers and choreographers. It made sense to use some of my experience in producing, to aid the artists and friends closest to me in getting their work up too. We want to have more opportunities to test each other and to share stories that don’t rely on text. Fonder is also focusing in on the female experience and the ways in which we can use movement to highlight strength in less familiar ways.

S: Tell us about your 2018 Fringe show!
EHT: “Here.Moving.” is a triple bill of dance being performed in the beautiful Perth Town Hall. I am making a short piece (that may or may not be about my relationship to the Spice Girls) alongside works by Berlin-based artist Ayesha Katz and Lauren Catellani, another recent WAAPA graduate. The pieces are each very different and will give our audience a beautiful tasting plate of contemporary dance. We have an all-female team of incredible performers and we are excited to debut what Fonder is going to be all about.

S: Aside from your show, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing at Fringe?
EHT: Paper Mountain’s Peaks program is looking incredible this year and features quite a bit of special dance talent. The Blue Room Summer Nights is looking as fantastic as ever with Night Sweats, put on by emerging theatre company Static Drive, and The Big Dark by Rhiannon Peterson catching my particular attention. I am also equally looking forward to some balmy summer dancing and post show drinks at the artist bar.

S: What is your favourite playground equipment?
EHT: My favourite play equipment is the swings. Especially at night. I never feel more free than swinging as high as possible on a swing set in the dark.

“Here.Moving.” is showing 1-3 February at Perth Town Hall.

Top: Ellen Hope-Thomson

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Calendar, Dance, February 18, Performing arts

Fringe World: TOHU

2-3 Feb, 6-10 Feb 2018 @ State Theatre Centre of WA •
Presented by Omer and Sharon Backley-Astrachan •

TOHU explores our chaotic existence as a mere reflection of our known universe. This captivating duet takes on various macro-processes that occur in the large universe and transpires them as abstract and metaphorical processes. The artists draw the viewers into their re-imagined micro-universe as they strive to make sense of our most enigmatic behaviours.

“Challenging the very existence of the art form by pitting it comparatively against the ways of the universe and the philosophical order of things” — Form Dance Projects.

More info:

Image credit: Benjamin Nunney

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Calendar, October

Dance: Short Cuts

26-28 October @ King Street Arts Centre, Studio 3 ◆
STRUT Dance ◆

STRUT Dance presents its annual season of diverse new shorts from WA choreographers. From established artists to new graduates, from dynamic solos to interactive film and sumptuous ensemble choreography, Short Cuts is a snapshot of the huge variety of contemporary dance happening right here, right now in WA.

With works from 12 choreographers across 2 programs and 3 days, Short Cuts offers something for everyone. Featuring new works from Michelle Aitken, Rikki Bremner, Richard Cilli, Emma Fishwick, Kynan Hughes, Yilin Kong, Bernadette Lewis, Lauren Marchbank, Holly Pooley, Tyrone Robinson, Tahlia Russell and Unkempt Dance.

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Photo: Simon Pynt

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Calendar, Dance, December, November, Performing arts

Dance: Valentine

14 November – 2 December @ The Blue Room Theatre ◆
By Kynan Hughes ◆

It’s an old story. There is far too little love in the world and everyone quenches their loneliness whichever way they can.

The innocent, the bully, the manipulator and the object of their desire; four flawed characters who struggle to find meaningful connection. All of them desperate to be loved and belong, aching for something from the others that can never be given.

The commedia dell’arte and its characters have influenced and shaped work throughout history, all the way down to the love triangle of today’s romantic comedy movies. From age-old ideas found in the commedia, Valentine forges a new narrative exploring loneliness and desire through dance, theatre, puppetry and mask play in a way that is deeply human.

Bringing together an extraordinary team of charismatic artists, with experience at Sydney Dance Company, Australian Dance Theatre, pvi collective, and Leigh Warren & Dancers, Valentine questions just how far we are prepared to go to fulfil our desires.

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Dance, Features, News, Opinion, Performing arts

Dancing at any age

Perth’s newest dance ensemble is rewriting the rules about who gets to perform, discovers Nina Levy.

How old do you expect you’ll be when you retire? 60? 65? 70?

For professional dancers, a final bow is usually taken somewhere between the ages of 30 and 40. There are several common reasons for retirement from performing but injury is a common one – the physical demands of the choreography wear the body down. Family can be another factor – the schedule of a dancer isn’t exactly conducive to parenting, with evening and weekend shows, and time away from home for those lucky enough to tour.

There is also the perception that dancers should retire before the age of 40, that the art-form is best suited to young bodies. Often there is pressure on dancers to make the move into teaching, choreography… or indeed, into a different profession altogether.

