I remember their launch night vividly. Held at their base, Addison Road Community Centre, there was a sense of excitement and expectation in the air as Murmuration officially launched as Sydney’s first professional integrated performance company back in April 2015. One year on, and the organisation continues going from strength to strength and exceeding many expectations originally set.
“In our founding year, we feel thrilled with our progress so far,” says Artistic Director Sarah-Vyne Vassallo. “Our goal was to launch Sydney’s first professional integrated performance company. We wanted to establish a platform and profile for the company and begin making new work with a collective of artists all working under the umbrella of Murmuration. Core to our establishment was to provide quality arts experiences that would engage the local community, general public and arts community. All these goals have been met successfully and in many cases have exceeded our expectations.”
Led by Vassallo, along with Dan Daw (associate artist) and Ana Welsh (projects manager), the small team has had over 1,200 people engaging in its internal and external projects, over 57 activities and a market reach of over 200,000 in just the past year alone.
Murmuration is also in the process of developing the company’s first major work, Days Like These, with plans to premiere in 2018. A multi-artform work, the inspiration came from photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher’s images of the microscopic structures of dried human tears and explores the varied way we, as humans, express our emotions.
Vassallo says, “In the first stage development, the artists have collaborated through their shared experiences of grief, change, irritation and laughter. The movement and theatre investigations relate to both the seen and unseen intricacies in our physical and mental states. The emotion causing us to cry – laughter, anger or grief – when dried and put under a microscope includes different and distinct molecules. The image of the tear in this way provides an interesting blueprint of the human psyche. Living with a disability is different from one person to the next, and our lived lives are different from one person to the next. We want the work to expand and compress this universal nature of difference; does the fact that we are all different also make us all the same?”
With a four-week development period recently completed in February/March, Vassallo describes the time as “incredible”. She adds, “The artists were 100 percent committed and invested in the process, and we achieved so much in the time. I am thrilled with the foundation that has been laid in this first stage. It was incredible to work collaboratively and see my ideas coming to life, taking new forms and shape-shifting as we all trusted and delved into the process. The content is pretty raw, and all my artists are so courageous in sharing their lived experiences and life perspectives.”
Murmuration works closely with a collective of Australian and international artists, with and without disability, dedicated to creating innovative contemporary theatre and who are “passionate about redefining the social perceptions of what people with a disability are capable of achieving”. Hence, at any of the company’s events or workshops, you will find a variety of participants from all different backgrounds, experiences and life perspectives with interests across multi-disciplinary art forms including dance, theatre, music, scenography, digital media and film.
In addition, the team is raring to go with its workshops for 2016 after the past year’s successful series. Open to everyone, from babies to seniors, participants are encouraged to bring their own background and experiences to these high-quality, well-organised workshops. “Whether you are new to dance and theatre or a professional artist, our workshops are a great way to explore arts practice,” Vassallo explains. “Led by industry professionals, you will develop skills in devised dance and theatre methods, activate new forms of artistic expression, work in a diverse creative environment and have a whole lot of fun doing so!”
Running from May–December, three different series run weekly at Murmuration’s base in Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. This year, participants have the opportunity to work with guest teaching artists, including Tess De Quincey, Marc Brew, Dean Walsh and Kay Armstrong, and are able to attend casually or through a membership with discounted rates. These workshops culminate in a studio sharing of any findings and celebrate the achievements made by participants.
When asked what has changed and the lessons she has learned over the past year, and what will be different as Murmuration goes forward, Vassallo admits the difficulty in answering. “This question hurts my brain a bit,” she shares. “My career has spanned 20 years in the arts, and I still feel like it is a perpetual process of learning and unlearning and relearning. I don’t think that process will ever end, but I am at peace with that now…well, most of the time! My next major goal is to get our work out there, but this is not something you can rush, so it has been lovely in the meantime to have some smaller opportunities to perform some short works and to get the word out there about how great the Murmuration team really is.”
To learn more about the company or how to get involved in its workshops, visit www.murmuration.com.au.
If you would like to help make inclusion the new norm, you can! Despite recent funding cuts in the arts sector, Murmuration is rising above and paving the way for a new kind of normal in the performing arts, without wanting inclusion to be considered extraordinary or exceptional. They are in need of your help, however. In a few weeks time, the company is launching is crowdfunding campaign, “It’s Possible”. You can sign up to its “Coming Soon” page to be sure to keep in touch of all their exciting news and perks at www.indiegogo.com.
By Elle Evangelista of Dance Informa.