Changing times at Ochre Contemporary Dance Company

IT is a year of change for Ochre Contemporary Dance Company.

Not only does the company have new blood in artistic director Mark Howett and dramaturge Phil Thomson, but the pair has restructured the company to create a more collaborative style with dancers.

“It’s much more collaborative in the way it works,” Howett said.

“The dancers, through improvisations, are finding the structure of the piece and we’re just guiding them in a way, trying to empower them as much as we can.

“And instead of beginning with normal dance classes in the morning, we’re starting with full traditional Aboriginal dance.

“It’s helping with some of the phrasing, with traditional Nyungar dancing coming into their more contemporary work.”

The duo first worked together 40 years ago, but it was a reunion more recently on a dance piece in Berlin when they realised it should be a more regular creative partnership.

When Howett returned to Perth, after a decade of making commercial work in Berlin and as a designer on the West End, Ochre founding director Louise Howden-Smith asked him to become the company’s artistic director.

“It was as simple as that and a bit serendipitous,” Howett said.

“I’d achieved everything I’d wanted to while I was away, which was great, and after being a senior creative on shows for more than 35 years, wanted to start having more responsibility and pass on my knowledge to the younger community.

“And when this opportunity came up, we grabbed it together.”

Howett and Thomson’s first work Kaya is a six-minute piece including traditional Indian and Maori dancers.

“We’re opening it up in the long term and wanting to engage with dance from all over the world,” Thomson said.

Kaya is about saying hello and actually means hello in Nyungar, so it’s us as a company saying ‘hello’ to our community and the audiences we come across.

“And it’s also about the tendency towards cultural clash and the magnificent new things that can come out of cultures respecting one another and sharing with each other.”

“What’s coming out of those exchanges is a unique dance form we’re so proud of and excited about.”

Kaya was commissioned to open the 18th International Conference and Exhibition on Liquefied Natural Gas in Perth on April 12.

It will also follow the Propel Youth Arts WA KickstART Festival Day’s Welcome to Country on April 16, presented on the Wetland Stage (next to Art Gallery of WA, Perth Cultural Centre) from 10am.