An Australian company is blurring the boundaries between science, genetics, psychiatry and the performing arts. Maria Roberts speaks to dancer and auteur Shaun Parker
Shaun Parker readily admits he’s got a naughty sense of humour. When we catch up on Skype the Australian choreographer and dancer is perched on the sofa at his family home in Mildura, cracking jokes. This cheekiness is threaded through the works he creates at Shaun Parker & Company.
Happy as Larry, Blue Love, Trolleys, and AM I are just some of the shows in his repertoire that tackle intense issues with his trademark light touch. Parker doesn’t take himself too seriously, but that’s not to say he has a flippant approach to his work. In fact, it is quite the opposite: he graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Science before going on to study for another degree at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts, part of the University of Melbourne.
He rediscovered his love of dance and then for 17 years toured with companies such as Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre, Force Majeure, Sydney Theatre Company, Chunky Move, The Song Company, Opera Australia, State Theatre Company of South Australia, ALIAS, Meredith Monk, and Sasha Waltz. Until, like a bolt from the blue, he was compelled to launch his own brand of dance.
‘I was about 36 and I thought: I have to do my own thing, I’ve got to direct and set up my own company. So I made the sacrifice not to dance with other companies again. It was a really hard ceremonial sacrifice. I thought I’d never go on stage again and I had virtually no willpower to continue what I’d been doing either.’
And so he began the hard task of doing everything: ‘I was quite happy setting up the company, choreographing and being the author and director of the works. It was quite stimulating for my neurons,’ he says. ‘As a dancer you train your mind. However, when you set up a company there is something awesome about really being able to exercise other parts of your brain as you figure out how to make something happen.’
So in the beginning he self-produced, wrote the scripts and funding bids, directed and performed, and now he has a supportive team to keep the wagon going. ‘I wanted to be able to finish off the vision of the works and the dramaturgy [which you can’t do when you’re a dancer in someone else’s work]. When someone turns up from their busy lives to spend an hour and a half watching a show, or whatever, I want them to be transformed by the end of it.’
Now Parker is to make a comeback to the stage after a 10-year hiatus with a revival of Blue Love, which premiered as his first piece at Sydney Opera House (SOH) back in 2005. The show will undertake a 10-city tour of Australia, and Parker says he is looking forward to touring it globally. ‘I think it is so vital for me to return to the stage.
For a long time I thought I wouldn’t need to dance again, but now the moment has arrived. I need to feel that connection with the audience and remind myself what it feels like to be a ‘theatrical pawn’ on stage. I hope this will make me a better director. ‘ Blue Love is quite a cheeky piece. I’ve always welcomed gratuitous nudity,’ laughs Parker, ‘it helps get bums on seats – pun intended.’
Blue Love toured after its first opera house season, but then my other works kept coming through so it got let go. I’m really glad we are going back to it.’ A fusion of physical theatre, film and dance, Blue Love uses references from pop culture and art to explore romantic love as gurus Glenn and Rhonda Flune go on a comic exploration of what makes the perfect relationship.
Interestingly, whilst Blue Love seeks to entertain and enlighten, the piece was developed when Parker was making some serious transitions in his own life. He’d become a father, his marriage was coming to an end, and he was taking new risks in his career. Making it all the more remarkable that he opted to use comedy as a ruse to tell the story, rather than head down the ‘dance angst’ route.
You can read the rest of our interview with Shaun in the latest issue of International Arts Manager. Heading to CINARS? Meet Shaun Parker & Company at the Australia Council booth from 14-19 November. Contact Tanja Farman on firstname.lastname@example.org