Luke Fryer began dancing relatively late in life, and is now in his final year at the Victorian College of the Arts. He reflects on his journey so far, and where he hopes to go from here.
I began dancing at 16 in my hometown, Canberra, with QL2 Centre for Youth Dance. Because I had a background in gymnastics, I was interested in continuing to train my body and mind in a fulfilling and ever-evolving way.
Preparing to audition for the VCA was a long process. I had little classical dance training but took weekly classes during my gap year to build the core technical requirements and base knowledge I needed for the VCA audition. When I auditioned for the 2015 intake I was sent a B letter offer – so I was on the waiting list. But having spoken to people in the industry, I knew that the VCA Dance course was producing innovative makers who’d received solid technical training while studying and then used it as a tool to develop their own practice. I was much more drawn to this than to being a technical performer who would fit the mould of a company. Although I’d already been offered a place at WAAPA, I turned it down once I was accepted into the VCA in the second round.
At the VCA, I’m in the heart of a bigger city where diversity is innate. When deciding where to study, I felt more comfortable among diversity and numbers.
My days are full. In third year, technique classes start at 9am – either ballet and contemporary, or double contemporary – or even something like yoga paired with a technique class. There is about an hour's break for lunch, and then the rest of the day is spent in performance rehearsals until six or so. I usually also have rehearsals after hours until 8pm, either for VCA works or other projects outside of school.
I’m inspired by people and their bodies. Everyone is so different but we all find our own ways of communicating to each other via this form of the body in space. How do our bodies function, and how can that be manipulated or crafted to reveal something special in our world we have never thought of before? Dedication, attention, respect and continual investigation of this body is a constant source of inspiration inside and outside the studio, and in all facets of life.
Physical and mental exhaustion are huge challenges. One always affects the other. Continually having to train and relearn how to cope with your body and mind being tired from long hours of work is a never-ending process.
You might be practising and working every day on something in particular and it will be merely time, and persistence, that will allow you to succeed. The amount of time that is required in this course extends beyond our 55 contact hours a week. Your body is your tool and you always have to work and rework with it and find out what it needs.
As a Dance student at the VCA, I get to work on myself as well as be part of an amazing community of inspired and inspiring people. Between the information I get from my own learning and growth, and the information I get from others around me, I could never be bored or stagnant.
Any element of spontaneity in the course it is always a highlight. Even the smallest workshop or guest speaker or change in the timetable is very refreshing.
A big highlight for me was finishing our mid-year season in second year, where I performed in a second-year work as well as a third-year work. It was the end of a semester of long days but the fact I had been able to work and connect with the third-year students and juggle two works at the time seemed like a big deal. It was made even better by hopping on the plane the day after closing night and travelling to France with people in my course to continue learning, but also have fun in a completely different environment.
To relax outside of training, I just get out of the house and away from the campus as much as I can – either with friends or by myself. Catching a train or tram somewhere new, walking with no final destination or attending random events is my way of relaxing. Melbourne is so big that you can literally take mini holidays every weekend if you just make time or go searching for them.
After I graduate, I want to stay in Melbourne and make the most of the connections I have made throughout my time here as well as those connections I have yet to make. Becoming more settled and financially independent next year is also priority. I’d like to test the waters to see if part-time gigs are a sustainable mode of living for a while, as well as maybe try out full time work in parts of the industry to see if I enjoy them. From there, I plan to travel to America and Europe to discover where my training lineage and body fit into the dance industry outside of Australia. I want to continue to research and develop my own practices firstly through studio-based work and perhaps even further study in the future.
As told to Sophie Duran
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Main image: Luke Fryer, South Lawn carpark, University of Melbourne's Parkville Campus. By John O’Rourke
Fifty years of La Mama theatre is documented in the University of Melbourne Archives, offering an insight into the emergence of Melbourne’s avant-garde theatre scene in the late 1960s.
By Jane Beattie, University of Melbourne Archives, University of Melbourne.
Inspired by New York’s La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, founder Betty Burstall was confident that Melbourne performers and audiences wanted and needed a place for progressive music, poetry and film too.
La Mama nurtured local talent and rode the international wave of social and cultural change in the late 1960s to provide a platform for alternative voices in the arts. In a company newsletter from October 1969 this vision was expanded: La Mama would be a theatre to make possible “a new audience-actor relationship. It was informal, direct, immediate. It was also a playwrights’ theatre…where you could hear what people now were thinking and feeling.”
Early archival material, such as correspondence and newsletters, reveals the co-operative nature that Burstall was committed to; her policy of developing solely Australian work was financially risky in an arts scene dominated by the mainstream canon of mainly American and English work.
Censorship and controversy
“Revolutionary things are happening in theatre today and I want them here.” Burstall’s ambitions for La Mama were grand, and the revolution began almost immediately, with plays pushing the legal boundaries of decency of the time.
The earliest offender was the 1968 production of Alex Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed. The final line of dialogue “fucking boongs” is delivered by Norm to Ahmed, a Pakistani student. Actor Lindsey Smith was arrested for using obscene language, and the play’s producer Graeme Blundell was charged with aiding and abetting Smith. In 1969, John Romeril’s Whatever Happened to Realism resulted in the arrest of nine actors for using obscene language in a public place.
Boxes of news-cuttings from this era tell the story of La Mama’s ongoing battle against censorship and the restrictions imposed by Australian social and cultural values of the time.
The archives also feature production posters, including lino-cuts crafted by Tim Burstall, Betty’s husband. The few styles repeated in different colours with handwritten production dates and times illustrate trends in grassroots art and design, as well as the collaborative nature of La Mama.
Other established artists such as photographer Peter Lyssiotis created production posters and art work – in Lyssiotis’ case posters and artwork for his playwright daughter Tes. A wild variety of style and quality is demonstrated in some of the earlier posters by anonymous artists whose work is marked with holes left by the staples used to distribute them on street corners.
Supporting other art forms
La Mama encompassed many more facets of the Melbourne avant-garde arts scene. Neo Kyma refers to a movement in Greek music that found popularity in the 1960s and 70s, extending well into the 1980s in Australian Greek communities. For around five years, Christos and Tasos Ioannidis played Greek and ployethnic music at La Mama.
“The 1970s and ‘80s were the golden era of Melbourne’s Greek community. Everything, including the arts, was blooming. Especially La Mama - it was not only for Greeks, it was a place of meeting, getting together, it became a culture” explains Christos. Burstall and Liz Jones, who followed her as artistic director in 1977, had created a space where artists from all backgrounds could practice, improvise and collaborate with their peers
Poetry and spoken word were also promoted from La Mama’s inception in 1967, led by Glen Tomesetti and Kris Hemmensley, and continues today as a regular in La Mama’s program. Each La Mama Poetica event featured multiple acts and showcased work from both emerging and established poets.
Mainstays included Jennifer Strauss, Wendy Poussard and Jennifer Harrison. University of Melbourne academic Kevin Brophy was a regular and a reading by Chris Wallace-Crabbe would have been rousing. Left field inclusions were the works of Indonesian poets performed by Geoff Fox, radical experimental poet and a founding member of Australia’s Poet’s Union. And there was Thalia, a night dedicated to the Perseverance Poets collective, featuring Louise Craig and Whitefeather Light.
Despite earlier confrontations with the law, La Mama continued supporting Australian writers, actors and directors, providing a place where collaboration and experimentation were centre-stage. Stalwarts of the Australian theatre scene like Jack Hibberd, David Williamson and Graeme Blundell were given the chance to practice and develop their craft, as were other performance artists, such as filmmakers Corinne and Arthur Cantrill.
