This article was first published by Ausdance WA, Dancewest magazine.
Annette Carmichael writes about the impact of Ausdance WA’s regional program, Future Landings 2013.
Wheel of Fortunes
It’s a giant Wheat Bin and the wind is howling through it. Jason Thelwell, our intrepid Production Manager is calling for rope, lots of it, to stablise the lighting bars before he hoists them up into this massive space.
I’m standing in the Jerdacuttup Wheat Bin, the most remote destination in Ausdance WA’s Future Landings 2013 season. Future Landings is a groundbreaking contemporary dance initiative designed to bring dance and cultural experiences to remote Western Australia. It presents a unique opportunity for communities in isolated locations to work with regional and Perth choreographers, artists and filmmakers to create large scale performances each unique to their town and with each cast made up entirely of locals.
Future Landings 2013 includes projects in Broome, Karratha and the Shire of Ravensthorpe which includes Jerdacuttup. This thirty-six year old Wheat Bin is an icon of the Wheatbelt acting as a reminder to the community of the significance of good and bad harvests. Its immense size allowed it to hold 31,533 tons of wheat back in 1999, but it’s empty now, so we are going to fill it with dance, story and film to create Wheel of Fortunes.
Wheel of Fortunes has been created by Perth choreographer Aimee Smith with Denmark-based writing facilitator Nicola-Jane le Breton and the communities of Hopetoun, Ravensthorpe and Jerdacuttup. The performance explores the concepts of richness and loss in these communities.
The region has a long and deep history of growth and demise, shaped largely by the ebbs and flows of both the mining and farming industries as well as its unique geographic isolation. These places are filled with stories of opportunity and risk, of success and failure, of joy and sadness. Through working closely with the writers of the towns, and integrating text with the performance, the communities’ cycles of fortunes, and misfortunes, and the resilience that has blossomed through it all, are revealed.
In the days leading up to the performance I was often told by participants how amazed they were by Aimee’s calm, patient guidance. It was a reciprocal admiration as Aimee wrote for the local newspaper:
Every time I come to this community I'm blown away by the generosity I'm shown and the unbelievable Duracell battery energy that seems to run the creative community in this town. The literature that emerged during the community writing sessions really moved me and brought some incredible stories of hardship, endurance, and joy to the surface.
Local filmmaker, Amber Perryman has created a series of films that evoke the environment, the rain, the history. These films are projected inside the Wheat Bin and the corrugated iron textures the film while local voices speak local memories.
The success of this project is a credit to the Ravensthorpe Regional Arts Council who were extraordinary partners, co-presenting the project and providing a richness of skill, networks and practical support. Project Co-ordinator, Ainsley Foulds said the Arts Council were keen to be involved for a number of reasons:
The RRAC wanted to provide the community with the opportunity to engage in an innovative and stimulating project that is enjoyable, inspiring and challenging. We also wanted to provide local artists and arts workers with professional development in areas such as writing, choreography, filmmaking and project management under the mentorship of experienced professionals. Wheel of Fortunes was our chance to gain valuable insight into the local interest, and the potential for, including contemporary dance into future programs - an art form which the RRAC has little previous experience with. Ultimately we wanted to promote a sense of belonging and community cohesion by engaging in a large scale collaborative project that embraces community life and cultural identity.
On Saturday 12 October, the buses rolled in from all over the district bringing 300 people to witness a performance that could only be made here, about these people and their lives. Performed by nineteen people, aged 13 – 70 years the show also included a dog, four bikes, a spinning wheel and an impressive and strongly secured lighting rig!
Men of the Red Earth
The need for lots of rope was an ongoing theme in this years Future Landings. Men of the Red Earth, was the title of our project in the Pilbara that included performances by 7 local men in two locations, Point Samson and Karratha for the Red Earth Arts Festival in September.
This performance culminated in a man abseiling head first from a crane to the stage, then ascending again with another dancer for an ironic aerial ballet - a little dig at the untrue stereotype that ‘footy players in tutus’ was the extent of men dancing in the Pilbara.
Overturning stereotypes was what this project was all about. The dancers who came from a range of backgrounds - tradesmen, managers, scientists and a drag queen, wanted to show that there was more to being a bloke in the Pilbara than just drinking beer.
The performance opened with a film by local artist Tangiora Hinaki featuring Xena, the drag queen, simply walking along the highway, the vision is interrupted by a series of text messages, all actually received by participants, that express ’surprise’ (but in more colourful language) at the idea of men dancing.
Karratha choreographer Megan Wood-Hill and her mentor, Perth-based Jacob Lehrer have facilitated an empowering creative process that embraced the challenges and celebrated the sheer fun of being a man of the Pilbara.
Local businesses got behind the project with all manner of heavy equipment being provided free like buses, the crane and a donga used for the set. The project attracted extensive media interest with local, state and national media running stories.
In an interview on ABC regional radio one project participant, Fonda, described how the Men of the Red Earth project had embraced him fully, making space for both Fonda and Xena (his drag queen persona). When asked by the reporter what he had got out of the project Fonda said, “new friends and a sense of belonging and everyone in that dance group has pushed their boundaries and really, really come together. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever been a part of.”
Megan Wood-Hill grew up in Karratha and has worked as a dance teacher and performer in South Korea, Japan and Australia. Future Landings provided her with a chance to choreograph in new ways:
The idea of working with men was unknown and exciting. I was inspired by the chance to work with male physicality, strength and a higher appetite for risk than I had experienced before.
What’s been really interesting is watching how the group has evolved. Some knew each other before and some are new and I have seen them embrace each other. It’s a shared and unique journey and strong bonds have been formed very quickly.
Future Landings is about demystifying contemporary dance. In these projects contemporary dance makes sense to regional audiences because it is used to explore issues important to the community. It’s a style of dance that can enfold the contradictions, diverse opinions and simple unknowns that are part of life in regional Western Australia.
With ongoing funding from both State and Australian Governments, we look forward to another Future Landings season in 2015.