Category: Interview

Stephanie Lake on her largest work to date

Stephanie Lake takes over Arts Centre Melbourne with a work of colossal proportions

By Lois Maskiell

Contemporary dancer turned choreographer Stephanie Lake, whose work has earned accolades and travelled the globe, stages her largest production to date, Colossus. Backed by Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Fringe Take Over, it is by no means a small feat.

As a fresh graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts in 2000, Lake immediately earned a Green Room Award for Best Emerging Dancer and went on to perform in the international circuit with Australia’s best contemporary dance makers including Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek. In 2014, she established the Stephanie Lake Company and has since delivered a steady output of award-winning productions, solidifying her reputation for creating powerful kinetic art with striking visual aesthetics.

Colossus features fifty dancers from Victorian College of the Arts and Transit Dance, marking a sharp departure from Lake’s most recent work Replica which was a duet. A production of such colossal proportions is something Lake has envisaged for some time, though arrived sooner than expected: “To be honest I was thinking it would be something that would be in the future, but I put in a proposal just thinking I’ll give it a shot, and then we won the tender.”

Affording an independent company $30 000 in funding, support and mentorship, the Fringe Take Over is a highly sought after opportunity and a symbolic return for Lake to the festival. “Twenty years ago, when I was a young whipper snapper, I made shows for the Fringe Festival and it was very exciting and thrilling,” enthuses Lake.

Lake’s enduring passion for contemporary dance stems from the mysterious and intuitive nature of movement, which she believes is often difficult to rationalise. “There is a pressure to always articulate what the work is about and I understand that,” she says, “but the beauty of the form that we’re working in is that it is ambiguous and strange, and it can articulate things that are more mysterious.” Despite this conflict between creativity and concept, Lake admits that there are clear ideas she is working with.

By placing fifty bodies on stage, each interacting in smaller formations that contribute to a whole, Colossus poses a simple question. “Essentially it’s about this mass of people,” says Lake. “So these fifty bodies occupying the space together and what is that as a representation of how we organise ourselves as a society?” In terms of what that means for the audience, “I think that’s really going to be open to interpretation,” she says, “I love when people bring their own experience to bear on the reading of the work.”

Rehearsing a production of this magnitude is not without challenges. “It’s really intense,” says Lake, “because I’m working with younger dancers there’s a lot of energy in the room. Everything is amplified, and I feel like I have to make decisions quickly and efficiently.” But for Lake the payoff is huge and with the creative team’s contributions ramping up towards the final stages of rehearsals, opening night brings much anticipation. “It’s just so beautiful seeing that many bodies moving together and every simple idea is expanded in really interesting ways,” she says.

Lake’s creative team, consisting of composer and long-time collaborator Robin Fox, costume designer Harriet Oxley and lighting designers Bosco Shaw and Additive Lighting, will make significant contributions. “The conversations start early,” says Lake, “but that side of the collaboration doesn’t really come together in a crystallised way until you’re actually in the theatre.” 

The premiere of Colossus is inciting a great deal of interest owing to the Stephanie Lake Company’s track record in producing ground-breaking work. It also stands out as one of many tour dates scheduled for Lake’s thriving company. In May of next year, Lake tours to the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris, arguably the most prestigious venue for contemporary dance in the world.

Colossus is being performed at Arts Centre Melbourne 26 – 30 September as part of the Melbourne Fringe. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183. 


Martyn Jacques on THE TIGER LILLIES

An interview with the cult cabaret artist

By Bradley Storer

Welcome back to Australia! Having toured here many times over the years in both theatrical shows and concerts, is there something about this country that keeps drawing you back to visit?

Yes I love it! I even have a dream about living here. It’s the history, the colonial buildings, the weather. It’s all weird and magical. Dark and cruel as well. I could imagine doing a project and writing about it. I lived and still spend time on the Mill bank estate in London. Used to be Mill bank prison where the convicts were sent over.

