There Are Trees That Are Dancers explores the life of Australian painter Sybil Craig in a moving and human way.
Writer Monica Raszewski says the play is inspired by the diaries, artwork, letters and interviews with the Australian Modernist painter Sybil Craig (1901 -1989). "It is an exploration of intimacy and the aspects of a person’s life that are elusive and ambiguous," Raszewski explains.
" Vera, a blind writer who once wanted to be an artist, interviews Hilda for a book she is writing about Australian modernist art. Vera tries to pigeon hole Hilda in a story of “lost woman artist” but everything about Hilda resists Vera’s classifications. A struggle begins. Tensions spiral as Hilda flits in and out of different time frames and realities. The more Vera tries to pin her subject down, the more impossible the interview becomes. The two women find themselves moving towards an increasingly private, strange and at times dangerous space, where intimacy may finally be possible. It's been an all embracing and very exciting experience to have my play brought to life by such a diverse, intense and talented group of artists."
As both a visual artist and theatre designer, Costume Designer Jo Lewis found it very easy to relate to Raszewski's play and the solitary life of a painter. Lewis found the play to be both subtle and moving.
"In my role as costume designer I wanted to use colour and pattern to create a strong contrast between the two characters,' Lewis says. "I wanted Vera, the art historian, to be seen as a beautiful sculpture /object. Vera enters like a detective. Her outer garment acts like a sealed protective chrysalis that is shed during the play to reveal her inner vulnerability and beauty. In contrast to Vera's pristine image, Hilda’s costume is drab and messy, her apron references the paired down functional Bauhaus chair. These women begin their afternoon with one point in common – a star sign – both Scorpios! – and as the afternoon progresses further points of connection are discovered. It’s been said that Scorpios ‘will zero in on the essential questions, gleaning the secrets that lie within, concerning themselves with beginnings and endings, and unafraid of either’. And that’s Hilda and Vera!"
Director Elaine Hudson has loved working on this new play with this superb company of artists.
"The relationship between two very different women, at first prickly, blossoms into a real sharing of sensibilities." For Hudson the play has the fragility and strength of glass and is set in the home in Dandenong Road where the artist Hilda has lived most of her life. It is as Hilda says ‘full of treasures’ .
"Vera has arranged a visit to this house to interview the artist – to get the facts about events and personalities during Hilda’s time as a painter in the Melbourne Modernist period in the thirties and forties," Hudson tells me. "Gaps in Hilda’s memory, a shyness about speaking about her work ‘Well, I didn’t have many exhibitions, you see and I kept a lot of my work out of them because I didn’t think they would suit…'create obstacles for Vera. As the play progresses she does get what she needs for her book but it will be a very different book to the one she was planning to write. So some surprises, moments of comedy, sparring and a miraculous tea party lead to a resolution of great beauty. It has been a great pleasure for me to work closely on direction once again with Adam Pierchalski whose insight into Monica’s work from past experience and whose theatrical skill have been vital in translating the magic and poetry in the text to the stage. And a great thrill to work with A riveting journey!"
Lighting Designer Wally Eastland came to the project through a recommendation to Raszewski from the Sound Designer. Eastland espouses the beauty of the play that deals with themes as broad reaching as the unequal treatment of women in the arts, the influence parents have on their children’s choice of career, and ageing.
"The dominant theme, though, is really relationships," says Eastland. Relationships with parents, partners and art. In the play, we see two women with failed past relationships and, apparently, little in common come together for a interview for a book about the early days of the Modern Art movement in Australia and who end up forming a new relationship."
"As a Lighting Designer, my job is to paint with Light, and, from that perspective, There Are Trees That Are Dancers is both a joy and a challenge to create. You have what is, on the surface, a simple two person interior conversation play, but there are so many layers in the text and in the way the show is directed and acted that it is not nearly that straight forward when you start digging into it. Throw in the modern art aspects and it really opens up the possibilities. The Set, Costume and Sound Designs all really compliment the approach we’ve taken to lighting this play and I’m really happy with the result."
The work was developed as part of a State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship and is a R.E. Ross Trust Award Winner. It runs till August 31 at La Mama