Dive In to Colossus | Q&A with Stephanie Lake
As complex patterns ripple through the heaving throng, a single movement triggers a chain reaction wheeling the fragile whole from chaos to order - welcome to Colossus, the monumental dance work coming to Perth Festival for the 2020 season.
We caught up with the creator Stephanie Lake, to find out what mayhem will reveal itself to our audiences from the moment the stage is lit...
A Note from Stephanie Lake:
In 2018 I had the big idea of attempting to create a show for 50 dancers. I recruited 50 young dancers from across Melbourne and with a commission from Arts Centre Melbourne and Melbourne Fringe was able to realise the show. The astonishing response to the work (both in real life and with our viral video) has been surprising and wonderful.
With just two weeks of rehearsal this new cast, made up entirely of local Perth dancers, has not only learned the entire show but has comprehensively owned it and evolved it. It’s fascinating for Colossus to be interpreted by these new dancers and see their unique dynamics.
Colossus shows strength in numbers and the power of the mass. It explores solidarity, mob behaviour, protest, intimacy and control. Colossus asks if our societies, crowds and social networks are more than simply collections of individuals but its epic scale extends beyond the human, with movements echoing the grand systems and patterns of nature. Colossus explores both the beauty and the ugliness of the collective experience.
Image: Jess Wyld
Q&A with Stephanie Lake
What was the inspiration for the show?
In 2018 I had the big, crazy idea of attempting to create a show for 50 dancers. Ever since I began choreographing as a teenager, I have loved working with large casts and some of my most satisfying creative experiences have come from creating works for large companies. There is something profound and powerful in seeing so many people occupying the stage space – all of the patterning, cooperation, discord, the tension between the mass and the individual. With just 50 bodies I feel like I’m able to say things about the way societies and communities operate and about human nature itself. Colossus also draws inspiration from the systems of the natural world like flocking, herd behaviour and wave forms. It’s microscopic and cosmic all at once.
Why did you decide to work with so many dancers?
There are so many choreographic possibilities presented when working with a large group. I knew that creating a work of this scale would offer up immense possibility, but I also knew that it would be enormously challenging on every level – creatively, logistically – but I was at a stage where I was up for the challenge. There was a high chance that the work would fail but I was feeling brave and bold. I have done a lot of work with young people – youth companies and tertiary students – over the years and I wanted to bring elements of those past works into a new, ambitiously large-scale version. I also see so many incredibly talented young dancers in Melbourne and across the country and I wanted to provide a platform for them to perform in something grand and in a professional context. I could never have predicted the success Colossus would have or that it would continue on past its first season and be learned by dancers across the country and around the world.
Image: Jess Wyld
What are the challenges and rewards in working with a large cast as opposed to a small one?
I have to be far more organised in my planning and visioning of the day’s rehearsal when working with this huge group. The rehearsal room is full to the brim and there is a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm in the studio that needs to be directed and channeled. The challenge is making sure the rehearsals don’t become chaotic and loud. But the rewards are enormous. I’m rewarded by immense choreographic potential and energy. Simple ideas – movements, sounds – expanded out onto 50 people become exciting. A huge reward from Colossus is also the beautiful bond formed by the dancers and the new collaborative relationships and friendships that are born out of being part of such an intense process together.
What is the experience like for those involved?
From what I hear it’s amazing! It is unique to share a studio and the stage with so many people and as a dancer it’s a powerful experience to be amongst so many others and to breathe and sweat and strive together. The collective is strong. They have to navigate space in a really smart way so as not to collide and they have to work to develop the group brain. I’ve been very touched by how the casts have supported each other and worked together with so much care and kindness and huge dedication – it’s inspiring.
The dancers only have two weeks of rehearsal together before they are in the theatre. What they achieve in those two weeks is extraordinary.
Image: Jess Wyld
How would you assess the health of the contemporary dance scene in Australia at the moment?
There is incredible, original work being created across the country, especially in the small to medium-sized companies and by our independent choreographers. We have strong regional companies and Australia is famous worldwide for its uniquely brilliant dancers. I’m inspired greatly by my peers. Unfortunately, the funding situation is very unstable and many, many artists struggle to make a living. We’re seeing the fall out of brutal funding cuts with the closure of companies and many dancers and choreographers having to leave the field which is sad. I am optimistic that it will turn around and that the arts will be recognised and valued as intrinsic to a healthy society.