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Lisa O’Neill Lisa O’Neill
When over 100 people braved the recent Brisbane downpours and subsequent floods to attend the launch of the Cherry Herring, somehow it wasn’t all that surprising. After the success of the Crab Room last year, the continuation of its spirit of experimentation in a new venue, with a larger group of core artists, was more or less guaranteed to renew the interest of an already supportive community. The new space adjoins the Council Bus Depot in the Valley, which at one time housed a drag racing association. Cherry Heering is one of the many liqueurs depicted in the wallpaper behind the old bar, hence the title Cherry Herring. The potential for such quirky intertextual exploration makes 1062 Ann Street a particularly interesting site for those artists involved—Shaaron Boughen, John Utans, Jean Tally, Avril Huddy, Lisa O’Neill, Julieanne Hansen, Tony Kishawi, Brian Lucas, Gail Hewton, Helen Leeson, Sonia Fletcher and Susan Lewis.

Politically, this may seem like a curatorial nightmare, with all twelve artists sharing the financial responsibilities for the lease of the space. Yet it was the financial burden upon the four artists who initiated and administered the Crab Room that contributed to its eventual dissolution. At the moment though, this group of artists seems to be honeymooning; there’s an atmosphere of harmony and conviviality as they urge each other towards new creative possibilities. Cherry Herring’s manifesto states as one of its objectives: “To encourage and facilitate the creation of an environment which rigorously embraces and embodies risk, experiment, research, discussion, and debate about artistic practice and application”. The artists are more explicitly united in all being quite specifically dance-based. There is a definite openness to other art forms however, as the emphasis is on the more expansive notion of ‘performance’, as opposed to dance as such.

This broader understanding is echoed by Lisa O’Neill, one of the collective. Lisa has two ‘families’ ; the Suzuki-influenced FRANK Productions, under the strong artistic direction of Jacqui Carroll and John Nobbs, and the flexible, democratic Cherry Herring. “My main focus at the moment is evolving as a performer,” she says. “So my pieces are a vehicle for increasing my awareness of my relationship with the audience, which is something that comes out of working with FRANK. And since working with FRANK, I’ve discovered and developed another level of my own solo work. I feel like I work the audience differently. And I suppose it’s the difference of going from ‘dancer’ to ‘performer’. There’s much more to it than dancing in a space.”

Lisa has created her own movement vocabulary out of a self-imposed rule to work away from conventional dance techniques. “It wasn’t a conscious rejection of anything, it was just honest. People say my work is pretty odd, but I get that from trying to find different physical connections,” she reflects. “Through the last few solos I’ve done, I have built up a character, and she’s full of contradictions. And I find that in a lot of ways she reflects who I am, which is a bit scary.” In the forthcoming inaugural season at the Cherry, Tanked, Lisa will be revisiting her performance persona, although in this incarnation the movement will be more aggressive. Yety in e minor is a continuation of sweet yety, the solo Lisa stomped her way through last year at the Crab Room’s first season. It is fitting then, that the work has been extended in a fresh context, while essentially bridging the two performance spaces.

An obvious marine fixation has already bridged the venues with respect to title, and this was playfully celebrated at the opening of the Cherry Herring. Each artist designed a unique fish tank for the event in a comic representation of the group’s name, sushi was served, and the members of the Cherry were wearing cherry red ensembles. There were also snippets of works in the making for the Tanked season. Despite this, there is no definite theme for Tanked. For instance, Shaaron Boughen is reworking a piece she originally choreographed for Wendy Houston when she was completing her Master of Arts in London. Shaaron wanted to return to a work which held creative significance for her in a particular time and place and try to reshape it in a movement conversation with a different performer in this new space.

Not all of the artists involved are presenting work in this season, and because of the size of the collective there is less pressure for them to do so. Jean Tally comments, “Instead of a few artists continually generating work, there is more space for the individual”. Brian Lucas agrees, “I think just the physical fact of having so many people involved means that the work can be spread around, so we will be able to do as many if not more performances”. There is also more space for workshop series, classes and forums, because of the different backgrounds, capacities and interests of the members of the group.

Perhaps the Cherry Herring will prove more difficult to manage than the Crab Room, but the potential for the space is clear. Building on the enthusiasm of the Crab Room but diffusing that enthusiasm through many different courses, the Cherry Herring will be, as it purports, “a major venue for emerging and established artists, offering a local focus for the creation, development, rehearsal and presentation of original performance based work”.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 37

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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