Sound may be the last sense to leave us - Director & Choreographer / by helen duncan

Sound may be the last sense to leave us

Stretch Arts & Cultural Festival 2012


Professional Dancer Elanor Webber with the Riptide Youth Performance Group

“Audiences were moved to tears by the breadth of Helen Duncan’s creative vision, her seamless celebrations of community and ecology. Thanks to a passionate, talented cast, this collaboration between practitioners of diverse contemporary and traditional art forms poignantly evoked nature’s fragile beauty & spiritual dimension.”

— Annamaria Weldon, Writer & Visual Artist

Sound may be the last sense to leave us.jpg

My reflections

In 2012 I was invited by the City of Mandurah to direct a large-scale community dance work for the annual Stretch Arts & Cultural Festival.  

The theme of the work explored the fragility of the historic thromoblites at Lake Clifton, South West of Australia.  Thrombolites are believed to have formed the first breath of the Earth more than 3.5 million years ago and these fragile and important pieces of ecological history can still be witnessed right here in the local Peel region.

The project gave an opportunity for participants from a variety of groups to actively contribute to the development and performance of an original work.  The project engaged participants from Riptide Youth Performance Group, disability clients from Community First and staff from City of Mandurah.

I curated a professional level creative framework; integrating film, photography, music, poetry, set design, professional dance and lighting to supported the choreographic and performance contribution from our community participants.  By providing a strong professional level framework I believe we are able to offer community participants the safety and security to explore, challenge and learn without fear of failure or concern for final outcome.  I also greatly value the opportunity for participants to feel inspired, challenged and excited by the experience of collaborating and performing with high level professional artists.

The project included a six-week series of community workshops led by Perth based choreographers Rachel Ogle and Nicole Ward.  This was followed by a two-week intensive development period where I worked with a team of professional artists to integrate the community dancers with professional dance, music, poetry, film, photography and set design.

The complexity of the work was reflected in its composition; the integration of film, photography, music, poetry, dance, set design and lighting.  Our choreographic content took inspiration from Annamaria Weldon’s exquisite wetlands suite of poems, which she read through the performance.  Annamaria’s poignant poetry also provided a loose story line and projected photography of Lake Clifton and its thrombolites offered a sense of time and place.  Principal professional dancers Elanor Webber, Ashleigh Berry and Nicole Ward led the community dance ensemble which was drawn from many sections of the community including youth, adults, senior citizens and adults with disabilities.

Lee West from the Yamatji people from the Carnarvon/Shark Bay area shared his bond to the dreamtime and creation stories through contemporary Indigenous dance.  Lee spent two weeks in the studio with us witnessing a full range of energies created by the diversity of participants.  From the frenetic to the calm, the youthful to the mature, Lee captured the group’s spirit in a body of movement that intuitively responded to the groups creative offerings and working dynamics. 

Kathy Corecig composed a beautifully delicate yet dynamic score to accompany the work also playing viola, with Tristen Parr on cello and George Walley on didgeridoo.  The incredible sound scape generously helped dynamic shifts throughout the 40minute work. 

Choreographically we used imagery and sounds relating Lake Clifton to stimulate physical responses, which the group then collaboratively formed into a series of movement phrases.

Participants learnt relaxation, breathing and movement exercises that incorporated stretching, Pilates, breathing and introduced a range of natural movements that could be performed to match individual physical capabilities. The community performed choreography derived from a range of creative tasks and games.  One such game is ‘flocking’.  ‘Flocking’ guides everyone to huddle into a group and take the lead from who ever is stationed in front, if the direction changes a new leader takes over.  When this game was set on stage the incredible concentration the group gave to the task resulted in a stunning meditative and ethereal movement scape.

Leading the Community First workshops for adults with disabilities, Rachel Ogle offered a lot of freedom and flexibility for the group to demonstrate what they were interested in doing.  Rachel designed a range of games for the group to perform including holding hands and weaving under one another, darting under a large blanket of material and the group’s favorite, a dance-off finale.  Judging by the audience’s uninhibited cheers during the performance this group definitely stole the show!

The professional choreography was deliberately simple and clearly structured.  I felt it was important for the professional dance component to blend with the offerings of the youth and communities choreography.  It’s contribution lifting rather than competing with the diverse level of skills presented. It was an absolute pleasure to choreograph on professional dancers Nicole Ward, Ashleigh Berry and Elanor Webber as we rediscovered all those wonderful choreographic basics: cannon, retrograde, accumulate, de-accumulate, splice, etc.

It was a true privilege to be involved in such an interesting and rewarding project that gives voice to local issues and helps and audience to relate and understand community concerns through contemporary expression.   

Directed by Helen Duncan

Music composed by Katherine Corecig
Poetry and Spoken Word by Annamaria Weldon
Audio Visuals by Lee Kennedy with photography by Annamaria Weldon
Dancers: Ashleigh Berry, Nicole Ward, Elanor Webber, Lee West, Riptide Youth Dance Company, Community First, Mandurah Community
Set Installation by Kieran Stewart
Contemporary Indigenous Choreography by Lee West
Community Choreography by Rachel Ogle & Nicole Ward in collaboration with the Mandurah Community
Youth Choreography by Rachel Blackley
Music performed by George Walley (Didgeridoo), Katherine Corecig (Viola), Tristan Parr (Cello)
Online video edit by Elanor Webber Projects
Special Thanks Genevieve Kan, John Hughes, Rebecca Nelson, Barb Thoms & Guy Boyce

This project was made possible by Festivals Australia, an Australian Government program which supports cultural activity at regional and community festivals.




  Tags: Quality ArtParticipationCollaborationSkills DevelopmentCommunityPerformanceCreative ProcessArtistic OutcomesInclusivePlace MakingShared ExperiencesRegionalFacilitator