In the decades following the ‘obscenity trials’, La Mama continued pushing audiences, exploring concepts of identity, and elevating voices of the silenced. Playwrights such as Mammad Aidani and Tes Lyssiotis used this platform to chronicle the variety of the migrant experience, whilst plays like Pundulumura: Two Trees Together (1990) by Aboriginal actor comedian Gnarnayarrahe Immurry Waitairie and prolific Melbourne writer and director Ray Mooney explored relationships between black and white Australian cultures.
From the first donation of records in 1977, the University of Melbourne Archive has seen its relationship with La Mama as a valuable one, not only for volunteer projects and exhibitions but in maintaining a comprehensive record of Melbourne’s theatre history. The La Mama Collection complements that of the Union Theatre Repertory Company which evolved into the Melbourne Theatre Company, as well as smaller collections of ephemera from the late 19th century to the 1960s.
The La Mama collection is open access to all researchers and its finding aids can be located on the UMA online catalogue by using the search term “La Mama”. A selection of records and production posters from the La Mama archive are on display in the Arts West building at the University of Melbourne.
Banner Image: Wikimedia
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VCA Dance students are recreating a seminal work from the founder of Australia’s first modern dance company, nearly 90 years after it was first performed in London.
Early modern dance is associated with floating scarves and light leaps and bounds. However, after the First World War those innocent reveries were only one form of dancerly expression.
The impact of modern industrialisation and political revolutions in 20th century Europe highlighted the conflict between man and machine, and for many the machine symbolised the engine of a new moral and social order.
In Dancing Sculpture at the National Gallery of Victoria, Victorian College of the Arts dance students are recreating Gertrud Bodenweiser’s The Demon Machine, first created in Vienna in 1924. The work has a rich history and transformed modern dance; it uses female dancers to compose a dance in which lyrical pastoral gestures slowly shift into the rhythmic workings of a machine.
It arrived in London in 1929, the unusual abstraction and plasticity of the bodies attracted attention in the local press and signalled that, far from mere pleasure, “the art of dance brings to our notice facts of the greatest ethical value,” according to Ms Bodenweiser.
By 1936, the Austrian choreographer was very aware of the rising threat of Nazism in neighbouring Germany, and of its impact on many of her Jewish artistic friends.
Accompanied by the strident music of Lisa Maria Mayer, Ms Bodenweiser recreated The Demon Machine to depict the resplendent Demon rising above the machinery of human bodies, with some dancers appearing shining and tranquil, and others perhaps kicking or turning in horror.
The strong diagonal lines, in both the electricity symbol on the Demon’s helmet and the extended limbs, suggest the clash of forces, inner and outer, that drive the machine.
With the annexation of Austria in 1938, Bodenweiser, herself Jewish, and her company of dancers set sail for South America, taking with them into exile many years of choreographic knowledge and artistic experimentation.
The famous Australian theatrical entrepreneur, J.C Williamson, hired a small troupe of Bodenweiser dancers to perform The Demon Machine in a revue touring outback Australia in 1939. The dancers performed crowd pleasers such as Viennese Waltzes, and other playful dances, but The Demon Machine remained a feature of the program intended to appeal to male audiences, perhaps because of the bare midriffs and the show of legs, but also because of its subject matter.
Well in advance of other dance repertoire of this period, the dancers were highly trained in modern dance techniques that gave them strong rhythmic propulsion while retaining an inner quality of expressive intensity.
By 1947 Bodenweiser had established herself with a dance company and school in Sydney and was creating new work for local audiences, including Cain and Abel (1940) and Abandoned to Rhythm (1942). The Demon Machineremained an important part of her repertoire.
On tour in New Zealand in 1948, a newspaper review observed that the music accompanying the dance added to the “maddening crescendo of mechanical movement as the machines assert their power over the human puppets… (and was) sombre when the dance was sombre, joyous at time of revelry”.
For The Demon Machine’s latest version, the Victorian College of the Arts dancers have been using this history to recreate the work, under the guidance of the Head of the VCA Dance program, Professor Jenny Kinder, herself also trained in the modern dance lineage, alongside the New Zealand choreographer, Carol Brown.
Ms Brown has researched the fascinating history of the Bodenweiser legacy and has also produced her own original solo performance called Acts of Becoming. Originally created in 1995 as an homage to the great Bodenweiser, the solo incorporates words and gestures from the archives of former Bodenwieser Tanzgruppe dancers.
In a recent Archibald prize painting, 102-year-old Eileen Kramer, a member of the original Bodenweiser company in Sydney, expressed an ‘inner stillness’ and her ongoing love of expressive dance. She is a living example of the inner spirit of modern dance in Australia with its extraordinary history and impact on future generations of artists.
Carol Brown, a student of the Bodenweiser dancer Shona Dunlop-McTavish, has recreated The Demon Machine for the Leap into the Modern symposium (12 August) curated by Professor Rachel Fensham (University of Melbourne) that accompanies the Brave New World: 1930s Australia exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. She is speaking at the symposium alongside other contemporary dance artists, such as Meryl Tankard and Shelley Lasica.
Banner image: The Demon Machine Benda D’Ora, 1936. Picture: National Library of Australia
Serkis continues to revolutionise screen performance using a motion captured avatar, conveying extraordinary emotional depth in the role. His success, often attributed to the mastery of animators and technicians, is testament to the rise of an entirely new approach to acting animals in an age of CGI, animation and motion capture.
Performance Capture (the total recording of a performance using a motion capture system) was first used in 2004. It is inherently theatrical, since a performance is filmed in its entirety - without multiple takes of a single scene. Actors wear suits with markers to help computers track their movements during the scene.
To perform as apes, Serkis and others are drawing on the techniques of method acting to emotionally connect with their simian characters. For Serkis, and Planet of the Apes movement choreographer and actor Terry Notary, this has meant going to extraordinary lengths to feel their way into their roles.
Serkis was led by Notary on all fours for hikes in the Canadian woods. They would spend two-hour stints not talking, only communicating as apes. The aim, says Notary, was to allow “the human conditioning to fall away”.
A brief history of monkey business on film
1968 was a big year for apes on film. Primates appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston, first aired. In Space Odyssey, actors such as John Ashley donned monkey suits and set about charting the early history of tool use in the celebrated opening sequence known as The Dawn of Man.
In Planet of the Apes, actors such as Maurice Evans and Roddy McDowall relied on monkey masks with furry hands and feet to convey their simian characters. Their bodies were clothed in remarkably human-looking outfits.
Fully costumed performances of primates in films continued until 1995, when Misty Rosas as Amy the Gorilla in Congo performed alongside “enhanced gorillas” running through the jungle at an extraordinary pace, complete with appendages to extend their front limbs.
Over the last decade, we’ve seen a resurgence of cinematic apes, with a full reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, a couple of King Kongs, and more than one Tarzan. But the monkey suit has shifted from a furry outer layer to the modern motion capture suit as actors such as Ace Ruele in The Legend of Tarzan (2016) and Notary (alongside Serkis and others) in War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) transform how they perform - and we consume - monkeys on the screen.
Feeling like an Apeman (or woman)
With these new technologies, comes a revitalised interpretation of “The Method”. Primate actors are now exploring their performance by inhabiting and feeling “Ape”, and have developed their own “system” to perform as primates.
