Bringing Mutton Bird to the Stage: The Creative Process
RESEARCH AND PREPARATION
The creating of Bangarra’s production of Mathinna, of which Mutton Bird is a part, began with extensive research of historical records, as well as literary and visual interpretations. Most importantly, there were close consultations with several Aboriginal Tasmanian community elders, in particular Lola Greeno and Vicki Matson Green.
The artistic elements of Mutton Bird are created by the choreographer in close collaboration with the dancers, the composer of the music, and the costume, set and lighting designers. This group is called the creative team. This enables the dance to achieve the overall focus of the choreographer’s intent.
The choreographer, the rehearsal director and the dancers spend many hours in the dance studio over several days to create the choreography for a short dance like Mutton Bird. Keeping the story and the ideas of the whole creative team in mind, the choreographer and the dancers invent movements that are inspired by the story and their artistic interpretation of its meaning. They slowly build individual movements into phrases and arrange these phrases into sequences and finally, an entire dance.
Using their dance technique and performance skills, they work to blend the movements and make them articulate, and technically achievable, before eventually agreeing on a final version of the choreography.
The rehearsal director is present throughout this 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 artists move on to create other sections of the work. As the work moves closer to its premiere date, the rehearsal director works with the dancers for many hours to make sure they perform the dance consistently at the highest standard possible.
DANCE PRODUCTION PROCESSES
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, 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 that first performance in the theatre. In that moment everyone involved in the new production together with the audience experience the work for the first time and really understand what has been in the minds of the creative team.
There is often a media call on the day of the premiere where photographers from various media outlets take pictures of the dancers in dress rehearsal, and interviews with the creative team are conducted. On premiere night reviewers will attend the performance 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. However, the things 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, the story is passed from one dancer’s body to another as different dancers are taught the choreography.