The world premiere of Double Beat will appear on stage this May 5-7, at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta – Lennox Theatre, with presenting partners FORM Dance Projects.
Choreographed by the Helpmann Award-winning Sara Black, Double Beat written for three women, is about the heart and the spirited force of life — it is relentless. Each dancer journeys through one human life, responding to the driving rhythms of their own changing internal systems, the rhythms found in nature and the world around them.
Dance Informa had the great fortune of speaking with Black in the following Q&A. Join us as we delve deeper into the sentiment and process of the work.
Sara, you’ve been creating, performing, collaborating and teaching professionally across dance and theatre within Australia and internationally for the past 15 years. How were you first introduced to dance and theatre, and how did it leave a lasting impression on you?
“My mum started taking me to see dance and musical theatre from a very young age, and I think from then I knew I wanted to be a performer. Many days were spent with a hairbrush as microphone planning my shows, making videos and forcing the family to watch dances I had made with my sister. I was nine years old when I first saw my aunt Narelle Benjamin performing with Chunky Move. That was my introduction to contemporary dance, and I thought it was amazing. Narelle, particularly so. I used to do yoga with her when I was very small and was amazed at what was possible with the body.”
The development of Double Beat has been a highly collaborative process. Tell us about your process for movement, sound and rhythmic research, experimentation and improvisation.
“In any dance work, the cast and creative team has a huge influence. I enjoy bringing a team together and guiding it but particularly enjoy seeing everyone put themselves into the work, their ideas and see what is created.
I often generate movement through improvisations and giving the cast concepts to work with and make their own steps. Putting my steps on people often feels strange to me. Sometimes it works, but they are usually the sections I end up removing from the show. It depends on the project; however, with Double Beat the cast is working in response to their own heartbeat and connection to nature, so it is very personal.
We have been responding with movement improvisations and written responses to the sound and sensation of our own heart beats, as well as rhythms in different environments. Alyx Dennison has also been capturing these experiences in her composition, and it is creating a very interesting world for us to explore.”
With a stellar all-female cast and creatives — dancers Sophia Ndaba, Isabel Estrella and Samantha Hines; Sound Designer Alyx Dennison; Lighting Designer Veronique Bennett; and Costume Designer Aleisa Jelbart — how was this team formed, and how did the vision of each collaborator align with the concept?
“With the support of our presenting partner FORM Dance Projects, it was important to pull together a team of artists who were sensitive to the concept of the work. I wanted to pull together an all-female identifying cast and creative team. I was interested to see how this would influence the energy of the room and the kind of work we created. It was coincidence that Alyx Dennison and I had also had babies around the same time, and our shared experiences really helped in connecting with the concept and how we wanted to delve into this world.”
The concept of the work is immensely profound. You reflect on the experience of your first son’s first ultrasound. ‘He was only five weeks old, and all we could see was this tiny flicker of a heart. There he was a pulse, a rhythm. Before he developed his mind, he had a heart and he would live by this changing rhythm for the rest of his life.’ How did this ultrasound resonate with you, and how did the concept for the work come to you? Was it a visual notion or deep sentiment that metamorphosed into the explorative process?
“Definitely the deep sentiment that then sparked the explorative process. It was so surprising to me that I had never considered the huge role my heart played in the creation of the rest of my body. Looking at his little beat, all I could think was, ‘Wow, this rhythm is unique to him and will be with him for his entire life journey.’ It is something that has come up for many people through the creative process. How unaware we are of this constant beat, its sound and its sensations. It has been a wonderful journey for everyone to connect with that.”
Double Beat aims to have a lasting resonance. The work’s immersive experience will create greater mental and physical awareness of the heart and workings of the body. How is this achieved?
“After the showing of the last development of Double Beat, many audience members commented on how their experience ‘awoke them’ in a way to their own rhythm. Like the experience we have had in the studio.
There is an immersion in the sound of the heart and the physicalising of these sensations. We are often only aware of our heart when we are exercising or afraid. The racing heart. It’s wonderful to have the chance to connect to it in all its states.”
Dance is a powerful form of communication that often transcends intellectual analysis. How would you describe your signature essence in offering the audience an experience on a physical and sensorial level?
“There are many ways to create and experience contemporary dance. That is what is so magical about it. For me, when I think of what I want the audience to experience, it is less cerebral and more sensorial. You may not be able to put it into words, but your body and your emotions felt something powerful.”
Finally, describe five benefits of dance and movement-based learning and how you enjoy introducing this process to the students, dancers and organisations you work with?
“In dance, there is a lot of opportunity for group work and collaboration. Building communication, social skills and relationships.
It builds awareness of your own body and others creating a safe space to engage in partner work. Consensual physical contact with others is important for our physical and social development.
Learning while moving is engaging for the body and mind. Traditionally, most of our learning was done by observing, embodying and replicating. It was only with the introduction of the written word that we began to sit and learn by rote.
Exploring concepts in a practical and physical way connects with most students but particularly provides respite for those who may struggle with the written word and our current western methods and systems of schooling.
We can use movement to engage with storytelling, maths, sciences and anatomy to just name a few. Not just the arts. It is not a new concept. First Nations cultures have been doing this for thousands of years and continue to do so. It is a very powerful way to pass on and absorb information.”
Double Beat will be presented from 5 – 7 May, at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta – Lennox Theatre. For bookings, visit riversideparramatta.com.au/show/doublebeat.
By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.