Interview: Bianca Martin | Company Upstairs

Posted by Thom Smyth, October 6th, 2015

Formed in 2008, Company Upstairs is a Perth-based project company led by the choreographic and conceptual talent of Bianca Martin. 2014 saw Bianca admitted to the Supreme Court as a Lawyer in Western Australia. She also completed a Residency at Critical Path, Sydney, and a PICA residency on From Afar on a Hill. Since May 2015 Bianca has worked as a Lawyer in the UK.  From Afar on A Hill is showing at PICA until 10 October. We caught up with Bianca Martin to chat about the show.

RA | Welcome back to Perth! What were you up to before heading back here?

BM | It’s great to be back seeing so many changes and so much work happening here. I qualified as a lawyer last year, after juggling my law studies with my arts practice, so about 5 months ago I took a job as a solicitor in London. It’s a great small firm where we are encouraged to leave at 5.30pm each day, so luckily I am able to continue making work around that.

RA | Tell us about From Afar on a Hill

BM | After a long road of development, the work has progressed into a performance work about immigration and privilege. We have three superb performers, Bernadette Lewis and Rhiannon Newton who are well known to Perth audiences, and we have added LINK dance company graduate Sarah Chaffey to the team. Our sound artist is Chris Cobilis and he is also a performer in the work.

Its quite an immersive experience for the audience, but nothing to be afraid of. We are hoping that by the audience experiencing the work physically that there is something extra to be gained, a more emotional communication that they receive. The most frightening part for me is is to engage the audience in such an emotional matter. But then we have to remember its only the theatre!
You have been working on this show for a quite some time. Has it shifted from when it waspresented in Copenhagen in 2013?

I had the privilege of working at Copenhagen’s Dansehallerne and being mentored by UK’s Rosemary Butcher as an addition to the activities I already had planned whilst on DCA’s mid-career Fellowship. Making that development was a brilliant learning curve, I worked with two Danish performers and basically let go of all the hang ups I had about having made my performance works in a conservative town. I realised I no longer had to make ‘steps’ and it was like an unbelievable lightbulb moment. The work really started there, and although no choreography has made it through from that development showing, the ideas have certainly been refined from the Dansehallerne showings.

RA | From Afar On A Hill was sparked by the awful Christmas Island boat tragedy in 2010, but the tension around asylum seekers has persisted in Australia to this day. How do you tackle a politically-charged issue like this as an artist?

BM | Well I think what has been made most clear to me through the development period, is that I can only tell my own story. The intention was never to mine for other people’s trauma, but to find a way for someone like myself, reasonably engaged with current affairs, to understand the whole issue of government policy around migration in Australia. I think those tragedies led me to question, what can art do about it, and where do I fit in to that. We have worked with a sociologist from UWA, Farida Fozdar, so the work is grounded in research, but really its about a privileged Australian society, those which come to the theatre, and as an artist that privilege is something you have to concede you are part of. We have wanted the whole time to consider that privilege, and try to access it by giving the audience a visceral experience of how it would feel to lose it.

With the recent publication of tragic images of three year old Alan Kurdi on a beach, it seems like the international conversation has changed. Do you feel that filtering through to Australia?

Things do seem to have shifted. I was in the UK at the time those images were published, and the official reaction there was much like Australia’s has been – we are an island, and so we can stop people coming here. The locals were more welcoming than that of course, but not like in Europe where there is much more of an understanding of being connected through the borders. Whether things are really changing here I’m not sure.

RA | What do you hope people take away from the show?

BM | Well I hope the show gives them an interesting interactive experience to take away. Perhaps it might give the audience an opportunity to consider where they place themselves within the subject matter. But I’m quite happy if they’ve just been engaged during the evening!


Company Upstairs’ From Afar on a Hill
6 – 10 October | PICA Performance Space
Tickets/more info>>

Image by Traianos Pakioufakis

Filed under WA Featured Artist