Bundanon: creative refuge

Keith Gallasch: Georgie Meagher, William Zappa, Rhiannon Newton

Next Wave Bundanon residency

Next Wave Bundanon residency

Next Wave Bundanon residency

Located in NSW’s Shoalhaven region, the Bundanon Trust property is treasured by artists, locals and its many visitors. For artists, it provides the all too rare opportunity in Australia (compared with the US and Europe in particular) to find not just creative refuge but also inspiration in the glorious natural surrounds of what was once the home of Arthur and Yvonne Boyd who so generously bequeathed it to the nation.

To gauge the appeal of Bundanon, I approached four recent resident artists: actor William Zappa, choreographer Rhiannon Newton, Next Wave Artistic Director Georgie Meagher (with a team of mentors and emerging artists, curators and producers) and artist Trevor Flinn INTERNAL LINK. Their experiences might tempt you to apply for a residency (applications for 2018 open 27 April and close 19 June) and escape everyday intrusions, and if you’re concerned about keeping in touch, I’m told that Bundanon’s new microwave tower now provides faster internet than most places in Sydney.


William Zappa

A leading Australian stage actor with Australia’s major theatre companies for over 40 years, screen performer and maker of his own performances, William Zappa’s recent stay at Bundanon has allowed him unfettered time to work on his rendition—drawn from a variety of translations and delivered with iambic pentameter “as its base rhythm”—of Homer’s The Iliad, soon to be seen at Canberra’s Street Theatre, 28-30 April. Zappa writes:

“The great thing about going to Bundanon has simply been the chance to work on my project, and that alone. There are none of the distractions associated with being at home. Everything about being here is about what you’re working on—in my case, an adaptation of The Iliad. A big project. I like the spaciousness of Bundanon, not only the studios, but the environment as well. There’s thinking space, which means that when I get stuck with a particular passage and have a real struggle finding my own words for it, I can go outside and walk in a completely different environment from when I’m at home. Again, no distractions. Except for the beauty you’re surrounded by, which seems to clear the head of any blocks and, as I’ve experienced several times, helped find solutions.

“Then there’s the chance to share with other people, who are all here trying to solve problems or explore possibilities with their creativity. It’s great to chat about what one is doing, sometimes to share a meal and a drink together, but always knowing that you can just be all alone with your own struggle.

“I’ve been to Bundanon three times now and the struggle I’ve had while there has helped me get much more of my adaptation completed than would have been possible at home. Something I’m really grateful for.”


Rhiannon Newton, Bundanon residency

Rhiannon Newton, Bundanon residency

Rhiannon Newton, Bundanon residency

Rhiannon Newton

Sydney-based dancer and choreographer Rhiannon Newton is focused on ” the relationship between the live-ness of dance and the process of repetition, problematising how humanity’s innate dancing spirit meets economies of production and authorship.” In a residency earlier this year, she worked with dancers Bhenji Ra and Ivey Wawn, performer and musician Julian Wong and musician-composer Bree van Reyk on Bodied Assemblies prior to the work’s premiere at the 2017 Dance Massive.

This is Newton’s third Bundanon residency. She says, “It’s a very special place to work, the freedom to concentrate and being in nature—there’s nothing but the work you need to do. There’s something very special when you’re out in the landscape and everything becomes more open and porous and ideas arise in different ways.”

Asked about how much time she spends outdoors at Bundanon, Newton says, “I follow my nose. I usually go for one big walk each day or a trip down to the river. I try to resist being too strict with myself while I’m there—the impulse to work produces itself quite easily. There’s a balance between the two.”

In 2015 and 16 Newton’s residencies were with dancer and choreographer Angela Goh: “We’d work on our own projects but support each other in doing them. This year, in the two weeks leading up to my Dance Massive premiere, a few of the dancers came when they could, but the focus was on finalising the text for my program note, editing video trailers and identifying and working through aspects of the work that needed a bit of problem solving, conceptually and in the studio. It was kind of weird doing all of this production management in the bush, but it was really great.”

