Seeking the light inside

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Deborah Brown

is collaborating with Mãori choreographer and arts laureate Moss Te Ururangi Patterson to create a new work called ‘The Light Inside’, for a double billed called ‘Horizon’ for Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Photo by Daniel Boud.
Photo by Daniel Boud.

How did this collaboration come about?

Last year, Frances Rings [Artistic Director of Bangarra] called me up sharing her beautiful dream of a collaboration not done before at Bangarra. Next thing I’m on the phone with Moss across the Tasman sharing our experiences as dancers and the different themes that connect us as people and artists! From our ancestry to the landscape to who we are as artists living in major cities and what that means to us. Later this year I finally met Moss and his stunning family at the Bangarra studios for a week’s creative development.

What was the inspiration for Horizon?

Hope. Looking across the vast ocean to see the light shining from our neighbours.

Light, connection to water, how we carry that within us, from our families, our mothers. The idea of horizon gives us a sense of always looking forward. Personally I have a desire to see what’s beyond the horizon as well as have a sense of pride of where my ancestry has come from.

Your first choreography was Dive for Dance Clan and you choreographed The Wave for the Australian Ballet’s Madeleine Eastoe: is water a common theme or attraction for you?

Water is an important character in most of my works. I used to have a recurring dreams of breathing peacefully underwater. It could be because my totem is a shark. I’ve experimented with three short films, all drawing a connection to water. Both IBIS (2015), and The Wave (2021) explored a relationship to the ocean in different ways. Water heals, protects and nourishes us. The ocean is a food source. In the chats I’ve had with Moss, we’ve also talked about his home and connection to Lake Taupõ and what that means to him and his ancestry. Water helps bring calm to us but is also wild! It’s emotional.

Water is a conduit and an energy source and I believe it’s already connecting Moss and myself with our upcoming work.

What was your early dance training?

I studied ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary from five years old. Ballet wasn’t my strong suit; tap dancing was my strength. I was slightly pigeon-toed when I was young. Ballet helped but I could never achieve the ideal turnout. My ballet school taught RAD and my dance teacher, Pamela LeRay Toso, was so patient and supportive of my development, not only as a technician but also as a storyteller. It took years for me to come out of my shell compared to my peers! I think my mother cried when I passed my first two RAD exams because I don’t think I looked very promising to begin with! I had good guidance, tough but worth it. Fortunately, years later, my internal hip rotation became an advantage for the grounded style that is synonymous with Bangarra!

You have a Masters in Screen Directing and have directed or collaborated on many films: will film have a part in Horizon?

We’re still in the early days of design discussions. I can’t see film as a part of it yet but it’s not off the table!

A promotional image from 'Horizon'. Photo by Daniel Boud
A promotional image from 'Horizon'. Photo by Daniel Boud

Please tell us about your collaborators.

I’m looking forward to reuniting with Steve Francis, who has created many beautiful compositions for Bangarra. I’ve experienced his work both as a dancer and choreographer. He was also kind enough to compose my short film, Bala. He’s a generous and thoughtful creative and will be the glue between Moss and myself as we’re both working out of different cities. Steve will also be collaborating with Brendon Boney who recently worked on Bangarra’s 2023 Dance Clan season. Brendon’s an awesome musician and artist.

Elizabeth Gadsby will return as our set designer – she recently created an amazing transformative environment for Bangarra’s 2023 season of Yuldea. The hero image of Horizon was our first collaboration and Elizabeth immediately had an understanding of the tone and space of the themes that Moss and I shared. I think by having two choreographers on one piece, the designer has an enormous task to translate our ideas cohesively and navigate between two worlds.

What came first, the music or the movement?

It’s still early days. We’ve only had one week of a creative development. I’m someone that loves responding to music so I may begin with a temp track that inspires me. I also love task-based choreography. My time as a dancer creating and investigating new pathways or simply just listening to other dancers and responding instinctively was always rewarding, even if  those phrases didn’t make it to the stage!

What do you hope to convey to audiences with Horizon?

Hope and light. I think we’re going through some dark days and I’m inspired to create and collaborate on a piece that can share the beauty of the places we’re drawing inspiration from. I hope the audience will walk away feeling that their light within still shines and that it will be a reflection of what they experienced from watching “Horizon”.

‘Horizon’ is a double bill: ‘The Light Inside’ will share the program with ‘Kulka’, by Bangarra alumnus Sani Townson. The opening season runs from June 9 to 17 at the Sydney House, after which it travels to Canberra, Queensland and Melbourne. For more info, go here.


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