By Rain Francis.
The sight of young people on smartphones is a familiar one – and as I arrive at the Melbourne studios of Lucy Guerin Inc. one night in August, that is what I see. Not what you might expect from a dance rehearsal, but trust me, these guys are hard at work.
Every Tuesday night and every Sunday, Lucy’s studios are home to Yellow Wheel, Australia’s premiere pre-professional company for dancers aged 12 to 25. Created and led by Artistic Director Adam Wheeler, Yellow Wheel aims to give young people real and relevant experience in the making and performance of contemporary dance.
The company’s current project, FX, will be presented in the round at the Arts House Meat Market on September 26-28. This is their second major work – following Dance Robot Dance in 2012 – but they’ve had a steady stream of smaller projects and workshops throughout the year.
“FX began as being about the sound effects that we make during class,” explains 18-year-old dancer Belle. “Now, though, it’s really grown into being about communication, and our relationships with our phones and other technology.”
“Adam also wants to explore how great technology is and how much it helps us, as well as the idea that there are so many things that it can’t offer us in life,” adds Eve, 19. “Maybe the most important things are the things that technology can’t do, and it’s a question of whether we need or want those things.”
As I wander around the studios, I observe groups of young artists who are busy practicing and developing various sections of the choreography. In the foyer, a group sits at a table, huddled around a laptop, learning an intricate sequence that involves facial movements and pedestrian gestures. This sequence will be performed to accompaniment provided by an iPad app called KungFu FX, which does pretty much what it says on the tin – makes the kind of noises you would expect to find in a Bruce Lee classic. The sound effects for this section will be played live via three iPads, one of which will be operated by one of the youngest cast members, 13-year-old Maxine.
In the main studio, a second group are working on a phrase they will perform whilst holding tiny, surprisingly powerful speakers. The soundscape, created by Alisdair Macindoe, plays through the speakers which, due to their constant movement, seem to produce a sort of three-dimensional cloud of sound.
Both Belle and Eve agree that working with the technology is not only the most challenging aspect of creating FX, but also the most fun. “Although it can be extremely reliable in some senses, it’s incredibly unreliable at the same time,” says Belle. “There are cords everywhere. You’ve got to keep it slick, keep it in time… Also, it’s about working out what we actually want to say in this work, using the technology.”
“There is so much in this theme, that it’s a challenge to hone in on what is being asked of us, because there is a whole world of ideas to explore,” adds Eve. “Working with the technology has been so cool; everyone’s ideas are so different and they just build and build on each other.”
The company has been developing FX since the beginning of the year, as well as taking weekly technique classes with Wheeler and guest teachers such as Tom Greenfield, Becky Hilton and Jo Lloyd. There have been both Summer and Winter Schools, a dancers’ choreographic season and even a performance as part of Dance Massive. Recently, they performed at Immersed Dance Industry Night for the second time and will soon be heading to the Bega Valley to co-present Socialsize Me with fLing Physical Theatre.
It’s a world of possibility for these young dancers, and they are absolutely loving it. “It’s honestly the best thing in my life at the moment,” says Belle. “It’s given me so many opportunities and everyone is just so lovely to be around.”
“Everyone is so hard-working and so determined, with their individual dreams,” agrees Eve. “It’s a perfect balance between just having fun with your friends, working super hard, learning a lot and extending your own practice.”