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April 19, 2021

Front row at a Cockfight

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One of Australia’s most fearless and dynamic dance companies, The Farm, has been collaborating with NORPA artistic director Julian Louis. The end result is Cockfight, a spectacular contemporary dance piece that has been described as The Office meets a cage fight. Gavin Webber of The Farm spoke with Seven.

Could you tell me about the concept of Cockfight?

Cockfight is an exploded fiction that appears to be about two office workers engaged in a generational power struggle but is in fact about a real relationship between its two performers. Josh and I have been working together for more than a decade and over the years our relationship has changed. Dancers have an early death where they can no longer keep competing with the next generation and I think Josh smells the blood in the water. He’s circling me.

How has the creation process been actually making it happen? Is it possible to realise an idea in the flesh or does it change and take on a life of its own?

We have a process where we try to let the work speak to us, as though it is something already existing that we are trying to release, I guess like the sculptor who thinks he is releasing the sculpture from the marble. It emerges from our process and undoubtably it’s not what we expect but then again I don’t think you ever know what to expect before you start. We work collaboratively, and early on there are always different ideas of what the work could be but as it shows itself it becomes pretty clear. You don’t even have to listen that hard; it starts calling to you eventually. With Cockfight we began with a lot of improvisations and even from the first hour we had a pretty good idea that this one was going to be a screamer.

How do you two work together and create some sort of artistic synergy?

Josh and I have worked together for such a long time that we can very easily follow our noses. We both like to get up and try things which is sometimes annoying for Kate and Julian because we usually decide to do that before we’ve all finished talking.

There is a great trust between us and I think we have good antennae for each other. We recently spent 48 hours on a sandbar in Currumbin Creek for Bleach festival on the Gold Coast, so that helped dissolve any remaining barriers.

The office is a very ordinary setting – what does it show about masculinity and the world at large?

Extraordinary things emerge out of banality. The concrete world is a beautiful place to produce something that is poetic and the office setting for us is a springboard to deeper ideas. Dance is an abstract language and we don’t always want to pile abstraction upon abstraction. We like to set up a premise that seems simple but spreads outwards once movement enters the frame. It’s almost like the dance in Cockfight is an expression of the inner worlds of these men and as we all know our inner worlds are never straightforward. We don’t have just one emotion at a time. We are complex characters. The office is also just a great place to put a game of life or death.

What were the main challenges in creating this piece?

Getting us all together at the same time. We have so many other commitments that organising our schedules can be a nightmare.

Dance is a young man’s game.

What happens when someone up the food chain gets weak and is ready to be taken down?

Cockfight, that’s what happens! As they say, you’re only as good as your last game so watching someone trying to keep playing as their ability lessens is powerful and tragic stuff.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that I am a trainwreck onstage – or maybe I am; did Josh talk to you guys?

As a teenager I always wanted to beat my father at tennis. Finally I did and I remember how sad it was when it happened because in that moment I understood that a line had been crossed. And perhaps also, in some dark unconscious place I realised that my own physical decline was also implicit in the outcome.

What are the bigger themes that you have explored?

We started with an idea of Icarus and Daedalus building their wax wings and then Icarus getting too cocky and, well, you know how that turned out. There’s another part of that story where after all the waxing action Daedalus, who is obviously a bit of a hero in the first story, retires to an island in the mediterranean. Daedalus is an inventor and as it turns out he has a young nephew who becomes a better inventor than he is so he pushes him off a cliff. Not so heroic. We were attracted to the idea of the older man trying to stop the younger becoming better than him at any cost.

How have you realised the humour in the piece?

We’re just really funny people. Or at least I am. Josh is less funny.

What should local audiences expect?

Cockfight is very accessible owing to the banal setting and humour, yet at the same time it explores complex relationships and has a disarming tenderness at its core. It is ultimately very moving.

17–19 September, 7.30pm. NORPA at Lismore City Hall

For bookings call 1300 066 772 or visit www.norpa.org.au.

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