Climate concern drives dance odyssey

6 March 2023

The urgent need for climate action lies at the heart of choreographer Annette Carmichael’s ambitious five-chapter work, which traverses 1000 km to blur the line between performance and road trip. Victoria Laurie gets the lowdown.

What do a community dance project and Australia’s biggest bush rehabilitation scheme have in common?

Two things – big ambition and a passion for nature. Community arts impresario Annette Carmichael has created The Stars Descend, a five town, five team, five chapter version of one story that will be performed across the Southwest from 17 March to 1 April.

Two dancers from The Stars Descend are on the beach, leaping into the air.
Soloists in ‘The Stars Descend’ Janine Oxenham and Russell Thorpe. Photo: Christopher Young

The story – and its tellers and viewers – will literally travel along a corridor that stretches from Margaret River, across the Southwest, and swerves up in an arc to end in Kalgoorlie. Audience members are invited to join the entire 15-day odyssey and see all five performances – or they can choose to land on one location, one performance, one story at Margaret River, Northcliffe, the Porongurup Range, the Fitzgerald Biosphere or Kalgoorlie.

So where does Gondwana Link, Australia’s largest rehabilitation project, come in? First, it covers identical territory; Gondwana Link has revegetated a wide swathe of farm land – roughly 1000kms in length – over the past 20 plus years.

Second, its mission to heal the land is shared with Carmichael’s current production The Stars Descend, a series of theatrical performances by professional artists and community members. “I felt an urgency around climate action and the sense of despair of people,” says Carmichael. “I didn’t know what to do until I went to see the Gondwana Link film Breathing Life into Boodja (Earth).”

She loved its message of hope, its grand vision for a vast ecological corridor in southwest Western Australia that would “heal” land brutally cleared from the 1960s onward.

Could I, as an artist, create a project that brought people in, to believe that it is possible to do something?

“It was so simple, the idea that you could do something,” she recalls. “The film showed the impact of their restoration work – birds returning, plants self-seeding. That got me thinking that if we felt hope, we were more likely to take action. Could I, as an artist, create a project that brought people in, to believe that it is possible to do something, like reducing carbon by bush regeneration?”

“The epic idea of a 1000km corridor is driven by lots of people doing small actions, from landowners to ecological groups who are connected and able to seek a solution. That was really appealing to me, and it matched the philosophy of how I work with community.”

Carmichael’s The Stars Descend is also major logistical feat, involving 25 artists and over 100 performers from five different communities. Two professional dancers are the common element in each show – soloists Russell Thorpe, of Co3 Contemporary Dance, and Janine Oxenham, a Malgana Yamatji dance artist who was choreographer for Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s acclaimed Panawathi Girl. But the dance, movement and voices are “informed by each site and each group”.

A group of creatives from The Stars Descend stand with their arms around each other, smiling. We can see the sea peeking out behind them.
Costume designers Sky River and Sym Parr, soloist Janine Oxenham, Director Annette Carmichael and soloist Russell Thorpe. Photo: Christopher Young

Vibrant illustrations by Michelle Frantom are part of a big creative effort that includes dramaturge Anthony Coxeter, costume designers Sky River and Symantha Parr, photos by Nic Duncan and film clips by the late Robert Castiglione and Gneiss Design.

As creator and choreographer, Carmichael has an impressive record of delivering memorable community arts events. One was The Beauty Index, a trilogy about “the power of beauty to preserve our humanity in the face of fear and violence”. She worked with men in one show and young people in another. The third project, 2020’s Chorus, involved 150 women and five choreographers.

Carmichael describes The Stars Descend as “site-specific performance as a force for social and ecological change, resulting in a performance that reflects the fragility of born-again ecosystems”.

The five narratives have been drawn from committed local residents, such as architect-activist Stuart Hicks, award-winning First Nations novelist Kim Scott and groups like the Friends of Porongurup Range. “Each story is performed by people who care about the place,” says Carmichael. 

The stars are the constant theme; they transform into sea stars and crawl ashore. They rise and fall over the Great Western Woodlands and rouse the watching birds. In Northcliffe, the stars make fire in the Southern Forest and trigger the flowering of exquisite orchids. The Northcliffe event will be staged in a native tree grove which is backgrounded by the Boorara Forest, “which [the locals] saved from destruction”.

When the star theme reaches Twin Creeks Conservation Reserve in the Porongurup Range, “there’s a strong sense of the geology of the place, and the many species of plants”. In Fitzgerald Biosphere, an emu looks west to where the stars first fell, and travels forward to Karlkurla Park in Kalgoorlie. A cacophony of birds greets it, and celebrates its arrival.

Dancers from The Stars Descend rehearse in a green field, with bushland behind them.
‘It was so simple, the idea that you could do something.’ Pictured: Adelina Larsson Mendoza leading Margaret River cast. Photo: Christopher Young

Carmichael hopes The Stars Descend will leave another legacy for arts creation in the regional towns they work in. “There’s a lack of local producers and contemporary artists with a strong foundation in community practice, and a lack of scale in the works being created regionally.”

“I came up with a strategy to solve some of these problems, with different people funding each aspect; from producer development, employing and training producers across the project, to teaching artists living in disparate communities to collaborate on a single work.” 

“Another thread is around cultural tourism, so we’ve developed a lovely itinerary for each place, telling people about the landscape.”

And for those keen to follow up their arts experience with a look at Gondwana’s scientific approach, there’s a tag-along tour to witness firsthand what climate action has created in restored properties in the Fitz-Stirling section of Gondwana Link.

The Stars Descend performances take place 17 March – 1 April 2023:

Chapter 1, Margaret River/Wooditjup, 17 March
Chapter 2, Northcliffe, 19 March
Chapter 3, Porongurup/Borongur, 24 March
Chapter 4, Fitzgerald Biosphere, 26 March
Chapter 5, Kalgoorlie/Karlkurla/Garlgula, 1 April

For more information, including a link to bookings, head to

Pictured top: Kalgoorlie cast in rehearsal for ‘The Stars Descend’ by Annette Carmichael Projects, Photo: Melissa Drummond

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

A woman with short cropped red hair, glasses and brightly patterned shirt smiles at the camera in front of a white backdrop

Author —
Victoria Laurie

Victoria Laurie is an award-winning Perth-based journalist and feature writer who has written extensively for national publications, including The Australian. Covering cultural matters and interviewing artists of all kinds has been one of her greatest privileges, and their contribution to Australian cultural life deserves far more prominence in the media. As a fan of Seesaw in responding to this challenge, she nominates her playground favourite as... the seesaw.

Past Articles

  • Arts funding lost in translation

    With peak bodies hit hard in the State Government’s latest funding round, Victoria Laurie looks at the cost for the arts and some of its biggest advocates.

  • Stories that get to the heart of the matter

    With the ‘yes’ campaign for the Voice to Parliament just launched, Big hART’s latest shows are timely, writes Victoria Laurie, providing a reminder about the importance of gathering on shared ground to listen to one another.

Read Next

  • Reading time • 10 minutesFringe World Festival
  • Carina Roberts and Gakuro Matsui in The Nutcracker How to watch ballet

    How to watch ballet

    16 November 2023

    If you’ve booked tickets to Christmas favourite The Nutcracker and you’re not sure what to expect, look no further! Rita Clarke has you covered.

    Reading time • 10 minutesDance
  • Reading time • 7 minutesMulti-arts

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio


Cleaver Street Studio