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Dance, Features, News, Performing arts, The MoveMe Files

Inside the WA Dance Makers Project

This September, Co3 Australia will launch the 2018 MoveMe Festival with a double dance bill celebrating four dynamic West Australian women, led by the legendary Chrissie Parrott. Nina Levy headed into the rehearsal studio to find out more.

It’s a chilly Thursday afternoon but inside Rehearsal Room 2 at the State Theatre Centre it feels summer-warm and a little sweaty, evidence that the black-clad dancers of Co3 Australia have been hard at work. They’re preparing for the company’s upcoming season, “WA Dance Makers Project”, which will be presented as part of the 2018 MoveMe Festival, and I’m lucky enough to be attending an exclusive studio showing of the works in progress. As the name suggests, this double bill is all about supporting WA choreographers, with the headline work created by State Living Treasure Chrissie Parrott, supported by a new piece from the delightfully quirky Unkempt Dance (Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis and Amy Wiseman), and a curtain-raiser choreographed by WA born-and-trained Richard Cilli, performed by WAAPA’s LINK Dance Company.

With over 90 dance works in her back catalogue, you’d think that Parrott might be running out of ideas, but the glimpse we get of her new work, In-Lore Act II, indicates that this veteran choreographer is still exploring new concepts. While the whimsical gestures and folky accompaniment of the opening trio (performed here as a duo by Katherine Gurr and Zoe Wozniak because the third performer is unwell) might, fleetingly, remind those in the know of 2009’s The Garden, the pace and precision demanded by this fast and furious number give it a very different look.

Chrissie Parrott and dancers
‘I won’t give away the narrative yet because I think when we get to the theatre it will give people the opportunity to write their own.’ Chrissie Parrott (centre) with Zoe Wozniak (left), Mitch Harvey (seated) and Katherine Gurr (right). Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

In the Q&A that follows the showing, Parrott talks about those folky touches. “I have this inkling towards Nordic folklore,” she explains. “The music that you heard is a Swedish folkloric song and there are ideas of some of the mystery and magic that continues to hold in the folklore of those cold, dark places, so that’s fed into this work. It’s got a richness to it that is universal, I think, even though it’s got that Nordic edge to it. That’s why the work is called In-Lore, because it has a folkloric aspect to it.”

In spite of that folklore element, the starting point for In-Lore Act II isn’t a narrative. “The work has never started with a narrative, except for my secret narrative without a story or story without a narrative,” says Parrott enigmatically. “So we’ve started with very simple abstract tasks that you give dancers and then we put them together, we mix and match dancers and develop them into work, until the narrative starts to reveal itself to me.”

Although Parrott says that the narrative has started to appear at the time of the showing (four weeks from opening), she’s not telling. “I won’t give away the narrative yet because I think when we get to the theatre it will give people the opportunity to write their own,” she explains. “You’ll see it and you’ll decide what the narrative is.”

three girls in black dresses
“We’re all for multiple selves.” Unkempt Dance: (L-R): Amy Wiseman, Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis. Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Our In-Lore Act II preview is followed by a peek at Unkempt Dance’s new work, You Do Ewe. Comprised of dance artists Carly Armstrong, Jessica Lewis and Amy Wiseman, Unkempt has been making dance theatre with a comical streak since 2010. True to form, the choreography thus far includes lip-syncing, a hot pink wig, and an acrobatic approach to storytelling.

Those who saw Unkempt’s work for Strut Dance’s 2017 “Short Cuts” season, I Have Health Insurance Now will recall that work’s light-hearted take on what it means to be 30. Listening to the trio talk, it’s clear that there’s a relationship between that work and You Do Ewe.

“Our work for Co3 started from discussions about the phase of life that we’re in,” remarks Lewis. “We’re suddenly very aware of having lots of different roles, different hats we’re all wearing.” Like many independent artists, all three members of Unkempt have multiple jobs on the go, covering a range of skill sets. And so the three got thinking about some advice they’ve heard often, ‘Just be yourself’. “We wanted to unpack that idea,” says Lewis. “’Just be yourself’ is such a loaded statement, really.”

“We weren’t interested in just one ‘authentic’ version of self,” Armstrong adds. “We wanted to discover and explore the different facets of each dancer, and push some of these to a heightened level.”

“We’re also interested in the opportunity to slip into or try on other versions of yourself that might not feel comfortable, but will actually push you in a direction that is exciting or different,” Wiseman concludes. “We’re all for multiple selves.”

You can catch “WA Dance Makers Project” at the Studio Underground, State Theatre of WA, 12-15 September.

Pictured top: Co3 Australia dancers rehearsing Chrissie Parrott’s ‘In-Lore Act II’. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.