New Breed Choreographer Spotlight: Ariella Casu


7 November 2019


Pedro Grieg

American born and Italian raised Ariella Casu first joined Sydney Dance Company as a Company dancer in 2018. We chatted with her about Arise, her choreographic debut in Australia as part of New Breed.

Book your tickets now for New Breed, part of Sydney Dance Company's 50th Anniversary, from 28 November to 7 December in Sydney.
Q. How do you approach or start developing a choreographic idea?

I think of choreographing as a visual creation of an emotional image. I like to visualise this space as a white-floored empty stage. I’m armed with all these marvellous different shades of colours, which are the dancers and the stage lighting, and in the end as if it were a psychoanalysis session, I throw in all my feelings and speak to it as if it were there to ease my mind. It all comes to life whilst listening to music which helps bring all of the emotions to the surface and amplifies my feelings.

Q. Was Arise created following a clear story line?

My choreography is based on emotions and feelings. They play a big role in my creation. So I guess not. I would say that the storyline created itself within the making process. In fact, in the first stages of the process, I often found myself only grasping on to a few emotionally rich images that were clearly painted in my mind but had no arrival point. So I targeted a few of them and placed them in a way that I knew could help with what I wanted to communicate in the big picture. My Italian side tends to get very emotional and the hardest part is not letting too many images overcrowd my brain, so I try and tape the essential ones together and eventually this motionless picture in my mind comes to life in a meaningful way. I feel honoured to say that I received the help of my dear friend Bem Le Hunte, a British-Indian-Australian author whose works are published internationally and whose first novel was shortlisted for the 2001 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She guided me through my ideas and helped me piece them together.

Q. How did the work come to life?

It all happened in the rehearsal room with the help of the dancers. We created it all with a series of tasks that I would assign them. I was trying to find a physicality that replicated an image or expressed a feeling, that for me, was reproduced through movement in my body. I think this way of creating and physicalising thoughts is a very personal approach to choreography. In fact, often the dancers weren’t on the same page as me in regards to the thought or the feeling that drove a specific movement quality in me but because we are all so beautifully unique and perceive emotions in different ways, I wanted the dancers to go through their personal feelings. So working with that task, they incorporated the movement to however they wanted to perceive it emotionally and after finding a common/specific physicality it all came together and made it work in the bigger picture. Working with the mind-blowingly talented dancers of Sydney Dance Company is so satisfying, and being a dancer of the company myself, I often forget how magnificently fine the group responds to any given task.

Q. Does the music play a big role in the creative process?

Definitely. It all started from the music actually, particularly the last song of the work called Faces by Armand Amar. I was going through a specific moment in my life and I felt like it was all explained in that song. It touched the spot for me even though I didn’t understand the meaning of the lyrics as they are in Persian. When I searched the translation I was surprised to find out how close my idea of what the song meant matched the lyrics.

O day, arise! The atoms are dancing.
Thanks to Him the universe is dancing.
The souls are dancing, overcome with ecstasy.
I’ll whisper in your ear where their dance is taking them.
All the atoms in the air and in the desert know well, they seem insane.
Every single atom, happy or miserable,
Becomes enamoured of the sun, of which nothing can be said.

In the end, we all express ourselves with movement and our molecules dance harmoniously in a unique microscopical way. We are ourselves, we are free, body and soul and world are peacefully connected but independent. I must point out how lucky and happy I feel to have Marco Cher-Gibard compose from scratch the middle section of the music. He had the almost impossible task to connect his section to the first and last track of Arise. With his expertise in techno music, he often sophistically creates for dancers. He really understood what I was looking for and he definitely fulfilled my wish and produced the music spot on! Working together we often referred to the song as “our baby,” which is a result of our ideas meshing together. Something new that is informed from strong origins.

Q. What is the work about?

It’s about the struggle of living in today’s society. We live in an almost robotic functioning society (represented in the choreography as the group moving in sync) that doesn’t often focus on our internal wellbeing but only on achieving perfection. In our miserable loneliness, whilst often left on the ground to struggle on our own, we all pursue success and as a flock of birds moving in the same frenetic motion we hang onto the rules of our world. Only occasionally, as we internally fight between our ego and our ID, we have the courage to breakthrough from the rigorous expectations of our society.

We keep falling and dropping like flowers on an unhealthy soil holding onto one another. Occasionally we step out of the routine and find our personal harmony. Then, in a unique dynamic motion, we learn how to stand and rise on our own feet feeling the contact of the group – not connected by survival instinct but finally only to love one another in our uniqueness.

The dancers begin standing in the “spotlight” (they are on stage and life is a big performance) almost motionless as they project themselves towards the audience quite a lot. The idea is that the audience is living the dancer’s feelings of judgement and discomfort.

Q. What is the highlight of your career?

I feel lucky to have performed and worked with so many beautiful people and many talented artists and choreographers throughout my dance career around the world. I’ve learned so many different ways of approaching movement. I’ve always found a way to express myself doing other choreographer’s works and having the freedom of improvising on stage and creating my own solos. But now in this new chapter of my life, experiencing being on the other side of things and creating for such a talented group of people is definitely a very inspiring moment and a big milestone for me. I am very grateful for the opportunity.

Experience Ariella Casu's Arise as part of New Breed from 28 November to 7 December in Sydney.
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