Dance Clan 3

Bangarra Studio, Pier 4, November 21

Beau Dean Riley Smith and Leonard Mickelo in Nala. Photo: Greg Barrett

Beau Dean Riley Smith and Leonard Mickelo in Nala. Photo: Greg Barrett

For Bangarra Dance Theatre’s contribution to the inaugural Corroboree Sydney festival celebrating indigenous arts and culture, artistic director Stephen Page commissioned four new works for Dance Clan 3 – a program he initiated in 1998 to nurture storytelling by the company’s artists.

In a bold, pro-active move, he decided this time to commission four of the company’s senior female dancers – Deborah Brown, Yolande Brown, Tara Gower and Jasmin Sheppard – all of whom rose to the occasion with pieces full of beauty and promise.

Performed in the intimate space of the company’s rehearsal studio on Pier 4, the evening began in high spirits with a playful scene at an outdoor cinema in Gower’s Nala. Jumping from deckchairs to dance with giant crisp bags on their feet, it got the night off to a joyous start. Drawing on the love affair between her grandparents in Broome, Nala then turned more serious with duets suggesting social and cultural divide as progress takes its toll on the land and way of life.

Sheppard’s Macq, centred on and around a large table, explored the 1816 ‘March of Macquarie’ on Aboriginal people after Governor Macquarie’s well-intentioned social policies fell apart, with the might of the colonial power set against the anguish of the Aboriginal people. Daniel Riley was a commanding presence as Macquarie, some of the choreography around the table was wonderfully inventive, while a stunning image of hanging men shook you with its simple beauty and shocking, haunting power.

Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley in Macq. Photo: Greg Barrett

Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley in Macq. Photo: Greg Barrett

Deborah Brown choreographed a dance film called Dive about pearl fishing in the Torres Strait, shown on a large screen hoisted up on ropes. Interweaving film extracts with choreography featuring two dancers in large diving helmets and dancers depicting the pearls, she created a wonderful underwater world.

Yolanda Browne’s Imprint, inspired by the 1978 women’s Batik project to support native title and Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s yam-dreaming stories, used images of threads, weaving and fabric as a woman is covered with the colours of the earth, eventually becoming part of the land.

All the pieces had a distinctive feel, but they were staged so they flowed one into the other without breaks.

Performing as a true ensemble, the dancing was lovely with Elma Kris shining, while the music by Huey Benjamin, David Page and Steve Francis, set design by Jacob Nash, costumes by Jennifer Irwin and lighting by Matt Cox supported each piece beautifully.

Though the Bangarra style, aesthetic and vocabulary was understandably evident in each work, all four choreographers showed moments of real individuality, suggesting much promise and potential. The night I saw it the performance certainly struck a chord with a packed audience who sat rapt and applauded wildly at the end.

Dance Clan 3 plays at Bangarra’s Studio, Pier 4 until December 1. Bookings: bangarra.com.au

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Les Illuminations

Rafael Bonachela, Katie Noonan and Sydney Symphony Orchestra violinist Emma Jezek discuss their new collaborative project Les Illuminations

 

Katie Noonan with SDC dancers Jessica Thompson and Thomas Bradley. Photo: Ellis Parrinder

Katie Noonan with SDC dancers Jessica Thompson, Charmene Yap and Thomas Bradley. Photo: Ellis Parrinder

While performing with Sydney Dance Company on their 2011 production LANDforms, Katie Noonan asked artistic director Rafael Bonachela if he knew Benjamin Britten’s song cycle Les Illuminations.

“She said she’d sung some of it and would love to sing all of it one day,” recalls Bonachela.

Bonachela – who had previously choreographed a work for London’s Ballet Rambert to another Britten song cycle, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings – had a listen and loved it, but didn’t think too much more about it.

“Then, later, Katie reminded me, ‘do you realise that 2013 is the centenary of the birth of Britten so it would be a beautiful thing to do,’” he says. “And that’s how it happened. It was her suggestion.”

Bonachela talked to the Sydney Opera House and the project was earmarked for the Spring Dance Festival. The SOH subsequently canned Spring Dance but Les Illuminations survived.

And so, in what promises to be a sexy collaboration, eight dancers from Sydney Dance Company are joining forces with Noonan and 16 string players from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to perform a 45-minute work choreographed by Bonachela to two of Britten’s compositions: Les Illuminations and his Simple Symphony.

