Bringing the Stories to the Stage: The Creative Process
The creating of About began with Kris spending a great deal of time remembering and recreating in her mind, the time when she was a child and her parents would take her fishing. As an adult, she realised the importance of her parents’ knowledge about the winds.
The people of the Torres Strait often associate themselves individually with one of the winds; they take their choice of wind as a totem and use the nature of this totem to suggest their own personalities, and connect to the spiritual nature of the wind. These themes and practices set the background for Kris’ creative processes in the making of About.
About was created by the choreographer, in close collaboration with the dancers, the composer, and the costume, set and lighting designers. This group makes up the creative team. This collaborative process enables the various disciplines (art forms) employed to create works that weave together to achieve the overall vision of the choreographer.
The choreographer, the rehearsal director and the dancers work together in the dance studio for many hours each day over several weeks to create the choreographic (dance movement) elements for the dance. Together they invent movements that are inspired by the story, developing their artistic interpretation of the story’s underlying themes.
They experiment with each movement, trying them many different ways and practising them over and over again. They build these movements into phrases and arrange the phrases into sequences that are structured in sections. Gradually the sections of the dance are formed into the order that the choreographer decides is best for the coherence of the work as a whole. Linking the sections of a work is an important feature of choreography. The creative team wants the audience to stay focussed on what they experience and engaged with the spirit of the work as they respond to each new section.
As the work takes shape, the dancers use their dance technique and performance skills, to blend the movements and make them clear and consistently achievable. There are often rather challenging movements that the choreographer desires the dancers to be able to perform but it can take sometime to find a way that is safe, smooth and aesthetically correct for the choreography.
The rehearsal director is present throughout the creative process in order to rehearse the dance, so that the key qualities and details of the choreography as set by the choreographer are retained and remembered. As the work moves closer to its premiere date, the rehearsal director will work with the dancers for many hours to make sure they can perform the dance at the highest standard possible. It is during this period in the process, the technical elements of the designers – costume, set, and lighting – start to be incorporated. The dancers and the creative team also need to be aware that often the work will be performed for several weeks, up to eight times a week and the dancers need to have the physical stamina and strength to cope with this demand.
In the week of the premiere performance, the dancers,rehearsal director, creative team and production crew move from the Bangarra dance studios to the theatre where they spend many hours rigging the set, positioning and programming the lighting, checking the sound levels and making necessary adjustments to the choreography to fit the space of the stage. This is called the ‘bump in’ and the production crew is largely responsible for coordinating this stage of the process. There is much excitement during this bump in week because no one has actually seen the finished dance theatre work until the dress rehearsal. There is often a media call at the dress rehearsal where photographers take pictures of the dancers during the final ‘run through’ and journalists conduct interviews with the creative team.
Finally, the premiere of the new work takes place and everyone involved, together with the audience experiences the work fully for the first time. Dance reviewers attend the premiere to write about the work for their respective newspapers, websites and blogs. These reviews are usually published as soon as possible after the premiere.
THE LIFE OF A DANCE
During the lengthy process of creating a new Bangarra production, ideas will change and surprising shifts in the original plans will occur. This is the normal nature of the creative process, and probably one of the most exciting things about making a new work. Importantly, the elements that do not change are the traditional stories and original cultural elements, which always remain respected and intact. As the dance is performed over time, slight changes in the performances evolve as new dancers take on the roles of the previous dancers. This is a positive and normal maturing of a work and something that keeps the work dynamic for both performers and audiences.
THE CREATIVE TEAM
ELMA KRIS – CHOREOGRAPHER
Elma Kris was raised on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. She is a descendant of the Wagadagam, Kaurareg, Sipingur, Gebbara, Kai Dangal Buai of the Western and Central Islands of the Torres Strait.
“I want to share my connection with my culture and pass it on to future generations, both Torres Strait Islanders and all Australians. The winds are like spirits swiftly passing by, and merging with nature; they guide and nurture day-to-day life. I wanted to take a journey with them, travel with their moods and see how I could bring them to life though dance”.
DAVID PAGE & STEVE FRANCIS – COMPOSERS
David Page is a descendant of the Nunukul people and the Munaldjali clan of the Yugambeh tribe from southeast Queensland.
Steve Francis is a Sydney based composer who is a regular collaborator on Bangarra productions.
“The language story telling is the hook of the About soundtrack. The story concept is simple; it is about the winds. These winds, featured in relations to the people that the story is about, are unpredictable but powerful as well”.
JACOB NASH – SET DESIGNER
Jacob Nash is a murri man who grew up in Brisbane.
“The challenge for Elma and me was how to translate the natural element of wind into a visual form of contemporary design. Fortunately we were able to travel to the Torres Strait ….. being a part of the landscape and observing it change throughout the day whilst listening to Elma describe what we were experiencing added a deep layer of understanding, inspiration and greater knowledge to the birth place of Elma’s story”.
EMMA HOWELL – COSTUME DESIGNER
Emma Howell graduated from NIDA in 2004 and has worked as a costume designer ever since in Australia and UK.
“The idea of all the debris and dust getting swirled up and collected by a hurricane was inspiration for Kuki; I have incorporated feathers, grasses and tattered fabrics into the costumes. Zey uses fabrics that move in a fluid motion with the body and we experimented with ombré dyeing techniques to portray the feel of the cool wind. Naigai called shimmering, shining details which we have created through cut-out panels and layered fabrics”.
MATT COX – LIGHTING DESIGNER
Matt Cox’s career in theatre has spanned 15 years designing lighting in both Australia and the UK.
“I sat in the workshop with Jake as he played with different set designs and with Emma as she experimented with her costumes and colours. And I joined David in his studio as he and Steve created the sounds and music. I needed to be sure to choose the right colour palette and lighting fixtures”.
PEGGY MISI – CULTURAL ADVISOR
Peggy Misi is from Mabuiag Island and is a descendent of the Kaigas Augadh clan. Peggy acted as cultural consultant for the making of the work about and is a former dancer with Bangarra Dance Theatre.