"You have to strip back what you're seeing, so you don't see the urban sprawl."
In 2010 when I arrived the company was in a transitional period. There was a new Executive Director, younger Dancers, people retiring. The following year I become an Artist-in-Residence along with Fran and David and Kathy Marika. That gave us the ability to live financially and spend time here working and supporting Stephen and the company, but also continuing to explore design, choreography, music, all those things I like at Bangarra.
Fran wanted to tell a story about Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre) and particularly how you just have to go there. You have to be on Country and stand there and feel its presence, how the sun reacts to the land at different times of the day and what colours it brings up. In those early conversations Fran said, "We just have to go because that's what we need to do," and we did. We all jumped in a plane, Fran, David and I.
Then you have to find an emotive way to describe that experience. For me it was about the width of the horizon. The huge skies. The strength of colour and light. Those trips are always just a jumping off point. They fill you up but then you have to come back and actually do the hard work.
Watch: The Terrain Creative team discusses their how their creative process works from the ground up, beginning with the inspiration of Country.
Look at where we work, we're here on Eora land.
Patyegarang made me start to see the world differently like I did out at Lake Eyre for Terrain, but this time in an urban environment. You have to strip back what you're seeing, so you don't see the urban sprawl. We took a trip out with all the dancers on a boat. It wasn't the first time I'd done that, but it was the first time I realised how important the water is, how important the rocks are, and what the harbour means, those two protective gates that have stood there for so long. I didn't have to go far. I just needed to open my eyes.
I ended up creating this sandstone wall out of linen. I added a mixture that gave it strength and rigidity. I crunched it together, pulled it, stretched it, put it back together. In the end it came out as this beautiful, crinkled, semi-hard cloth, which I gave some treatment to with paint. That became the key driver for everything else.
Normally there's one thing in every show where you go, "Okay, we've landed on something here that's going to help support all the other ideas around it." For us in Patyegarang it was the wall. It represents all the Sydney Basin and the water and the land.
OUR was really hard. We couldn't have fit anything more into the theatre, basically. The company doesn’t get any smaller and that’s really exciting, but then you’ve got twenty dancers and three shows. It comes back to logistics, because you want to give each show the very best look that it can possibly have.
Our longest season is the Opera House. It's a letter box shape and side of stage is quite limited. There's not a lot of storage space. It doesn't have a huge fly tower. We run into weight restrictions, height restrictions. So that can limit you a lot. I think for OUR we were at maximum capacity. You make compromises, which you always have to do, but it's harder when you have three choreographers and you want to give them everything that they want. You can’t fight the constraints at the Opera House. You just have to work it out.
Putting it all into a truck is also another hard thing to do. I mean, there's always logistical challenges, but then again no one sees that. Anyone watching it would never know. The magic of theatre!
I think my first trip to Arnhem Land was in 2009 and I just fell in love with the art centre there and with the artists and with Will who runs it. I've been back a lot, maybe ten times in the last eight or nine years.
Nyapanyapa is this gorgeous black woman who believes in paint. She comes to the art centre and that's her chapel, that's her sanctuary. She wasn't given this style, it's her own thing. It's her own personal expression. That's a strange thing in itself, for that community and for the artists around her. They're like, "Well, what are you painting? You're just painting nothing. Where's your story?" I guess in a way I connect with that too because I haven't been handed down anything either.
She's got this beautiful, rhythmical pattern, this energy that just surges onto her bark paintings (and now some paperwork too). No one else is doing what she's doing. I have her paintings in my house, that's how much I love her work and her as an artist.
Normally I start with nothing and this time I started with something quite remarkable. In a way Nyapanyapa was one of the easiest works that I ever designed. I just had to take that energy and that spirit and translate it on stage.
"I just had to take that energy and that spirit and translate it on stage."
Interview with Jacob Nash
Article by Maura Edmond
Jacob’s mother’s Country is in the Daly River region, west of Darwin. He grew up in Brisbane but has spent the last twenty years living in Sydney on Eora land. His work crosses over between theatre, film, television, fine art and public art and he uses all these experiences to create iconic images that talk about Australian stories, people and Country from a First Nations perspective.Explore profile