But should dancers over 40 be heard but not seen? Back in 2000, the Perth International Arts Festival brought over Netherlands Dance Theatre’s main company, as well as the now defunct NDT III, a company for dancers over 40. As a dancer in my third year of full-time training, I can remember my surprise in discovering that, actually, I preferred the older group to the main company. Their program was quirkier, livelier, more engaging… and the dancers were fantastic. I didn’t feel like I was watching “old” dancers. I just felt like I was watching exceptional dancers.

Phillippa Clarke and Julie Doyle rehearsing for “Unstoppable”. Photo: Damian Doyle.

Since then I have had the pleasure of seeing the odd “older” dancer, here or there (Daryl Brandwood’s 2011 solo show “Helix” was a notable standout, more recently Stefan Karlsson’s short work in 2017’s “In Situ” was another) but it wasn’t until STRUT dance staged Jean-Claude Gallotta’s “Trois Generations” in 2013 that Perth had the opportunity, once more, to see a sizeable group of dancers over 40 in action. The premise of “Trois Generations” is that three generations of dancers perform the same dance score; first children, then young adults and lastly adults over 40.

And boy did those “older” dancers impress. Here’s an excerpt from my review for The West Australian newspaper:

As Generation Trois, aged 40-65, takes to the stage, there is a sense of peace. The dancers catch one another’s eyes and smile knowingly, as if they realise that “this too shall pass” but they’re going to have a damn good time anyway.
Watching this cast, I can’t help but wonder why contemporary dance is the domain of the (relatively) young.
These “older” performers have a beauty that comes of age and experience . . . but it’s not just about the non-physical.
Watching Liz Cornish slice the air, Ronnie Van den Bergh jete lithely, Michael Whaites’s joyful, springy jumps, I am struck by the realisation that, quite simply, these dancers are all beautiful movers.
As the oldest generation turned their heads in preparation to leave the stage, I felt my throat tighten and my eyes fill.

So when I heard that a group of older dancers, a number of whom were part of “Trois Generations”, had formed a company, I was excited. The company is called Momentum and will be presenting it’s first program, a triple bill entitled “Unstoppable”, this Saturday 5 August. The group includes the aforementioned ex-West Australian Ballet principal Ronnie Van der Bergh and Liz Cornish, as well as Julie Doyle and Phillippa Clarke, both of whom danced in “Trois Generations”. The group is not solely made up of ex-professional dancers though, explains Cornish, when I catch up with her about a month from Momentum’s debut. “It’s also people who have danced in the past, and they might have given up for ten years or so, but they’ve come back.”

It was “Trois Generations” that was the catalyst for the formation of Momentum, says Cornish. “When some of us got to hop around again, we all went, ‘This is fun. We should make another opportunity.’ So we decided, we’ll rehearse three hours on a Sunday. If you want to be involved you’ve got to pay. We all pay a set amount of money and that money goes towards commissioning choreographers, paying for the space and the occasional Tim-Tam.”

Jacqui Otago & Mike Makossa (standing) and Claire Sullivan (lying down) rehearsing for “Unstoppable”. Photo: Damian Doyle.

The three works on the “Unstoppable” program are created by Daryl Brandwood, Phillippa Clarke and Israeli choreographer Jin Plotkin. Each is about 15 minutes long and time has been of the essence, says Cornish. “Each choreographer has had about ten weeks with us… which isn’t very much, when you break it down… half an hour for warm up, leaves two and a half hours a week… so that’s about 25 hours per piece… it’s not even a week’s worth of rehearsal.”

Another challenge for the dancers is that, while they’re old enough to be retirees from full-time performance, they’re mostly not retirement age. “We all have other full-time jobs, so the brain’s not going through the choreography every night. So you come back to the next week’s rehearsal and you go… oh yeah!” Cornish laughs. “And because of the age we are massive things happen in people’s lives. During the rehearsal period for Phillippa’s work, I think three people had parents or parents-in-law die, and in the work before that someone became a grandparent. Most people are dealing with children of some description and some of those are quite small still.”

Nonetheless, the program has come together. Plotkin’s work, A Memo, is influenced by her training in Ohad Naharin’s Gaga technique. Clarke’s In the Blood is based on the dancer’s own movement and memories. Brandwood’s Subsided Vortices is described as a “pure movement piece”, created from images of nature.

Like me, Cornish vividly recalls seeing NDT III back in 2000 and says it changed her views about older dancers. “When NDT III came, that was eye-opening because they were gorgeous and the choreography was suited to them,” she reflects. “I think that’s the trick, finding choreography that actually fits the bodies that are in front of you.”

And me? I’m just looking forward to seeing some of my long-time favourite dancers strutting their stuff again.

You can catch Momentum performing “Unstoppable” at the Redmond Theatre, Prendiville Catholic College at 2pm, Saturday August 5 2017.

