Skeleton: Raw and Honest
Adelaide’s own Larissa McGowan gets the chance of a career to make a splash at the Adelaide Festival. She spoke with Peter Burdon about her Festival work, Skeleton.
“I will admit I’m pretty excited about having my first full length work premiere at the Adelaide Festival,” says Larissa McGowan with a chuckle, “It’s a great tribute and I’m very proud. And it’s an interesting feeling. I’ve performed with Australian Dance Theatre in the premieres of dozens of pieces, and a lot of them have been premiered at the Festival, and I love the feeling of excitement when you first put a piece out there, but to have my own work in that position is something special. Especially when you look at the rest of the dance program, which is all international.”
Larissa’s work, Skeleton, has been some years in the making. “I was lucky enough to get a triennial grant from Arts SA for the creation of a major piece over an extended period,” Larissa explains, “I think it was my desire to work with locally-based performers that really swung it my way, and they’re a great group and they’ve thrown themselves into the development.”
“Skeleton is about what the body can do,” Larissa explains, “That’s always been the base for my work ever since I started making my own short pieces. Some of that comes out of my own experience as a dancer. I know I’m not a conventional female dancer. I look different, I’m strong, I’m flexible. I think people have sometimes been surprised by that, even shocked, in the past. I think that was what made me so comfortable with the really physical ADT style. And I want to explore that in others. I wanted a variety of levels of experience, and body types, and dance styles. Finding out what’s special about a particular performer and working with it, but also shaping it, and changing it if I have to. That’s been one of the most interesting parts of the project. The three young guys, Tobiah Booth-Remmers, Marcus Louend and Lewis Rankin, all started this when they were still students, and they’ve matured enormously during the development. Then there’s Lisa Griffiths, who’s one of our most experienced dancers.
Larissa is collaborating with talented young director Sam Haren. “We first worked together on a piece in the ADT Ignition series some years ago. It was the first time I’d worked with someone from a theatrical background and that was a real eye-opener for me because he talked about the creation of the piece without the dance baggage! You do get caught up in what it is to make dance when you live it day in and day out and he brought a really refreshing honesty to the process and we clicked, and when I developed the idea for Skeleton he seemed like the ideal choice as a collaborator. And we did some fascinating research in developing the grant application. We focussed fairly early on an Australian artist, Ricky Swallow, who’s a sculptor who works with all sorts of media including bones, and an amazing British photographer, Nick Veasey, who works mainly with images created from x-rays. They both give a great foundation for an exploration of the body. They’re familiar but they’re alien at the same time. And the x-ray stuff is incredible, seeing the body moving from the inside out.”
“The real challenge for me was to make sure that visually it was a true dance piece,” Larissa continues, “and it’s based on the skeletal form and the archaeology. It’s all to do with detail, and it’s much more intricate than the movement I was used to with ADT whether as a dancer or as the Associate Choreographer. And it has really benefited from Sam’s involvement and his dramatic eye. The decisions I’m making now are very different from the decisions I would have made in the past. It’s challenging me to use body pathways I’ve never used before. That’s not to say it isn’t physical, it certainly is, and it’s quite virtuosic in places, but it’s also raw and honest in its movement. It’s not overblown with technology, it’s all about the movement. And the set design is part of it, it allows things to appear and disappear, sort of like a puzzle of pieces that you’re trying to connect.”
“If I do say so myself, Skeleton will be a unique contribution to the Festival,” Larissa concludes. “It’s definitely something that people should see, and I think it’ll be great as a Festival piece. I mean, there’s a skateboard and a BMX bike in it apart from the fantastic dancers, so what more could you want?”
Larissa McGowan’s Skeleton is in the AC Arts main Theatre from 28 February to 9 March. Book at Bass.