This system is built around the aspirations of Stanislavski - the father of method acting. It includes embodying the emotional state of the primate via practising regimented gait and walk cycles and using specific breathing techniques and even numbered approaches to gaze and smell. So, for instance, the scent of another primate in the distance would be given a number and a correlating pose, which ape actors would be instructed to adopt.
The Ape method includes a bespoke, non-verbal language used by actors to communicate with each other during filming. Aspiring actors can even take masterclasses with the likes of Notary, as seen in this video.
Serkis calls Notary (who also starred in Kong: Skull Island) “the greatest unsung hero of this entire [Planet of the Apes] franchise”.
Notary talks of “de-conditioning” to play an ape and finding each ape character’s “first position foundation” (a neutral non-human, pose). He says,
most of the actors that do play apes have told me that it’s been one of the most profound things they’ve done, because you have to be so honest with yourself.
He describes his own ape character, Rocket, as “that open, vulnerable, grounded, connected, feeling creature that I aspire to be all the time”.
As humans, our development of tools was made possible by our eventual rising to two feet, releasing our hands from the earth, Freed from holding objects (such as bones and babies) our hands and mouths could then perform other functions.
Our hands and minds now grasp vastly complicated objects, like virtual studios and motion capture systems, and use these to perfect the art of pretending to be monkeys. It’s a strange full circle – an origin story returning.
Banner image: Andy Serkis as Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes. Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment.
Faculty staff and alumni were well-represented among the winners at the 2017 Helpmann Awards.
By Sarah Hall
Seven staff and alumni from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music won Helpmann Awards on Monday evening, in the fields of theatre, dance, music and production.
The VCA’s recently-announced 2017 Keith & Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellow Leticia Cáceres won the Helpmann for Best Direction of a Play for Belvoir Theatre’s The Drover's Wife, for which alumnus Mark Coles Smith also won in the category of Best Male Actor. The Drover’s Wife additionally took the awards for Best Play and Best New Work (Leah Purcell).
“I’m really so happy this has happened, it’s amazing,” said Ms Cáceres on her win for The Drover's Wife, a reimagining of Henry Lawson's story of the same name. She described the Helpmanns, which recognise distinguished artistic achievement and excellence in the arts in the live performance sector, as Australia’s equivalent to the Tony or Olivier awards.
“We never lost sight of why we wanted to tell this story the way we wanted to tell it,” she said. “To have had this recognition means not only that were we able to talk critically about the issues that were important to us, but that we did so in a way that was satisfying for audiences and critics alike. For me that is a massive achievement.”
Alumnus Barrie Kosky's Opera Saul scooped several awards, one of which went to Kosky for Best Direction of an Opera, and another of which went to the MCM’s Senior Lecturer in Early Music Dr Erin Helyard for Best Music Direction. Saul was financed by the South Australian government as the centrepiece to this year’s Adelaide Festival, following rave reviews from the UK’s Glyndebourne festival.
Alumna and Lecturer in Design at the VCA Anna Cordingley won Best Scenic Design for the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Jasper Jones; alumna Anna O’Byrne won Best Female Actor in a Musical for My Fair Lady, produced by Opera Australia and John Frost; and alumna Lilian Steiner took home the award for Best Female Dancer in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production for the Lucy Guerin Inc and Arts House’s production Split.
Head of VCA Theatre Associate Professor Matthew Delbridge said he was delighted with the continued success of staff and alumni from across the Faculty.
“Having representation from alumni across all areas of the performing arts is further proof of the ongoing legacy of our programs, the sustained excellence of our graduates, and our rightful position as the pre-eminent training institution in the country," he said.
Banner image: The Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Jasper Jones, for which VCA lecturer Anna Cordingley won a Helpmann Award for Best Scenic Design. Photo: Anisha Senaratne (LPA).
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Esther Marie Hayes sheds some light on the inspirations behind her costume design for Macbeth at Melbourne Theatre Company.
Costume designer Esther Marie Hayes didn’t study Shakespeare at school. However, throughout her early years as a costume designer, she has undergone a thorough education of the world’s most famous playwright. Macbeth marks Esther’s third Shakespearean play for Melbourne Theatre Company, working alongside the same creative team under the direction of Simon Phillips for both Richard III in 2010 and Hamlet in 2011.
Simon appointed Esther as a fresh-faced VCA graduate to design costumes for Joanna Murray-Smith’s 2009 play Rockabye. From there, the two developed a strong theatrical language and aesthetic that would inform their creative collaborations.
Esther’s costume design concept for Macbeth began with an analysis of how they contemporised their last Shakespearean works together. ‘All three are modern adaptations. Richard III was political, Hamlet was political and militaristic, and Macbeth is militaristic,’ Esther says. All three shows involve a considerable amount of blood, which for a costume designer, is bound to present logistical problems.
With a cast of 13 and numerous cast members playing multiple characters, Esther’s biggest concern was designing costumes that could accommodate all the necessary quick changes required to tell this multifaceted story.
Having grown up between Spokane and Melbourne in a multi-generational ‘military family,’ Esther was told stories about her Grandfather serving for his country from a young age. She then watched two uncles and three cousins move around the world as members of the United States Navy and Army. This family history helped to inspire the design of various soldier’s costumes, many of which have been repurposed from the military uniforms used in Esther’s costume design for Hamlet. ‘The soldier costumes are special to me, they feel close to home.’
Esther’s research started with her own family history, but delved into much deeper territory when she broke down the role of each character; modernising the narrative to bring it into the 21st century.
‘The set design was already completed, so I was responding to that initially, before looking at each individual character.’ She began researching the uniforms of various authorities in different parts of the world – the police force in Mexico and swat teams in France; army generals in the Middle East; humanitarian aid workers in war zones and first responders at terrorist attacks; as well as foot soldiers in small nations of Europe. She looked at the dress codes of French horse-riding teams, and the formal dinner garments of the King of Jordan and his wife. Regulation Army pyjamas in the United States and the balaclavas and bandanas on the heads of hate-crime groups and gangsters were also pinned to the inspiration costume board. Esther looked at crime dramas The Night Manager and Orphan Black for additional research.
When it came to the witches, high-end fashion was the focus. ‘We wanted them to look similar, but with individuality as well. We were looking at blacks, and layering to create those silhouettes. And we looked at how fashion has been interpreted by military dress, as well as that kilt look with the heavy boots,’ which Esther says only ties the play back to its Scottish roots. ‘It’s hard when we’ve created a world that’s very modern, to then also create that unearthly, spiritual image, which the witches represent.’
The inauguration clothes of American presidents and first ladies also made their way onto the board, along with Oscar worthy ball gowns. Alexander McQueen’s sheer, figure-hugging lines and surplus of sequins was the first port of call when it came to designing Lady Macbeth’s ceremonial gown.
Next to North by Northwest, Macbeth is the most labour intensive job Esther has designed. Her favourite part of the whole process, she says, is the ‘breaking down’ of the soldiers’ costumes, where the garments are dyed, sanded and washed in various rinses to make them look worn. ‘My favourite part is seeing this transformation. It’s hard work but it looks like magic.’
Other than watching unworn, hand-tailored uniforms turn into tattered ones, Esther loves collaborating with her peers in the creative process. ‘There are so many different people that you work with doing a production of this scale and every part counts.’
Macbeth plays at Southbank Theatre from 5 June. Book now.
This article was originally published by MTC Backstage. View the original article.
Banner image: Lady Macbeth costume designs by Esther Marie Hayes. Image courtesy of Melbourne Theatre Company.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowships, worth $75,000, were awarded last night to four University of Melbourne graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM).
