The world premiere of a unique collaboration between West Australian Ballet and Gary Lang’s NT Dance Company will take place on 9 February 2018 at The Quarry in Perth.
The season of 16 shows will feature dancers from both companies, Deborah Cheetham and a new program of dance developed during 16 months of working together.
Aurélien Scannella, artistic director of WAB, approached Gary Lang in October 2016 with a proposal that had been at the top of his to-do list for four years.
Mr Scannella and WAB’s executive director, Jessica Machin, then travelled to Darwin with their families in April this year to meet up with Ms Cheetham and Gary Lang—to view the outcomes of the creative development funded by Arts NT.
They then went on to Gove in Arnhem Land to meet Mr Lang’s family and cultural elders in the Yirrkala community, to give them a ‘wider perspective of where my work comes from’, as Lang explained at the time.
Since then, with the assistance from WAB’s Principal Partner Woodside, Christine Coyne of the Waygle Kaip people (from south-west Western Australia) has run cultural awareness training in Perth for the WA Ballet dancers and staff in August.
Mr Scannella believes the depth of the cultural exchange makes the project a unique one for both WAB and the NT Dance Company.
The experience will leave both the richer.
This month (October 2017) three dancers from Darwin will come to Perth with Gary Lang to continue the collaboration for two weeks, with Ms Cheetham joining them in the second week.
While in Perth Mr Lang will meet with Noongar elders and artists.
‘It’s going to be great to finally to get everybody together in the studio and start creating all the dances. It’s very exciting,’ Mr Scannella said at the time of writing.
The work will not only include the three NT Dance Company dancers, as well as Ms Cheetham, but also seven WAB dancers, two traditional dancers from the Northern Territory, a traditional song man and a didgeridoo (Yidaki) player.
Gary Lang has already developed some of the choreography, and with Ms Cheetham has made the musical choices.
‘Originally, Deborah was very keen to create a new score for this work but because we also had to find a way to make and fund a proper recording of this new score with an orchestra, it became a little bit too difficult.
‘So Gary and herself have chosen some beautiful music and beautiful scores for her to sing and to be part of the show,’ Mr Scannella said.
‘Deborah is very artistic and she’s got lots of great ideas—it’s really an ongoing conversation between Gary, Deborah and myself. And the project keeps on changing, developing every time we have a chat and brainstorm.’
The theme of the work is based on the traditional Yognu story of two fishermen whose spirits go from the sea to the sky, with the Milky Way representing their spirits.
Following the season at The Quarry, Mr Scannella said the plan was to go to Darwin later next year.
‘We’re still looking at different dates—June or maybe October.’
Education is a big part of the project, with Gary Lang working with local kids and local ballet schools, running different workshops and programs in January.
‘We’re also organising some workshops with Strut (National Centre for Choreographic Development) here in Perth. Gary is going to work with them, as well as with WAAPA and other schools’, Mr Scannella said.
Getting funding for the project has been much easier than in the past—‘everyone’s been so excited about it and I think they realise it’s such a unique project’.
‘We’ve got total confirmed support of $328,000. Catalyst funding gave us $153,000, Australia Council $100,000, Arts NT gave us $15,000, and then we’ve got quite a few private supporters.
‘So it’s had fantastic support.’
He is also hoping to generate some interest from the Perth International Arts Festival, which next runs from 9 Feb to 4 March 2018.
He said ‘the door will for sure stay open’ between the two companies, and hopes this collaboration will give Gary Lang and his company ‘the exposure he deserves because he’s very talented and he’s got an amazing talent for choreography’.
And for the WA Ballet, it has given the company a unique window to work in a culturally inclusive and artistically innovative way.
‘It’s a beautiful journey for all’, he said.
And does he have any future collaborations on the horizon?
‘Yes I do. It’s going to happen in 2019. I don’t know if we can talk about it already, because it’s in the very early stage of the conversation but it’s going to be with a contemporary company of Western Australia.
‘You’re the first to know it!’
Watch this space.
*Belgium-born Aurélien Scannella joined WAB as Artistic Director in 2013, following an illustrious dance career around the world. He retired from dancing in 2008 to focus on teaching, and became a greatly sought after ballet master. Since his arrival in Perth, he’s been responsible for bringing many world standard works to West Australian Ballet. In 2016 West Australian Ballet had the world premiere of its very own production ofThe Nutcracker with choreography by Jayne Smeulders, Aurélien Scannella and Sandy Delasalle. The critically acclaimed season broke all box office records in the company’s history.