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Dance in vast spaces

Choreographer Brooke Leeder isn’t afraid to go big, and her new work RADAR – which will premiere as part of the Fremantle Biennale – is no exception, discovers Millie Hunt*.

Brooke Leeder

Brooke Leeder’s most recent undertaking, RADAR, sees her at the helm of a cast which incorporates the talents of professional dancers (all graduates of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) as well as a youth ensemble from John Curtin College of the Arts (JCCA), and live musicians. Created in collaboration with composer Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirie, RADAR premieres November 21, inside Fremantle’s iconic B-Shed, a massive space that Leeder plans to reinvigorate with contemporary dance.

In RADAR Leeder explores sound and the way it triggers human movement. “There’s an unspoken understanding that we universally respond to auditory cues,” she observes. “Sounds incite movement, but also signal different things to different people. I’m interested in human movement en masse, exploring how large-scale responses can be evoked through specific noises.”

Leeder’s decision to use a youth ensemble from JCCA alongside a cast of professional dancers was both practical and artistic. “It really stemmed from the idea of wanting mass movement, as well as having this double alignment with the whole concept of the 2019 Fremantle Biennale,” she explains “The overarching concept for this year’s Biennale program is ‘undercurrent’, and I thought, ‘It just works.’ It’s the undercurrents, it’s the under the surface, it’s the youth that are coming in to the industry and how we are revealing the way industry works for these young people.”

This is not the first time Leeder has tackled an unconventional venue, and also not the first time that the space has been huge. Last year she presented Structural Dependency in PS Art Space, a 1900s warehouse that has been converted into a gallery and performance space. Both the B Shed and PS Art Space provide much more room to move than a traditional stage, so what draws Leeder to working in these massive spaces?

“I have really liked presenting works in these unconventional spaces,” she replies. “My very first full-length work was also at PS Art Space but in a quarter of the space. So then when I presented Structural Dependency I thought, ‘Okay, now I’m going to take on the whole space.’ It was the challenge of, ‘How can I take a massive amount of space and make it feel intimate for the audience?’ It also interests me how the performers are actually dancing on the same ground as the audience – it’s exciting to be able to bring people into such close proximity in such a vast space.

That sense of vastness will extend beyond the B-Shed – Leeder plans to open the shed’s doors, so that the harbour, the sun setting and ships passing become the backdrop to the work. “When approaching RADAR in the B-Shed it’s still about creating intimacy in such a large space, but also the challenge of having the vastness of the harbour,” she reflects.  “The space is 22 metres long. How do you open out a space like that and draw the audience in at the same time? It’s a challenge.”

Like Structural Dependency, RADAR is being made in collaboration with composer Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirie. “Louis is composing the music in the room at the same time [as I’m choreographing the work with the dancers]. There are times when it’s really easy – we call it ‘staying in our lane’. Louis will be doing the music, I’ll be choreographing, the dancers are doing the dancing, and we’re all heading towards this common goal,” explains Leeder. “We’ve been working on how we can have rhythms of movement, the same way that there are rhythms of music. When working with the youth ensemble we decided never to do [the traditional counting] ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ – we are always trying to learn the movement through its rhythm, which has been really really interesting.”

Leeder has also recently established her own dance company, Brooke Leeder & Dancers, a move that reflects the interactive nature of her work. “It’s about recognising that I can’t do my job without dancers,” she explains. “But it’s also Brooke Leeder & Creatives, Brooke Leeder & Supporters, Brooke Leeder & Sponsors, Brooke Leeder & Audiences, I can’t do my job without these groups. That’s where the company came from, to bring people in to what I am doing. I didn’t want to be a solo individual. It’s me saying, I am doing this with you.”

RADAR premieres at the B-Shed in Fremantle, 21-24 November.

* Millie Hunt is a third year dance student at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, on secondment with Seesaw during November.

Pictured top is Lilly King (centre) with the ‘RADAR’ ensemble. Photo: D. Wright.

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