For four days every month Co3 – WA’s new contemporary dance company – move their rehearsals from their King St studio to the foyer in the AGWA. The public are invited to watch the open rehearsals and to engage with the dancers. When I arrive the dancers are slowly moving around the stage. You can tell they’re the dancers because they have ‘Dancer’ written on the back of their clothing. There are four people (all at some point taking pictures of this #instagramablemoment), and six security guards watching the dancers. The vibe is very chill, as some slow minimalist music plays. At one point a group of high schoolers approach and a girl in a purple hat walks into the rehearsal space and starts having a loud conversation with the dancers – they’re not impressed and neither is the security guard, who starts to approach. But the girl retreats to her friends, who giggle as they leave.
Raewyn Hill, the new Artistic Director and choreographer of Co3’s new work ‘The Cry’ is also sitting, watching the dancers. Every so often she’ll get up and give them a direction, or ask them to do something again. At the end of the rehearsal Raewyn introduces herself, and we chat.
This collaboration with AGWA started last year – how has the public reacted to Co3 rehearsing in this space? Do you get a lot of direct engagement?
Some people stay and watch for five minutes, some stay for an hour; some people ask questions, some just watch. The whole point of having these public rehearsals is to be transparent and break down the mystery of what contemporary dance is. There’s such a curiosity in how we make dance, what it means, how to interact with it. We want people to have the chance to ask questions and know it’s okay to not understand it – sometimes I don’t even understand it!
How has your experience as the new Artistic Director of Co3 been?
I feel very honoured to be in the position that I’m in. It’s been a year and a half of a hard slog, but we knew it would be. We’re trying to engage directly with our audience and think outside the box by presenting ourselves differently by making this a very contemporary company. As the state company we want to contribute to the already rich and diverse community that we are part of. We are not the only voice in the community – everyone has their place, in terms of how we’re working and what we’re producing, and why we’re working – but to make up a community we need different voice. CO3’s existence is due to the passion and dedication of the community and industry of dance in WA.
How did you first get into choreography?
I chose to have a career as an independent dancer, which meant that I worked on many different contracts – when I was off contract I was working on solo work and just getting involved with choreography. I’ve always had curiosity for movement and a curiosity for telling stories through bodies. As a choreographer you gradually develop your own movement language, and you have to be courageous to put that language out for public consumption. I have a very masculine language with a very strong, and profound physicality. To enable the dancers to deliver their technique we work in classical ballet and yoga, and in the off season we do cross training. I also like my dancers to contribute a lot of movement material. When I’m creating it comes it comes really quickly and I have to let it flow out of my body, my dancers will be waiting and will just grab the steps as it comes.
I find it hard to watch dance – when I do, my mind is working too quickly to allow myself to absorb it and I’m questioning, watching the dancers, counting – it’s absolutely exhausting. I see dance in a non-traditional way and get a lot of my inspiration from other forms of art. Nick Cave is probably my ultimate inspiration – I see a beautiful, amazing movement language in him as a performer, and in his songwriting and poetry.
In 2010 you make a version of The Cry for Dance North – how is this new version for Co3 related?
The 2010 version was a beautiful work, but when you premiere a major work it’s not ‘til you get it on stage that you have the space to properly see it. I wanted the opportunity to revisit the work and keep layering and keep adding on what I potentially missed in the premiere. I’ve basically taken a lot of things from the original – either a concept or some movement material that I really liked but deepened the concepts and images, and reinterpreted it with different eyes – the kind that you get with six more years of life experience.
The Cry explores the highs and lows of human existence – why these themes?
I’m curious about how people interact, I’m curious about how personalities collide or meld, I’m curious when I see somebody on the street having a conversation and I see some sort of tension or emotional state happening. I’m curious about how people get into that state and how they get out of it. I think that these things moments can pass by in the blink of an eye. I think there are things that we don’t address or don’t have conversations about – things we brush over because everyone’s just existing, just finding our way through the complexities of life. As a choreographer I have this chance to go deeper into subjects, or deeper into interactions, so I’ll take a mental picture of what I see and store it to use later.
In The Cry I have a cast of extraordinary dancers who are working in an emotional state (like needy, or stoic, or anger) and the movement language unfolds from that. The work looks at how when you’re in a place of trauma or conflict, life can end up passing you by. Because you spend six months being absorbed by, say, anger, you won’t let any experiences in because that’s how you’re dealing with life at that time – by being angry.
Starting first with an emotional state and then dealing with technique is quite a different approach to more traditional forms of dance like ballet, which is technique-based first. How else does contemporary dance differ?
Dance is just telling stories through bodies. Whether you are working in the technique of classical ballet or hip hop or street dance or contemporary dance, it’s just a different ‘movement language’ that you’re using to express that story. I think people don’t engage with dance because they’re afraid of not knowing what they’re looking at, but there’s no right or wrong way to understand dance. People see things in my work that I don’t see, and that’s amazing! When you view dance you’re going to have a very personal interaction with it as the images activate parts of your memory, and that’ll be how you connect with dance.
You’ve worked on a number of different projects outside of Co3 – teaching at Julliard and the Bolshoi, dancing on Xena: Warrior Princess, being an advisor to the producers on New Zealand’s So You Think You Can Dance – can you tell me a bit about them?
At Julliard I was choreographing for three months – they’re a phenomenal institution and produce these incredible fusion dancers. I had an incredible time working with my class and the work we produced will probably make its way into the Co3 repertoire at some point, as I’m very fond of it. Working at the Bolshoi Ballet academy was so surreal – it was like being inside an encyclopaedia come to life. I was the guest choreographer, and only the second westerner to have been invited – and I got to work with some of the most incredible trained dancers in the world.
I was a dancer and assistant to the choreographer for Xena and that was a completely different world. Film is something I’d like to do more of – it has a whole different set of challenges because it’s so instant. For SYTYCD I advised the producers at the auditions, talked about particular dancers and personalities – I was definitely more of a behind-the-scenes kind of girl. It’s so funny because you don’t tend to think much about these things from your past, but they all contribute to the reasons why you are here now.
Interview by Ruth Thomas
The MoveMe Festival continues its run this weekend. Info and tickets available here.