Awarded biennially to theatre, music and visual arts graduates, the Fellowships were established in 1994 by the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE to enable young artists to travel and study overseas in the early stages of their careers.
Dame Murdoch’s granddaughter, Julie Kantor, presented the awards last night at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery on behalf of her grandmother, saying the Fellowships were created to help students become “artists of the world”.
“It seems to me, and certainly to my grandmother, that an essential feature of the artist at any stage in their career, is to find compelling means of creating a bridge between the private world of feeling and insight, and a public world that has an enormous need for inspiration and understanding,” Ms Kantor said.
“To understand this need and to refine one’s feeling and insight, my grandmother and grandfather believed that young artists need to be able to experience the world beyond the place of their study and residence.”
Dean of the VCA & MCM, Professor Barry Conyngham, said providing young artists with international travel opportunities was of benefit to Australian culture more broadly.
“Travel can provide emerging artists, musicians and performers with inspiration and connections that last well beyond the initial moment, and indeed continue to inform their creative development throughout their careers. As consumers of culture, we all stand to benefit from that,” he said.
The main $25,000 Prize for Visual Art, judged on the day by a panel comprising Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw, multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Mangan and Director of Gertrude Contemporary Mark Feary, went to Trent Crawford, who graduated from the VCA in 2016, for his video installation work Liquidity.
Crawford’s work, along with the other shortlisted works for the visual art fellowship, will be on display at the 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship Exhibition in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery (40 Dodds St, Southbank) until 5 August 2017.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship recipients are:
Trent Crawford, B. Fine Arts (Visual Art). Born 1995, Crawford lives and works in Melbourne. Interested in dissecting images and technology to explore them in a passive state, Crawford’s work focuses on entering the in-between moments in time where the subject or material exists in a state of lapse; often with its function usurped or absent. By disassembling, restructuring and repurposing new media, he calls to question how the framing devices of screens and filters are active in the construction, fragmentation and degeneration of the image. Award of $25,000.
Theatre (two recipients)
Leticia Cáceres, M.Dramatic Art (Direction). Cáceres has been lauded as one of the most exciting directing talents in the country. She was Associate Director at MTC from 2013 to 2015. She has also directed for Belvoir, La Mama, Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Opera House, La Boîte Theatre/Brisbane Festival, Melbourne Arts Centre, and Brisbane Powerhouse. She is the co-founder of nationally-acclaimed RealTV. Award of $15,000
Eugyeene Teh, M. Production (Design). Teh has worked with mainstage companies, earning him Green Room Award nominations for both his debut works; Endgame at MTC and Meme Girls at Malthouse. Last year, he worked on Straight White Men (MTC), In Between Two (Sydney Festival with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah), Lady Eats Apple (Back to Back Theatre) and Blaque Showgirls (Malthouse). Award of $15,000.
Troy Rogan, B. Fine Arts (Contemporary Music) (Hons). Rogan is a Melbourne-based composer, orchestrator and cellist, who brings his passion for making meaningful, engaging music to each project. He draws his inspiration from the art of storytelling, with a fascination of the parallel that various musical languages can impart. Award of $20,000.
Banner image: Trent Crawford with his video installation work Liquidity. Photo: Sav Schulman.
What does it take to concentrate several seemingly-competing careers into one? Best ask concert pianist, theatre-maker and VCA Senior Lecturer Dr Zachary Dunbar.
On 8 May 2017, as part of the University of Melbourne's Dean's Lecture Series, Dean of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Barry Conyngham appeared in conversation with pianist, theatre-maker and VCA Senior Lecturer Dr Zachary Dunbar, to discuss Dr Dunbar's journey from concert pianist to theatre practitioner and academic.
Dr Dunbar reflected on the pros and cons of an interdisciplinary career, and particularly how music provides unique insights into actors, training, and the challenges of rehearsing and performing. The conversation was interspersed with a piano performance of works by the 19th-century romantic composer Franz Liszt, music that dramatises love’s conflicted interests – or possibly the realities of an interdisciplinary career.
Image: Paul Hoi/Flickr
On 23 May 2017, RN's Books and Arts aired a one-hour broadcast from the Victorian College of the Arts on what it's like to go to art school, to coincide with this year's ongoing ART150 celebrations.
Guests included: graduates Dannika Horvat, Linton Wilkinson, Nicholas Pearce and Louisa Wall, classical guitar student Louis Virgil Smith, Director of the VCA Professor Su Baker, Head of Music Theatre Margot Fenley, Music Theatre students Sian Crowe, Olivia Morison and Chloe Honig, and VCA Enterprise Professor and internationally-acclaimed visual artist Patricia Piccinini.
You can listen to the full broadcast here:
Read more ART150 stories.
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Image: RN Books and Arts presenter Michael Cathcart with, left to right, Sian Crowe, Chloe Honig, Olivia Morison, and Chris Nolan on keys. Picture: Sue Thornton.
Musical theatre writers and composers will have a career-making opportunity to present their work at the ASCAP Musical Theatre workshop which includes an expert panel led by Broadway and Disney composer Stephen Schwartz, best known for composing Wicked.
An app that lets audience members experience Melbourne General Cemetery like never before? Victorian College of the Arts Lecturer in Theatre Robert Walton explains more.
By Robert Walton, Lecturer in Theatre (Acting) at the Victorian College of the Arts
Blurring documentary with fiction, Vanitas is a reflective thriller about life’s great mystery: death. Experienced through their own smartphone and decrypted through the secret language of flowers, each visitor will embark on a self-guided walk through Melbourne’s oldest modern cemetery. Alone.
Intrepid audience members will listen to the app as they wander towards a rendezvous at the centre of the cemetery. It’s a meditative experience that asks you to listen deeply and look closely at the world around you. In Vanitas, not everything is as it first appears.
A vanitas painting portrays collections of objects symbolic of the certainty of death. We were inspired by a painting from 1700 by Dutch artist Rachel Ruysch called Vase with Flowers (above). Ruysch’s floral vanitas depicts blooms just passing their best, on the cusp of wilting or being eaten by bugs. Her mysterious painting, like all vanitas pictures from that era, reminds us that all living things fade, and that our objects will outlive us and become the last traces of our daily lives.
In much of Australian culture, death remains taboo. For a variety of reasons, we are unable or unwilling to talk about it. In fact, we often go about our lives as if death is a fate that will not befall us personally. Australia also has the second highest uptake of smartphones in the world.
Hence, we have made a smartphone app as a vanitas for our own times. The interface itself is based on Ruysch’s painting with each flower representing an episode in the story. Like the flowers in the painting, you are drawn to some episodes first and then chance upon others along the way. The shift between guided and random order allows the audience to weave their own connections with the threads of narrative we present.
The story mixes documentary, autobiography and fiction and is told wholly through remixed audio fragments taken from interviews with a variety of experts on the themes of vanitas, flowers, life and death. We find out about the secret language of flowers, witness a cremation, and talk to botanists, historians and professionals from the death industry.
We are lucky to have Southern Melbourne Cemeteries Trust in our city; world leaders in forward thinking about the future of our cemeteries. Those we have worked with from the Trust's team have been great collaborators and have helped us to understand how death practices have evolved over the last century and how they might develop into the future.
What is clear is that Melbourne General Cemetery in Parkville is a place of extraordinary national importance. It is a haunting museum and art gallery of lives past, like the shadow of the city itself.
