First Basin, Cataract Gorge, Launceston
Co-drivers Adam Wheeler, Sinsa Mansell and Emma Porteus
50 performers | 6 companies | 2 nights November 19 and 20 (cancelled due to rain)
With Launceston-based Tasdance celebrating its 40th year and with a clear homage to three previous iterations of Illuminations (1992, 1993 and 2006), the Illuminate project ignited fond memories and the imagination of many. The original Illuminations, directed by Tim Newth and Jenny Kinder working alongside members of the palawa Tasmanian community, saw hundreds of the local Launceston school children and the broader community perform with company members of Tasdance in the majestic Cataract Gorge. These three large-scale community events were ambitious, eclectic and brought people together, as both performers and audiences, in what has been a traditional natural meeting place for thousands of years.
In 2021, Tasdance’s Artistic Director, Adam Wheeler, reached out beyond the northern region to invite five other dance companies from across lutruwita Tasmania to celebrate the possibilities of coming together in one place. Altogether groups involved, besides Tasdance, were the Tasmanian Aboriginal troupe pakana kanaplila (directed by Trawoolaway woman Sinsa Mansell), youth companies DRILL and Stompin, Hobart-based Second Echo Ensemble, and MADE (Mature Artists Dance Experience). "Illuminate examines our relationship to place and complexities of living in contemporary lutruwita," says Mansell.
This island is fortunate to have a healthy dance ecology, with a handful of small companies catering for very diverse needs and creative goals. Rather than a mass gathering, the 2021 focus became a celebration of that diversity. Integral to the process of coming together, representatives from each company initially spent time with Mansell sharing stories on the significance of Country and reflecting on their relationship to place. Company members further explored the Gorge to grow their understanding and own connection with the various potential performance spaces.
In the following months, pakana kanaplila and Tasdance undertook a first-time creative collaboration. The result became the opening work of Illuminate. While Tasdance employs a small group of technically-trained professional dancers, pakana kanaplila is made up of palawa community members who have been dedicated to reviving cultural traditional practices through song and dance. Wheeler believes that a story sharing process was crucial to developing understanding and empathy between the two groups in the way they danced together. Despite the second show being totally washed out, he also feels that the important work had already happened through the collaboration and will have a lasting impact.
In contrast, the other four companies pursued their creative processes independently. That is not to say that they did not challenge their regular practice. Site specific work is not new to any of the Tasmanian companies. Instead there were exchanges of personnel, with some directors working in new roles and with different groups. All the company leaders enjoyed being able to open up new possibilities, whether the play of carefully structured improvisation, or the challenge of not completing the work, or confirming the performance site, until finally taking it to the Gorge itself.
For Hobart-based DRILL Performance, the key "takeaways" from their time with Mansell were "exchange" and "meeting". After realising that they couldn’t rehearse or make their work on site, artistic director Isabella Stone, with director Bella Young and the dancers, investigated how to make dance their gift back to this culturally significant place. In collaboration with costume designer Sabio Evans, they played with insect-like movement and shiny beetle-like costume panels to reveal, hide, chase and follow, while shared phrases and abstracted gestures tied the distinct movers together. Text created by the dancers was incorporated in the sound design by Anna Whitaker, and a microphone stood silent: evidence of the conversations around whether it was their place to speak in this space.
MADE's work, choreographed by Kelly Drummond Cawthon, in comparison, used mirrors as props to explore imagery relating to reflection of self, nature and the wisdom of the space. Dancer and MADE’s Executive Producer, Shirley Gibson, reflected that Cawthon’s intuitive practice fitted the site well. The dancers adapted the work on site and responded directly, clambering over rocks and requiring the audience to move in close, to see aging body parts or follow them as they disappeared down the gully. The use of mirrors also invited the audience to see themselves as a part of the work.
Paul Roberts, taking on the direction of Second Echo Ensemble (SEE), also explored aspects of self, focusing on being present; on self as animal and self in nature. Body parts popped out of amorphous blobs, exposing a humanity within the larger environment. In this work, percussionist Alf Jackson and vocalist Dorianne Daniels interacted with elements in the environment, leading a conversation between the dancers and the peacocks present in the space. Continuing the theme of conversation, Roberts openly encouraged a close proximal relationship between the audience and performers.
Launceston-based Stompin’s solution to the challenge of fitting this project into an already full schedule was to invite some senior dancers to work with choreographer Rikki Mace and younger Stompers (8-12 years old) on a 10-minute excerpt of a related work. Into-View explores perspective, and points of view - both open and narrow minded. With the larger group of dancers, Artistic Director Caitlin Comerford was pleased with the way Illuminate offered an opportunity to broaden the age range of dancers involved and exposed them to the landscape of dance in all its diversity and strength across the state.
SEE’s Creative Director Drummond Cawthon reflected that the importance of being involved in this project is in acknowledging the community and the island of Tasmania with its incredible diversity in dance and environments. Projects like this are complex and the diversity of those involved needs to be considered. Without creative and financial support, such as was available, such simple concepts as "being in one place" would not be possible. "Zoom is nothing like one body speaking to another", she says. "Diversity, disability and dancing are now the norm. The next generation won’t have to undo their learning, they are living it and seeing it… on the floor in the studio and in the mud."
Like her colleagues, Comerford reflected on the importance of the unspoken and intangible exchange between the companies and individuals involved. "There is a strong sense of a united community and an investment in each other here. While we are all very busy, we still want each other to succeed."
- LESLEY GRAHAM
(Lesley Graham is Chair of the Board of DRILL Performance)
Coming up across lutruwita Tasmania:
- Primary Stompin will present Into–view, Junior DRILL will share their current workand Second Echo Ensemble will be a part of On Display Global.
Early in 2022
- Tasdance will present pakana kanaplila’s new work tuylupa at Mona Foma.
- DRILL will be working with the Samaya Wives on a film project in the takayna/Tarkine. EOIs close 13/12/21. https://drillperformance.com/samaya-wives-film-project.
- SEE launches its Tasmania-wide tour of Bending the Wind
- MADE will be in development and performance of Steampunk and Heirloom with Grace Pundyk