They will perform on a T-shaped stage in the intimate space of the Sydney Opera House Studio with Noonan and the musicians along the top and the dancers on a catwalk jutting into the audience.

“Be ready for some sweat!” laughs Bonachela as he and Noonan joke about needing plastic covers for the audience similar to those used for the water-spraying Bath Boy in La Soireé.

Les Illuminations was first performed in 1940 when Britten was 27. In it he sets nine poems to music, chosen from a suite of 42 by French poet Arthur Rimbaud written between 1872 and 1873 when he was aged 19 to 20.

Rimbaud was having a torrid affair with another poet Paul Verlaine at the time with whom he was leading a wild life fuelled by absinthe and hashish.

Britten’s cycle – which Bonachela describes as “dark and erotic” – was originally written for a soprano but is also performed by tenors – most famously by Britten’s own partner Peter Pears.

Simple Symphony is a simpler, more playful piece, composed when Britten was 20 using parts of a piano score he wrote as a teenager.

“It’s a really innocent, lovely little piece that is often played by school students,” says Emma Jezek, SSO’s Assistant Principal Second Violin. “Les Illuminations is completely the opposite. (The poems) are wild when you read the text and the music is absolutely beautiful.”

Though Les Illuminations is challenging musically for the performers, Jezek, Bonachela and Noonan agree that it’s not difficult for audiences.

“I think it’s one of his most accessible works. They both are,” says Noonan. “We wanted to make it very inclusive so that someone who likes my music but who has never seen an orchestra or Sydney Dance Company will feel welcome.”

Noonan has loved Britten for as long as she can remember. “Mum (singer Maggie Noonan) sang a lot of Britten,” she says.

“I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t in utero, I was a very young children when she did (Britten’s operas) Albert Herring and Peter Grimes. I sang in the chorus of the War Requiem when I was eight or nine, which is an incredible piece.

“I did some excerpts from Les Illuminations with the Australian Chamber Orchestra five years ago and I thought, ‘these are so beautiful,’” she says. “One of the poems has words along the lines of ‘I love you so much I have stretched garlands from window to window; golden chain from star to star, and I dance. I thought it’s made for it (a collaboration with SDC).”

“There are quite a lot of dance and movement references in the poems,” agrees Bonachela.

Bonachela – who celebrates five years as Artistic Director of SDC in November – is basing his choreography around duets, using two different sets of four dancers for the two compositions. He has enjoyed creating something intimate, after choreographing a series of large-scale works for the company.

“The limitation of the space have also been an exciting challenge,” he says. “I remember asking Anne Dunn, who was our Executive Director, ‘which is the front (of the stage)?’ and she said, ‘there’s no front.’ I said, ‘there must be a front’ and she said, ‘no, everywhere is the front,’” says Bonachela laughing. “It’s made me reconsider my future choreography, even when there is a front.”

Bonachela, Jezek and Noonan all agree that they find collaborations like this incredibly exciting.

“It’s fantastic doing crossover projects. It’s so exciting,” says Jezek. “They bring a different perspective to the work I suppose. I haven’t worked with Katie for a number of years but she has done projects with us before and it’s always fantastic. She’s so innovative and talented and incredibly fun to work with.”

“Collaboration is my main passion really,” says Noonan. “I’ve always loved working with people from different walks of life. I guess the way I approach my music is all about connectivity and connection. The genre doesn’t matter – classical, opera, jazz – as long as it comes from a good place and a place of integrity.

“But I love working with artists who are equally passionate in another vernacular. So I’ve worked with Bill Henson the photographer (and the contemporary circus group Circa) and with Raf in 2011 (on LANDforms), which was so beautiful. That is kind of my main passion now, moving forward: breaking down the boundaries between genres and different mediums.”

Bonachela is also thrilled at the chance to collaborate with Noonan and the SSO. “I could use some recorded music but the ultimate pleasure for me is to perform to live music, to give audiences that gift where there are 16 individual people making that sound, and Katie singing, and then these amazing bodies dancing. For me it cannot get any more ultimate.”

With a running time of just 45 minutes, there are two performances each night. Audiences who go to the earlier one can then hot foot it to the SOH’s Drama Theatre and catch a performance of ITMOI (in the mind of igor) – a celebration of Stravinsky by the wonderful British choreographer Akram Khan.

