Amelia's Diary: CURTAIN UP!
October 17 OPENING NIGHT
I wrote this just before heading into the theatre on the premiere night:
I’ve got 30 minutes before I need to head into the theatre ready for the premiere performance of "Bodytorque: Atelier". A lot is going through my mind: nerves, but a lot of excitement and anticipation. This is always the hardest and most enjoyable part of choreographing. It’s the moment when you officially hand your baby, your heart and your soul over to the dancers, and over to the audience to interpret. This was a relatively short rehearsal process, but the connection I’ve formed with the four dancers (Kelsey Stokes, Sean Kiley, Evie Ferris and Saranja Crowe) is very special and I’m inspired by the way they have taken on my ideas and developed their own movements and style within that.
My work is about loneliness, and for artists it is an important story to tell. I’m excited about the way the dancers have interpreted this subject and the movements, and the emotions that I feel when I watch my work. Since the beginning of March – and throughout the entire rehearsal process – I have been formulating, editing, improvising, imagining and working on this moment. The time has arrived when it has all been taken away from me, and I have to sit back and enjoy what has been created. For me, it was important that the process of choreographing was an enjoyable and challenging experience for everyone involved. As a team we achieved that and I’m very proud. It is a very special moment for me as well because my family will be with me for these shows, and since I’ve been in Germany, it’s been a long time since they’ve seen my work in Australia.
I have learned many things from this process and experience. A big one for me was not only to trust the process, but to back myself and trust my original ideas. And also to trust the dancers standing in front of me. I have loved the collaborative process, and it has made me reconsider my prior assumptions about many aspects of dance and choreography.
I am very proud to be representing women in choreography tonight and to have this incredible opportunity to share my work and my voice. I have loved working with the most professional Australian Ballet team, who have not only encouraged my ideas and creativity, but have allowed me to express something very close to my heart. I feel privileged to be surrounded by six other choreographers who have created six unique and stunning works.
Two days after the closing performance of "Bodytorque":
I am overwhelmed by the positive feedback, the feeling that I have when I am able to see my work, the dancers, and the way all the aspects of the performance came together. That is why I love to choreograph! It is a tough job with many challenges and a lot of lessons to learn along the way, but I would repeat it again and again just to feel this feeling.
The Lawler Theatre at Southbank in Melbourne is a beautiful, intimate setting with about 150 seats. The first row of the audience was seated on the level of the stage, and there is something very special about being up close to the dancers.
In the week leading up to the first performance, the company toured to Adelaide with The Nutcracker and I was able to go with them for a couple of days to work around their performance schedule. That was special for me because when I lived in Adelaide as a young aspiring ballet student. I remember going to the Festival Theatre to see La Fille mal gardée and watch an open ballet class. That was the moment when I told my mum I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. It was a full-circle experience in a different way to what I had imagined!
After getting back from Adelaide we had one more rehearsal day in the studio, and the next day we were on stage for our first technical rehearsal. I always feel very nervous about that because it’s the first time I actually see if all my ideas will come to together in the way that I imagined. I had help from the stage manager and the lighting designer who measured out the shapes I wanted to create on the stage and fixed the colours I described.
The next step was to get the right cues for the lighting changes. The whole of "Bodytorque" is performed to beautiful live music, so to get the timing right the stage manager has to know the choreography together with the music. There is always an ironing out of creases in the beginning, but the whole team is very experienced and everything comes together at lighting speed. Only a short amount of time is assigned to each piece, so there is no room for indecision.
Another one of my ideas was to have the hands and upper arms of the dancers painted black. I wanted to symbolise the darkness and loneliness creeping up, and eventually consuming the person. The technical aspects of this request were discussed in depth because we were worried that it might stain the costumes or transfer to the stage or start running with sweat. The theatre had limited dressing room space and washing facilities. We were allowed to give it a go in the technical rehearsal just to see what would happen. It worked very well and hence ended up in the final version of my piece. I think it really added to the feel, and I’m very glad that I was given the freedom to try that idea!
At the end of the third show in the evening, the choreographers took part in a Q&A session with David McAllister and musical director Nicollette Fraillon. It was a chance for audience members to get to know how the show was put together and ask questions about our creative processes. We were asked some really interesting questions about how we chose our dancers, if we considered the audience while creating our pieces, how we chose and used our music, and if there was any element of improvisation. I think the audience was particularly interested in the amount of time we were allocated to create our works. They were shocked to learn that the four external choreographers had about two-and-a-half to three weeks of rehearsals. The Australian Ballet is a busy company, like all classical ballet companies around the world, and the pace of creation and production is unbelievable. As David explained that night, it is a real world situation and there is never enough time to spend ages perfecting. That is something that has challenged me but has also given me a restriction and reason to create. If you have too much time, the work can go stale, and you can dangerously overthink.
I am incredibly grateful to have this platform and to have been awarded this opportunity by the Sydney Opera House, Dance Australia and The Australian Ballet. I don’t have enough words of thanks to be able to express how I truly feel. If you were at the performances of "Bodytorque" or have been following my journey through my dairy entries for Dance Australia, I have loved sharing this experience with you. I hope this is the start of more Emerging Female Classical Choreographer initiatives to come, and I hope to share more of my work with you in the future.
A sincere thank you to our sponsors – Harlequin, Bloch, West Australian Academy of Performing Arts and DanceSurance – ‘Dance Australia’ judging panel Margaret Mercer, Geraldine Higginson, Susan Bendall and co-editor Nina Levy; guest judges Fiona Tonkin and Natalie Weir; Head of Contemporary Performance at the Sydney Opera House, Olivia Ansell; and artistic director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister.