Spin Cycle

Katie Lavers on the inside with the Chrissie Parrott Dance Company

Spin has been initiated entirely by the dancers within the company as Chrissie Parrott herself is on sabbatical in France. The dancers decided to take a radical approach and invited me, as a visual artist working with hybrid art with a particular interest in collaborative processes, to work on the project with them as visual consultant.

The idea of the season is to create an unusual and exciting event for the audience. This huge old warehouse will be completely blacked out (no mean feat as the roof has acres of skylights!) and the audience will be led by a surreal guide through the space, from one event to the next. Each event will be like a strange fragment of thought that emerges out of the blackness in different parts of the space and then disappears. Each of the company members will choreograph one of these fragments and there will be an additional one from guest choreographer Sue Peacock. I am working with each choreographer to develop the best possible use of the space, lighting and the use of colour in the sets, costumes and props.

Claudia Alessi decided to combine gymnastics, circus skills and dance in her fragment. Her work will use ropes, trampolines and mesh walls. Helene Embling, the French aerialist, has been brought in to work with the dancers and develop the necessary rope skills. As Claudia wanted the audience’s eye level to coincide with dancers in full flight—up on ropes and jumping up from trampolines—her work is positioned down in the loading bay of the warehouse with the audience up above on the ramps around it. The piece will use a landscape of ropes, side lighting and slides projected up through the trampolines onto the dancers. As the predominant colours of the ropes and trampolines are greys and browns we decided to restrict the palette of the slides and to work with etchings and drawings.

One of Claudia’s central idea is an exploration of the human desire to fly so we concentrated on this and will use the extraordinary Leonardo drawings of flying machines as projections, interspersing them with his anatomical drawings of the body.

Paul O’Sullivan wanted to develop a solo in which the only light source came from lights strapped to his body. We are using smoke in the environment to make the shafts of light emanating from his body more visible. We are presently working on making his fragment more site-specific—his climb up into the roof will make the audience aware of the height and scale of the building and the piece will start to explore the relationship in scale between the dancer’s body and the huge old warehouse.

Lisa Heaven decided to explore a dark, emotional stasis. Through extended conversations an austere aesthetic emerged in black and white lighting and black costumes. The physical presence of water appeared as an important element for her. We decided to introduce a slight shimmer of water falling like mist into the circle of light in which she is dancing. A solo cellist will improvise in another circle of light. The other element is a male dancer suspended on a wall and transfixed in a beam of light, which travels the length of the warehouse to make a circle of light around him. The circle of light parallels the Da Vinci drawing in that it transcribes the exact limits of the reach of his limbs. Throughout the work, the dancer traces the limits of his body. The distance and blackness between the elements in the piece and the lack of contact between the performers heightens the dark sense of stasis central to the work.

Sue Peacock is choreographing a fragment to take place in the centre of the space. She wants to investigate lasting human values and emotions and has positioned her work in the heart of the space. Her work will be viewed in the round and is to be lit by a ring of fire.

Jon Burtt’s fragment takes place within a sculptural form composed of eight vertical shafts of light in a ring. It is an interactive work, which has been developed by myself, Jon and John Patterson, a sound artist and uses information technology to create an environment of sound and light, which allows the performer to generate sounds through his position in space. It becomes a tool to allow Jon to extend the potential of improvisation.

We also worked with performance artist Matthew Ngui, originally from Singapore and who has lived in Perth for around five years. We asked him to sing the first Chinese song that he could remember—a haunting and beautiful tune. It turned out it was the theme tune for a Chinese TV show! The dancer moves slowly within a circle of lights, which shine vertically onto the floor. When he moves he triggers short snatches of the song (via sensors) like half recalled memories. As these snatches of song start to layer over each other a reinterpretation develops which explores different understandings of time and memory.

Kylie-Jane Wilson is interested in extreme athleticism and fast, intensive movement. She suggested the use of Intelligent Lighting and we are working on developing ways of using it with smoke to generate huge sculptural forms in space—cones and sheets of light that inform the choreography by delineating areas within which the dancers move.

Peter Sheedy decided to explore the nature of work. His piece, “Grind”, looks at the fragmentation and specialisation of tasks, which have occurred in the workplace since the industrial revolution. He is using a gestural, minimal and repetitive movement language to reflect this. We decided to further investigate these ideas through the use of lighting states, which only partially reveal the space and the dancers in it. One of these states is a horizontal channel of light at waist height, which reveals fragments of the dancers locked into repetitive, gestural movement sequences, which echo the processes of workers on an assembly line. Another vertical shaft of light partially reveals a person suspended, working on a chain hoist.

The final sequence is danced with the dancers’ backs to the audience, their faces never revealed. The lighting shines from behind them towards the audience through a chicken wire fence. The patterning of the shadows cast by the mesh fragments and conceals the bodies of the dancers.

It has been an intriguing and challenging experience for me as a visual artist to work with seven choreographers with such differing aesthetics, collaborating with them to help develop visual environments that complement the full intention of the works. I hope that this radical initiative taken by the dancers of the Chrissie Parrott Dance Company will pave the way for many more such inter-disciplinary collaborations.

RealTime issue #6 April-May 1995 pg. 4

© Katie Moore; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1995