Week Two in Townsville, deep into rehearsals for ABANDON. Last week the creative team, dancers, singers and musicians all re-grouped after a month's break to finally assemble the structure for this new piece. We genuinely had no idea where the week would lead us, but everyone threw themselves into Raewyn's challenging and exhilarating dance-focussed rehearsals. Her focus and imagination were wonderful to watch, as gradually a form emerged - and we ended on Saturday afternoon with an incredibly rewarding rough run of the whole thing!
This week's project is to reclaim the music and text, as the vocal demands of Handel's arias need equal attention to the choreography. It's been a fantastic creative process, a steep learning curve for all of us, to have such insight into the dance world. The five dancers and four singers have built a deep respect for each other and are working so harmoniously, and working with James Crabb is a revelation. The guy is a legend - not only does he play that magnificent instrument (a 25kg Pigini classical accordion) amazingly, he has shaped the project musically and participates physically and emotionally. Everything about him is powerful - he's a big strong guy and he makes a big strong sound - it's thrilling to be surrounded by it. Which isn't to say there aren't moments of exasperation about tempi, singers running out of breath due to physical demands, dancers needing more space...but overall this has been an incredibly calm, happy group of people.
It's been great to spend time in Townsville, a regional centre that truly values the arts (actually, I've been living on Magnetic Island for the rehearsal period, and commuting by ferry every day to rehearsal - what an amazing place). Within a week OzOpera and Bell Shakespeare will have performed Don Giovanni and Comedy of Errors, the Australian Festival of Chamber Music begins, and ABANDON opens! Dancenorth is a terrific company, too - I'm hugely impressed with their quality, passion and integrity, and by the level of local community engagement and recognition that surrounds the company. As an advocate for excellence in the arts in regional Australia, it's thrilling to see this plucky regionally-based company aspiring to - and strongly achieving - recognition for excellence at home, nationally and abroad.
Even though they're designed to accompany the performance itself, I thought I'd share the program note from James, Raewyn and I. We hope for people who can't get to Townsville for the show, these notes might give a sense of what we've been up to!
ABANDON PROGRAM NOTES
Mourn, all ye muses! weep, all ye swains!
Tune, tune your reeds to doleful strains!
Groans, cries and howlings fill the neighb'ring shore:
Ah, ah, the gentle Acis is no more!
Chorus Acis and Galatea - GF Handel
In a room with fragile walls - a kind of purgatory - a group of people gather. Like strangers in a departure lounge, their stories are linked only randomly, or perhaps not at all. A sense of mourning ebbs and flows as - individually and collectively - the group's humanity, their flaws, their anger, playfulness and loneliness is gradually revealed via a selection of arias, choruses, dances and a duet by the baroque composer George Frideric Handel.
Theatre magician, psychologist, observer of the human condition and genius of the da capo aria form, Handel created over 40 operas; literally hundreds of characters and arias, every one of them an exquisitely faceted crystal bead or wine glass, holding in perfect balance the depth, richness, bite and heady potency of perfectly fused words and music, vocal and dramatic artistry. In the three-phase journey of the da capo aria, its interpreter analyses and explores a single emotion in depth and complexity.
Intrigued by the psychological landscape of the da capo aria form, we three very different artists - a musician, a choreographer and a director - seek to entwine moments, ideas, images and scenes from our own memories and imaginations. Together with our adventurous cohort of dancers, singers and musicians, and supported by three extraordinary designers, we've threaded 18 of Handel's beautiful crystal beads to create a strand in three sections encompassing arias from 4 operas - Tolomeo, Alcina, Orlando, and Hercules, and the dramatic cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. The heartbreak, loss, loneliness, grief, jealousy and madness of these mythic characters may take place in the dream-landscapes of magical or treacherous islands, deep forests and Arcadian groves, but these very human emotions have been felt by each of us, the performers and you, the audience.
So we return to the humans in this room where emotional expression offers connection and catharsis. Don't look for a logical progression from one scene to the next - there is no narrative, no thesis. Unlike most baroque operas which travel from chaos to order, our trajectory seems to travel in the opposite direction. Its sequence is deliberately irrational, like a dream whose submerged meaning speaks to the dreamer alone.
The three of us have never worked together before, so this has been an exercise in trust that's been rewarded by mutual respect as well as moments of surprise, beauty and revelation. Bringing opera singers, contemporary dancers, musicians, fashion designer Alistair Trung, lighting designer Bosco and scenic designer Bruce McKinven together to collaborate on this adventure has challenged and extended each of us, and reminded us daily of the heady, scary, thrilling potency and necessity of taking risks.