And, with 300,000 people buried there, it's certainly the biggest venue I have ever played. But the dead are what you’d call a captive audience. On the whole they are very well behaved bunch; they don’t give much back. They seem to be enjoying the show so far, yet we live in constant fear of a standing ovation.
The audience on the weekend can expect a meditative experience exploring themes of death and transience. Ticket holders can arrive any time between 10am and 4pm on their chosen day.
Audience members will be asked to come with a fully-charged smartphone (Apple or Android) with an Australian mobile number, email address, access to the internet (there is no WiFi in the cemetery) and headphones. Once booked, they will be sent an email with information on how to download the Vanitas app before coming to the cemetery.
Vanitas was commissioned as part of In Your Hands – a new series of artworks and installations that invite audiences to create experiences mediated through hand-held technology – by Arts House through the Australia Council’s New Digital Theatre Initiative. Tickets are available from Arts House. Admission: $10
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Find out more about Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Banner image: Jason Maling and Robert Walton.
Third-year Victorian College of the Arts student Alex Rothnie took a circuitous route into Production. His highlight so far? Working as a set designer on the VCA’s upcoming production of Mother Courage and Her Children.
Interview by Susanna Ling
My pathway to studying Production at the VCA wasn’t a straight one. For two years I had been working as a set designer/maker and theatre technician at my old high school while I was studying a Bachelor of Environments at university, but I always found my work far more engaging, enjoyable and rewarding than my studies. After years of encouragement and persistence from my boss, I finally decided to change direction. I’m now studying something that really interests me and makes me happy.
I feel a sense of infinite possibility at the VCA. For me there is no typical day – that’s what makes it so engaging. My days range from exhausting shifts in the workshop, repetitive sessions of model-making, stressful moments of costume construction, inspired moments of design, and long days of meetings. But that’s what makes this course so rewarding: every imaginable door is open to us, leaving us to explore our true interests.
I strive to create encapsulating, interactive worlds for performers and audience members. As a set designer, I often find myself most inspired by installation artists. It’s a powerful and exciting thing to see artists transform previously mundane spaces – say, a room or a road – into one giant piece of art, a pure visual display of expression.
Some of the challenges we face as designer/makers are also some of the greatest points of inspiration. We’re constantly in a game of tug-o-war with someone or something, forcing us to come up with creative solutions to realise our vision. It might be a miniscule budget, or spatial issues that come with a specific venue, or a design deadline that’s creeping up faster and faster. Trying to overcome the specific limitations and challenges posed by each show can open you up to ideas you’d never considered.
I’m currently living out my university highlight, designing the set and props for the VCA’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Theatre design is my true passion and to be given the opportunity to work on such a big show is a real blessing.
Through working on numerous VCA productions I’ve learned hands-on how a show operates and how my role – or indeed, roles – fits within it. I’ve found that sometimes, as a designer, my hands are tied quite as tightly. One thing the VCA has developed in me is an ability to problem-solve and think outside the box. Delving into this piece and trying to create a world with such a creative team of people is incredibly inspiring.
I’ve learned that you have to soak up as much information and experience as you possibly can. Theatre is such a collaborative experience, encompassing different people and disciplines and skill-sets. No-one will expect you to be an expert on everything, but the more you learn, the broader your sense of theatre and collaboration will become. I think that’s the key to becoming a better practitioner – being able to draw from a far larger, deeper pool of knowledge.
Our 2017 Brecht Season runs from 5–11 May at both the Southbank and Parkville campuses. Visit the Brecht Season event page for more information.
Image: Alex Rothnie with his set model for Mother Courage and Her Children. Photograph: Sav Schulman, 2017.
Want to learn more about the Bachelor of Fine Arts? Join us at Focus on Fine Art
What: Hear from academics, current students and alumni about what you'll learn and the world class opportunities on offer
When: Tuesday 20 June, 6.30–8.30pm
Registrations essential. Register now.
Aspiring actors and theatre-makers will be offered two new degrees by the Victorian College of the Arts from 2018.
The Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre) will replace the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre Practice), providing more thorough and streamlined training in each discipline.
Head of Theatre at the VCA Associate Professor Matt Delbridge said the courses will nurture a new generation of culturally-aware, internationally-focused actors and theatre makers, preparing them for 21st-century careers in the Asia Pacific region across a wide range of stage and screen contexts.
Delbridge, who took up his position as Head of VCA Theatre in 2016, said the new degrees offer a more nuanced, strategic and pragmatic version of the Theatre Practice degree.
“The current degree has aspired to prepare actors for the demands of the screen, main stage productions, and the generation of new work,” he said. “That’s an admirable goal and aspiration, but if we give more time, energy and resources to these two ideas separately, we’ll make much better theatre-makers and much better actors.”
The Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre) will train theatre artists to work across all areas of live performance, including physical theatre, writing, directing and dramaturgy. Third-year students will also have the opportunity to practise in a travelling studio overseas.
“We have really increased the amount of time and resources poured into theatre making” said Delbridge. “It will be the first Theatre course of this type in the conservatoire sector in Australia, and it will be taught by leading practitioners in the field.”
The Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) will prepare actors for work across all areas of the profession for stage and screen, including animation and gaming.
“Acting is something the VCA has been doing for a very long time and our graduates have had a lot of success,” said Delbridge. “But now, with an invigorated staffing profile and a stronger emphasis on performance for screen, animation and gaming, we are taking a major leap forward. It’s about 21st-Century preparedness.”
New teaching appointments to VCA Theatre include I Putu Budiawan, Senior Lecturer (Acting); Leith McPherson, Senior Lecturer (Voice and Movement); Lyndall Grant, Tutor (Stage Combat); Steph Kehoe, Tutor (Theatre Making); and Chris Kohn, Tutor (Directing).
Ongoing staff in new positions include Sapidah Kian (Lecturer (Acting, Directing), and Rinske Ginsberg, Lecturer (Movement and the Actor's Body).
Image: VCA Acting Company 2016 in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo: Lachlan Woods.
Want to learn more about the Bachelor of Fine Arts? Join us at Focus on Fine Art
What: Hear from academics, current students and alumni about what you'll learn and the world class opportunities on offer
When: Tuesday 20 June, 6.30–8.30pm
Registrations essential. Register now.
By Alix Bromley
What does the word half-caste mean for people born of two cultures? What are its implications on individuals and communities?
Mariaa Randall, a Bundjalung woman from the far north coast of NSW, decided at a young age that dance was the thing she was going to do. She recently finished her Master of Animateuring at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Her dance work HA LF dares to take a closer look at the progression of Aboriginal identity and challenges the thinking that perpetuates racial segregation.
“I need to have really strong intention as to why I’m dancing.”
HA LF is Mariaa’s story, as told by Eddie Diamandi, a filmmaking graduate from the Victorian College of the Arts.
The project saw VCA film and television graduates team up with artists who have received support through the VicArts Grants program to make short documentaries that go behind the scenes with artists and give an insight into their creative process.
Each week we’ll release a new film in the series in partnership with Lido Cinemas who will be showing the films on the big screen ahead of all evening screenings throughout November and into the summer period.
Watch more in the Generator series: Video: A graphic way to tell the story of tsunami.
Alice Darling – Master of Directing for Performance
“At the end of the day I feel so excited to do the work that I do, and it’s a real privilege to get to be the person that watches the work and shapes it. And if I get to do that for my life, or just a little bit longer, that’s amazing.”
Theatre director and alumna Alice Darling talks about her time as co-director of Kindness – the culmination of three years’ creative partnership with fellow theatre alumni Kate Shearman and Bridget Mackey.
