INTERVIEW: Kimberley Parkin for Killjoy | STRUT Dance GROUNDWORKS

STRUT Dance is presenting the inaugural season of GROUNDWORKS, a platform that offers unique and essential support for mid-length contemporary dance works to be presented in front of an audience in a theatre setting. The event will feature a double bill of pieces by two up-and-coming choreographers, Kimberley Parkin with Killjoy and Jo Omodei with As the Edges Soften. Parkin took some time out ahead of the show’s opening on August 17 to answer a few questions about her work, which is described as follows: “Within the confines of an office space, doom descends upon two workers caught in corporate submission. Time is irrelevant here…Inspired by the Japanese ‘salary man’ phenomenon, Killjoy is a cult horror film meets live dance-theatre.”

Rhiana Katz & Luther Wilson, Image by Emma Fishwick

Tell us a little bit about what inspired you to create Killjoy. You’ve cited the Japanese ‘salaryman’ phenomenon as a key reference – why did this idea in particular speak to you?

The premise of Killjoy came to me while walking around St Georges Terrace in Perth’s CBD. I stopped to look up at the infinite floors of a commercial high-rise, watching white-collared occupants go about their frenzied daily routines. I was captivated by individuals in structured suits; how they held themselves. I pondered whether I could fit into the world of the 9-5 corporate hum. Basically, instead of spiraling into a frenzy of existentialism, I channeled this energy into a new choreographic concept and thus Killjoy emerged.

Speaking to close friends and family who hold corporate roles, I quickly realised that the old ‘9-5’ isn’t a true measurement of the time, energy and commitment they are expected to sacrifice for their jobs. I started researching the psychology of corporate life and this led me to discover the ‘salary man’ phenomenon prevalent in Japan. A short film I kept returning to was “Dying from ‘overwork’- Japan’s toxic office culture”, posted on NOWNESS (worth a watch). The ‘salaryman’ archetype is an example of human’s extreme dedication to work and in some cases has resulted in death. To think there is a Japanese term used to translate death from overwork, i.e., “Karōshi”, is a disturbing reality. The motif of “Karōshi” comes up in the work frequently as it represents the real horrors of toxic work environments and human exploitation in work life not justlimited to the corporate world. Killjoy is an exploration of extreme work conditions and burnout in a comedy horror lens. Although, I must preface this work is merely an exaggerated and surrealist take on office conditions, I don’t mean to over-generalise or pigeonhole office workers.

My interest in the corporate worker as a movement study, I believe comes from a place of trying to understand the psychological demands of this profession in comparison to my chosen career as an artist. In a shallower sense, I am kind of obsessed with the 90’s office aesthetic and wanted to create a visual display of styled drabness on stage.

As an artist, I’m sure you’re constantly generating questions and ideas to explore through your craft. How did you know that this particular seed warranted further nurturing and development?

The work I plan to present in Groundworks happens to be the third-stage development of Killjoy. I first presented a draft version of the work through a two-week intensive STRUT SEED Residency in March this year. I collaborated with independent dancers Georgia Van Gils and Scott Galbraith and the electro-pop percussionist duo FEELS. Going into this residency, I originally wanted Killjoy to be staged in a site-specific furnished office block with a huge cast of dancers, live music and a flash lighting display. After devising the work in a studio and building a moveable set with what was available at King Street Art Center, I became more attached to this versionand could envision it in a more traditional theatre setting. The generous constructive feedback and excitement I received from peers signaled that this work was worth continuing.

Shortly after, I secured a residency through Co3’s IN.STUDIO initiative and a YCulture Grant through Propel Youth & Arts to support the week. I collaborated with Rhiana Katz and Scott Galbraith as my lead creatives and six LINK Dance students from WAAPA to flesh out ideas and experiment with a larger cast. Again, this process presented new questions and challenged my preconceived findings.

