Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham have been collaborating on dance projects for about fifteen years, and their current project, Sunstruck , brings together performers, music and lighting to embody the shifting textures of land.
Of the collaborative partnership, Herbertson says, "We met back in [around] 1994, I was artistic director of Danceworks in 1998 and we were actually looking for a production manager and Ben had been doing quite a lot with Circus Oz and things like that. We just fired and we started working together, then in each other's works and we just got to know each other really well. Over time we've just more and more moved into really solid kind of collaborative processes."
Henderson and Cobham's years of experience has made them a great working duo. Henderson tries to explain what makes a good collaborative team. "I think for us it's about being able to bring something to the table and being prepared to take the time to play together, and inside each other's ideas. I think there's something in collaboration about the space between things, between disciplines. The room that's left imaginatively can often fire off something that you would never have expected. It does take a lot of time, and trial and error, not every idea works. Not every collaboration works. Ultimately it's people and you need to find the right group of people who are prepared to leave a lot of room for each other, but also know when to be able to say no or yes. I think just the more time that you work with someone, the more you understand their language and the kinds of things that they're really interested in and the ideas grow over time."
Henderson and Cobham and the dancers Trevor Patrick and Nick Sommerville who make up the Sunstruck ensemble, together with musicians Tamil Rogeon and Tim Blake have now been working together for some time. The piece continues to evolve. "There's a couple of people in this now that we've both worked together with before and there's something about growing working relationships with other people. I always have a lot of space to play, to experiment to trial and error, to have a lot of fun, to be light and know when to get serious. You both know that we're on about something individually, and we both trust each other implicitly as well. I think we both know that it is all about the experimentation if you leave enough room for the experiment then it's kind of what you're looking at."
Henderson says there's no set-in-stone concept for the piece, but muses, "When we were talking about it I'd come through a period of performing in my own work. When I left Danceworks I was very keen to get back into that role, to look at the physical language again, to re-explore that in a different way and we'd made a piece which was really the culmination of that and it went off on tour quite a lot.
"When we were thinking about this next work I was itching to have a go at the director role again so we were looking for a project that would allow us to have that collaborative relationship, but also have me in that director/choreographer role again. We were talking about the sun, and the cycles of time and there was something... always when you're on tour there's something about the land back home. You notice the new land that you're in and the qualities of light there and the textures in the landscape.
Some of our best conversations always seem to be in the plane on the way home. Something that I wanted to explore was how the texture of landscape is somehow interlaced into a person, particularly an Australian person because we are so much outdoors. It was something to me about wanting to find a way to explore that physically, which I did do with Trev and Nick and over time with Ben as well. We were talking about the sun and the shadows of the sun and we've had lots and lots of different kinds of lighting experiments to land where we are now. It's something to me about how landscape and the textures of light and colours how the quality of land is connected somehow to us and our memory." Although she qualifies that her thoughts on the piece change regularly, "Ask me on any given day and I could probably tell you something different."
Dance Massive's Sunstruck happens at The Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall from March 14-16. Performances start at 7pm or 8.15pm (check the website) and tickets range from $25-$30. Book now at dancemassive.com.au or 9322 3713.