2015 New Zealand and Australia Tour Reports

Sara Brodie's Fault Lines at Playhouse in Canberra was forged from earthquakes

Write:FAULT LINES   Time:2015/5/6   Hits:269

Sara Brodie's Fault Lines at Playhouse in Canberra was forged from earthquakes

June 5, 2015

Michelle Potter

Two powerful earthquakes – one in New Zealand and one in China – formed the basis of a new dance work being performed in Canberra by the Leshan Song & Dance Troupe.

Fault Lineswill be performed by .Photo: Wang Jing

Theatre director and choreographer, Sara Brodie, had just "bumped in" at the Theatre Royal in Christchurch with her latest production when a powerful earthquake, which severely damaged New Zealand's second largest city, struck with almighty force. The show was cancelled and Brodie and her cast, who were, fortunately, largely physically unscathed, were left to manage the aftermath.

Meanwhile, Brett Sheehy, then directing the Melbourne Festival, was in China on the lookout for shows for his festival program. He  saw a short dance piece from the Leshan Song &  Dance Troupe, which had been made in response to a devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province in 2008. Sheehy was impressed and had the idea of making a longer work for his 2012 Festival.Fault Lines, a powerful work of dance theatre that looks at the human story and human response to an earthquake, was born when Sheehy returned to Melbourne and contacted Brodie.

“It was an interesting and intriguing collaborative journey.” Sara Brodie

Brodie spent a week in China interviewing the dancers of the Leshan Song & Dance Troupe and conducting a workshop with them. The company, she found, was not purely a dance company but performed variety shows as well, and their particular specialty was ethnic dance.

"I tried to uncover what was the fundamental movement vocabulary of the Chinese dancers. They don't do a daily class as most Western dancers do and they were not used to improvisation. But I was assisted by fellow New Zealander Ross McCormack," she says. "Ross has a stronger contemporary dance background than I do, so his input was invaluable. All the Chinese dancers had, however, been affected by the Sichuan earthquake, as we had been by events in Christchurch, and the choreography emerged easily from shared and very personal experiences."

Born in Christchurch and with family and friends still living there, Brodie says she focused on the idea that devastating events bring people together. "Following the earthquake, we in Christchurch are more connected. We have a close camaraderie. And the Chinese dancers had similar feelings. As well, many older people in both places, who had saved all their lives and done without many items they thought were luxuries, were going out and spending. They felt the fragility of life. There are, of course, some sombre moments to the show as well, and some humorous moments, along with reference to government reports and statistics about earthquakes. But in essence, shared thoughts and collective experiences form the arc of the show."

Fault Linesalso makes reference to the Chinese cultural traditions in which the Leshan dancers are steeped. It features at one stage a traditional figure from Chinese opera, and the work begins with a dancer throwing dice on to a mah-jong table. "Everyone in Sichuan Province plays mah-jong," Brodie says. "They associate mah-jong with the earthquake because if you can't play with four people as is usual, you can learn to play differently, with just three players." And in a direct reference to the Sichuan earthquake, the costumes, designed by Christchurch-based artist Mark Macintyre, are mostly grey. Brodie recalls seeing a photograph of a Chinese couple who were married just before the Sichuan earthquake struck. The photo showed the church in which they were married - it had been completely destroyed. But the bridal couple was there, wearing wedding clothes but standing amidst the rubble and completely covered in grey dust. Brodie and her team, including lighting designer Paul Lim, set about incorporating this atmosphere of dust into the overall work.

Much of the music was created by New Zealand composer Gareth Farr, who travelled to China and composed as the work was being choreographed. In addition to Farr's score,Fault Linesuses Gao Ping'sQuestioning the Mountain, which he composed specifically in response to the Sichuan earthquake, and Nor'West Arch, another of Farr's compositions, this one written in an earlier response to the Christchurch earthquake.

Brodie has an eclectic background as a director having worked in theatre, musical theatre and opera rather more than dance. But much of her work has been in forms of cross collaboration and the willingness of the Chinese dancers to collaborate on Fault Linesimpressed her. "I was very aware that I was working with a collective with the Leshan dancers. It was an interesting and intriguing collaborative journey," she says.

Fault Lines, directed by Sara Brodie. Leshan Song & Dance Troupe. June 15, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Bookings canberratheatrecentre.com.au