Between clouds and future nostalgia: Gabrielle Nankivell’s Neon Aether


13 March 2019

Choreographer Gabrielle Nankivell’s brand new work Neon Aether is an ode to the burning intangibles that fuel our imagination.

Referencing science fiction to interstellar clouds and the possibilities beyond, Neon Aether takes the audience on a journey through six episodes of the body ascending in space.

The title describes this vision of wonder – Neon meaning very bright in colour, and Aether, which in Greek mythology recalls the pure essence of the sky.

We talked to Gabrielle about the concept of her work, how the solar system inspired her choreography, and what she loves about contemporary dance:

Q. What is the overarching concept of your work?

The overarching concept considers ideas and images that connect with air and our relationship with the intangible things this substance supports. For example, the space that exists between people and the various levels of atmosphere that radiate outwards from our immediate environment into the far reaches of the universe. By intangible things I mean the energies and sensations that reside in the air between us – the energies and sensations that relate to wonder, inspiration and desire.

A continual thread across humanity and human evolution is that we look to the air as our vehicle of desire to discover and explore the unknown – finding potential for what the future is. We look to the air and sky when we think about wonder. It’s a known unknown and I think that’s interesting.

Dancers rehearsing Neon Aether. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Q. What inspired the concept of air in your work?

I wanted to do something different from what we did with WildebeestWildebeest was earthbound and primal. With this work, I went with the total opposite. I think what has been different with the dancers this time around is that I’ve been asking them to work with vague and ambiguous concepts and tasks.

Q. What can audiences expect from your work?

Hopefully they can expect to be drawn into an intriguing paradox, an ambiguous but very particular world.

Neon Aether in development with Gabrielle Nankivell and the Company dancers. Photo by Pedro Greig.

Q. There is a sequence in your work inspired by the solar system. Can you tell us a little about that?

In working with all the ‘airy’ stuff we began creating quite distinct atmospheres and moods. Which led to defining more locatable environments. One aspect I wanted to specifically address was the timeless wonder of the stars. I collected a bunch of images of constellations, nebula and planets that had been captured through powerful telescopes. There is this beautiful photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that looks like fireworks. It took months to capture the image and the reason you can see these fast burning stars is because the ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds that operate within the nebular have cleared away all the debris surrounding the cluster. I also found some fascinating images of an orrery, a kind of clockwork model of the solar system. In building the scene I wanted to reference both natural forces and the technology we have developed as both combined allow us to see and understand the stars.

To construct our own ‘solar system’ the dancers mapped where they were in space in reference to the facings and movement of Victor, the dancer who represented our sun. Luke, the composer and sound designer for Neon Aether worked with us to build individual mechanical sounds for each dancer’s unique pathway. It was a really long process to create something reminiscent of both an orrery and the real solar system but in the end I think we came up with something that is tightly structured but still has a sense of ‘organicness’.

Dancer Luke Hayward in the studio. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Q. What has been your career highlight so far?

The field I work in allows me to meet and work with really incredible individuals. Developing our collective experience through conversation and practice is a definite highlight.

Q. What do you love most about contemporary dance?

I like its ability to provoke feeling before thinking and that this usually leads to conversation. That’s when I think contemporary dance is really successful – it opens lines for dialogue.

See Gabrielle Nankivell’s Neon Aether as part of Sydney Dance Company’s 50th Anniversary triple bill, Bonachela / Nankivell / Lane from 26 March in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne & on National Tour across Australia.

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