INTERVIEW: Paul Selwyn Norton for One Flat Thing, Reproduced | STRUT Dance
On the back of their huge success with Ohad Naharin‘s Decadance Perth 2016, STRUT Dance are bringing another dance work to Perth that is normally quarantined to major dance companies: William Forsyth‘s One Flat Thing, Reproduced. The 20-minute piece will be performed outdoors and with a roaming audience for the first time ever at the State Theatre Centre courtyard from 29 March to 1 April, as a curtain-raiser to Black Swan State Theatre Company‘s Once in Royal David’s City by Michael Gow.
The piece for 14 dancers using 20 specially-constructed tables was first performed in 2000 by Forsyth’s Ballett Frankfurt, and STRUT Dance Director Paul Selwyn-Norton was in that original cast.
“I came in to work with Bill through choreographing for the company,” and he explains that Forsythe’s work The Questioning of Robert Scott contained the seed of what would go on to become One Flat Thing, Reproduced after Forsythe had ‘fallen out of love’ with that work. He took the single table from Robert Scott, and added 19 more, and extrapolated the show’s material for the 20 tables. “Basically, One Flat Thing was born out of the demise of Robert Scott,” says Selwyn Norton.
Being a part of the development of One Flat Thing had a tremendous impact on Selwyn Norton as he honed his skills as both a dancer and a choreographer. “I’m not classically trained at all; I had a very idiosyncratic pathway to Ballet Frankfurt, so it was a phenomenal gift for Bill to allow me to be part of that whole cohort of fifty dancers I think we were at that point, so yes it was extremely impactful.”
The last Forsythe cast has been teaching the Perth cast, and through the process, Selwyn Norton has remarked some differences. “This piece has gone through many iterations, and I don’t recognise my part in it either. I can see bits and bobs of it, but I cannot see my role as one line at all because it’s really developed, as you would expect.”
STRUT’s role as facilitator for choreographic development has afforded Australian dancers and choreographers the unique opportunity to train using methodologies developed by Naharin and Forsythe, and Selwyn Norton’s professional history with both artists has opened the door for these training programs. “This is the outcome of a three-year research and development program with STRUT. We always knew we were heading towards some kind of performance outcome of Forsythe’s, but we didn’t know what show we were going to get, and then Forsythe offered us this because I was part of the original cast.
“We created these workshops around Bill’s work and then we did an audition process last year with the Forsythe leaders – they chose the cast, they’re teaching it; I’m just the producer – I’m very hands-off, I’m just the grumpy muppet the pays the bills,” he laughs.
“When the foundation was here, I took them down to the courtyard, and said, could you envisage One Flat Thing being in this space, and they said yes. So they went back to the Foundation with video footage and pictures, and said, ‘Do you trust STRUT to deliver this?’ And they said yes, which is a great testament to STRUT that Bill is allowing us to do this for the first time.”
“A lot of the cast are choreographers in their own right and are using the Forsythe methodology to help develop their skill set and push it forward. And to be inside the brain of Forsythe while you’re learning this is another phenomenal value-add in terms of your choreographic development.”
The decision was made to make One Flat Thing, Reproduced a free event in the spirit of bringing new audiences in to see what STRUT has to offer. “All organisations, we’re all about audience development, particularly with contemporary dance being a very young art-form.” There is a mutual benefit for both companies for the work to be performed in tandem with Once in Royal David’s City, though the pieces are completely unrelated thematically. “One Flat Thing will be almost an architectural installation event, something that you’ll experience as you come to the Black Swan show.”
Producing Decadance Perth 2016 first was part of STRUT’s audience development strategy, because of its emphasis on interaction (the dancers bring members of the audience on stage for one section), but Selwyn Norton says One Flat Thing “is the complete other side of the coin. Bill’s work is far more analytical and cerebral, whereas Ohad’s is sensual, and that’s the kind of counterpoint bracket that STRUT offers as part of its workshop training programs.”
One Flat Thing, Reproduced will be performed for four nights only in the State Theatre Centre Courtyard from March 29 – April 1 at 6:45pm. For more information, visit the STRUT website here.