Lighting designer Sian James-Holland discusses the art of sculpting and painting with light, to convey the beauty and emotion of Dark Emu.
What was your process for designing lighting for Dark Emu?
"The journey of the lighting design began by turning to the land for inspiration and direction. Bruce Pascoe’s book passionately puts forward the argument that before colonial settlement the land was being manipulated and farmed, complex irrigation and architectural structures were being built, river courses were altered and dams were constructed – all through the traditional owners’ understanding and working with the land."
What influenced your choice and use of colour?
"My lighting design draws on the colours of the Australian landscape, which holds a diverse and beautiful collection of subtle and unique colours that are instantly recognisable. Whether it is the vast and dramatic sunsets over our beaches, the break of day enhancing the richness of the deep red earth or the spontaneity of changing colours of reflected water from a riverbed – the light of the land remains unchanged throughout the centuries and creates such beauty. It’s from this study that I attempted to capture the truly unique look of the Australian landscape and find the visual heart of Dark Emu."
When designing lighting for Bangarra, how do you know when you’ve got it right?
"Often the sense of completion is purely intuitive. Lighting design follows many principles of painting on canvas. One of the most captivating things about Bangarra performances is the collaborative effort onstage. When I can look at the stage with the design, costumes and dancers owing as one, I can instinctively feel the lighting design seamlessly combines with all performance elements and supports the emotion conveyed by the dancers and the expression of the choreographer."
How did you feel after reading Bruce Pascoe’s book, Dark Emu?
"As I sat down to read Bruce Pascoe’s passionately written words, I became consumed by his work. Dark Emu was an absolute page-turner. Everything that I was reading was completely contrary to what I had previously been taught. I did further reading and became consumed by the research."
What challenges did you face during this project?
"Ensuring that as a non-Indigenous person and artist, I honour the culture and tradition of the ancient peoples of this land without leaving my own mark on the work. To support and assist the cultural integrity of the work, my approach to the collaboration was listening rather than speaking. Stephen said something I found to be quite profound during the initial meetings for the project, 'Indigenous people look at the darkness between the stars, while Europeans look only at the stars'. I knew early on that I had, and still have, much to learn of Indigenous history, of this land, and the culture of Aboriginal peoples. I had to look past the stars to see the answers."
What are your favourite aspects of Bangarra’s work?
" I love the detail in the choreography and the passion in every Bangarra performance. The energy of the dancers and creatives involved in every production bounces right off the stage."