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Since Australia originally began as British penal colony, do you find Australian audiences react to the Tiger Lillies’ work in a massively different way to the audiences in your home country?

I think there’s something a bit different about Australians, yes. I’d like to understand it better. I suppose I’d need to spend more time here

After maintaining a career over nearly thirty years, has your general artistic approach to creating your work changed or evolved?

I’d like to think we’re like good wine. We were good at the beginning so it can evolve, change and become better

You’ve mentioned before that after writing so many songs inspiration now tends to come from external sources such as historical figures or events rather than internal, emotional sources – have recent political events (both in Britain and further abroad) and more contemporary social upheavals been an influence on your songwriting?

I’m more interested in history. Its dark side. But that’s the appeal – just the same thing but performed by dead people long gone.

Across your careers, you’ve composed extensively for theatre, with your latest album Cold Night in Soho being your first in ten years not linked to a theatrical show – do you approach writing for the theatre or a theatrical adaptation differently to composing an original album? Do you find the process for either more enjoyable?

I’m happy doing both. The difference is blurred. As long as it’s a good story and theme. The theatre-based albums are good albums as well.

Your music contains extremes of both lyrical beauty and joy as well as violence, death and apocalypse – in a world today that seems to be increasingly shifting towards the latter, what motivates you all to keep creating art? Is there a kind of catharsis or celebration inherent in creating and singing your particular style of music?

It’s like an addiction. I can’t stop. I record around 3 albums a year. I need to do it. It’s my reason to exist.

The Tiger Lillies have written about many dark topics in their work including rape, murder, drug abuse, paedophilia and religious hypocrisy. Do you feel that perhaps music can explore these darker aspects of the human experience in ways that other artforms can’t?

No I think other art forms do it a lot more and it’s far more acceptable than in music. But I think that’s one of the reasons we’re unusual and original. We take dark subjects – which in theatre and art and film is normal – and write songs.

You’ve previously talked about the influence of punk on the Tiger Lillies, with the willingness to push boundaries and offend along with a strong anti-establishment sentiment being a core part of the band – do you believe that with the move towards the conservative right happening in many Western countries that the punk spirit is now more important than ever?  

Yes, it’s perfect for the age in which we live!

To end on a lighter subject, when you’re not performing yourself who are some of the cabaret and musical acts that you love to watch onstage?

I’ve liked some of the things I’ve seen at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. It’s nice to see there are people out there who have a similar sensibility

The Very Worst of The Tiger Lillies was performed at Memo Music Hall, St Kilda on June 18, 2017.


Screen-to-stage hit returns, as creators share their insights with Theatre Press

By Caitlin McGrane

Simon Phillips and Carolyn Burns, the marvellous creative team behind Kay + McLean Productions’ outstanding production of North by Northwest graciously agreed to be interviewed by me over Skype. As the show returns at The Arts Centre for two weeks only from 29 January I was keen to know about how the production came together, what their creative processes had been and what their next project will be.