Les Illuminations plays at the Sydney Opera House Studio, this Wednesday to Saturday.

An edited version of this story ran in the Sunday Telegraph on August 25

Hunter Page-Lochard interview

Hunter Page-Lochard made his first appearance for Bangarra Dance Theatre in Praying Mantis Dreaming at six months of age, when his father Stephen Page, the company’s artistic director, played a bit of a trick at one performance by substituting him for the baby doll usually used.

“The story was that he comes on stage and hands me to another dancer and the light fades on them. He didn’t tell the other dancer and apparently as the lights were fading I reached my hand up to touch his face so it got a real reaction,” says Page-Lochard.

Now 20, Page-Lochard is making a guest appearance in Bangarra’s new work Blak. In the interim he has appeared in their productions of Skin at age seven and Boomerang at age 12.

Hunter Page-Lochard (centre) with Leonard Mickelo, Luke Currie-Richardson and Daniel Riley McKinley in Blak. Photo: Greg Barrett

Hunter Page-Lochard (centre) with Leonard Mickelo, Luke Currie-Richardson and Daniel Riley McKinley in Blak. Photo: Greg Barrett

His professional career began in an episode of Water Rats when he was five. “Ever since then I’ve loved performing,” he says.

His other credits include, among others, Bloodland for Sydney Theatre Company, Wayne Blair’s award-winning short film The Djarn Djarns, and the feature films Bran Nue Day and The Sapphires.

Later this year he will seen in a new film called Around the Block by writer/director Sarah Spillane in which he stars alongside Christina Ricci and Jack Thompson, playing a troubled Aboriginal teenager who is helped by his American drama teacher.

“It’s like a Billy Elliot (meets) Hamlet but instead of dancing he’s a drama student that has one foot in crime because of his older brother,” says Page-Lochard. “It’s a nice little film. It’s not too dark and it’s not too fun-loving.”

Page-Lochard grew up “with the smell of theatre backstage. I was always around it,” he says.

Like his father, his American mother, Cynthia Lochard, was also a dancer, performing with New York City Ballet and Sydney Dance Company and is now one of the leading Pilates instructors in the southern hemisphere. But despite his heritage, Page-Lochard acts more than he dances.

“Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake are my teachers. I never had technical training. Mum and Dad tried and tried to get me into ballet classes when I was little and dance classes but I just didn’t want to dance. I wanted to act and create things,” he says.

“So being with these guys (Bangarra) for the last four months has been quite tough because I’ve had to do ballet and I’ve had to do contemporary. I can’t deny that it’s in my blood but it’s still really tough. I’m sure my mum can still do a better arabesque than I can.”

Blak has three sections: Scar, choreographed by Daniel Riley McKinley with the male dancers, which explores young men’s rite of passage to manhood and initiation from an urban perspective; Yearning, choreographed by Page with the female dancers, which explores domestic violence, youth suicide and the connection of the female spirit to the land; and finally Keepers in which the dancers pay homage to the land and the legacy of their elders.

The company spent a week and a half on Bremer Island in North East Arnhem Land before the start of rehearsals where they workshopped ideas.

“The girls went off and did some women’s business like weaving and the boys took the time to get together and (discuss) just normal questions – what is a man to you? What is your version of initiation in the modern world? Is it sharing a beer with your Dad for the first time? Or having sex? It’s a lot different to the traditional males (initiation) up there,” says Page-Lochard.

Page-Lochard, who is featured in Scar, says that his character embodies the six other men. “He is their flaws and traits. He makes up all of them and carries them through whenever they need to be carried. He’s always there. In a sense he’s kind of that spirit character who was in Skin and Boomerang.”

Page-Lochard is aiming for a future in film. He did a one-year screenwriting course at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) and hopes to study screenwriting at the New York Film Academy. He has already written numerous screenplays that he’s keen to develop.

“I definitely want to make a film,” he says. “I have just as many (creative) visions as Dad does but not for the stage – it’s more film.”

Blak, Sydney Opera House, June 7 – 22; Canberra Theatre Centre, July 11 – 13; Queensland Performing Arts Centre, July 18 – 27.

An edited version of this story appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on June 2.