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Side to One, Lisa Griffiths, Craig Bary Side to One, Lisa Griffiths, Craig Bary
photo Chris Herzfeld

Like Tanja Liedtke and Shaun Parker before them, it is now Anton, Daniel Jaber, Alisdair Macindoe, Larissa McGowan and Gabrielle Nankivell (see page 36) who are finding their own artistic voices—often creating works for tertiary students first but eventually presenting pieces with dancers of their own choosing.

Recently it was Craig Bary’s and Lisa Griffiths’ turn to make their choreographic debut together. Their duet Side To One premiered to critical and popular acclaim at Adelaide’s Space Theatre in July followed by an equally successful season at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta. Created in close collaboration with Adam Synnott in the role of sound and interactive designer, the piece is a highly polished dance media creation, exploring the idea of ‘soul mates’ and the interplay of human connection.

In conversation with Bary and Griffiths, it is easy to see why the soul mate concept would have appealed to them. Having been friends and colleagues for many years, they share the kind of familiarity that allows them to finish each other’s sentences without noticing. It is no surprise then to hear that ever since they first worked together at Tasdance in 2002, choreographers remarked upon their strong compatibility as dancing partners. Numerous duets were created for them as a result.

In 2006, Bary and Griffiths decided to take matters into their own hands and undertook a research residency at Critical Path, being mentored by choreographer Sue Healey with whom they have an ongoing working relationship. The idea of making a work together couldn’t have been further from their minds then. “We actually never thought we’d get to that stage,” laughs Griffiths. “The first residency was just about Craig and I exploring our partnering skills and researching how our life friendship translates through into our partnering in dance and how we feel there is a very strong link in that trust.” Bary agrees: “We had been dancing together for so long that we managed to develop an instinctual way of communicating with each other, where you can just know what the other person is physically feeling or even emotionally feeling sometimes. So we went in, exploring how we could use that in making movement.”

Their original point of departure was to investigate how they could move as one, how to make themselves one person. And it was during that initial research, notes Griffiths, that they bought an oversized jumper from an op shop, meant “as an additional layer of skin”, which ended up featuring prominently in the final work. The idea to confine their stage area to a white box with a Perspex top that could be lit from underneath also originated during that initial research phase.

Buoyed by both their findings and the fun they had experimenting together outside their usual work environment, Bary and Griffiths continued to seek out a series of research and development opportunities over the next few years, often in the form of funded residencies. As the confidence in their own methodology grew, they became increasingly attracted to the idea of concentrating their energies on creating a piece together. “Lisa and I found we are both quite good at editing ourselves,” says Bary. “We will make a lot of material and we will try a lot of different things but we will also be able to go – no, that doesn’t work. No, that’s not necessary.” Griffiths adds: “We’ve also been a good outside eye for each other, which is probably a thing that our generation does now. We don’t have that rehearsal director there all the time. We watch and learn from each other and we’re constantly giving feedback to each other. And that all becomes part of the process.”

After several years of continued support, their endeavour came to a temporary halt at the beginning of 2009 when their application to the Australia Council for the final development of the work was unsuccessful. Bary and Griffiths admit to experiencing the rejection as a major setback. In retrospect, however, they have come to view the forced hiatus in their process as an important and much-needed period of reflection. “This work has always just had its natural development,” Griffiths suggests. “The time wasn’t then to push it, the time was to let it settle.” Bary couldn’t agree more: “A few years ago we didn’t realise the power of perhaps what this work can be. And now we can feel that. If we look at what we made in 2008, a lot of that is gone now and we have moved into a whole new realm.”

The thematic and stylistic shift Bary is referring to came about in 2010 when he and Griffiths resumed work on Side To One during an Ausdance NSW space residency. “We knew at that stage that we were making a work,” says Griffiths. “And a work needs that ebb and flow, the highs and the lows. So we felt we needed darker tones for the piece. We started to ask: What happens when opposites clash? What happens when fear, resentment and suspicion enter a relationship?” Bary was especially interested in the subtleties of conflict. “It’s not necessarily about having a punch-up,” he laughs. “It doesn’t have to be violent. It’s more about differences—the difference between us.” To avoid the cliché of expressing conflict through dance, Giffiths adds, they experimented with using their voices and introduced spoken text into the work in form of a conversation the sound of which is digitally distorted by Bary.

Another significant shift that occurred around that time was the strengthening of Adam Synnott’s role as the key collaborator on the project. He had joined the process as sound and interactive designer in 2008 and gradually became an integral part of the production, playing sound and operating the interactive projections live on stage. Bary says it was vital to establish Synnot as a counterpart to his and Griffiths’ actions. Griffith nods: “We felt it was important that is doesn’t just become about Craig and Lisa on stage, doing their thing. It needed to be about the experience of an integrated live performance.”

Finishing Side To One earlier this year and subsequently presenting it in both Adelaide and Sydney has meant that the artistic experiment Bary and Griffiths embarked on together all those years ago has come to an end. For the time being that is. They are now in the process of looking into further opportunities to present the piece. For now though, Bary and Griffiths are clearly excited about what they have achieved so far. “What’s still the hardest though,” Bary quips, “is that as choreographers we can’t blame the dancers for doing a bad show and as dancers we can’t blame the choreographers for giving us crappy material to do.”

When asked about future collaborations, it is Griffiths who says she has an idea for a new work. Currently in the preparation stage, the piece has the working title Chance and will feature four dancers. Griffiths is adamant that she will be in charge: “I’d like to be on the outside this time,” she grins, adding after a pause, with an even bigger grin: “But I definitely want Craig to be a dancer in it.”

Side to One, dancer-choreographers Craig Bary, Lisa Griffiths, sound, interactive design Adam Synnott, lighting Ben Flett; Adelaide Festival Centre, July 27-30; Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, Sydney, Aug 10-13

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 18

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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