New Zealand Dance Company
Maidment Theatre, Auckland
Lumina, NZDC’s third season of new works, will open in August at Auckland’s Maidment Theatre. The show is a triple bill of works by Louise Potiki Bryant, Malia Johnston, and Dutch/Amercian choreographer, Stephen Shropshire – the company’s first international commission.
Potiki Bryant’s new work, In Transit, is currently being created with her husband, the mulit-talented NZ composer/AV designer/musician/producer, Paddy Free.
Q. What was the starting point for creating a new work for NZDC’s Lumina?
A. The idea of luminality – the space between two states. Louise’s initial idea came while sitting in Singapore airport; her piece is called In Transit. The work is about the concept of luminality. It could be as sacred as the space between the states of life and death, or as mundane as the space between sleeping and waking.
Q. What is your starting point when composing sound/music for a choreographer?
A. Music is the shortcut to the emotions – people are much more likely to cry at music than at a painting, for example. I always ask what emotion the person (be it a choreographer, TV producer or anyone else) wanted to portray. Is it an emotion/reaction in the audience or the story/emotion of the performers? I start with the emotional journey that they want to create. I deal with the style and other instructions later.
Q. Do you find that composing music for a specific purpose – in this case a choreographer – restricts your creativity?
A. Not at all. I really like having a timeline (how long the music needs to be) and a tempo from the choreographer. Sometimes I’ll meet with the choreographer and record a movie on my phone – just the sound of them making the noises helps me create the tempo they’re hearing in their head. Ultimately I’m serving someone else, so the choreographer tells me where to make cuts. It’s always easier to cut than to extend!
It takes 1-2 days for the first draft of a piece of music, and then 2 -3 more days of timing tweaks and other details. The time pressure that NZ choreographers feel does transfer to me to a certain extent but the music (I make for dance) doesn’t have to stand by itself and that’s very liberating for me. There’s only pressure if I’m running out of time because there are really last-minute additions or cuts. For example, the choreographer can cut a whole section of movement late in the rehearsal process, and I’ll need to remove the corresponding section of the music and make the edges blend together seamlessly.
I started out playing music in cover bands in pubs. I’m happy to have drifted away from that into my own world.
Q. Have you found that you’ve moved into the world of dance as a result of working with Louise and other choreographers?
A. Yes - I love dance as a sensory experience. I love dance theatre where everything comes together – the choreography, the sound, the lighting, the staging etc.
Sound is very unique because it’s a 360° experience (unlike vision in humans, for example, where we only have 180°). It’s such a primal force – if you hear a car when you’re about to cross the road you’ll turn and look. Sound is so keyed-in with our survival instinct. I could play a sound in here (Occam Café and Bar, Grey Lynn) and clear the room.
Q. You’re co-creating the AV for In Transit with Louise. What’s your creative process for making this aspect of the work?
A. On this project we initially filmed dancers wearing black against a white wall so we could grab the outline of them. The images are manipulated so they leave trails. We’ll project some of the images onto the dancers, some on the back wall and some onto screens. We have 7 black mesh screens, 2 ½ x 1 ½ m – like door-sized rectangles. We’re experimenting a lot with layers, hypothesising ideas, trying them out and refining them.
We work within the compressed time frame of 3-4 weeks that choreographers have here in NZ. We don’t have the look nailed (for the AV) until we’re in the theatre with all the equipment set up and the real distances of the theatre we’re presenting it in. For this reason, we can’t fully rehearse until the last minute. All that fine tuning (projectors, sound levels, lighting, set, distances) doesn’t happen until production week.
When I collaborate it’s so much easier as I have someone to bounce off. Alone, I have to be both artist and producer and to constantly jump between those two mind states – child-like play, free and flowing vs. corral it, decide what’s good or bad. It gets hard to hear or see your work with fresh ears or eyes.
Q. What’s it like for you on opening night, hearing your work in performance for the first time? Do you get nervous?
A. It’s almost like seeing it for the first time. At the first performance it’s all done – I can’t do any more work and I become a punter. It’s lovely to sit back and let it wash over you.
Often I end up being the AV operator though. We try to get the absolute best out of the sound system. Making music and sound design for dance is so different to making music for radio or TV. It’s easier and more freeing to make something that doesn’t have to translate to (being listened through) a small speaker.
Q. What would you like the audience to take with them from In Transit?
A. I just hope they take something away from it and have a nice experience. Even if they’re confused and have questions, I hope they take something away from it. Hopefully I’ve done everything I can to give something to them, and to serve the idea of the choreographer’s work.
When it comes to the arts, I love being in the hands of an expert – being manipulated knowingly and deliberately.
You can catch some of Paddy’s work here.