As for the reception to Bodied Assemblies at Dance Massive, Newton says that for a young choreographer “it was a fairly intense scenario in which to launch a work,” but that she received “beautiful feedback and the work seems to have resonated with some people and less so with others, which is to do with the nature of the work which includes repetition and highly structured game-like improvisation and requires a level of patience.” I ask if Bundanon shored her up for Dance Massive. “Yes,” she exclaims,” It’s such a treat to have that kind of focused working space; it’s rare and very special.”


Next Wave Bundanon residency

Next Wave Bundanon residency

Next Wave Bundanon residency

Georgie Meagher, Next Wave

For Next Wave, the national, emerging artists’ festival, Bundanon provided an ideal location to bring together artists from across Australia who are part of Kickstart Helix, the organisation’s year-long program of creative and professional development and workshops for the 2018 Next Wave Festival.

Artistic Director Georgie Meagher experienced a sense of privilege: “You feel so lucky when you’re there—to be the recipient of such a gift. We were at Riversdale in the spectacular building that overlooks the river. There’s an amazing sense of distance from the everyday, that allows for incredible conversations and work to happen. It’s brilliant, with little visitors—wombats and roos hopping by. We also did a number of exercises that involved walks and being in the bush and near the river. Talking about land, about country, about place feels like it comes more naturally when you’re in such a beautiful spot.

“Each day we ‘connected’ with country in ‘rituals,’ different forms of meditation, which was really important not just for the Aboriginal artists. I think we were constantly wanting to acknowledge our sense of privilege—to give back to country while we’re on it. These ‘rituals’ were generally centred around the Shoalhaven River, thinking about how it connects with ideas of depth, in water systems under the ground, and to where we’ve come from and where we might be going. It was a very grounding way to start the morning.”

With a residency comprising a large group of artists, including those visiting and Next Wave staff, ranging around 31-33 daily, Meagher explained how each day was timetabled. “We would come together in the mornings and then generally break up into smaller groups, come back together to share what had been discussed and also have opportunities for one-to-one discussion. That discussion was generally done through the walks where one person talks non-stop for 10 minutes, the other person just listens, and then they swap.

“Cooking together was also very important, a fundamental moment for connection and informal discussion and sharing. We had teams each night, making different meals and sharing stories about families and experiences of cooking.”

I asked if there a specific focus of the residency was on developing the commissioned works for the 2018 festival. Meagher explained, “Some of the projects are quite well-formed and others less so. What we tried to do was to focus on ways of thinking, principles by which to make work. There was also some sharing of skills via peer-to-peer learning and with several guest artists: Latai Taumoepeau and Angela Goh came for a day that was themed around care—care for yourself, for your collaborators, your audiences. I think that was a really important conversation for everyone to be having when embarking on such significant projects as they all are.”

I asked Meagher how she felt at the end of the six days of intensive discussion and workshopping of ideas. “I felt elated. I hadn’t met some of the artists before; our Creative Producer Erica McCalman had done some of the travel and meetings involved while I’d been doing other things. Just being able to have in-depth conversations that are separate from the minutiae of everyday life allows you to really dig quite deeply into participants’ ideas and processes, their ways of thinking. It allowed us to understand these artists so much better, to think about who we might connect them with and how we can give them support over the next 12 months towards the festival.”

Next Wave Bundanon residency

Next Wave Bundanon residency

Next Wave Bundanon residency

Bundanon, Artist-in-Residence complex and Bundanon Homestead, 533 Bundanon Rd, Illaroo NSW 2540

Next Wave’s Kickstart Helix artists: performers Embittered Swish (NSW/VIC), artist, performer and writer Rosie Isaac (VIC), performers Zachary Pidd & Charles Purcell (VIC), performer, visual artist Danielle Reynolds (VIC), dancer, performer Harrison Ritchie-Jones (VIC), dancer, performer Taree Sansbury (SA/NSW), curator Zara Sigglekow (VIC), writers Azja Kulpinska & Timmah Ball (VIC), visual artist Luke Duncan King (VIC), performer, multimedia artist Sancintya Mohini Simpson (QLD), visual artists Josh Muir & Adam Ridgeway (VIC), visual artist Shireen Taweel (NSW), visual artists Alex Tate & Olivia Tartaglia (WA), Lady Producer Gang (ACT), producer Brendan Snow (NT) and producer Rhen Soggee (SA).

RealTime issue #138 April-May 2017

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

26 April 2017