Belong: Design notes

  • Torres Strait Islands
  • Sets & Lighting, Stories, Concept, Resources

This year’s double bill of ID and About are two very different works with their own distinct visual language and imagery. The creative journey I have been on creating these works with both Stephen and Elma has been both rich and rewarding. Elma is telling stories from the Torres Strait and investigating how the four winds of the Torres Strait affect, inform and guide people’s lives throughout the seasons of the year. The challenge for Elma and me was how to translate the natural element of wind into a visual form of contemporary design onstage.

Fortunately, we were able to travel to the Torres Strait at the end of last year and I was able to experience the heat and humidity of the wet season –the rain, the clouds and the ocean during that time of the year. From this journey I began to understand more fully the relationship between the wind and the ocean and how seasonal weather conditions affect this part of the world and play a huge part in the lives of the people who live there. Even though it was a short trip, being a part of the landscape and observing it change throughout the day whilst listening to Elma describe what we were experiencing added a deep layer of understanding, inspiration and greater knowledge to the birth place of Elma's story. Creatively this journey filled me up opening the possibilities of what we were going to create and from this point I began to explore the abstract concepts of wind, rain and water in the context of a contemporary theatrical setting.

It is at this point where the design process really takes shape as you began to explore different materials and textures to visually describe the natural elements, such as wind. It begins by asking questions; for example what is wind? What form does it take? Can it be created through lighting and smoke effects? Should it be a sculptural element, an organic form that suggests several elements of the sky and earth? It is these type of detailed questions and the visual responses to these questions that shape the look of the show and complement the story that Elma is telling.

Working on ID with Stephen was a really close to home process of looking at contemporary Aboriginal identity. We talked a lot, and the reference material we looked at was vast –from photos out of the newspaper to music video clips, to more traditional material from Arnhem Land. The more we looked the more we were informed. We ended up with a wall of imagery that began to tell the visual story of what Stephen was describing and creating. The beautiful aspect of both these design journeys is that they are really organic. As the set designer I was allowed the freedom to explore ideas and images with choreographers and thus the process was fluid and reactive. Stephen and I explored several different design possibilities for most of the sections of the work but were always trying to create layered contemporary Indigenous images that made you really engage and question what is in front of you.

At the start of this year, I was appointed an Artist in Residence at Bangarra and this has significantly shaped the process of how these two works were created. By becoming a part of the company it has not only strengthened my relationship with Bangarra but more importantly given Stephen, Elma and myself the opportunity to create these works in a really focused but organic way. The journey of collaborative creation is an exciting, rich, unexpected and often frustrating, but ultimately a very rewarding experience. You begin on a path together and the further you explore along the way the better the end result. Being ‘under the same roof’ as the rest of the show developed at Bangarra, I have been able to explore ideas and images in depth but also respond to them rapidly informing the next stage in the design process. Often it is an unexpected conversation that will actually inform the work in a really significant way, it is these moments of clarity that are always the most precious and rewarding part of the design process. Collaboration is about sharing and trust and the journey of Belong has travelled many paths. Hopefully both these designs reflect these journeys of collaboration and the stories we want to tell.


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