Feet First: an interview with Raewyn Hill, director of new Perth contemporary dance company Co3

I got to interview the inspiring Raewyn Hill, director of new Perth contemporary dance company Co3 for the Summer 2015/2016 issue of Marque Magazine. We talked about their opening season, getting out of your artistic comfort zone, and off the record, drinking cognac in Montmartre, her old stomping grounds. 

Check out the whole issue here: Issuu

2015 has certainly been a big year for Co3 Artistic Director Raewyn Hill, and for the arts in Perth. After some 7 years of planning, contemporary dance company Co3 made its grand debut in November at the Heath Ledger Theatre to  rave reviews and almost sell-out crowds. In Raewyn’s words, for both Co3 and for Perth, “It was time”.

Co3 is perhaps less a traditional dance company than the amalgamation of a range of pre-existing companies and concepts, with a new bold vision for the future. The name itself provides the clue: “Co” is an abbreviation for ‘company’ and ‘contemporary’. The number 3 is representative of the three parts of the company: a professional dance ensemble, a youth program and an education program. It also represents the 2 companies that Co3 is built upon:  Buzz Dance Theatre, Steps Youth Dance Company, and the creation of the new professional West Australian ensemble. Bringing together all of these elements, Co3 describes itself as a “contemporary company having contemporary conversations”.

So far, they seem to be the kind of conversations that Perth audiences want to be a part of.

While some may baulk at the challenge of taking on so much in so little time, “what we’ve achieved in 7 months would probably would  usually be done in 3 years” Raewyn has jumped in feet first. “It’s been an epic year. Nothing short of epic”

For a Kiwi girl  who has lived and worked in Paris, Russia, New York, Auckland, Hong Kong, Tokyo and remote Queensland, she seems to be very happy to be far out west.

“When I arrived here, I had this great sense of feeling like I came home… there is a real sense of community here in a way that I haven’t experienced in a lot of other places. There’s been an enormous amount of goodwill and want and desire for this company to take flight”

While this goodwill was encouraging and welcome, Raewyn and her team were to some extent, flying blind, unsure of what or who to expect.

“There was a lot of expectation of what the company was going to be, what it would look like.

For us really now it’s just kind a looking forward... Now that we’ve met our audience I feel like in some part my job is going to be a bit easier”

In some ways, her job is simple. To deliver on the company’s three guiding principles and motto: Curate, Commission and Create.

Curate, Raewyn explains is about reimagining existing works, which otherwise would probably have been shelved and never looked at again. “It’s about bringing a second life to a work. We can support the emerging to established choreographer, who would like a second opportunity to view a work”

Commission involves bringing in the experts, that is makers who are changing or shaping their artform, yet who due to the nature of the industry might lack the opportunity to experiment and be daring with a professional ensemble.  “It’s about celebrating the choreographer, the voice and encouraging them to contribute what they are working in or explore some new ideas.”

Finally, Create is where we can see Raewyn’s hand at work, “engaging with spaces, with people and collaborators where you wouldn’t necessarily see or experience dance, and popping up in unexpected places or with unexpected people”

It’s this last element that is creating a lot of buzz, on the back of the recent announcement of a new 24-month collaboration with the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Reason for Being.  Each month for 24 months, Raewyn and her team will spend a week inside the Art Gallery, working on a new piece from top to bottom, unrehearsed, in front of anybody who wishes to stop by.  “You can rock up and plug your headphones in and listen to the dialogue that’s going on between the dancers and myself”. She describes it as their most responsive project yet, and explains that the project developed in response to series of questions the company as a whole was asking of itself.  “How do we engage with our audiences? How do we really break down that barrier of what we do versus what we are perceived to do?”

“I sometimes think ‘My god what have I signed myself up for!’. As a creator, there is safety in the studio. When you test ideas out, some ideas don’t work and you have that luxury of being hidden away and just presenting the gem at the end.”

In real life, Raewyn explains, “Sometimes ideas don’t come! Our process is very in-depth. We talk a lot, we debate a lot, we watch films, we read books. It’s very opinionated and it really draws on the strengths and the characters of the dancers as well as myself. So it’s revealing, but I guess that’s the thing, sometimes (as a viewer) when you watch that process you feel there’s a real richness or a real connection. You find a way into the work”

If 2015 was a big year, then 2016 is set to be perhaps even bigger. As well as ‘Reason for Being’, Co3 are about to release a return of their launch season in March at the State Theatre of WA, as well as a number of school performances, and two evening performances of Reloaded which Raewyn says has been driven from the public who are hungry to see it again.

With the year set to start off with a big bang, she wants to make sure that the company is attracting the right kind of audiences.

That is, anyone and everyone, especially those who might not think they have a place at a contemporary dance performance.

“Perhaps you haven’t engaged with contemporary dance before, but perhaps you like boutique beer or love fashion or, have a curiosity for poetry” as Raewyn sees it, you will be in exactly the right place.

“If you come to Co3 you will have contact with the next generation of extraordinary voices of young people who have an opinion and who have a great sense of self and their place in our city”

“We are a company that’s not afraid of being accessible.”

And it has an artistic director, it would appear, who’s not afraid of anything.