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30 January 2019

Chamber ballet to China - Collusion on the road

<em>Desirelines</em> (Michael Smith and Gareth Belling) Image: Desirelines (Michael Smith and Gareth Belling)  

Collusion's choreographer and co-producer Gareth Belling writes about taking two new Australian chamber ballets to China. Turbine, with Thomas Green's music, can be seen again on home soil on 22 February.

In 2018, after several years planning, Collusion Music and Dance Ensemble made its international debut, touring two of our chamber ballets to China in August and September. As choreographer and co-producer (with Benjamin Greaves) of both works, I wanted to share some of our journey, and where it will take these works next.

Collusion's chamber ballets are original works for live music and dance, and feature Australian composers and musicians, choreographer and dancers in new and inventive ways. They attempt to place collaboration at the forefront, sharing the visual and dramatic focus between dance and music.

Desirelines (2015), is a work for three musicians and four dancers, with original music by Queensland composers Susan Hawkins and Thomas Green, and additional music by Peter Sculthorpe, Ibert and Dahl. It had two performances in Guangzhou, on 14-15 August, to a total audience of 2000. This tour was supported by KMP Artists and our brave local presenter, who loved the work so much that he underwrote the tour himself. As the original producers of Desirelines, Benjamin and I were thrilled to look out while performing and see that there were more people at each performance in Guangzhou than the whole four-night premiere season in Brisbane Festival - and all without our social media!

The non-literal nature of Desirelines fascinated, enthralled and challenged the audiences. They were captivated by the exciting new sounds, the physicality of the dancers, and by Pete Foley's magical visual projections - projections that were the sheet music that Benjamin Greaves (violin), Dr Diana Tolmie (clarinet) and guest Andrew Chamberlain (cello) read from during the performance. We also presented a workshop and forum for 80 Chinese traditional dancers based on improvisation and choreographic techniques from Desirelines. The room writhing in the joyous physical investigations of the dancers, all to live accompaniment from Ben, Diana and Andrew, playing Thomas Green's arrangement of a traditional Chinese folk tune.

Highlights from Collusion's performance at Dancestages, Shanghai, in September 2018.

Five weeks later, and after an all-too-brief time back in Brisbane catching up on teaching, administration, visa applications and rehearsals, Collusion returned to China with Turbine. This is a 60-minute work for two violins and live electronics composed by Thomas Green, and premiered on 23-26 May 2018 at MELT Festival, at the Brisbane Powerhouse. In his composer's notes for the premiere, Thomas wrote: 'Turbine is about struggling with identity, so the music needed to be disparate things, coming together. So I looked for broken things. Tarnished, old - with their own sound. I collect sounds in this way and they come together as one single palette. I use my computer and samplers to pull them apart, into their micro elements (their grains). The violin melodies woven around and through the electronic part are intentionally anachronistic; harking backwards centuries perhaps, but also backwards in my own life - my earlier musical experiences being bound up with string and wood. Together these disparities, and scuffed and fragmentary elements provide a means to reach into the centre. To see a way through…'

Prior to its premiere, Turbine was selected through an international open call to be showcased at the prestigious Dancestages: Shanghai Dance Festival. Dancestages is part festival, part conference, and part market development platform. 27 dance companies from 17 countries and regions participated, with performances, lectures, forums, networking events, and dance workshops making for a packed four days in Shanghai. The showcase excerpt of Turbine was 38 minutes long, and was made up of sections created before the application for performance permission was due for submission - five weeks before premiere! All dance performances in China must be vetted via video by government agencies, and must remain consistent with the submitted video, with no changes acceptable.

Due to unavailability (Thomas), pregnancy (Camille) and cost (the trip was self-funded by myself and Benjamin), we also presented the work with pre-recorded electronics and second violin line. While making the pre-recorded track with Benjamin, Thomas videoed the recording session, which was projected onto the back curtain of the performance, providing ghostly, oversized versions of Ben and Tom as a backdrop to the live action on stage. The Shanghai version was also re-staged from the original traverse mode (audience seated on two opposite sides of the performance space) to a traditional proscenium arch theatre mode to fit the Dancestages venue.

These changes have proven Turbine to be an adaptable, tourable work that can be staged easily in a variety of different venues, giving it future longevity. After the success of Collusion's 2018 tours, we will be performing Turbine again in Brisbane, for one night only, at the Queensland Academies Creative Industries Theatre on 22 February. This performance will be the third iteration of this work. A proscenium version, as in Shanghai, with all three musicians performing live, as at the premiere season. Adaptability, versatility and creativity will always be the cornerstones of independent ensembles such as Collusion Music and Dance Ensemble; resilience and determination the expectation.

Event details

Turbine, with music by Thomas Green on 22 February 2018 at QACI Performance Theatre, Kelvin Grove, QLD - see full event details in the AMC Calendar

Further links

Collusion - homepage

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