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Dance & Music: A Relationship To Weather The Test Of Time

Oct 09, 2014

The link between dance and music has often been close, resulting in spectacular and historic collaborations.  The names of Tchaikovsky and Petipa will be bound forever as a result of their celebrated work for ballet, including the iconic cygnets in Swan Lake; Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring created a scandal at its debut in Paris; and Michael Jackson and Michael Peter’s collaboration helped make the Thriller music video one of the greatest of all time. The success of these partnerships isn’t surprising: the options for co-creation are boundless.   In the spirit of fostering greater collaborations across the two artforms, the Australia Council offered the Dance and Music Initiative in 2011 and 2012, providing funds to a variety of projects that are now bearing fruit.

In 2011, Lucy Guerin Inc  and composer and multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi  received funds for their project titled Weather which explores ‘…the affect of weather on human beings and the affect of humans on weather and the environment’.   Wind as a major component of weather heavily informs the work: the affect of wind on the body and environment, exploring physical interpretations of wind, as well as making wind and other elemental sounds to inform these movements.  While the exploration of the theme stems from an intellectual base, the co-creative process of sounds, dance and striking visual elements resulted in an inspired, visceral and ultimately beautiful expression of our environment.  Weather premiered at Melbourne Festival  in October 2012.  The collaborative relationship continued for Guerin and Ambarchi, who this year created a new work for Lyon Opera Ballet in a triple bill titled ‘Guerin, Serle and Forsyth ’.

Kristian Pellissier, Program Officer for Dance at the Australia Council for the Arts, took the opportunity to ask Guerin and Ambarchi to reflect on their processes and success of the work.

KP to Oren and Lucy: What was it that interested you in working together and how did the project come about?

Lucy: I was very excited to work with Oren. Oren’s music has an openness and expansiveness which has space for visual and physical elements.  He also has an investigative approach to how music is created and that lends itself to the development of sound in unconventional ways. He has a very strong sense of his music as whole works, as well as collaborative pieces made for the stage. His ideas exist on their own as well as in relation to the performed elements of the work and I was very attracted to this: that the music had its own independent form. Oren’s works often explore a single idea over a long period and I liked the fact that the music would evolve gradually as a whole while elements of the dance would  sync in and out of this continuum.

Oren: Lucy contacted me and we got together and discussed the project and it sounded intriguing. I was familiar with her work and I was excited to work with her.

KP to Oren: At the time of the application, you were developing a technique where small electrical fans are attached to guitar strings to generate music.  Did this idea make its way into the finished product?

Oren: That was an initial idea we discussed as I had previously worked with motorised fans which I would use to excite the guitar strings causing beautiful ‘clouds’ of hovering overtones from the guitar. I had an initial idea to have various guitars suspended in the air with the fan motors attached to the strings.

This particular approach didn’t end up being appropriate for the project but it led to me using various recordings of my guitars played through Leslie cabinets, which is a  beautiful amplifier/loudspeaker developed in the 1940s in the USA. The amplifier has a rotation device inside the cabinet next to the speaker which spins and creates a doppler/tremolo effect as the sound waves rotate in the space.

This led to us having two Leslie cabinets up above the stage at the Merlyn and we sent various elements of the score up into the two Leslies that we placed on the far left and far right above the stage. This was an incredibly exciting development for me where we could really work with the spatial elements of the score.

For example, sounds would come out of the PA and move up to the Leslies and then be spun around in the space. There was a close connection to the original motorised fans idea and the development of using rotating speakers in the space.

KP to Lucy: I thought the plastic bags that appeared in Weather were genius for their combined visual effect, the impact upon the movement and the sounds they made.  ABC1’s Artscape documentary on Weather  illustrates this moment unfolding.  Could you describe how this process came about?

Lucy: The plastic bags were one of a number of props we mucked around with in the studio during the development stages of Weather. We also used large fans, confetti cannons, snow machines, hair dryers, steam irons, chick peas (for hail), helium balloons, fog and much more to experiment with creating an environment for the piece. Over time the designer  (Robert Cousins) and I decided that there were too many ideas in this work and Robert decided to focus on a ceiling of bags which fell to the ground at a certain point in the work. They were then swept up into the choreography and defined the stage space for the rest of the work.

The bags were important to me as they showed so many aspects of what I was working with. They were clouds and falling snow, they responded to wind and air movement created by the dancers, they were a symbol of suffocation and of environmental damage; all things that I thought about when making Weather. And they also made sound which responded directly to the movements of the dancers.

KP to Oren and Lucy:  how did your creative relationship develop for the creation of your work for Lyon Opera Ballet?

Lucy: I was really happy to have another opportunity to work with Oren. In Weather, partly because of the length of the work and partly because of the structure of the piece it was necessary to have a break in the music when the bags fell and then pick it up again after they were cleared. The piece for Lyon was a thirty minute piece and I was looking forward to Oren’s score running right through without interruption. This work for Lyon was very simple. A large black box was raised and lowered on the stage and the dancers emerged from it and were ‘caught’ within it as it lowered. So it was quite sectional. Oren’s music was a continuous high hat symbol which created an amazing texture and tension throughout the different choreographic pieces that emerged out of the box.

I enjoyed this second collaboration with Oren even more I think. He is an interesting combination of very gentle and easy going, but somehow always brings uncompromising rigour to his work. He is really fun to collaborate with but knows how to maintain the integrity of the music within a collaborative process.

Oren: I found it really fun and exciting to work with Lucy on Weather. It was a challenge for both of us to make a long form score work with a dance piece but I think we did really well and I am proud of the results. Working together in Lyon was a pleasure. There were many challenges as we were working outside of Australia with a French crew but Lucy’s piece was very tasteful and almost a continuation of what we’d done with Weather. We had some great meals too – Lucy is a great chef!

KP to Oren and Lucy: What’s next? 

Lucy: I am looking forward to developing a new work next year with the company that uses a film to generate the movement for the work. I am working with an English Director, Carrie Cracknell, choreographing the play Medea at the National Theatre in London. Lucy Guerin Inc will be touring its works Untrained and Conversation Piece to the UK and Europe. I am also experimenting with performing again (after a very long time) with a short solo for the Melbourne Now exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Oren: I’m currently playing shows in the USA and Europe, which includes a work in collaboration with the Krakow Sinfonietta at the Unsound Festival and playing a new guitar piece by American composer Alvin Lucier at the Louvre in Paris.

I’m looking forward to more projects in the dance and theatre world. It is a new area of work for me and I like the idea of collaborating with like-minded artists from different disciplines as over the years most of my work has been in the music world, quite often as a soloist. Working with a team with a goal of making an inspiring and challenging project really appeals to me.

Visit the websites for Lucy Guerin Inc  and Oren Ambarchi  to stay up-to-date with their future moves and the Dance section of the Australia Council website for the latest information on funding opportunities.