By Kristy Johnson.
His works have the power to instil new ways of thinking about day-to-day issues, and The Yard is no exception. Having won the title of ‘Outstanding Achievement in Youth or Community Dance’ at this year’s Australian Dance Awards, Shaun Parker continues to thrive as a choreographer and storyteller.
Dance Informa caught up with Shaun to find out exactly what was involved in creating his award winning piece, The Yard.
When creating The Yard, did you anticipate the buzz it would receive?
No, not at all! I had no idea where this work would take us. I started working with these teenagers four years ago in a number of high schools across Western Sydney. We had an extensive audition, and from that I selected the performers that really resonated with the project. It started as a series of workshops and classes, and I never imagined it would develop into a full-length work that would tour New South Wales and have a return season in Sydney! It has already had invitations overseas with the intention to work International teenagers into the show. That would simply be amazing!
The Yard tackles important issues like bullying and peer pressure. Would you say a common thread between all of your works is that they allow the audience to think about issues?
Yes. It seems as my work progresses that I notice a common thread emerging in the work. I quite often read the audience feedback we receive about the work, and what seems most apparent from the audience is both their emotional and intellectual connection to the issues presented. The audience comment much about the humanity, the humour and the universality of the work. The audience becomes the voyeur, observing the performers relate to a range of issues found within society, its resultant psychology and the humans found within this societal ecosystem.
Did using a group of teenagers from the Western Suburbs of Sydney work to your advantage, as opposed to using a group of professional dancers?
Absolutely. These teenagers possessed qualities that were unique and raw, and as individuals had developed their own movement style from dancing at school, on the streets and from watching YouTube clips. As groups they had their own take on shuffling, tutting, krumping, jerking, break dancing, locking and popping. The authenticity of these teenagers was vital to the evolution of the work. They ‘live’ the contemporary dance language we were exploring. All of the scenes and concepts in the work emerged from their own stories of what life was like in the schoolyard.
Were there any challenges when choreographing the piece?
Yes. Every creative process presents a myriad of challenges. We were required to harness our powers of logic to timetable and organise 33 teenagers! My producer Olivia Ansell and Captivate director Mark Hopkins worked tirelessly on the practicalities of rehearsals, juggling school exams, family commitments, tour buses, accommodation and general challenges with hormonal teenagers. It was a lot of work, but it was one of the most important and rewarding projects I have ever worked on. To see the personal growth and maturity of the performers over three to four years was incredibly rewarding. To be able to present these teenagers with a real purpose in life, to instil in their minds a new way of thinking, and to inspire creative thinking and personal discipline was very satisfying for us.
What exactly was involved in the workshop component? Did you enjoy that aspect of it?
I always love workshopping. It’s the part of the process where there are no rules. Anything is allowed, so creatively the ideas are flowing thick and fast. We latch onto the ideas that leap out at us, and we take these concepts further through crafting and layering each scene.
For the workshops with The Yard, I spent weeks talking to the teenagers about what had happened at their school. We then converted each of these stories or concepts into scenes and experimented with what movement language we could choose to best extend these thematic elements. As this process developed, new ideas emerged. I asked the students what objects could be found in a schoolyard. A soccer ball, basketball, pogo stick, scooter, table tennis bat and ball, and pom poms were all utilised within the theatrical language and storytelling that was both linear and abstract in nature.
Congratulations to Shaun and the dancers on the success of The Yard! It really is an outstanding achievement in youth and community dance.
Top photo: Shaun Parker by Prue Upton