Co3 contemporary dance company in The Zone with first set design by Japanese architect Satoshi Okada

L-R Mitch Harvey (Wembley Downs), Andrew Searle (Mt Lawley), Zoe Wozniak (Mt Lawley) and Katherine Gurr (Perth). Picture: Andrew Ritchie
L-R Mitch Harvey (Wembley Downs), Andrew Searle (Mt Lawley), Zoe Wozniak (Mt Lawley) and Katherine Gurr (Perth). Picture: Andrew Ritchie

RAEWYN Hill fell in love with Japanese architect Satoshi Okada’s work in 2008 when she stumbled upon his Mt Fuji House design, but the Co3 contemporary dance company artistic director never imagined he would one day design a set for her.

The pair met in Tokyo in 2010 and began to forge a relationship through a mutual devotion to line and light in their individual art forms until Hill returned to Japan last year on a Tokyo Wondersite residency.

“I was there for 10 weeks and saw Satoshi a couple of times and finally plucked up the courage to ask if he would consider designing my next work,” she said.

“He was quite taken aback because he designs these incredible homes and concert halls. His design palette is on a very large scale; he’s never designed for theatre before.”

Okada agreed to the challenge and the two began collaborating, mostly via email, on The Zone, which is at Heath Ledger Theatre, September 7 to 16, featuring live music by Eden Mulholland.

Hill said the work had three levels of inspiration, the first being her fascination with surrealist art after three months in Paris in 2009.

“I was then appointed artistic director of Dancenorth in Townsville and during that first year we had Cyclone Yasi, the Queensland floods and the Christchurch earthquakes,” the New Zealander said.

“What I started to see was the media drenched in these surrealist images. I became fascinated with the idea of how community formed in extraordinary experiences from shared experiences.”

Okada’s set design traps the Co3 dancers in the performance space with few entrance/exit options, creating an energy that is exhausting.

“That’s another thing that happens in a disaster; it doesn’t just happen in an hour because there’s an enormous build-up to it and then it happens and then there’s the big clean-up,” Hill said.

“So you’re physically and mentally exhausted while you’re going through one of these natural disasters. We create this environment on stage which is relentless and dancers can only escape by getting over the walls.”

Okada will briefly travel to Perth for opening night and a pre-show talk, so Jonathan Lake at HASSELL architects has overseen the transfer of his design to set in the rehearsal space at MosArts in Mosman Park.

“At one point the set goes from 2m to 6m in height and we’ve had to work on the set because the dancers hang on it and jump off it; it’s not something we could choreograph without it,” Hill said.

“Jonathan has been instrumental in being able to oversee that design to stage. Architects are used to creating structures that last forever so they’re robust in terms of structure of materials, whereas for us, they need to look like that and also be portable.”


What: Co3 – The Zone

Where: Heath Ledger Theatre

When: September 7 to 16