Kindness debuted at Theatre Works in 2015 as part of Flight: Festival of New Writing, a new initiative in partnership with the VCA and Footscray Community Arts Centre to showcase the work of VCA theatre graduates.
Find out more about Graduate Study in Theatre at the VCA.
Visit the In The Making website for more alumni artist stories.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
Darren Vizer – Master of Dance
“For me, the decision to become a director and a choreographer… I had no choice. There was no choice. That was the reason I went back to the arts.”
The Devize Co artistic director, Artist in Residence at La Mama Theatre, and guest choreographer at VCA talks about his return to graduate study and how he applies his acting background to his dance and choreography practice.
Visit the In The Making website for more alumni artist stories.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
Led by Margot Fenley, five music theatre students experienced the music theatre scene in New York and had an opportunity to engage in masterclasses with some of the best in the business as part of the Faculty’s Global Atelier program. Global Atelier is made possible with the support of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.
The University of Melbourne has been ranked as number one in Australia for Performing Arts in the recently-released QS World University Rankings.
From a placement in the unspecified 51-100 range in last year’s rankings, the University’s Performing Arts has climbed to number 26 globally.
The QS rankings, produced annually by Quacquarelli Symonds, are designed to offer prospective students effective comparisons of leading universities.
The rankings boost comes as the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music – as the main home of performing arts at the University of Melbourne – continues with an ambitious development program to better serve its students and staff.
Capital development approaching $200 million is currently underway at the Faculty’s Southbank campus, including construction of the new Ian Potter Southbank Centre, a world-class conservatorium due for completion in 2018, the refurbishment of the former Police Stables complex on Dodds Street as a new visual arts wing, also due for completion in 2018, and the Buxton Contemporary gallery, which will open in late 2017.
A number of high-profile national and international staff have recently joined the Faculty, which has also seen a growth in international student numbers, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region.
Greater arts industry links have been forged through initiatives such as the recently-announced, two-year Master of Music (Orchestral Performance) in collaboration with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which will offer the first qualification of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region.
Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM Professor Barry Conyngham said the results were testament to the high levels of commitment, ambition and focus at the Faculty.
“Naturally, as the primary home to the performing arts at the University of Melbourne, we’re delighted with the new QS figures. For some time now, we have been driven by a collective effort to build upon what was already a world-class offering across a wide range of performing arts to students and staff. That effort continues, and will lead, we hope, to ever greater recognition for the quality of programs we offer and a richer performing arts landscape in Australia and overseas.”
Indigenous Australian singer and songwriter Kutcha Edwards has been awarded the Faculty of VCA & MCM’s inaugural Distinguished Musicians Fellowship Award at the 2016 Melbourne Prize for Music awards ceremony held in Melbourne last night.
The Fellowship provides the winner with a commercial engagement with the Faculty to the value of $20,000 to teach, lecture or hold concerts. The winner was selected by the Melbourne Prize 2016 judging panel from the winners and finalists of the four main prize categories.
Edwards, a Mutti Mutti man, was also the recipient of the 2016 Melbourne Prize for Music, valued at $60,000, awarded to a Victorian musician whose work has “made an outstanding contribution to Australian music and has enriched cultural and public life”.
“I honour all musicians that have given me the insight into my responsibility as a singer and songwriter,” said Edwards as he accepted the Fellowship. “My job is to pass on what I know in this game that we play called music, and I’ll endeavour to do that until my very last day.”
Professor Barry Conyngham, Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM, was delighted to present the award to Edwards.
“To be able to offer a fellowship to someone who we believe can contribute to the education of our up and coming musicians is a great opportunity for the Conservatorium,” said Professor Conyngham. “I thank the Melbourne Prize board for selecting someone who we all believe can develop, increase and enhance the activities they will be involved in over the coming years.”
Tw Faculty alumni were also award winners on the night. Composer Kate Neal (BMusPerf 1996) was awarded the inaugural Beleura Award for Composition 2016, worth $25,000, which recognises a composition of outstanding musicianship, skill and creativity.
Matthias Schack-Arnott (BMusPerf 2011) received the $16,000 Development Award, awarded to an emerging musician, aged 30 years and under, who demontrates outstanding musical talent early in their career.
Visit the Melbourne Prize for music website for more information about the 2016 awards and winners.
Banner image: Kutcha Edwards. Image supplied.
Associate Professor Matthew Delbridge knows the history of theatre but has his eyes firmly fixed on the future
I have a great love and respect for actors but acting was never something that transpired for me. In the 90s I fell into working with Gilgul Theatre Company in Melbourne, after stepping in last-minute to operate the lights for one of their shows. As soon as the theatre machine was revealed I fell in love with that whole other side of things. I was the stage manager with Gilgul for six or seven years after that.
Theatre is in our DNA. I think it probably began when we were sitting in caves looking at shadows projected on the wall and listening to each other tell stories. It’s part of who and what we are. The same goes for film and TV – it’s more than escapism; it’s about what we’re attracted to and how we fundamentally connect with each other.
Motion capture fascinates me, both in research and practice. We’re very good at protecting the image and voice of people, we can copyright that, but we haven’t got our heads around how we protect movement. That’s going to be the next thing that happens. You look at a whole bunch of videogame credits and you won’t actually see all of the performers who’ve created the moves at the centre of the game. It’s the primacy of an individual’s being that’s being captured; it’s like capturing someone’s aura. Philosophically, that’s interesting.
Sadly, I’m not able to suspend my disbelief when I go to see most theatre or film. I can’t even play videogames because it all just collapses into how it was made. But I can disappear quite easily into big-budget Broadway musicals or anything by Romeo Castellucci.
In 1992 I started working as the Assistant Orchestra Manager (Technical) at the State Orchestra of Victoria, which basically meant I set up all the equipment in the pit, moving harpsichords, harps and timpani around the Arts Centre. I watched the Australian Opera, State Opera of Victoria, and the Australian Ballet, eight shows a week for a few years, just setting up various orchestral configurations in the pit and offstage.
Theatre has a history of dropping, picking up, letting go, rediscovering. When we talk about theatre programs and how to prepare graduates for the sort of infrastructures they’ll find, history can teach us where we have arrived based on where we began.
I did a double degree in drama and dance at Rusden, and initially chose the dance part, if I’m honest, for the girls. Learning about movement teaches you a lot about space and motion and your own limitations. I think every performing arts student should be doing dance classes to develop mental and physical discipline – it actually makes you really useful in a whole bunch of ways.
I live in a regional city in Victoria on purpose so that I have a place to go outside of the VCA and Melbourne’s theatre scene. I disappear into family life with my two young children and my partner: meal plans and bike rides and kicking the soccer ball – that’s my escape.
I’ve worked as a stage designer for many years with a company called Split Britches – Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw. Peggy’s in her mid-seventies and I think Lois is nearly 70 and they’re still putting on great work. Peggy is a stroke survivor so in terms of stage design, I’ve had to start coming up with environments that enable them to perform. So you have this boy from Echuca who used to work on paddle steamers working with a famous feminist lesbian theatre company from New York. To me, that’s still amazing.
We have an obligation to the students who study theatre but also to the profession at large. The sorts of stories that are going to be told five or ten years into the future will be stories about people for whom gender is less defined, stories about displaced populations, stories about wars in hot deserts, stories about our own history and future in Australia and Asia. We need to make sure there are the people available to tell and perform those stories.
