From found music and fart noises to finding your voice, four emerging dancemakers embrace the chance to invent the new.
You probably couldn’t find a more diverse bunch of contemporary dancers than Richard Cilli, Shian Law, Rachel Arianne Ogle and Jesse Scales, but that’s the beauty of New Breed, the inventive collaboration between Sydney Dance Company and Carriageworks that enables four emerging – sometimes even virgin – dancemakers to create brand new pieces on members of Sydney Dance Company. Now in its third iteration, the latest showing is due in late November and promises to be a fascinating evening of diverse music and dance.
Perth-based Rachel Arianne Ogle is a dance artist whose aim is to harness kinaesthetic movement allowing intricate, elastic dynamics to manifest through the body for performer and audience. Her 2014 original work precipice saw her collaborating with musician Luke Smiles and lighting designer Benjamin Cisterne and was a hit at State Theatre Centre WA. Jesse Scales – who was Helpmann-nominated for her 2015 feature role in William Forsythe’s Quintett – and Richard Cilli, on the other hand, as current members of Sydney Dance Company are both more used to working with choreographers than creating work themselves.
Richard Cilli and Jesse Scales in Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind © Peter Greig
“I’m still finding my voice, I think,” says Cilli, whose previous work includes a piece for the Australian Ballet in their 2014 Body Torque season. But like many dancers the urge to choreograph has been there all the time. “I’ve been waiting for the right moment,” he admits. “The ideas are always bubbling away underneath. I think this is a moment when I get to investigate some of those interests.”
The current format sees two SDC members and two from outside the company selected via a process of written proposals and investigated ideas. The final line up is a mix, but it’s definitely a combination of dancer and idea that guides the selection – even if the end product might end up very different from the original pitch.
“We’ve tried so many things,” says Cilli with a laugh “I’ve actually written a list of all the things that we’ve tried that were thrown out. There were quite a few things that were really funny but really weird and are no longer in the work. I think the general idea has remained the same though, but within this collection of strange goings-on that happen, I guess I’ve tried to find some poignancy or thought-provoking things that an audience might actually get.”
Melbourne-based performance artist Shian Law works as a dancer, collaborator, and choreographer across a range of disciplines from dance to trans-media performance and live-art intervention – he cites Jo Lloyd, whose work explores choreography as a social encounter, as a major influence. More naturally aligned with experimentalism and new dance practice, New Breed presents Law with a more conventional opportunity, but an opportunity none the less. “I’ve never worked with an ensemble of dancers like Sydney Dance Company,” he explains over Skype from Paris. “It’s very exciting!”
Shian Law at Sydney Dance Company
As a dancer, he too seems always to have had the creative bug. “Choreography is something I always think about,” he explains, “because as a performer I have to crack the code – like, what is dance? And even when part of the process of other people’s work, I’m constantly asking why does an artist make such a decision and what are they seeing that I’m not seeing.”
With no overarching constraints on New Breed choreographers the pieces can be wildly unusual and Cilli and Law’s works couldn’t sound more different. Cilli is looking to play with the tension between the surface appearance of things and the vastness of the internal landscape that might be hiding behind a veneer. “Some of the dancers are dancing and some are making noises that might narrate or animate the others dancers,” he explains. “The noise might come out of the dancer’s body or may even be a product of the movement or vice versa. It’s elaborating or embellishing upon something you can see by giving it an extra element that you might not be able to observe immediately.”
For Cilli that has involved text and what he describes as a lot of wacky sounds – including a fair number of fart noises. “I had to go there,” he laughs. “I was like ‘let’s try it’ and it really worked. So we have a lot of that. I devised the text and also we tried singing. I got them to learn a choral song in German but that didn’t go into the work. We tried it for a long time, I really persisted with some of my ideas, but then realised it was just because I liked them, not because they were right for the work.”
Richard Cilli and Petros Treklis in Kristina Chan’s Conform © Peter Greig
Cilli is working with nine dancers. Law, on the other hand, is in the process of recruiting additional volunteers for his piece. “My idea is to put a large number of people with different abilities together,” he explains. “I’m looking at different types of bodies and asking what we think of as performative in theatre – does it simply have to be virtuosity?”
For Law, the physical rigour of a piece is paramount and it has to be challenging for him to be interested. “My work is very improvisational, but with a lot of rules,” he explains. “I’m very interested in what the dancer is preoccupied with when he or she dances – and this really comes from the work I’ve done with Jo Lloyd. I’m also interested in games and using complicated physical tasks as a starting point to create material.”
Asked about his rehearsal room technique, he’s frank: “I do come in with set ideas – I have a bucket list of things I’ll try – but I think it’s crucial for me to be agile and respond to what happens. If I see something in a moment, I’ve got to be able to catch it and elaborate on it.”
For his New Breed project Cilli has also taken a non-proscriptive approach to the room. “I don’t come with many moves in my head,” he says. “I have done in the past, but for this particular process I wanted to keep it really open and go with what was offered to me. But I do have specific ideas about physicality or a texture, and I have a good idea of what should be driving the movement and what should be driving the action spatially.”
Unlike Law, who is Melbourne-based and very much a freelancer, Cilli is a regular SDC company member and that, he maintains, brings its advantages when choreographing his colleagues. “I definitely know their capabilities – and their capabilities are huge so that’s really exciting,” he explains, “but I also know where I think I can get a little more out of them that maybe I don’t usually see. Hopefully I can inspire them or challenge them to move a little differently. When you walk in and face a group of people that you’ve never worked with there’s a lot of gauging what and how and where. Here we’re already speaking the same language so that makes it a lot easier.”
Another handy element is being around his dancers on a daily basis – a fact that Cilli has been able to capitalise on. “I’ve been getting dribs and drabs of rehearsals while we’ve been on tour – moments in foyers or in theatres in Brazil, things like that. If there is a 45-minute window here or there, I’ll take it!”
Richard Cilli in Rafael Bonachela’s Anima © Peter Greig
New Breed also offers dancemakers the chance to work with costume and lighting designers, though minimal set opportunities, and the option to involve musicians or work with found music. Cilli is using just one piece of found music – from Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Wandering). “It’s from the Swiss album, and actually I was listening to it when we were in Switzerland earlier this year,” he says. “It had the right kind of gravity and the romance and the kind of extreme drama that really countered the movement. But otherwise the work plays against silence.”
Law will be working with sound designer Marco Cher-Gibard (Chunky Move, Speak Percussion) – and the intention is that the sound will be manipulated live. He currently imagines his piece will weigh in at 20-30 minutes. “My weakness is making short work – I don’t know how to make short work well,” he laughs. But then, that sense of ‘anything goes’ and ‘embrace the ambition’ is the beauty of New Breed.
New Breed is at Carriageworks, Sydney from November 29-December 10