Thanks to funding constraints, it’s rare to see a body of work by one independent choreographer, and even rarer to see independent works remounted. In the next two weeks, however, Perth audiences will be have the chance to experience both. A remount of Rachel Arianne Ogle’s 2014 work precipice, will be closely followed by a season of its 2019 sequel, i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night. Nina Levy sat down with Ogle to learn more.
Nina Levy: precipice was your first full length work… how did the concept for this work come into being?
Rachel Arianne Ogle: precipice began as an exploration of various physical states in opposition. In my own movement practice I have always explored a physicality of being off balance – generating and riding momentum, falling and surrendering weight to gravity – to take risk and play more in the extremes of the unknown. This physicality informed my creative interests for this work. As I explored a series of physical provocations through movement, the larger concepts of the work began to reveal themselves to me. I have always been fascinated with space and the universe, and as the movement ideas developed it became apparent these concepts were all very much alive in the work. From there the work began to guide me, and tell me what it was about.
NL: And talk me through the creative process of making that work…
RAO: When I began to create precipice, I had no ambition to be a choreographer. But I had arrived at a point in my artistic life where I had some ideas that I was curious to play with and, for the first time, I felt like I was ready to do that with some bodies in space that weren’t my own. It was really the first time that I had stepped out from being on the inside, in an attempt to explore something, which shifted my focus considerably.
I would often start with a simple image, and then allow that image to invite my imagination and intuition to guide me, while offering the perspective of being the outside eye to what was unfolding. It was only at the end of the first stage development, that I realised I was making a show. From there, it continued to grow for two and half years before we arrived at the premiere season in 2014.
NL: It’s not often that independent works get a second outing. What’s it been like remounting the work?
RAO: It is an incredible privilege, so rarely afforded to an independent artist, to be able to revisit work in repertoire. It is invaluable to have the opportunity to reflect on where I have come from, and to consider the work in the context of, and relevance to, my creative present. I see my history, my lineage, and my influences in this work – but I also see a moment in time when I was beginning to unearth and trust my own creative voice, and my crafting of ideas.
The opportunity to be back working with the dancers, and to see how far they have come in the five years since we premiered… their own maturing as artists and performers brings a whole new depth to the work. At the same time, new cast members hold me accountable to justifying the work and the decisions I have made within it, as we transmit the information to new bodies. It has been a very short and intense remount period, but an incredibly joyful and rewarding one.
NL: Your design team for the two works (Luke Smiles – sound composition and Benjamin Cisterne – visual design) is a dream team. How did you come to work with these two creatives?
RAO:Ben, Luke and I all worked together with Melbourne dance company, Phillip Adams’ BalletLab, so we had been friends for many years. Luke is also a dancer, and he and I performed together in one of Phillip’s shows for which Ben was lighting designer, which we all toured to the US in 2007. Alongside his career as a dancer, Luke always had his parallel career as a composer/sound designer, through which he has a long history of collaborating with Ben. I had always thought that if I ever created work, I would love to have them both as the design team. To be honest, I think I just got lucky that when that time came, they both said yes.
NL: Did you always envisage a sequel to precipice? How did the idea for i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night have come about?
RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night began from a design concept that has a momentary presence in precipice. During the production week in the theatre for precipice in 2014, my design collaborators – Ben and Luke – and myself, began to discuss the potential for that design element to have a show of its own. So it started from there, and the work became a response to the design. Because the design element was born from precipice, it always felt very connected to that work. And conceptually the work continues the themes of where precipice arrives at its end, but also takes it in a different direction… like going down a different worm hole. It very much feels like an offer of what comes next, or like “the other side” of precipice – therein being its sequel.
NL: What made you decide to make a solo work this time?
RAO: i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night was always going to be a work for a solo performer, I think, largely due to the design concept we were working with and what felt appropriate for that. It never felt like a question that the performer would be me. This work is incredibly personal to me so I felt like somehow I didn’t have a choice in it… the work had already demanded that it come directly through me to the audience.
NL: And talk me through that creative process…
RAO: We watched a lot of science fiction films! And had many nerd discussions about space stuff… like black holes, the warping and manipulation of time and space, death, and what lies beyond. These filmic references unconsciously and inevitably fed into the work. During the first development we kept finding ourselves sitting for long periods of time just watching the lights and sound interact with the installation. We eventually realised that this hypnotic state that we were being drawn into was the experience we wanted for the audience. Once we made that decision it was about shaping and refining the elements to create that experience, and exploring the relationship of the body to that environment. Placing the body inside of the installation added the human element and completely shifted the perspective. The interaction of the body with the moving lights in front of the installation, created a visual illusion, distorting the perception of the reality the viewer is seeing. It was quite a magical discovery, and for me that sense of warping reality is really the essence of the work.
Choreographically, I originally started developing some improvisation scores, exploring different qualities and textures, and states of transition. However the more we explored the dialogue of the body with the installation, the more we realised that I needed to do less. So it became a process of stripping back. The choreography became quite distilled, but very rigorous in terms of the tension and focus in the body.
We further developed the work during a residency at EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Centre) in New York in 2017. We continued to develop these ideas by integrating a live feed of radio communications from different airports around the world, which directly manipulates the lights and the sound. Ben and Luke then respond to this stimulus in real-time, shaping the already moving lights and sound into an improvised score and structure. So they are live onstage with me creating the design in real-time, and the work is slightly different every performance as a result.
NL: What’s next after these back-to-back seasons?
RAO: I am currently developing a new work, which is my most ambitious to date in terms of scale and vision. I am planning a design development for this work later this year, and will undertake a larger development with the dancers early in 2020. I will also be creating a smaller site-specific work in Tasmania in August, and undertaking some international travel to participate in a 3 month intensive improvisation project in Brussels later in the year. I’m dreaming up lots of new projects at the moment… so stay tuned!
Pictured top is Rachel Arianne Ogle in ‘I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night’. Photo: Mick Bello.