*** Update 2019! Catch Momentum performing “Unmanned” at the Redmond Theatre, Prendiville Catholic College, June 8-9.

Pictured top: Julie Doyle rehearsing for “Unstoppable”. Photo: Damian Doyle.

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Dance, Features, Music, News, Performing arts, Visual arts

Twists, turns and music: Jenny Simpson (Part II)

In “Twists, turns and music: part I”, AWESOME Arts CEO Jenny Simpson told Nina Levy about her past; a childhood cut short by loss, the music that saved her and a career characterised by contrast. Here is the second part of that interview, in which Simpson reflects on what it is that’s special about working at AWESOME Arts.

Ten years since her initial appointment at AWESOME Arts, Jenny Simpson is, if anything, more passionate about her work than ever. So what is it that keeps her interested?

“It’s the challenge,” she responds. “I’ve never got bored. The challenge is constant, of finding enough money to do what we need to do. You’ve got to be clever, passionate, and never give up.
“And then there’s the potential. Artists are amazing. It’s like breathing pure oxygen, sometimes, talking to artists, hearing their ideas. To be a part of a machine that generates oxygen for artists to breathe so they can go out there and change people’s lives is a real privilege. It’s meaningful.

“We did a project last week that profoundly moved me,” she continues. “I’m humbled by the work of the artists, I’m humbled by the creativity of the children. I’m blessed that the funder who provided the money stepped up. When it all comes together and you have a great outcome, you don’t need drugs, it is a drug. Yeah, that’s why I’m still here.”

‘Secret Life of Suitcases’ by Ailie Cohen Puppets at the 2015 Awesome Festival. Photo: James Campbell.

And what have been Simpson’s favourite AWESOME Festival shows over her decade with the organisation?

“It’s funny because one of my favourites was an abject box office failure. that show was called Echolalia,” she replies. “It was a one-hander by an artist from New Zealand called Jenny McArthur. It’s about the experience of autism. It was a show that brought me tremendous anxiety and sadness, all at once. It also gave me my best moment ever in the Festival, in my whole life in the arts, because that character, to bring herself down when she was escalating, she’d count to eight. And at the end of the show, she bravely steps out into the world – the whole show is about her trying to leave her house – and she finally steps out of her house and you see her waving her hand and you know she’s about to start counting. I was in a room full of children and they started to count to eight with her. They were totally on that journey with her. It was like they were helping her step into the world. That was a profound moment for me in the theatre, to see children and that artist as one in the space.

“Other favourites… Last year we had Barrowland Ballet, Tiger Tale, that was such a highlight to bring that show out. It was beautiful story telling, it was exquisite dancing, it was an amazing set and it was underpinned by this composer sitting in the room, who’d written the score, performing it.

“Another one from Scotland was The Secret Life of Suitcases which is about being busy. It had a really profound effect on a lot of the parents who realised, ‘Oh my god, I’m so busy, I’m not living.’ I think that’s such an important message for those parents to have because busy-ness impacts on everyone and we tend to make a bit of a god of being busy.

‘A Mano’ by El Patio Teatro at the 2016 AWESOME Festival. Photo: James Campbell.

“Another show we had last year was a Spanish piece called Amano. It was a really slow, gentle piece of puppetry where they made the puppets out of clay on the stage. I relished the opportunity to sit in the room with about 90 people and for the whole pace of that room to slow down. It’s very special to do that with children, it’s very hard to achieve. A lot of performance for children is about ramping them up and getting quick laughs. For two artists to take children into a space that’s meditative and gentle was just so special. And the ending was really unresolved and left more questions than answers. I love that about Amano as well. So often work for children ties everything up neatly… but that’s just not what life is.

As someone whose own childhood ended so abruptly with the loss of a parent, Simpson speaks from experience. “Losing mum… we don’t all get our happy endings. That idea of supporting conversations about what happens when things are unresolved [is important], of asking how do we go on? Sad things in shows reconnect me with my grief but they also reconnect me with moving past it. I think that’s so important… and for children and adults to know that bad things will happen but you can move past this.”

“That’s another thing about the festival program,” she concludes. “Sometimes it is going to be evocative and at times even a bit provocative because it’s about providing opportunities to have bigger conversations with children. There’s a piece coming into this year’s Festival – the premise is climate change. No way is it controversial, but gosh it will make you think, how do we adapt? What do we do in our everyday lives that is a part of this issue? It’s not about beating people over the heads. It’s about saying, hey here’s a story, or here’s a workshop that is going to gently lead you into a conversation.”

Nina Levy

The AWESOME Festival for Bright Young Things takes place 30 September – 9 October. 


Read Part I of this interview here.

Pictured top: Barrowland Ballet’s ‘Tiger Tale’, performed at the 2016 Awesome International Arts Festival for Bright Young Things. Photo: James Campbell.

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