Q&A/What to SEE/Dance

What to SEE: Bang! Bang! regional tour

25 August 2022

Down your weapons! Dance double bill ‘Bang! Bang!’ is travelling, complete with a suitcase of pop-culture references that you don’t need to be a dance expert to appreciate.

This article is sponsored content.

As the title foreshadows, it’s murder that ties together dance double bill “Bang! Bang!”.

Plus it’s packed with plenty of pop culture references to ensure that you don’t need to be a contemporary dance aficionado to enjoy this program.

From public shaming in Shona Erskine’s Love You, Stranger, to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, in Scott Elstermann’s Act 2, Scenes 1-4, these two dance works have been designed to invite new audiences to enjoy contemporary dance by keeping it familiar.

“Bang! Bang!” delighted Seesaw Mag’s Nina Levy when it premiered at The Blue Room Theatre in 2019, so she was thrilled to catch up with Erskine and Elstermann, ahead of the program’s tour to Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, Albany Entertainment Centre, Lake Grace Town Hall, Hopetoun Town Hall and Lake King Town Hall.

NL: Scott, what inspired you to transform Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel into contemporary dance?

Scott Elstermann: I have always been a big fan of Wes Anderson and his films. One day when I was rewatching The Grand Budapest Hotel at home, I was struck by how choreographic his editing choices were – his use of symmetry, panning camera motions and play with time (slow-motion vs. stop-motion).

Immediately I thought how cool it would be to try and recreate the film using contemporary dancers, bringing to life Anderson’s editing techniques in real-time. And so, Act 2, Scenes 1-4 was born.

NL: The premiere season of “Bang! Bang!” happened in the intimate space of The Blue Room Theatre, but now you’re touring to venues such as Mandurah PAC and Albany Entertainment Centre. How are you transferring the show from what is almost a site-specific kind of space to large stages and theatres?

SE: The show will be adapted slightly to suit each venue. At the larger venues in Mandurah and Albany, we will use stage masking to recreate The Blue Room Theatre’s intimate boxlike feel. Some compromises have had to be made to make the show tourable – such as the use of three doors for entrances/exits in my work – but Shona and I have some clever solutions up our sleeves to create a similar effect. You’ll have to come to the show to find out!

Bernadette Lewis is caught in mid-jump, her fists raised and her feet flexed.
Bernadette Lewis in ‘Act 2, Scenes 1-4’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

Nina Levy: The 2019 iteration of Shona’s work, Love you, Stranger, explores the consequences of public shaming, via the stories of three Australian women – Martha Rendell (1871-1909), Audrey Jacobs (1905-?) and Ellen Thompson (1835-1887) – all brought to trial for murder.

Public shaming is a very contemporary topic, Shona, so what inspired you explore it via historical examples?

Shona Erskine: In addition to being a dance artist, I am a psychologist. In my work I was being exposed more and more to the consequences of technology for young people, women, and any group of people who didn’t hold the power in a society – in particular the blaming and shaming that occur through social media. The bullying that can happen online.

The trial by media that is heavily opinionated and lacking in fact. I wanted to explore these issues in an historical framework as I felt this would give perspective on behaviours that are costly to those who become targets, while creating some distance from current events that are still contentious and political.

Three dancers on stage in Bang! Bang!. They are all dressed in light coloured dresses and all twisting to the left.
Bernadette Lewis, Scott Elstermann and Storm Helmore in Shona Erskines ‘Love you Stranger’. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

NL: Love You, Stranger was originally created in consultation with academic Vahri McKenzie and choreographer Annette Carmichael, and is being further developed in 2022, with Annette, to incorporate local ensembles of dancers and explore contemporary shaming. How have all the pieces come together?

SE: Love You, Stranger had its beginnings with Vahri who, with her eye for great stories and her austere academic curiosity, found records of women who had been accused of murder and whose trials had enflamed the public.

The work was always built from the beginning between myself, Vahri and Annette. In an ideal situation the three of us would be working in rehearsals with the professionals, with the community, and across all decisions in order to build the final work. Funding however has not allowed this as a process.

In light of this Annette came in on the development of the work to establish a community engagement framework and understand clearly what we were working on in the studio. I then spent three days with her in Mandurah (Giorgia, one of the dancers from the work, was also there) to hand the work over to her so that she could embed the community in the performance. We are working from a stand point of openness and sharing. I was not precious about any parts of the work so that Annette could make best practice decisions with full artistic control.

The result is that the community is on stage for the duration of the work. They complement each of the solos through dramatic action. They play different roles and relationships towards each solo which requires them to shift and change the quality of performance throughout.

NL: How will the collaboration work, in terms of bringing the two casts together?

SE: Annette and Giorgia have a choreographic framework for community engagement that is woven throughout Love You Stranger. They will spend three weeks travelling to each of the venues regionally rehearsing the community into the work, establishing warmups, and providing support material. Once the cast arrive in the regional location, they have a rehearsal with the community members, and a full dress run, and then we perform.

NL: Contemporary dance is sometimes thought of as an artform that only those “in the know” understand. How has “Bang! Bang!” been designed to invite new audiences to enjoy this artform?

SE: From day one, both works have been created with the audience in mind. They use theatrical character movement, voiceovers and pop-culture references to invite anyone to come along for the journey. There really is something for everyone with “Bang! Bang!” and we can’t wait to take this show on the road.

“Bang! Bang!” tours to:

Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, 12 October 2022
Albany Entertainment Centre, 14 October 2022
Lake Grace Town Hall Thursday 20 October 2022
Hopetoun Town Hall Saturday 22 October 2022
Lake King Town Hall Tuesday 25 October 2022

Want to be part of one of the Love You, Stranger community ensembles? Find out more here

Pictured top, L-R: Storm Helmore, Lilly King, Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes in Scott Elstermann’s ‘Act 2, Scenes 1-4’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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