Backstage

TW Talks Tuesday: An Interview With Cathy Hunt & Yoni Prior

Director and dramaturg, Cathy Hunt, directed her first play, The Maids, at the age of 23. For various reasons, it was some time until she directed her second. Hunt has had a busy year in 2018 however, directing the opera Les Mamelles de Tiresias for Lyric in April and the immersive show Her Father’s Daughter for Hotel Now in May. To further develop her craft, Hunt has been working on Chamber Made’s current production of Dybbuks as an Associate Artist.

CH: After The Maids it took me a long time before I directed my second work, mainly because I didn’t know of any women directors. I was working at a theatre company in Sydney, Belvoir, and wanted to make my own work, so I started my own independent theatre company. Part of this involved working with writers to shape their plays for performance which is where dramaturgy came in. Working at Belvoir I was steeped in all the processes of making, writing and creating work for the stage and began working with writers like Brooke Robinson, Jessica Tuckwell and Tommy Murphy. Suddenly there were more women directors around and several whose work I deeply admired, such as Adena Jacobs, had trained in directing at the Victorian College of the Arts, so I went there to do that course, in 2014 as a post-graduate.

Part performance, part concert, and part exorcism, through the Associate Artist program, Hunt has been involved in various aspects of Dybbuks which is devised from S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, about a malevolent demon that possesses a woman’s soul.

CH: As well as shadowing director, Samara Hersch, throughout her creative and collaborative process of making this work, I had a specific role which I’ve loved, of liaising with the choir of women who sing in Yiddish and provide vocal texture throughout the piece. We began rehearsing in mid-July, at the Kadimah, the Jewish cultural centre in Elsternwick and the choir began by sharing their favourite Yiddish songs and the stories that made them special.

CH: For several of the women, Yiddish was their first language, their parents as Holocaust survivors chose not to speak other languages to their children as they grew up in Melbourne, some very close to Theatre Works. There was once a Jewish kindergarten just around the corner in Robe St, which a few of the choir attended. It has been incredible getting to know the amazing women in the choir and working with them, learning some beautiful haunting Yiddish songs and being an adopted member of this special community whilst making the work.

With Chamber Made’s practice of making art outside of boundaries and reimagining works, Hunt jumped at the chance to work with them and Samara, who conceived Dybbuks.

CH: The way Chamber Made deliberately venture into the unknown, exploring what might happen when performance collides with sound and intersects with music in a theatre context, strongly appeals to me. I have been deeply drawn to works that Samara has made previously, including META and We All Know What’s Happening as well as the gorgeously unexpected event Dybbuk which Samara curated at the Malthouse in 2016, an early exploration of some of the ideas which charge this piece. Earlier this year I directed an opera for Lyric and am drawn to exploring how sound can heighten states of intensity in theatre and be used in unexpected ways in my own practice both as a theatre maker and in more sound-based works.

Being an Associate Artist on Dybbuks has provided Hunt with the experience, knowledge and skills to consider her own practice and how to bring these ideas to her own theatre making.

CH: Working with Chamber Made; with Artistic Director Tamara Saulwick who is sound dramaturg on Dybbuks and with Chamber Made artists including Jenny Barnes who uses her voice to improvise & musician Aviva Endean on clarinet, has been revelatory, particularly witnessing the impact of rhythm, silences and juxtaposition in the improvised score. The close collaboration between Samara and composer Max Lyandvert to achieve their shared vision for the work, has given me an insight into the deep precision and passion needed to achieve the unstable open balance that this work aims at.

CH: I have begun to imagine alternate ways of approaching and opening up complex and ambiguous ideas through music and sound. The fragility of the human voice and the way juxtaposition works – the combination of what we do and do not understand and the layers that can build within a work using elements of different art forms. This transformation through blurred boundaries, overlapping between a body and a voice is something I would like to explore further in my own practice. The very personal, participatory and ritual nature of this work is also a rich source of inspiration – the way it attempts to answer questions that are perhaps unanswerable. How we can be with the dead? Huge questions and the richness of the gaps we leave for the audience itself to fill in.

Dybbuks’ all-female cast consists of a choir of intergenerational women, four musicians and three performers, including Yoni Prior. Prior has been working on the development of the show for several years in a role that has just as many faces as a dybbuk.

YP: Having worked on The Dybbuk with the Gilgul Ensemble in the 90’s and riveted by the extraordinary metaphorical resonance and persistence of the myth, I was excited to return to the material and mine it further, and particularly to look at it through a female/feminist lens. I have a strange sort of role in the show that morphs from movement to movement. I guess my main role is as the bathhouse attendant who shepherds the bride through the purification process. We have been working on development of this performance for a couple of years, so we have done many iterations based on ideas of rituals of purification and what it is to be with the dead, or to be possessed – particularly in the context of Jewish ritual, culture and history.

While Ansky’s tale is a more traditional narrative driven story, this production uses the dybbuk as a stepping-stone in its exploration of how the female body is defined through language, voice, memory and desire.

YP: With Dybbuks, audiences can probably expect to see what they least expect. The narrative of the myth is really a point of departure for this piece. It’s like a ‘pre-text’ for a theatrical/sonic/musical/visual exploration of death, possession and ecstasy.

Prior has been fascinated by The Dybbuk long before her involvement in 1991, and the story has kept her intrigued for decades.

YP: I remember seeing members of Peter Brook’s company do a two-man version in Melbourne in the very early 80’s and then, living in Israel for a number of years, seeing an Andrzej Wajda version at The Habimah. And of course, we pulled the myth apart minutely and put it back together in fragments for the Gilgul production.

While she doesn’t believe in dybbuks and ibburs (a good/positive version of a dybbuk) in the supernatural sense, there is an aspect of them that Prior does believe in, and something that audiences will be left to consider while watching the performance.

YP: The story and this production remind me that as I get older, I am becoming increasingly aware of the presence of death in my peripheral vision, and of those I have lost who continue to speak through me in many ways.

 

Read more about Dybbuks here.

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