Flexing Creative Muscle

Ross McCormack and Arlo Gibson in Owls Do Cry - Photo Credit Andi Crown
This Fragile Planet - Photo Credit John McDermott
Ross McCormack and Arlo Gibson in Owls Do Cry - Photo Andi Crown
We talk to the acclaimed Ross McCormack about his not-to-miss productions which are collaborations with actor Arlo Gibson and composer Jason Wright.

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The highly awarded dancer and New Zealand Arts Laureate, Ross McCormack and actor Arlo Gibson have formed a fascinating creative partnership, with the pair doing three shows together in the next month alone. Their working relationship began on Red Leap Theatre’s production of Owls Do Cry, a contemporary response to Janet Frame’s classic. That play premiered at Auckland’s Q Theatre last October, and will be touring to Whangarei, Hawke’s Bay, and Hamilton this March. 

But it’s at Auckland’s Fringe Festival that Arlo and Ross will really flexing their creative muscles with two shows, This Fragile Planet, described as a “dance-theatre piece of art-as-activism” and an incredible four hour dance dance theatre show Just One More.

I managed to catch Ross between rehearsals to find out what he is up to and what goes into creating a show four times as long as your average theatre piece.

Working it out - Just One More 

The original plan for Just One More was to have both Ross and Arlo on the stage at once. But as the show came together they slowly realised it suited being a solo show.  A show for Arlo. 

“It was his idea from the start”.

Ross says “Each time he was presenting something, we would try different things, they were landing really well. But eventually it was like, you know what, this is your thing”.

The show is a durational work, a four hour dance piece so I’d imagined Arlo would be doing some kind of training to get himself fit for the marathon of a show.  But in talking to Ross it’s clear he feels that it’s going to be mental endurance that will be the prime factor.

Themed around the idea of  looking at ideas of what is success,  Arlo will be ringing in random audience members and asking them to thread in how they define success. Ross imagines this will be a journey of self reflection for Arlo. Another challenge will be that you can’t keep people seated for four hours.

“Say people are leaving, coming in and out, from a performance point of view.  Its a really nice battle to go through. Easy to think ‘Oh, I must succeed, or this must be interesting or I must do something that keeps people's interest.’

This Fragile Planet  - Photo Credit John McDermott

Human Fragility - This Fragile Plant

Ross describes their other Fringe show, This Fragile Planet as something completely different.

“It’s addressing where we’re at as humans, it's less about how fragile the planet is more how fragile we actually might be within it”

Directed by Nina Nawalowalo and Tom McCrory, This Fragile Planet is being put on by the Conch Theatre Company at Auckland’s Town Hall. Aside from working with  Arlo, Ross is choreographing dancers 

Carl Tolentino, Chrissy Kokiri, Ngaere Jenkins, Elijah Kennar and Ren Slatter. The show looks at climate change, and how the changing planet affects people.

“It’s addressing where we’re at as humans, it's less about how fragile the planet is more how fragile we actually might be within it”

The show will take over the Great Hall in Auckland for three nights before heading down to the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival at the start of March. Ross thinks This Fragile Planet will demand close attention from the audience to really get the most out of the subtext of the show.  

“You've got to work for the story, you've got to follow the thing, you got to look at the symbolism”

Ross McCormack and Arlo Gibson in Owls Do Cry - Photo Andi Crown

And the next project is....

With all this on his plate you’d think Ross would be taking a break after the shows wrap, but he already has his next project underway. Last year he went into the Vietnam province of Dak Lak with Wellington composer Jason Wright. Ross and Jason have been collaborating for the last ten years.

 "I always have him on, that he's a composer trapped in a dancers body, or the other way around"

“He's more of a sonic artist” Ross says of their working relationship “We get into the studio, right from the get go now. He used to come in more towards the end. But now we just do projects right from the beginning. I always have him on, that he's a composer trapped in a dancers body, or the other way around”

In Vietnam, Jason recorded traditional folk melodies, Ross then choreographed a piece to the music with local dancers. There’s now plans to introduce New Zealand dancers into the group before taking the show back to Vietnam.

“They gave us so much, they just poured it all out for us so we would like to take something back to them. So hopefully we're going to do that in Hanoi, as part of the 45th diplomatic relations between Vietnam and New Zealand”

The prolific Ross McCormack is doing three shows: 

  • This Fragile Planetpart of Auckland Live’s Fringe Town for the Auckland Fringe Festival, playing  25-26 February in the Great Hall of the Auckland Town Hall. It then pops down to the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival on March 1/
    https://www.aucklandlive.co.nz/show/fringe20-this-fragile-planet

  • Just One More part of the Basement's Season of Durational works in the Auckland Fringe Festival, Thursday 27 February at Basement Theatre

  • Owls Do Cry – touring to Whangarei, Hawke’s Bay, and Hamilton; 12- 26 March

Written by

Dominic Hoey

27 Feb 2020

Dominic Hoey is an author, playwright and poet based in Tāmaki Makaurau. His debut novel, Iceland was a New Zealand bestseller and was long-listed for the 2018 Ockham Book Award.

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