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.