standing bird: Interview with Sally Richardson

Posted by Morgan Leek, January 18th, 2012

Sally Richardson is one of those all-round amazing ladies. She writes and directs her own projects, produces large-scale arts events and recieves countless awards for her efforts, including a 2009 Helpmann for Best Presentation for Children for The PromiseThis week I talked to Sally about her new work standing bird, a dance/theatre/film performance happening at PICA as part of The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and Fringe World. Performed by Jacqui Claus, standing bird explores a woman’s encounter with the Australian landscape – an experience of submersion, dislocation, isolation and transformation.

standing bird

Pictured: Jacqui Claus, rehearsal for standing bird (2012) Photo: Ashley de Prazer

Sally Richardson (SR) and Sarah Rowbottam (Sarah)

Sarah. First up, briefly tell me about yourself.
SR. I am a mother, an artist, and a creative arts worker and facilitator. I was born in Melbourne but grew up in WA. My creative practice is based in WA but I have worked regularly in the performing arts across Australia since 1993. I am passionate about exploring who we are and our relationship to this place and space. What is the story we wish to tell, and the various ways we can tell it.

Sarah. What is the story behind creating standing bird?
The story or narrative for the work is simple. It follows a woman’s journey through the Australian landscape from the sea into the interior, the heart – It is a journey of the self. These environments are territories of the emotions and represent aspects of her life, fragments of experiences, punctuated by ‘abruptions’ or crisis that instigate metamorphosis and transformation. Visibly she moves from a contemporary urban superficial image of a standing bird, into the empowered animal that is the timeless spirit bird, her self.

The work is in four distinct and discreet sections; Shipwrecked, Beach, Swamp & Bird – they are the movements of a score, chapters in a book or single portraits, if you like. The spaces in between are the practical and perfunctory set up preparations made visible to the audience. We move lights, equipment and the performer changes costume, giving the audience the opportunity to engage both with the ‘character’  and the authentic construction of the performance.

This project has been in evolution for several years, and we have undertaken a number of developments exploring key themes, narratives, and forms to find the synthesis that represents the spartan and essentialist version that has become the current standing bird.

These developments have explored multiple physical languages working with different forms of choreographic practice and methodology, theatre and performance making (inc puppetry), live music, sound and vision design. (early workshop footage can be viewed on you tube)


Pictured: Shona Erskine, Eliza (2009) Photo: Ashley de Prazer

Over several years we produced and presented several short dance films (Eliza and Standing Bird) and a short dance work (Standing Bird choreographed and performed by Paea Leach) featured as part of Strut’s shortcuts season in 2010. (also on You tube)

The ‘we’ has involved a number of collaborators over this period and these include: Shona Erskine, Paea Leach, Jacob Lehrer, Philip Mitchell, Chrissie Parrott, with Kingsley Reeve, Danielle Micich, Ashley de Prazer continuing throughout the project alongside newer standing bird co-creators Humphrey Bower, Fiona Bruce, Kyle Morrison & Mike Nanning.

Fiona de Garis has been our producer since the projects inception. She is the definition of rock.

Sarah. You have been rehearsing standing bird intensively since Christmas. Take us through one of your favourite rehearsal days thus far.
SR. That’s tricky – each day brings new discoveries, un-coveries, sudden leaps in understanding and realisation. So no single day is more ‘stand out ‘than any other.

Sarah. What do you hope an audience member will take away from standing bird?
SR. To have undertaken a rich emotional and physical journey with the performer that is beautiful, powerful, moving and meaningful. To have experienced a visceral and authentic connection with the performer and her story.

standing bird rehearsals

Pictured: Jacqui Claus, rehearsal for standing bird (2012) Photo: Sally Richardson
Sarah. For standing bird you are working with one of my favourite Perth dancers Jacqui Claus. Why did you choose to collaborate with Jacqui?
SR. I have watched and enjoyed Jacqui’s work over a number of years here in WA, and particularly enjoyed her powerful dynamism and compelling physicality as a performer. I wanted to see her have the opportunity to extend her emotional and physical range. To find new layers,  a subtlely within the largesse and expansiveness she already offers an audience.

Not just any performer has the physical range, nor can sustain the emotional depth that is required in a full length solo work. Jacqui is ready for a work that demands a great deal of her, more than she has done before.

Sarah. Performing a full length solo dance work seems like a rare opportunity in Perth. What is special about making solo work?
It offers a unique performer and audience relationship. It is intimate, honest and revealing as solo work takes us to core of the human experience of self. It its creation it is intense, demanding, and detailed work.

The relationship between you and the artist is at the core of the work, so there needs to be honest open communication, and genuine collaboration. There is a dance between us as we make the work together. As I said previously it requires an intelligent, committed artist who has a dynamic performance range and stamina.

standing bird rehearsal

Pictured: Jacqui Claus, rehearsal for standing bird (2012) Photo: Sally Richardson

Sarah. standing bird is co-created by Danielle Micich, Ashley de Prazer, Jacqui Claus and yourself. How do you negotiate making work when there are so many equal voices? How do you achieve a clear articulation of your combined vision?
In coming in to the process for this presentation of standing bird.. I spent focused time by myself, and then in one on one conversation with a dramaturg I trust.

I feel I came into the rehearsal stage of the project with clear objectives and story boards about what I wanted to explore and potentially achieve. How this is delivered shifts and alters inevitably through the co-creative process – but ultimately I am not asking of my co-creators to tell me what the work is about. So we are working together to explore, develop and realise a core vision. That I have generated.

We also have previous history of collaboration, with some of the team over many years, so there is an inherent trust and already a proven ability to work together.

Sarah. How do you feel about self-funded work?
SR. That it is inevitable at times. Positive – I do get to do it the way I want to. Work at my own pace, in my own way. I don’t have to aquit the production! It puts all kinds of obstacles (and limitations) in place, which can be good (and not so good) You pull a lot of favours – (special thanks to Yirra Yaakin). It has felt really rewarding that this talented and experienced group of artists believe in my work to give of their time (and money) to create this together

Sarah. What advice would you give to young aspiring artist looking to develop their craft?
DO it – don’t wait to be asked (or funded). Practice- really means that. GO and see work, all kinds. Ask people to help you (support, advice, whatever) – they can only say no and most times they don’t

Sarah. What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you in your career?
Lots on the list – touring your work to major festivals, and internationally, but really? The present moment – Right NOW feels really good – to be in a studio with great people making stuff – nothing better


standing bird
7 – 10 & 12 Feb 2012
PICA Performance Space
All shows 9.30pm
Tickets: $30*

*Save $5 and book early with The Blue Room Theatre  (08) 9227 7005 or book online

Presented by The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and Sally Richardson in association with PICA
Created by
 Sally Richardson, Danielle Micich, Ashley de Prazer and Jacqui Claus
with contributions from Paea Leach and Shona Erskine
Sound: Kingsley Reeve with Kyle Morrison
Dramaturgy: Humphrey Bower
Lighting: Mike Nanning
Costume: Fiona Bruce
Producer: Performing Lines WA