Dancing with Disaster …
Choreographer Annalouise Paul returned to Australia after 12 years overseas including dancing gigs with Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Placido Domingo. None of those ventures were as terrifying as setting up her own dance production company.
My experience in London and LA inspired me to stage my own production in my hometown of Sydney. The work was called Conversations in Rhythm + Dance.
The idea behind this was to see what happens if we throw lots of traditional dance and music together in one pot? Initial research saw Flamenco, Indian, Cuban, Belly and contemporary dance thrown together without music, as I couldn’t afford it at the time.
I’d been told about a tabla player called Bobby Singh. (A tabla is a classical Indian traditional drum.) He was very interested in working with dance. We met in 2004 and later received funding from a range of Government bodies for research and development to explore the ‘character’ of rhythms, synergies between dance, stories and cultures.
This was building toward creating a performance in 2008 – after I got a grant from the Australia Council ($36,000) and Arts NSW ($29,000) to create two new works.
This was wonderful, however it posed the challenge of having to get two separate works to stage in one year.
One grant came very late, and by that time some artists were not available, meaning very little lead up time to complete the works.
The biggest challenge however was losing my Producer. There I was, an independent artist with no infrastructure and an office in my bedroom.
Finding a Dance Producer at short notice is nigh impossible. What were my options? Walk away, give back the money and run a high risk of never receiving a grant ever again? Jointly damage the careers of eight other professional artists and lose three solid months worth of income that has taken nearly every waking weekend and evening writing grants for two solid years?
No, giving up was not an option.
So I began to produce, in the hope someone would magically appear, but seven relentless months passed with two hefty budgets to oversee, education and marketing strategies, media, venues, artist schedules and payroll … oh yeah, then direct and choreograph two complete new works and somewhere in there keep up regular dance and acting practice so I was in shape for performances.
My journey as producer continued on and I was determined on more rehearsals, despite budget cuts, so box office income was promised instead and a producer fee (for me) abandoned in sheer terror ‘just to make it work cause this is the big one.’
Nonetheless, it was a dream come true. The artists and designers were all very talented and supportive, so each work developed rather effortlessly from theatre processes. I was saved some costs by kind support from small businesses and Opera Australia.
In 2008, two separate works were staged at the Campbelltown Arts Centre and Riverside Theatres in Sydney.
The two works which made up Conversations in Rhythm + Dance were Isabel and Are You Game?
Isabel is a three-act story, with a fairly conventional breakdown of character meets obstacle, character overcomes obstacle, and character learns or is somehow changed by the experience. In 1492 Queen Isabel contemplates her imminent coronation in private, battling with her emotions and thoughts, represented by guitar and tabla, as she is about to lead Spain into the future as a world power, expelling other cultures in the name of righteousness.
Are You Game? begins as the empty space and brings together four very different voices and with minimal design, in stark contrast to Isabel. Using improvised scenes and theatre games we devised a main plot and sub-plot weaving through it. Game is about the universal journeys we all take at various stages in our lives. An idea excites us, we chase it and after hitting a point of no return we can only keep going, to make deep and lasting changes, in order to grow. Percussionist and electronics wiz, Peter Kennard offered rhythms from Africa, Arabia, Cuba and Scotland, sounds of gongs, bowls, suitcases and kitchen pots. The choice to use contemporary dance was deliberate; it has no history to rhythm or story.
It was a very successful production. We did 7 performances. It got good reviews. Audiences loved it and we had above average box office for dance theatre at those venues. So, the Conversations will continue but not without a producer next time, no matter what the funding crisis.
Choreographer / Producer: Annalouise Paul
Dancers: Annalouise Paul, Miranda Wheen and Melisa Gowen
Musicians: Bobby Singh , Peter Kennard
Dramaturg: Danielle Antaki.