From the rehearsal studio: A talk with Stephanie Lake on ‘Skeleton Tree’

Stephanie Lake's 'Skeleton Tree'.

Dance Informa had the opportunity to chat with choreographer Stephanie Lake during a break in rehearsals for her latest work, Skeleton Tree. Premiering in Dance Massive 2019, rehearsals have only begun, and she still has another six weeks to develop and refine the work.

So, how are rehearsals going?

“We’re right in the thick of it. It’s really exciting – lots of ideas, brilliant dancers. I feel both spoilt and slightly intimidated by them! The rehearsals are going well, and having the luxury of another six weeks of process feels so spacious. I try not to define it too early, as I like having a bit of mystery at this early stage because I really don’t know, and the dancers’ influence is huge with their physicality also informing the piece. It’s the tangents that are the most interesting.”

What’s the inspiration behind this work?

Stephanie Lake's 'Skeleton Tree'.

Stephanie Lake’s ‘Skeleton Tree’.

“Well, the piece is about death. But it’s not necessarily a morbid piece, and that’s the challenge. Who knows how that will play out. It’s about that acute aliveness we feel when we are faced with death, or the death of a loved one. How we face the absurdity and inevitability with a kind of hyper-aliveness we feel in it. I feel slightly disingenuous making this piece not having had any experience of death, but I feel drawn to people who have had near death experiences and am planning to interview people once I get further into the work. There’s a fascination there for me.”

Who are your main collaborators in developing Skeleton Tree?

“I’m working with dancers James O’Hara, a graduate of WAAPA, and Nicola Leahy, a graduate of the New Zealand School of Dance, both Australian who both recently returned to Australia after working in Europe for a considerable time, along with the Marlow Benjamin. I first spoke to the dancers  over a year ago and pitched the idea to them, and they said “yes!” The challenge will also be finding the structure for the work, and the emotional logic, the audience’s emotional journey.

I’ll again be working with Robin Fox, who is developing the musical score which will be quite different – using chants, heavy metal, pop, basically a funeral playlist. So the show is almost like an album set-up. We had a session this morning of speed metal; the sound has to cover a broad range. I’ll also be working with Paula Levis on costume design.”

What excites you most about developing this work?

“The collaboration with the dancers during this development phase is what is most exciting for me at this point in the development process. I can give them information, and it feels very equal. It’s a relatively small [dance] industry here, so there’s a common language. To have these two experienced dancers who have just arrived back from Europe is great. They bring different ideas, and they discuss everything.”

Stephanie Lake's 'Skeleton Tree'.

Stephanie Lake’s ‘Skeleton Tree’.

How does Skeleton Tree relate to your past works like Colossus?

“Every work is an evolution from the past work; there are some common threads that run through – balancing of human emotional experience alongside abstraction. Although the themes might change, the way of working is the same. I keep asking myself, ‘Why are we creating dance phrases?’ But I know that dance can embody so much.

In terms of size, Skeleton Tree is the complete opposite to Colossus, where I had up to 50 dancers on stage, so it’s nice to pare down, and I wanted to work on something smaller. It’s a nice contrast, but I can’t describe it yet; it’s all in pieces.”

Skeleton Tree will premiere at Dance Massive 2019 at Malthouse Theatre from 16 – 23 March. For tickets, visit

By Elizabeth Ashley of Dance Informa.

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