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Theatre Press: Can you tell me a little about the production process and what it was like working with the MTC?
Simon Phillips: Well, I used to run the MTC for so long, so I love the MTC and everyone’s my friend, you see…
Carolyn Burns: … Yes, they’re always very gracious about the demands…
SP: And it’s lovely working with the MTC because [North By Northwest] was quite a big project and they took it on with enthusiasm and they were such big supporters. And before that we’d actually had it developed: it had been commissioned by Andrew Kay in Brisbane while we were trying to get all the video concept to come together. We couldn’t really proceed with confidence until we had that sorted out, because so much of putting the production together was unproblematic, but that really was something we had to get right. We did a lot of development with QPAC (Queensland Performance Arts Centre) and then with the MTC itself.
TP: Yes I can imagine that must’ve been quite involved as a process.
CB: The workshop we did in Brisbane we only got up to the airplane scene. It was really about Simon getting the style right before I even started writing, in a way. Because I knew the work and had done a lot of studying and knew the angle I wanted to take, so until Simon worked with Audio/Visual Artist Josh Burns on how to do those scenes… Simon and Josh came up with some brilliant concepts – I think Josh came up with the Lazy Susan.
TP: Can you tell me a little about how you adapted the film for the stage? Did you use any footage of the film? And was it very hard to obtain the rights for that footage?
SP: Well we actually didn’t use any of the footage from the original film. Although one of the main issues we had, was that Mount Rushmore is a copyrighted image so we had to find a creative solution to incorporating that. I always think that if you’re going to adapt a film for the stage there has to be a point of difference because if you’re showing parts of the film on stage you’re essentially saying that the film is unadaptable.
CB: The only real difference was that I wanted to make a tribute to Rear Window, which is one of my favourite films. So, starting off the production looking into people’s windows and getting a slight hint on who they were and what they were doing. The mother playing cards, one of them cleaning the gun, and getting a feel of the spies.
TP: I feel like the script and the way that the play pans out is a tribute to Hitchcock in a lot of ways it incorporates a lot of his themes and his unique visions. Would you agree?
CB: Oh well, I would. I studied [North by Northwest] at film school when I was a student from an art-direction point of view; I did fall in love with his wonderful way of shotlisting, and his take on life and his subtexts, and his mad, mad mind. My job really was to assume that no-one in the audience had ever seen the film, so it could still tell the story if they hadn’t seen the film. And Simon’s was to do everything else; he created the most beautiful set design.
TP: Can you tell me a little about your creative vision? And do you think you were able to realise that vision?
SP: I know it sounds too easy but Liza McLean [from Kay and McLean Productions] said to us after it had opened that it had perfectly realised what we had described and how it was going to work. But it’s funny because I really had to work out the design in order to say with confidence ‘yes I have a way of staging this.’ Actually I only realised the other day when I came across some early sketches that it did go through a hell of a lot of permutations. The two most difficult scenes were the cropduster and Mount Rushmore, and it was those two scenes that we had to make sure we were on top of before we even started. And Carolyn was very interested in the East versus West thing, spy versus spy.
CB: Yes. my favourite line is the whole thing is when Roger, the Carey Grant figure, says ‘you’re as bad as each other.’ And I just thought ‘both countries’ and I think it’s still the same and it’s still completely relevant today, wouldn’t you?
TP: I would completely agree. One of the great things about Hitchcock is that he is so contemporary and still so relevant today. For instance Eve is given her own character arc, she’s not a femme fetale, she has her own character development.
SP: Oh yes and she’s incredibly witty and very contemporary, which is so great and she is much more than a match for [Roger].
CB: And it also shows the development of one of the original Mad Men [Roger] who starts shallow and ends up slightly deeper. I did really enjoy writing for the mother, and in doing so making [Roger] even more of a mummy’s boy. We’re very lucky that Gina Riley has taken on that role.
TP: I just have one final question, Carolyn you mentioned your time at film school, I was wondering if you could give me a brief overview of your journey to the stage.
CB: Well, because I spent a lot of my childhood reading I found that writing was something that came fairly naturally to me and when I was 9 I wrote my first musical. Then I began writing little pieces for the newspaper; I didn’t really begin writing properly until I went to university in Auckland with Simon, where I wrote my first adult play. I’ve had a very long and complicated journey and in some way it has been a sideline to bringing up four children. I learned from Alan Plater while I was at film school that there is a real art to adaptation. But this one, North by Northwest, is really all about the style. Simon and I haven’t worked together that much but it is lovely to work with him now.
TP: That’s wonderful, thank you very much for your time. Best of luck with the next run of North by Northwest and with the opening of Ladies in Black.

North by Northwest is showing at the Arts Centre in Melbourne from 29 January to 10 February 2016. For tickets and more information visit :
Ladies in Black is showing at the Melbourne Theatre Company from 16 January to 27 February 2016. For tickets and more information visit: