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online exclusive - march 29

fire & family in the memory

keith gallasch: katrina lazaroff's pomona road

Pomona Road, photo Katrina Lazaroff Pomona Road, photo Katrina Lazaroff
Major bushfires bring increased pain each year and revive memories of earlier devastating fires cruelly etched in the psyches of many Australian families. Choreographer Katrina Lazaroff's family is one of these: her first full-length dance work, Pomona Road, reflects on the enduring physical and emotional consequences of the Ash Wednesday bushfire in 1980, but in the end, says Lazaroff, it's a dance theatre work about family.

Lazaroff is a dancer, choreographer, rehearsal director and dance educator who graduated with an Honours in Dance from WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) in 2001, performed with Buzz Dance Theatre in Perth in 2001, and in 2006 and 2008 with Leigh Warren & Dancers worked as rehearsal director and assistant to the choreographer. She has been Artistic Director of the Youth Dance Festival 2008 (Ausdance ACT), choreographed for Fresh Bred—SA Youth Dance Ensemble, and worked with Restless Dance Company as a choreographic mentor on Debut 1 & 2. She is currently working as a choreographer and performer with Adelaide's Patch Theatre Company and teaches company class for Australian Dance Theatre. For Lazaroff, the hour-long Pomona Road is "a huge work", an opportunity to create a totality that draws on her artistic experience and family life and allows her to embrace a wide range of means with which to realise her vision.

In Pomona Road Lazaroff employs dance, theatre and visual and audio design to evoke the enduring suffering and the rebuildling of lives and a sense of home. Unusually for a principally dance work, she also incorporates documentary material—recorded interviews from family and community members. Not surprisingly then the show's press release declares it "new Australian documentary dance." Certainly Lucy Guerin's Structure and Sadness is rooted in the reality of the 1983 collapse of Melbourne's Westgate Bridge, but it's not a documentary work per se. Banagarra Dance Theatre, on the other hand, has works in its repertoire based on painful social realities, but the label 'documentary' is not apt.
Pomona Road, photo Katrina Lazaroff Pomona Road, photo Katrina Lazaroff
Lazaroff tells me that Pomona Road—in evolution since 2006 and with three stages of development—was never intended as a comment specifically on the social and emotional impact of bushfires. Her first impulse was to explore family, "where we come from." Stage one addressed her relationship with her sister ("sibling rivalry, kooky and a bit sinister"), and stage two father-son interaction (drawing on her own family and the experience of her dancers). It was while working on stage three and addressing the whole family that she discovered that the fire experience provided a meaningful framework for the exploration of family life. The Ash Wednesday starting point offered the beginnings "of a journey and a focus on loss—of home, place, identity. And the pain of starting again—the parents tackling it, the kids bumping along." By 2009, says Lazaroff, the fire scenario had taken over.

Lazaroff decided that she wanted to make a dance work that was documentary in character, capturing the feelings of loss to fire. To this end she interviewed her parents about Ash Wednesday 1980 and victims of the subsequent 1983 Ash Wednesday. She thinks that "feelings and relationships can be sensed" through these voices which the audience hear—sometimes on their own, sometimes in tandem with the dance. The dancers, playing members of a family, also speak, but not in a conventionally scripted fashion, their utterances a form of vocal movement—family bickering, a song, familiar expressions. Lazaroff says that in stage three of the work's development she learned to give space to the recorded voiceovers, "to let them come first, and provide continuity."

Asked about her choreographic style, Lazaroff says it's rooted in the contemporay dance which has been her life. However, the dancers create "recognisable characters whose gestures and character traits fuse fluidly with the dance language."

Kerry Reid's set for Pomona Road comprises simple timber structures (originally made by Lazaroff's partner from materials from her mother's verandah for the stage three development, but now re-made and evocative of her father and his fence contracting business) and large hanging sheets of white paper that receive the images from two powerful projectors that wash the whole stage with impressionistic, 'textural images of bush and fire." With Nick Mollison's lighting and projections, Lazaroff hopes that substantial depth of field will be created.

Lazaroff describes the sound design for Pomona Road as "highly collaborative, with a lot of give and take" in its making with Sascha Budimski's score comprising "sound effects, hums, drones, voiceovers, rhythm beats and Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street", the 1978 hit which her father played frequently.

I ask Lazaroff what creating Pomona Road has done for her. "It's been a moving experience, looking back into family history and seeing that there were many more things that happened to us than I realised. As an artist I feel it's set me free."

inSPACE Program, Pomona Road, Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, April 21-24. Pomona Road was part of inSPACE:development in 2009.

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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