Wagner is very well-known across the world for his music, but he was actually one of the greatest theatrical minds we’ve ever had. His theatre in Bayreuth had a double proscenium, introduced to magnify the human form. He didn’t have his band in a pit; he had them up in the gods above the stage, so that we’d have this sort of celestial view where people were amplified on stage.
I’ve got a new research project called Monkey Business, which is actually about this new industry that’s emerging for people who play monkeys on the screen using Motion Capture – well, they’re apes really, but Ape Business doesn’t have the same ring to it. Actors who play apes have a whole series of poses that they do, and their own emerging language about playing them.
The most fulfilling aspect of my job, without falling into cliché, is seeing the students succeed, seeing the staff do well, capitalising on the extraordinary opportunities that being part of the University of Melbourne and the VCA affords. I’ve been gifted with so many opportunities in my life and being here just feels like the latest in that list.
– As told to Paul Dalgarno
Banner image: eltpics/Flickr
Visit the Faculty of VCA & MCM Theatre page.
Her work as a dancer and choreographer is feted internationally, but that won’t stop Lake suffering opening night nerves
By Paul Dalgarno
Stephanie Lake has a problem. Me too. I’m meeting with the multi award-winning choreographer, dancer and director of Stephanie Lake Company to discuss her latest work, CRUSH.
It will be presented by third-year dancers and undergraduate production students at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, from May 4-7.
The promotional material describes the show’s first half as having “the beauty of patterns, the hum of unison, the satisfaction of geometric clarity”; while the second half showcases “the collision of physical intentions, the crack and crumble of bodies under pressure”. It sounds exciting, but I don’t know what it means.
Lake laughs. “It’s incredibly hard to articulate dance,” she says. “But that’s part of the beauty of the form – it expresses things that are beyond language.”
Lake and the 21 student dancers who will perform CRUSH are coming to the end of rehearsals, and are now at “the pointy end” of turning those ideas into reality. At 60 minutes, it’s Lake’s first full-length work with the VCA, although she has been a regular choreographer at the institution since graduating in 2000.
In 2011 she won the Green Room Award for her show Mix Tape (2010). In 2014, she won the Helpmann Award for A Small Prometheus (2013) and the Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Choreography for Aorta (2013).
Lake won the 2014 Helpmann award for A Small Prometheus.
I suggest the students she works with must be intimidated, but Lake laughs this off. “It’s an interesting dynamic,” she says. “My expectations are incredibly high for the performers because I work with the best dancers around. I don’t treat the VCA dancers like students. I treat them as if they are the cast for my new work, and hopefully that’s good for them.”
Critics have described Lake’s choreographed works as “sharply honed and brilliantly polished”, as “intricate and endlessly fascinating”, with moments of “sheer heart-stopping beauty”. I’m curious to know what Lake thinks she brings as a choreographer.
“One thing that comes up repeatedly about my work is that it operates on quite a visceral level,” she says. “I like to push the physicality of the dancers to a point where the speed and complexity is almost impossible, where it tips over into almost an emotional place.”
Do audiences need to be fluent in contemporary dance to appreciate what she does? “Not at all,” she says. “The best feedback for me is when someone says ‘I’ve never seen any dance before but I loved that, it made sense to me’. I’m thrilled with that kind of response. It’s never my intention to be esoteric or inaccessible.”
In the case of CRUSH, coming towards the end of students’ time at the VCA, she knows what’s at stake. She got her break after working with visiting choreographer Phillip Adams, who choreographed Lake in her second and third years at the VCA before hiring her, post-graduation, to dance in his work Amplification.
Shortly afterwards, she started working with Gideon Obarzanek at Chunky Move and Lucy Guerin at Lucy Guerin Inc. Though talent was key, Lake is quick to describe herself as fortunate.
Right Place at the Right Time
“The reality is that there’s not a lot of work for dancers,” she says. “I was lucky enough to pretty much always have work, but that’s because I was in the right place at the right time and able to work across a number of companies. The landscape has really changed. I worry about those just starting out because it’s going to be tough. They’re going to have to be really motivated.”
“Drive” is another word that crops up during our discussion and it clearly applies to Lake, who started choreographing in her early teens.
“Pretty much every four to six weeks I’m working with different people and in different contexts,” she says. “That keeps it interesting but it has its downsides. There’s not a lot of stability. Sometimes I wish I had a core of dancers that I could work with consistently.”
Stephanie Lake, the showreel
There comes a moment in every work, Lake says, when she has to back off and let the dancers take ownership of what they’re doing. But that doesn’t make watching them any easier.
“I get really nervous watching my own work,” she says. “Far more than I do as a performer. It’s kind of torturous because I get consumed by whatever I’m working on. If a show goes well and gets a reaction the reward is really big, it’s a great feeling. But yeah, I tend to be there in the audience watching on, biting my nails.”
She knows from experience how much the VCA dancers are giving of themselves. They have technique classes in the mornings, followed by four/five-hour rehearsals for CRUSH in the afternoons, often followed by more rehearsals for other projects in the evenings.
“I remember that bone-deep exhaustion,” she says. “The hardest I’ve ever worked was during second and third year at VCA.
“In some ways, going and working for companies was a snooze after that. It’s harder in other ways, obviously, but just physically, you never work harder than you do at VCA. It’s so intense, but it’s got to be, it’s boot camp.”
It’s clear from Lake’s changing posture that she has to head back into the studio for the day’s rehearsal. In closing, I ask her what audiences can expect from CRUSH when it hits the stage.
“For me it’s about the energy of youth, which is really infectious and beautiful,” she says. “The thing I love most about working with this group is the optimism that emanates. There are some exceptional dancers that are really worth checking out, and the set design is really striking.
“I don’t think people will have seen the space we’re performing in this way before. It’s quite a radical show.”
CRUSH, a new dance work by Stephanie Lake, will be performed at the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus between 4-7 May. See details here.
Banner image: Promotional shot for AORTA by Stephanie Lake. Picture: Jeff Busby
By Alix Bromley
The former Victoria Police Hospital, opened in 1914 on the corner of St Kilda Road and Southbank Boulevard, was officially re-opened by Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis this month after a year-long refurbishment of the heritage-listed building.
The “Old Police Hospital”, as it is now called, provides accommodation for the Dean’s office and administrative units of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM) who are lucky to have it as a Faculty Hub.
The building is light and open. In fact there isn’t a space which doesn’t have access to natural light – atypical of a University workspace as is the building’s history, which now has meeting rooms with such names as The Dispensary and The Operating Theatre.
History of the Site
The former Victoria Police Hospital operated as a hospital for some 65 years from 1914 and was not only the first police hospital in Victoria, but is claimed to be the first in the world.
During the First World War it was used as a military hospital and then for the public during the Spanish influenza outbreak, with the police resuming control of the site in 1920.
Its design was based on the pavilion principle, which expressed the late 19th and early 20th century attitudes to hospital design. Intended to provide ample sunlight and ventilation for the convalescing patients, it also included a two-levelled verandah on the north and south elevations.
The police transferred their hospital to a new building nearby in 1980 and the site was taken over by the VCA, which had commenced occupation of the former Police Depot from 1973.
The building was subsequently converted to a print-making school and employed as such until 1992. Since then it has been used for offices and storage and allowed to fall into a dilapidated state.
The Balancing Act of Heritage Refurbishment
Luke Flanagan has been the project manager for the site since the beginning of 2013. He has been working on the design and build alongside lead architect Louise Goodman and senior architect Fleur Downey from Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (FJMT) and heritage specialists RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants.
