From The Rehearsal Room Part 4: Joel Bray on Next Move & ‘Dharawungara’

In part 4 of our From the Rehearsal Room interview series, we spoke with NEXT MOVE 11 commissioned artist Joel Bray to hear more about his new work ‘Dharawungara‘ and the support behind Chunky Move’s Next Move initiative.

You’ve worked as an independent choreographer before. How has your experience with works like Biladurang influenced the development process for NEXT MOVE 11?

I’ve been an independent choreographer for a while, but Biladurang was my first major work, and my interest was in creating a work woven from authentic, person-to-person encounters. I’ve been reflecting for a while that, in this contemporary world, we face an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. You can stay at home, watch Netflix, order UberEats and never have any organic interactions with other human beings. So the question I have been asking myself is: how can my art be an antidote to this?

The best answer I can come up with is ‘I can offer an authentic, ‘live’, personal experience in the context of a society that is increasingly bereft of such experiences’. That was easy to do in Biladurang. We were all in a hotel-room together; audience and performer in conversation at arms-length away from each other. In Dharawungara, I’m seeing how I can roll that out into a more traditional theatre setting and on a larger scale, but retain that feeling of real intimacy and connection.

You’re going to be joined on stage with sound designer Naretha Williams. Tell us about your relationship with Naretha is this the first time you have worked with her? 

Yeah, this is the first time we have worked together. We met at Yirramboi last year, and I immediately knew I wanted to work with her. She’d made a work that was just brilliant- really clever and really sophisticated. Then I had this idea for a work about  rites-of-passage and I knew I needed a song-person, and in particular a songwoman. Usually we see the cliche of the male musician making the beat and the female body dancing to it. I wanted to do a ‘gender fuck’ of this, so Naretha (who is also Wiradjuri) will be onstage with me driving the beat and conjuring the space, while my (male) body will respond. 

For those less familiar what does song woman or song man mean?

So the song woman or song man would know the songs and stories for men’s and women’s business respectively. And all the ancestral knowledge of Law and Country and Kinship would be encoded in those songs and handed down from generation to generation. So he or she was much more than just a performer, they were kind of like Bards. They are (usually) elders, respected for holding this knowledge and who are responsible for keeping it alive from generation to generation. In our ritual practice they act as masters of ceremony in a way. Now Naretha would probably slap me one if she ever heard me refer to her as an elder. She’s not. But I do respect her for her considerable cultural knowledge, and she has really been a huge support in this process as I navigate the themes of the work. 

What have you been exploring with Naretha in the studios thus far?  

So, Naretha is an electronic musician, which is perfect because I generally use this type of music in my work. And her practice has been more towards installation sound art, rather than ‘composed music’. So I like the idea of a twenty-first century reboot of this ancient ritual using technology. We’ve been playing with synths and digital sounds, and she is exploring how we can create an organic, or even orchestral, score using only digital, synthetic sounds. It’s pretty exciting!

Finally, what is unique about preparing a Next Move work? Are there any particular differences with this experience in comparison to choreographing your other works?

Well…firstly, I have much more support. When you choreograph independently you have to be your own producer, lighting designer, costume designer, box office and self-marketer! That’s what it was like making Biladurang. With Next Move, I can really focus on the craft in the studio because the company is supporting me in all those other facets. 

And, of course, its a gift to have Anouk in the building. She’s an incredible artist, with so much experience and knowledge, and to have her ‘pop in’ and give advice, or that I can just stick my head into her office when I get stuck, is everything! In the end, it means my research can be more thorough, and the work more polished and richer, because I am working with a phenomenal team. Having people who really dedicate themselves to the whole work is amazing.

Joel Bray’s new work Dharawungara is presented as part of Chunky Move’s Next Move commission NEXT MOVE 11, a dystopian double that also features new work ‘Nether’ by emerging Choreographer Joel Bray from 8 – 17 November. Book now here.

Photography: Pia Johnson
Design: Mike Giesser
Warning: there is small use of adult language in this Q&A.