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‘Like Running Water’: a performance exploring femininity and the complex nature of water

“I wanted to do something that celebrated female talent and a chance where we can actually make and direct work together on our own.”

Like Running Water, as its name suggests, is an immersive performance incorporating music and visuals to create a sensory experience surrounding the theme of water. The performance combines the musical strengths of Ella Thompson, Clio Renner and Sui Zhen with video imagery by visual artists Honey Long and Prue Stent.
 
Thompson, frontwoman of GL and Dorsal Fins, had long wanted to collaborate with an all-female cast, so when the opportunity to perform as part of Melbourne Festival arose she reached out to Renner, Zhen, Stent and Long to see if they would be interested in working together. From there, Thompson developed a concept she felt everyone could relate to and interpret in their own way.
 
“We wanted to have a theme that tied it all together that we could all individually respond to, and it’s a broad enough theme where everyone can find their own meaning so it’s not so directly about this one thing,” says Thompson. “There are elements of chaos and calm, fluidity and the meditative nature of water.
 
“It’s something that can take many forms through life, and water takes the structure of whatever the vessel you give it, [it’s about] thinking of the structures that we live within and how we adapt to them. Femininity is a big part of the performance, not that it’s about being a woman but being fluid, I identify that with female strengths.”
 
Between Thompson’s soulful vocals and storytelling abilities, Renner’s background as a pianist and Zhen’s strengths in beat-driven electronic music and pop songwriting, all accompanied by a woodwind section, the group’s sound is varied, to say the least. Though a mutual admiration for each other’s music allowed for a strong collaborative approach.
 
“It was so surprising to hear how it all came together, it worked like magic and there’s enough continuity in the sound that it’s not random, it’s very complementary,” says Renner.
 
“I really wanted to explore minimalism and stripping it back and letting the voice be heard in that big space and focusing it on the intricacies of more minimal sound,” adds Thompson. “We wanted to do something that celebrated the talent that we have here and emerging artists that are really pushing the boundaries in their work. We all have that willingness to explore in common. I wanted to do something that celebrated female talent and a chance where we can actually make and direct work together on our own.”
 
“This is actually the first time I’ve ever worked in an all-female group and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do because in my experience most of my bands have been predominately made up of males,” says Renner. “I didn’t expect the energy to be quite so different – in the best way possible – and it was something that was slower paced and empathetic. Not to say that men don’t have these qualities, but it was quite surprising to experience the difference of working with an only female cast.”
 
“I think it’s not displayed enough in terms of all aspects of a performance piece portrayed by females,” continues Renner. “It’s always like if there’s a female singer there’s meant to be a male producer or quite often an all-male band, so it’s important to show that a full production can be displayed by women and be as good and hopefully inspire. I hope people come, and women as well, come and be inspired by what we do.”
 
Like Running Water will be a one night only performance at Melbourne Recital Centre as part of Melbourne Festival but Thompson and Renner are both certain that this won’t be the last time we see the group working together.  
 
“We’ve put a lot of work into making the music and it’s all new music that hasn’t been performed or heard before so we’re going to record this music for my next solo record, but hopefully we’ll get to perform it at other festivals like Melbourne Festival in the future,” says Thompson.
 
“We’re very interested in what each other does, we’re very excited to explore that,” adds Renner. “More jamming, more writing – it’s definitely not the end of our collaboration.”

Like Running Water will take place at Melbourne Recital Theatre on Friday October 20 as part of Melbourne Festival. Tickets and more information can be found at festival.melbourne/2017.