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Collaborating across art forms

Antonia Grove
by -

When I became sole artistic director of Probe in 2008, I wanted to continue collaborating with artists from different genres. Our present production, Running on Empty, involves theatre director Jo McInnes, writer Brad Birch, choreographer Charlie Morrissey and songwriter Lee Ross, mixing theatre and dance practice together to try find something new.

Creating cross-genre work is full of challenges: there is no obvious methodology. Despite extensive research, when we came into the studio, we had nothing. No script, no songs, and we had to develop a new choreographic language and live sound score for each scene as it emerged. Scenes would appear, then disappear as the piece evolved. You learn not to get attached to material you are creating: while it is relevant to the process, more often than not it becomes irrelevant to the story as it unfolds.

The collaborative team for Running on Empty brought a wealth of knowledge and experience that proved both thrilling and completely overwhelming. The possibilities become almost too great. I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘too many cooks…’, however it did make for an extremely rich, hearty and at times overflowing stew.

The director, Jo, was left with many difficult questions. What exactly is this piece we’re making? What’s the story, how is it best told? What material to keep? What to throw away? What else needs to be made and how? We are still asking those questions now, but it feels like we might actually be on the way to finding the answers.

This has probably been my most ambitious and challenging project to date. When the collaborators are this good, the stakes and expectations are high. I realise now you need more creation time for a process like this to prevent the work being thrown on stage before full investigation and formation has occurred. The problem with touring dance is that, unlike theatre, there is no opportunity to preview or try out a show in front of an audience. Show one is the premiere and it is expected to be finished, which I think hinders risk-taking. It has become increasingly clear to me that due to the complex nature of devising a work using so many different genres, the crucial part of the process is rubbing it up against an audience, listening, and refining.

While any piece of art never feels ‘finished’, it eventually reaches a resting place when the performers can ride the wave. It seems you can’t rush or control when this happens, which can be frustrating, but when it comes it’s worth the wait and feels totally liberating! I can feel it coming and I can’t wait. Roll on Soho Theatre.

Running on Empty is at Soho Theatre from February 4 to 16 and tours nationally until March 19.

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