The Groundworks version of Killjoy is more reminiscent of the first stage work supporting the notion; sometimes the first idea is the strongest. We have been rehashing the choreography from the filmed showing and expanding on existing ideas, finding new emotional trajectories and transitions. There is always more to find in this work and I constantly feel overwhelmed with the endless choreographic possibilities.

Luther Wilson & Rhiana Katz, Image by Emma Fishwick

How did you bring together your team of performers and creatives?

Dancers: I have been working alongside Rhiana Katz since our first year at WAAPA together, exchanging roles as performer and choreographer in each other’s works. She has an incredible stage presence and versatility in her dancing, which was obvious in her performance in my first debut work, Cry Baby in August 2020. We also happen to be roommates which makes commuting to rehearsals easy.

Luther Wilson was first suggested to me by STRUT’s new Directors Sofie Burgoyne and James O’Hara. This is my first time working with him and each day I’m blown away by his ability to absorb new information and combine his natural acting abilities into his performance.

Composers: FEELS consists of Rosie Taylor and Elise Reitze-Swensen who together take Perth’s music scene by storm with their blended electronic percussion beats. I was introduced to FEELS by my drum teacher/ talented composer Louis Armstrong. I was astonished by the punchy cinematic score created in the first development and just had to have them on board again for Groundworks.

Set & Costume Designer: Object House (Declan Macphail) Declan’s (they/them) practice involves creating multi-disciplinary and sustainable designs through their own project Object House and the designer brand WRIGHT Systems. Declan is one of my close friend’s partners and was eager to support the fruition of Killjoy since its first development. I was so inspired with their work on WRIGHT’s fashion film Watch The World Go By screened at Luna Leederville in May last year, I approached them with an opportunity to design for Killjoy.

Perth has an amazing network of artists all eager to support and keep up momentum in the creative community. I have been super lucky as I’ve never found it difficult finding people to create with.

Tell us a bit about the dance theatre and horror film elements of Killjoy (without any spoilers, of course) – is there a narrative that plays out?

During rehearsals we have been engaging in character work, embodying office worker archetypes through movement tasks and voice work. We have been experimenting with some Jacques Lecoq inspired improvisation, specifically his seven levels of tension technique. I have found in past developments of Killjoy, implementing theatre technique exercises into our rehearsal process layers intention behind the choreography and opens the dancer’s ability to reactto the space theatrically and emotionally.

Killjoy doesn’t follow a traditional narrative but rather many non-linear and short-lived happenings between two office workers. This work really reflects my love of old overacted horror films and I’m sure you’ll notice the parallels. Prepare for wide-eyed expressions, dramatic 80’s synth music and hopeless character arcs.

Luther Wilson & Rhiana Katz, Image by Emma Fishwick

What drives you most as a choreographer and performance maker, and does it differ from what drove you when you first entered the dance world?

Currently, I’m driven by multidisciplinary approaches to contemporary dance and value the collaborative aspect of producing work. The fun part of choreographing for me is building creative teams who feel supported and have agency to suggest new ideas. A warm working environment with people who want to be there with you is so satisfying.

My works often delve into the liminal spaces of humanity, highlighting the ridiculous and ambiguous aspects of my Western socio-political surroundings. I like delving in deep into a broad theme then stripping back layers to discover the nitty gritty truths. I’m driven by stylised design and production choices and would like to eventually make work in unusual spaces. 

At the beginning of my making career, I would daydream about creating work with an unlimited budget. Now I’m a lot more realistic and resourceful with budgets and enjoy the smaller successes during the production process.

What would you most like your audience to experience during and after the show?

During the work I hope they are taken on a cathartic journey and experience the unpredictability, suspense and absurdity of the work. I hope the images last in our audience’s mind beyond the theatre and even haunt their dreams. Killjoy has a hidden agenda; to make you feel uncomfortable, icky and cringey at times.

See Killjoy as part of STRUT Dance’s GROUNDWORKS at UWA’s Dolphin Theatre from August 17 – 20. For tickets and more information, visit the STRUT Dance website here or head straight to the Tickets WA website here.