the Age I'm In
The Age I’m In Force Majeure and Carriageworks at Carriageworks, 26-29 November, 1-6 December, schools show 3 December; www.carriageworks.com.au or Ticketmaster 1300 723 038.
KATE Champion is one of Australia’s most exciting and innovative makers of dance-theatre works. And her company, Force Majeure, produced one of the most popular and acclaimed shows of recent years in Same, same But Different. A couple of years later she produced Already Elsewhere. Somewhere in there she choreographed the stage version of Dirty Dancing. Now she’s up to typically new tricks. Her latest major work, The Age I’m In, premiered at the 2008 Adelaide Festival to ecstatic reviews and audience response. It was seen later at the Sydney Opera House and then, like so many wonderful performance artworks, was quietly mothballed.
But no! What a waste! How ridiculous! The Age I’m In played to sell-out houses yet still there were those who “kept meaning to go” or “yes, we are going” only to find the run was over. And the work itself wasn’t static or “finished” in any sense because it is so concerned with living and its living, breathing participants.
”I planned to do a new piece,” says Champion. “But I thought, this is crazy. We didn’t come anywhere near doing everything we wanted to do; we could develop it further and it was changing anyway. I mean one of the performers said, ‘maybe we should call it The Age We Were In because I’m 17 now and not 16!’ And he’s doing HSC so his life has definitely moved on.”
So it was back to the drawing board, at least in terms of fulfilling the requirements of bureaucratic bits of paper, and a decision to restage, rework and revisit The Age I’m In.
”I’m not hungry to do a new piece yet,” Champion adds. “And for me that means something because I’ve never stayed long anywhere or with anything. For instance, when I went to Adelaide [to join Australian Dance theatre as a dancer] I signed for two years and it felt like a lifelong commitment!”
Before she ventured big time into choreography she was a dancer, of course, engaged by Iwanson Dance Company in Munich when she was just 16. It was the culmination of a long road: “My dance life was a boring cliche,” she says. “I was sent to classes because I was clumsy. And of course, that was a red rag and I had to prove I could do it. I persevered.”
Like so many kids who go on to become exceptional, she was lucky in her teachers. “I had a very creative teacher who taught us to create, so I thought that’s what you did. I never realised dancers weren’t supposed to.”
Champion’s suburban Sydney upbringing, with an academic father and artist mother, was also atheistic and philosophically focused on art and culture as well as the down to earth aspects of life.
”What they both did and what I absorbed as a child is that art means a lot about connecting and I think that’s what I do now. Connecting.”
Champion’s three years in Munich ended when she returned to Australia to join Kai Tai Chan’s path-breaking company One Extra in 1981. In 1985 she was off again, this time to New York for further study. With that under her belt she went to Townsville as a founding member of Dance North. Her “lifelong commitment” of two years to Adelaide followed before London and Lloyd Newson’s DV8 Physical Theatre beckoned.
”I learned so much,” she says, pointing out that she worked first as his production assistant before performing in Strange Fish on stage and the BBC film of the work. “And it wasn’t the egocentric way of the performer. Basically I did everything and I’ve said it was just an extremely long apprenticeship. It means I don’t ask anyone to do anything I haven’t done myself.”
Probably for that reason Champion is open to new ideas and to the creative process to be found in a hand-picked team of talented artists.
”It’s certainly not only my head that this has come from,” she says of The Age I’m In. “We were talking – Geoff Cobham [set and lighting designer] and Roz Hervey [performer] and we were initially inspired by the idea of a snapshot in time – the 7 Up series. Obviously we couldn’t return every seven years so we chose ten performers dived by decades. And the title is “age” because we don’t have every aspect of society covered.”
But there is an extraordinary panorama of humanity on stage, as well as an amalgam of the physical, voice, music and technology which is often breathtaking as small video screens reveal the bodies beneath the clothes or voices are borrowed by unlikely performers to cause a disjunction and skewed viewpoint.
”We haven’t stopped the process,” Champion says of the show in which we learn about individuals and their lives from voice-over put into the mouths of performers and a mix of dance, audio, video and acting. “The age range was 16 to 80 and is now almost a year on from that. We always try to do something different – the technology has been interesting, but it’s not overwhelming, that’s important.
And The Age I’m In is a funny, moving and illuminating experience of the panoply of 20th and 21st century human experience. That’s the audience’s perception anyway. For the creator-choreographer there is another point of view.
“My heart was always in my mouth if a screen was going wrong when we first did it in Adelaide. That never changes. You’re thinking ahead to the next time that screen will be used and trying to figure out a way around it.”
Another element behind the show’s genesis can be credited – inadvertently – to the Australia Council.
“It was a rather cynical response to a government initiative – the previous government – where they were calling for work that celebrated something called ‘Australianness in the 21st century.’ I thought, ‘we’re Australian, we do Australian work. So what else do we have to do to qualify? Put a koala in it?’ And we started thinking about being Australian!”
The cast for this version: Marlo Benjamin, Samuel Brent, Annie Byron, Tilda Cobham Hervey, Vincent Crowley, Daniel Daw, Brian Harrison, Roz Hervey, Kirstie McCracken, Veronica Neave, Tim Ohl.