By Allan Sko
A dancer-actor-photographer, visual artist, composer-poet-singer, choreographer, and musical director-singer-songwriter walk into an arts centre…
It sounds like a ridiculously elaborate set up for an esoteric joke but fortunately, for the sake of Humour, it is in fact the premise of the exciting, new collaborative project of the Belco Arts Centre’s Artists in Residence.
“Earthbound is a new intergenerational, multi-arts performance group which has come into being to undertake the inaugural Belco Arts Rhizome five-month residency,” explains Courtney Allen, who frankly did a Herculean effort pulling all this information together for this scintillating article.
“We are bound in examining the existential threat of climate change, and in exploring art’s purposive role in felt, emotional responses to such crises. In our time of profound environmental crises, we explore the patterns and rhythms that connect people with nature through dance, music and visual art.”
Allen is the dancer-actor-photographer of the crack five-strong multi-disciplined arts squad. Rounding out the team are visual artist Sally Blake composer-poet-singer Glenda Cloughley, musical director-singer-songwriter Johanna McBride, and performance poet-musician Danny Pratt. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman is the theatre consultant and choreographer supported by the Agent Phil Coulson of the group, Craig San Roque.
As well as their own artistic fields, each member brings a wealth of experience and a new perspective to the singular piece.
“I bring a long artistic and research career that explores human’s relationship to, and place within, the natural world,” explains Sally Blake. “Visualisation of the natural laws and patterning that hold humans in the right relationship with Earth, as well as the consequences of these unravelling is my art’s work. My art takes many forms as I make across textiles, sculpture and drawings opening up many potentials for the theatre space.”
With a solid footing on both sides of the camera, Allen brings a different aperture to proceedings.
“Behind the camera I bring a background of six years in both commercial and fine art photography, creative direction and producing,” Allen says. “In front of the camera I bring a background in dance and acting. I have always held a deep passion for humans’ interconnection with nature, and expressed this through multiple works where I dance outdoors at site specific locations.”
Johanna McBride further compliments the brew.
“I bring to our group years of experience as a choral director and accompanist and a great love of working and playing together,” she explains. “For the last 18 years I have been directing music for A Chorus of Women. We have been passionately engaged with human relations to the Earth and I look forward to helping with A Chorus of Women’s contribution to our work in progress performance in June.”
Glenda Cloughly is like a sage-like cheerleader of the group, albeit with the brain of a professor.
“I bring a passion for telling inspiring wise law stories about nurturing life and unsquishable confidence in the wellsprings of love and people’s capacity for creative action,” she reveals. “Since 2003, I’ve written lots of music and words for A Chorus of Women’s large performance repertoire of original songs and major choral productions. Much of this has drawn on my training as a Jungian psychoanalyst and my research background in cultural psychology and the indigenous layers of European mythology.”
And much like his chosen written artform, poet slash musician Danny Pratt keeps it cogent.
“I’m bringing the sum of my life’s experience in music and poetry. At the moment that is distilling through Earthling Blues.”
Collaboration can create a cacophony of creativity when working well, but can be a tricky balance to achieve. How have our members faired during such multitudinous imaginings?
“Working across generations and art forms is exciting to me,” Sally Blake explains. “It is also challenging as we have hugely different ways of creating and understanding the world, and ourselves as artists. The collaborative pot is heating up and bubbling with potential. New things are beginning to emerge, fragile and tender.”
Courtney Allen echoes these sentiments.
“I have found the collaborative process incredibly eye opening and educational,” she says. “I have never worked with such a diverse group of artists across different generations before. We all have vastly different artistic processes which has been challenging in the making of the work. We have recently found more form and settled into our roles which has given us the momentum and clarity needed to combine creative capacities.”
With Directing as one of her skillsets, Johanna McBride has found herself more at home in the environment.
“Five passionate artists working together and being guided by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, a marvellous choreographer and theatre artist has had its challenges and has been wonderful and inspiring. After many years of directing others, I have really enjoyed being directed. I have also loved improvising, playing with my own music again, and learning to jam with others to Daniel’s music.”
For Glenda Cloughley, it’s been an experience of discovery: “I began the residency saying that I’d never written a note of new music with anyone else in the room,” she says. “I’m hoping to free myself into more playful practice.”
And whilst the previous section saw Danny Pratt’s contribution brief, it is on the topic of collaboration that the man comes alive.
“It’s been good!” Pratt beams. “It’s been a lot of listening, deep thinking, feeling, connecting, and sharing with these artists,” he enthuses. “Sitting together in vulnerable, sometimes heavy states. Letting the work brew both in the space between us and within our individual processes. Sometimes it’s been challenging for me to dwell in deep conversation rather than discovering the nature of our work together through play and process, but as we start to move into those areas more, I feel the value of how we have gotten to where we are now.
“Learning further to acknowledge the difference in process of other artists has been valuable to my practice,” he continues. “Both in observing the aspects of their artistic thinking that have broadened my approach. As well as understanding how to work with other people more fluently. Also, just simple things like planning and organisation which is something this bunch are very good at… and I’m getting better at.”
And in closing, Pratt describes perhaps the greatest gift collaboration can bear.
“Speaking specifically to what it has brought to my own practice; I’m excited to be realising some of my songs with the creative support of the group,” he enthuses. “I’ve got these earthling blues grooves that are coming to life alongside Johanna McBride’s amazing musical mind and the others. She’s writing choral accompaniment to be sung by women over three generations as a sonic body for the core of the song and guitar to leap around in.
“The feeling of playing it, is like being in the dream of what a song might sound like that you can’t quite remember when you wake up. I’m humbled and excited to share these sounds new to my music and process when we perform together.”
With the bonafides well and truly established, and the machinations of the process worked through, the only thing that remains, of course, is Earthbound itself, and what each artist hopes to achieve through the project.
“Within Earthbound I hope to find a robust and secure way of working across artforms, where each of us can bring our full creative potential to the performance space,” Sally Blake extols. “I hope the works I create as a visual artist can be in a dynamic relationship to the poetry and music and dance within the embodied space of the theatre. I believe that by finding ways to truly connect across artforms, and to imagine our purposes iterated visually, aurally, and kinetically we will create something much bigger than any of us could do alone.”
As for Courtney Allen, she is full of hope: “I hope to expand my choreographic abilities and refine a disciplined dance practice. I hope to learn as much as possible from my incredible dance mentor Elizabeth in the world of movement, emotionality, stage and theatre knowledge.
“I hope to deepen my artistic practice across both dance and music through the knowledge and guidance of my fellow collaborators,” Allen continues. “I hope to achieve a beautiful body of work together that is both engaging and moving across the collective themes we as a group are all deeply passionate about sharing and the change we are hoping for.”
Johanna McBride once again champions the benefits of the collaborative process.
“I hope that our continued learning process of collaborating across different art forms, temperaments, and generations will not only continue to broaden and deepen my artistic practice and all our work, but might set a modest example in our world. I believe we are all seeking, separately and together, artistic expression of the elements of transformation that are needed for humanity to continue thriving on this planet.”
And Danny Pratt is suitably poetic in closing.
“I’d like to further my understanding and capacity for communication of humanity’s connection to our earth through absorbing the other artists’ perspectives,” he says.
“I’ve learnt a lot from the wisdom natural to all the women in our group, but particularly the older wise ones; about connection to nature, the patterns of life, and the power of art to help tether these fraying bonds. If I am able to gather and synthesise these important ideas and delineate them through my creative processes of poetry, music and art, I’ll be happy.
Earthbound is on Saturday 26 June at 8pm. See belcoarts.com.au/earthbound/ or call 6173 3300 for more info.