Playing with Fire: Stephanie Lake’s and Robin Fox’s A Small Prometheus

SmallPrometheusHeroImageSquare copyBy Urszula Dawkins

Fire is mesmerising, dangerous, necessary. Obeying physical laws, it nonetheless flickers at the edge of chaos; dependent on fuel but fiercely able to burst out and run amuck. Converting matter to pure heat and energy, fire is transformation; and its ignition point – where states change and elements merge – inspired choreographer Stephanie Lake and Robin Fox to create A Small Prometheus: a work for five dancers and three fire-driven sound sculptures.

Lake and Fox are themselves ‘on fire’ at the moment: A Small Prometheus, as part of this year’s Melbourne Festival, comes hot on the heels of their visceral, virtuosic DUAL, which premiered at Dance Massive in March. In DUAL, two dancers flexed and twisted in an intense exploration of separate and paired dynamics. A Small Prometheus expands the field of inquiry to five dancers; their movement inextricably linked both to the ‘group’ and the sculptures, which catalyse an aural–physical environment at the threshold between order and chaos.

Robin Fox describes the sculptures – which produce both sound and light – as a ‘source’. Set alight, in effect, by the dancers, their rising heat activates fans and tines, creating the sounds that set the piece in motion. “They provide a visual metaphor for the transference of energy that is taking place in the choreography,” says Fox.

Fire, says Lake, is also the inspiration for the choreography: “All of the choreography to this point has been initiated by some aspect of fire – be it spark, strike, smoke, flame, burn, melt, collapse, heat etcetera…”

A Small Prometheus doesn’t directly address the eponymous Greek myth, say its creators. But the work, says Fox, does represent “something forbidden and a little dangerous”; and the notion of ‘consequences’, as in the myth, is central to the physicality of the piece. Lake speaks in terms of “transference, consequence and change”. From mechanically precise to chaotic and improvised, or from frenetic to tender, A Small Prometheus, she says, investigates “spark, transformation and a kind of co-dependence”.

The Australia Council’s Dance and Music Initiative provided Lake and Fox with the opportunity to create A Small Prometheus, says Lake. “We both wanted to make a work in which the sound and choreographic worlds were in a continual state of flux – constantly re-directing each other.”

“Robin’s work has long been concerned with a synaesthetic experience for the viewer, working with lasers that articulate his incredibly intense composition – creating a completely immersive experience. It seemed like an interesting proposition to try to make the music and the moving body similarly linked.”

Fox, whose work with dancers includes lasers/sound design for Chunky Move’s digitally-rich Mortal Engine, recalls an earlier – and very analogue – ignition point for A Small Prometheus:

“I was walking through the Adelaide Hills and was captivated by the small candle-driven windmills designed for adorning German Christmas cakes. I loved the almost magical way that the propeller would begin to spin. Not long after, I saw Stephanie’s work Mix Tape… I loved that work and in the final scene a tray of candles is brought on stage. I immediately thought to myself, ‘one day I’m going to make a work with Stephanie Lake that uses fire driven sculptures…’.”

Of Lake’s choreography, post Mix Tape (which she made with Chunky Move in 2010), Fox observes: “…[it] has become more abstract and seems increasingly concerned with the physicality of energy transfer”. DUAL was, in Fox’s eyes, “an exercise in logic, a basic syllogism, premise + premise = conclusion”, despite its coexistent reference to human pairing.

A Small Prometheus, while inevitably concerned with group dynamics, strikes him also as dealing directly with energetic forces – “There are sections that seem predatory, almost menacing, and others look to me like the unfolding of a physical idea…like gravity.”

Lake concurs – “but having said that, I often start with an abstract or structural starting point and end up in a surprisingly emotional place in the work”.

“What I’m seeing emerge in A Small Prometheus… [are] shifting allegiances and rapid change of intention and interaction – from cooperative to destructive, from chaotic to ordered, from supportive to threatening. Unified to individualistic.”

In and around the sculptures and dancers, Fox is creating a soundtrack that reflects the ‘flashpoint’. Increasingly, Fox says, he approaches this point through the idea of temperature; citing audio experiments in which he’s recorded rocks plunged into hot water, kettles about to boil, and matches being struck.

“In many ways I want to capture that moment when the curlicue of smoke coming off a match hits that point where the stability of the ‘system’ gives way to a more chaotic meandering.”

While there’s something transgressive, as Fox puts it, about dancers playing with matches, Lake looks forward to the “happy accidents” that the creative process brings.

“I look forward to seeing how the vulnerability of the naked flame informs what we do with the choreography. I like the fact the fire is unpredictable, that it moves and that it’s organic – it’s a great marriage with dance.”

A Small Prometheus
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Tue 15 – Sun 20 Oct 2013


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