If you decided to pop down to Currumbin Estuary for a swim during Bleach* Festival in 2015, you may have noticed a couple of soaking wet madmen, decked out in corporate gear, dancing around in a makeshift office on a sandbar. This quirky piece of contemporary art known as Tide was presented by none other than Gold Coast collective The Farm. Already an established international troupe, this talented band of like-minded artists has quickly developed a reputation for humourous, thoughtful pieces that think outside the box. For Bleach* Festival 2016, the group has decided to go even bigger and better with their apocalyptic piece The Last Blast. Natalie O’Driscoll spoke with collaborators Gavin Webber and Grayson Millwood about just why it is they feel like celebrating the end of the world.
“There was something about the idea of partying yourself into oblivion – going down with the ship while the band is still playing,” explains Gavin.
“You see these photos from the first World War of soldiers using their best china to have tea in the trenches… it’s a celebration while disaster is looming, a denial of what is in front of your face that we find kind of fascinating.”
Much like Tide, The Last Blast makes strong use of the city’s natural landscapes, this time at Surfers Paradise beach. The performers will once again be pushing the extreme limits of their physicality in order to immerse both themselves and their audience in this very real experience, an approach that was tested from the get go. Grayson elaborates.
“I was living in Berlin and my first time coming out to the Gold Coast I found it hard to sit down and work – particularly at Gavin’s house. You have this incredible force outside and it’s very difficult to ignore it. So we started a small rehearsal period that we called Inside Out and we didn’t have a studio yet so we used the beach as a studio. We worked with the sand, burying ourselves, falling into the sand and [working out] how you could use it as a surface.”
Gavin continues. “You’re at the mercy of the environment when you’re working outside: The sun is too strong, or the tide comes in, the impact of the enviroment on you physically is something that you can’t ignore.”
“The show itself is a big visual kind of dance work. It really interacts strongly with the environment which is the beach and the water. Being on the coast and working on the beach you have the environment looming all the time, and your creativity gets informed by that. We really wanted to work on a piece that shows the Gold Coast what The Farm does physically.”
As well as producing a spectacular sensory experience, the creators connect their pieces to a larger message: in the case of their Bleach* offerings, climate change.
“There will be a message in it but we’re not pushing it on anyone,” says Grayson.
“We want the audience to be able to enjoy it and be reflective of it afterwards. [This is] something I think we try to do in a lot of our work. There is entertainment and there is accessibility and we want to reach people, and there are underlying themes and people have the ability to digest things on more than one level at the time. There will be things to go home and chew over.”
Gavin refers to Tide as an example of the same message. “Working on the beach you have all this feeling about climate change… and we had this sense of a civilsation going under and these people trying to continue a job in an office while they’re going underwater… we played it in a humourous way. We’re not trying to lecture people, we do see a lot of humour in it.”
Tide really brought The Farm to the attention of the greater Gold Coast audience, with hundreds of people interacting with Gavin and co-creator Josh Thomson during their exhausting 48 hour performance. I wondered about how the whole experience matched with their expectations. Gavin explains.
“I discovered a slight hydrophobia for a week or so afterwards. I found it hard to shower, even though you would think a warm shower would be the first thing you want. The thing with that performance, was we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We knew it was going to be intense. We tried to evaluate all the possible dangers. The thing we took away the most was the way that the Gold Coast looked after us. The generosity was a beautiful thing… they were making food and fresh juices and swimming them out to us. We got adopted by the people in that area and they took charge of making sure that we were okay and that feeling was definitely something that we took away with us.”
The Last Blast will be more of a traditional performance, if that word can be used to describe anything created by The Farm.
“It will be less interactive”, asserts Grayson.
“It’s a piece that you watch but you are involved because you’re on the sand and you’re with us. We’re still working out ways that the piece happens, we don’t know yet if we’re moving the audience around, or staying in one place. It’s a big beach and people will have the choice to see it from lots of angles and vantage points so in a way you shape the piece by where you view it.”
The largest piece performed by The Farm to date, The Last Blast will feature at least 8 dancers, and potentially nine, given that aspects of the piece are still partially in development. Gavin explains the process.
“We’ve got some big ideas visually we’re trying to realise but actually they’re just ideas at the moment and we don’t want to give them away. We know there’s this huge opportunity and we want to make it a bt of a magic show in some ways. It has some stunning visuals in it. Part of it is you will be watching a dance show in an environment where you have a backdrop that goes off to infinity. The lights they’re only hitting bodies, not the theatre or the.props.”
Finally, in a piece that is being performed out in the open and needs to be rehearsed at least a few times in the environment where it is going to be held, I have to know: How are they going to keep rehearsals a secret?
“Umm, good question!” says Gavin.
Grayson laughs. “We wear sand coloured body suits.”
Given the unorthodox approach adopted by The Farm, we wouldn’t be at all surprised.
The Last Blast will be showing at Surfers Paradise Beach (Trickett St) from the 18th – 20th March
7.00pm performance, site opens from 6.30pm
45 minute duration
Tickets and further information: www.bleachfestival.com.au