Shaun Parker is presenting his new work, In The Zone, in September. Remarkable in itself for the innovative idea that shapes it, this work is also a celebration of the tenth anniversary of Shaun Parker & Company, which Parker founded in 2010 and of which he is artistic director.
Parker shared the story of his company and his new work with Dance Australia.
Dance Australia: What made you start your own company ten years ago?
Shaun Parker: I had been working as a dancer for seventeen years and an independent freelance choreographer for five years and it became apparent to me that in order to go to the next level, I needed to centralise the work and for me to do that I wanted to start my own company. Through donations I was able to work as a not-for-profit charity, engage an executive producer and set a structure in place for international touring and education workshops.
DA: What have been its greatest achievements and what contributed to them? What are you most proud of?
SP: I’m most proud of everything that we have been able to achieve despite such little funding. I’m so proud of the incredible dancers I’ve worked with over the past ten years, to see their growth and their open mindedness. It’s so satisfying to see them become such formidable performers with their skill set, the way that they perform and can communicate ideas. I’m also very proud of the fact that we have been invited to tour our workshops to over 21 productions. And to be able to inspire young people through our education and anti-bullying programs - we’ve really helped make genuine social change. I’m a firm believer that we should aim for creating social impact and helping the wellbeing of our community through dance.
DA: What have been its lowest points and greatest challenges. How did you overcome them?
SP: What goes up must come down apparently, even in the arts. I think one of the lowest points has actually happened recently, when the company lost multi-year funding from the Australian Council. That, for me, has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with in my life, as it's a decision that I don't have any clarity around. With thirty years of experience, I believe that I’ve delivered and that the Company has punched well above its weight, but as they say the show must go on - and, while it’s still very fresh, I try to remind myself of why I love dancing and I continue to focus on why I’ve worked so hard for this. I also think of my incredible dancers, and I want them to experience the incredible career that I had when I was younger, and that I want to help them move forward and push the boundaries. And you don't achieve that by giving up when things get tough.
DA: How do you think that the dance world has changed in the last decade? What would you like to see change in the future?
SP: I think that dance has opened up because of the internet, and I think that's both good and bad. As a dancer, having access to live streaming, online workshops and the world’s greatest choreographies and dances at your fingertips is fantastic. You can learn so much from the internet, whereas when I was growing up you had to wait for the next teacher to come to your town to learn something new. But I am a firm believer that when it comes to dance, there is just nothing like a live performance in the theatre where you get to experience and feel the energy - and that's a lot more difficult to recreate online. I’m very proud of the Australian dance industry and how our reputation on the international stage has grown so much.
One of the biggest changes I would like to see relates to the way in which arts companies are funded. For many smaller companies, it feels very much that access to funding is limited because of the large grants provided to major art organisations. In Australia, the vast majority of small to medium arts and dance organisations are really struggling to survive, and if there was a shift in the funding system, so many dancers and art performers would get the opportunity to grow as professionals and in the end, just like I have, be able to build their own companies and give back to the community.
DA: Tell me about In The Zone. Where did the concept come from? What has it had to overcome to become a performance in the year of Covid? How important to you is innovation in dance?
SP: In The Zone is a work created in collaboration with Dr Alon Ilsar who designed the AirSticks technology, and performed by our amazing hip-hop dancer, Libby Montilla. AirSticks are video gaming controls that give Libby the opportunity to create the soundscape and sound effects of the show from the controls while he dances. In The Zone tells the story of a boy who finds these remote controls and he starts to experiment with them. The story ultimately looks at loss of control through gaming, and how to find a place of calm in today's high-tech world. As a hip-hop dancer, Libby tells this incredible story through locking, popping, waving, krumping and body animation and as the story also relates to family, it means that it’s a show for everyone.
In regards to COVID, it has affected us like it has many arts organisations - we haven't been able to tour, we haven't been able to perform in theatres, and we've needed to move into an online offering. We currently have plans to perform In The Zone at Seymour Centre, but regardless of whether or not we can have an audience, we will be live-streaming the show. In that way, Covid has forced us to innovate from a performance perspective, but innovation has always been key for me and working with AirSticks for In The Zone is a great example of that. As a professional in the dance industry you need to make the job as innovative as possible because you want people who see it to be on the edge of their seats. I think that it’s important that innovation is being rewarded from the top in Australia, so that our amazing choreographers and directors can really shine similar to how they are in Europe.
In The Zone is scheduled to be performed at The Seymour Centre in Sydney, Wednesday 16 September – Saturday 19 September. Tickets are available here.
- CANDIDE MCDONALD