Reign development: Interview with performer Rhiannon Newton

Posted by Morgan Leek, August 3rd, 2011

Rhiannon Newton is one of eight performers currently working with Chrissie Parrott Performance Company on the development of Reign – a new multi-art production bringing the artwork of Patrick Doherty to the stage. A trained dancer, Rhiannon has worked internationally and nationally with some of the worlds most radical choreographers and artists. For Reign, Rhiannon transforms from dancer to hyena.

Words: Sarah Rowbottam and Rhiannon Newton

SR.First up, briefly tell me about yourself.

RN.I come from a small town in NSW called Crescent Head. I studied dance at WAAPA from 2004 to 2007. I’ve since lived and worked in Amsterdam and Tel Aviv and at the moment I’m in Perth working across a couple of projects including Reign.

SR.In a few sentences, what is your character in Reign?

RN.My character is called the hyena, but basically i feel like she is the embodiment of the beast or the evil in the extremity of each character… kind of the extreme evolution or mutation brought about by the dying Earth. She has moments of almost remembering her former human self but is largely driven by primal instincts and a need to survive in the barren “Reign” landscape.

SR.How do you prepare for creative development and the exploration of your character before and during development? Did you do anything specific for Reign?

RN.A bit of you-tubing of hyena’s for movement ideas. Chrissie and I spent a week out in the salt lakes in the Goldfields on another projects called Parched and that was interesting gestation time for both of us, to be drowned in the mass and emptiness of such spaces. Chrissie works really visually and there’s often quite a bit of online back and forth with images which I find quite stimulating entry points for character development…. and of course with this project Patrick’s images have been a huge influence and inroad for our characters.

SR.How has this development been different to Stage One development back in November?

RN.Stage one was really a coming together of the many different bodies of the Reign creative team and it was really a process of trialling ideas. In this stage we have the idea and are unfurling/building a world that communicates it.

SR.I imagine in a development process, each day would be fairly different from the last. Briefly take me through one of your favourite days thus far.

RN.Well yesterday was a long one. We are 3 days out from the showing and we just did the first full run through. We had the entire cast in the studio today plus all the behind the scenes creative team which was great and we actually developed two new scenes that will end the work (at this point). The show is a series of little acts some more danced, some more spoken, so rehearsals are quite complex in that we have concentrated sessions with Chrissie to develop and refine our individual bits and then time around to solidify them for ourselves.

SR.I know you have worked on a few different projects with Chrissie recently, one being a short dance film shot in Menzies, Lake Ballard. What has your experience being like working with Chrissie across various projects and what are you hoping to learn from working with her during Reign?

RN.What I love about working with Chrissie is the creativity she demands from us and the opportunity she gives us to dive into / inhabit this ulterior world she is creating. Reign is particularly interesting for me because it involves a lot of very talented and experienced artists from dance, theatre and the visual arts and that is a very rich, challenging and stimulating environment to be working in daily.

SR.Like many of the dancers in this production you bring a significant amount of international and national dance experience to the project. How do you feel the Australian (and particularly the Western Australian) dance is seen in wider society compared to other countries? If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

RN.I would maybe fast forward ten years. I think it’s on track we’re just a bit, well quite behind. But really the dancers / performers coming out of here (WAAPA) are so strong at the moment, I think it’s quite exciting, and we are starting to have the right structures in place for quality work to be made and with ongoing support and hard work we hopefully will arrive, someday, at a point where the whole system is more robust and functional and WA audiences have a real sense of pride in the work created here.

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Reign by Chrissie Parrott Performance Company is currently in Stage 2 & 3 development
at  MosArts Hall until Saturday 6 August 2011. Read more about Reign here.
This development has been supported by the Western Australian Theatre Development Initiative.

Rhiannon Newton completed her Bachelor of Arts and Honours in Dance at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2007. As a dancer she has worked for Jan Fabre / Troubleyne (Belgium 2008), Anouk van Dijk (The Netherlands 2008), Odelya Kupperberg (Israel 2009) and Machol Shalem (Israel 2010). She is currently based in Western Australia working in various independent projects with Chrissie Parrott Performance Company, Jonathan Buckles, Jo Pollitt and Aimee Smith.  Rhiannon will perform The Check Point Solo, directed by Jo Pollitt in the 2011 Brisbane Festival’s Under The Radar.