For Flanagan, the greatest challenge of any heritage project is getting the balance right between retaining the original fabric, working within the heritage restraints set by Heritage Victoria, and achieving an acceptable standard with the functional and aesthetic requirements of the space.
“There’s always conflict and tension there. Every heritage building has its own characteristics and qualities and the trick is to exploit, amplify and take advantage of them – while at the same time ensuring any interventions or additions are made sensitively,” Flanagan says.
Architect Louise Goodman believes the success of the project has been in stripping back the building to its original plan.
“This allows the elegance of the new forms and materials of the building additions, which have a beauty in their own right, to complement the existing brickwork and proportions of the original hospital,” she says.
“Don’t overwhelm the original but compliment it. That’s the real challenge,” says Flanagan, “The end result justifies the pain and anguish because what you end up with is a building which is very unique.”
The Old Police Hospital brings together many of the new and existing elements, in a shared space, to be enjoyed by all of the staff.
One of the key design features of the site is the addition of a two-storey glass curtain wall extension, with terracotta louvres, to the Southbank Boulevard frontage.
The original verandah was replaced in the 1950s with a balcony and small extension on the ground floor. In removing these additions, the building resembled its original form. The new addition was designed to act as an enclosed verandah, referencing the symmetry of the vertical columns on the southern verandah.
The differing angled louvres filter the sun and provide privacy as well as breaking up the horizontal elements. The terracotta used for the louvres is a natural complement to the deep red of the existing brickwork.
The spiral staircase has been beautifully restored. The balustrade was originally built using rare red pine, which unfortunately didn’t meet the structural requirements. So the new timber is ironbark, a mix of two types to achieve the variance required, with a French polished finish.
The staircase didn’t meet current balustrade height requirements, so the balusters were replaced with longer lengths and the newel posts extended with new timber additions. The additions are designed to show a visible line between old and new.
There are tile features left over from another age tell their own story, and the new wall openings are defined by the use of a blackbutt timber portal to clearly distinguish new from existing building elements.
Outside, new steel and glass entry canopies to the north and south of the central entry tie in the language of the new building elements, and an eye-catching copper lift has made it to completion after initially being out of budget (before the price of copper plunged). The interpretative garden adjacent to the lift, designed by Oculus landscape architects, is intended to resemble the outbuilding which was located in the same place.
Southbank Boulevard connection
The new glass extension creates a significant impact on Southbank Boulevard and adds a touch of contemporary flair to the streetscape – “it has a bit of drama to it”, says Flanagan.
Given the plans for Southbank Boulevard, the building is situated in an important location. The City of Melbourne is looking at running a kilometre-long park from St Kilda Road down to Queen’s Bridge. Tram alignment will remain the same but the existing four lanes of traffic will be reduced to two with aim of increasing pedestrian traffic instead.
“The real driver there is to create a meaningful connection from the city into the art’s precinct,” says Flanagan.
All of this fits within the broader development of the VCA & MCM’s Southbank campus, a venture funded jointly by The Myer Foundation, The Ian Potter Foundation, the University of Melbourne and the State Government through Creative Victoria.
Last year, the Grant Street Theatre was reopened with Lionel’s cafe and bar, named after major supporter Lionel Gell. This year, the Brian Brown Recording Studio underwent a substantial renovation, and the old industrial Teaching Workshop has also been re-opened as a cutting edge research facility.
In 2016, the stables that were once occupied by police horses will be transformed into visual art studios. In 2017, a new purpose-built museum will be opened to showcase Michael Buxton’s contemporary Australian art collection, and plans for a new Conservatorium building are also slowly gaining momentum.
For staff and students at the VCA & MCM, it’s an exciting time. These new developments aim to set up the University’s Southbank campus with the best facilities to teach young artists for the next 50 years.
Banner Image: Ground floor of the two-storey glass curtain wall extension. Photographer: Ben Hosking.
By Alix Bromley
In a short six months, the Victorian College of the Arts’ (VCA) Teaching Workshop on the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus has transcended from an industrial blue-collar workshop to become a cutting edge research facility where manufacturing outcomes are unlimited.
Around 700 students from visual art, production, and film and television, who have not collaborated in the past, will now come together over the course of a year to share ideas and build in specific process spaces, including a central construction area, a welding and foundry room, a wet mould room, a wood machining shop including a special sanding room.
The students may be building for different artistic mediums, but pragmatically they often undertake very similar processes.
Workshops Manager Dr Tim Edwards, who’s been working on the project for four years, says after reading, thinking and talking to people about workshop design in the University environment, he believes there’s nothing else that exists like it.
The workshop staff were able to tell architect Steve Hatzellis exactly what they required in the space since they’ve been working there for years. From experience, they know exactly what does and doesn’t work.
Edwards, who began at the VCA as a casual lecturer in Sculpture and Spatial Practice in 2008, previously worked at the University of Tasmania where he was involved in designing the School of Visual and Performing Arts Sculpture Workshop. This meant he had a clear idea of the requirements and process of building a good workshop.
It was like a game of chess with room space size and placement.
The external skeleton of the old workshop has remained intact, but the roof trusses dictated where walls had to go. “Previously there was lots of wasted space and the rooms were too small to function very well, so combining them we were able to get more space and usability and make it much safer,” says Edwards.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) standards have a scale of low, medium and high risk activity. Just about everything that takes place in the workshop is high risk, so the underpinning design brief was to combine the different workshop spaces with best OHS practice.
In principle, you bring your materials through the 3 metre high soundproof doors, get them on to the table, mark out, measure, fit your safety protection gear from the OHS station, take the materials into the machine shops on the custom-built four-wheel tables, then wheel them back out into the construction area to assemble.
It’s all about workshop flow.
The wet area is for ceramics and mould making out of clay and is also part of the foundry where the initial object is made from wax. There is a specific wax working area with a granite benchtop and Bunsen burners.
In the hot metals room there is a new foundry furnace, a foundry kiln and a new ceramic kiln. There’s a long, thick solid steel bench which is completely dead flat.
“When you’re a metal sculptor, that welding bench is like a Louis Vuitton handbag!” says Edwards.
Welding creates highly toxic fumes, so rather than use ducts which pull the air across your body (as in 90% of other spaces), a bank has been made above the bench so all the smoke, dust and fumes are pulled away from you in the opposite direction.
In the wood machining shop there’s a computer-controlled router and various methods of carving and sanding. New ducting means the wood dust won’t be swirling around the space any more.
For a space with concrete floors and masses of wood, the acoustics have been dampened thanks to the wool insulation in the roof which was previously exposed tin.
“Everything is ramped right up,” says Edwards. “You can see how thick the walls are! The windows are triple glazed, the walls are triple thickness with insulation.”
There is very little sound bleed between each workshop. Because you can’t hear the students, the large windows were a key component of the design brief.
“We need to be able to see them at a glance, to make sure they’re okay,” say Edwards. The upstairs office, which creates a better use of space, also provides an opportunity to see what’s going on below.
From the lighting, heating and sound acoustics to the removable plywood panels on the walls (rather than leave a big hole in the wall in such a hard-wearing space, you can simply put a new panel on), Edwards is brimming with enthusiasm about the new workshop:
“You could come in with any kind of design and we’ll have the technology, skills and staff to work it out and build it.”
The Teaching Workshop fits within the broader development of the VCA & MCM’s Southbank campus, a venture funded jointly by The Myer Foundation, The Ian Potter Foundation, the University of Melbourne and the State Government through Creative Victoria.
Banner Image: The central construction area with an overhead office. Photographer: Ben Hosking.