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“LET’S care about what’s happening under the sea and how that affects you and me – oh, that rhymes,” says happy Canberra choreographer Liz Lea of her coming show, “Reef UP!”
“CityNews” catches up with Lea by phone to the Brisbane Powerhouse, where she’s starting rehearsals with fellow dancers Michael Smith and Liesel Zink on the new show, which will have its world premiere in Canberra early next month.
The production will then tour to 35 schools in regional Queensland in a venture co-commissioned by the Queensland Music Festival and the Canberra Theatre Centre.
It’s set to be a joyous production and though it deals with a serious subject, the Great Barrier Reef, in Canberra it will be aimed at very little people. We’ll be getting a neon-lit, “underwater” disco dance, the sort of thing you can’t really do in schools.
Combining science and dance has become something of a specialty for Lea. Trained in classical ballet and the equally demanding Indian tradition of Bharatanatyam, Lea’s leap into science only began in 2013 when the then director of the CSIRO Discovery Centre, Cris Kennedy, invited her to become choreographer-in-residence there.
Armed with advice from former theatre director Robert Bunzli, then working at Questacon, she headed to the National Library and the National Film and Sound Archive to research the science of flight.
When Kennedy offered her the use of the theatre at CSIRO Discovery for National Science Week, the DANscienCE Festival was born, with the highlight a production featuring indigenous dancer Tammi Gissell of a work about the red-tailed, black cockatoo.
The event has since seen a second edition in Brisbane where Lea worked with psychologist, Prof Gene Moyle and the next will be in April in Parramatta, where she’ll be working with FORM dance project and the Riverside Theatres.
In between she has choreographed kids’ shows such as “Flying Facts”, a show about the history and science of flight, and “Star Struck”, a dance response to astronomy and the science of the Big Bang, as well as doing dance and science research.
When she was a young dancer, Lea had no idea she’d end up getting so deep into science.
“The level of research I’m involved with really appeals to me… I get to touch upon different projects and meet incredible scientists – it’s a great honour,” she says. Her scientific collaborators on “Reef UP!” include people recently featured on David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef documentary.
But when it comes to “Reef UP!” it’s time for enjoyment.
Lea and the other dancers are talking to a young audience, but at the same time there’s a serious theme about how the Great Barrier Reef is being affected by pollution and climate change.
“But there’s a joyous message – what we can do about it.”
That’s where the fun part comes in, for while during the schools tour in Queensland educational material will be circulated, here in the Canberra premiere, there’ll be bright costumes and happy pop music to please little audience members.
“What is lovely is that we’ll have a few special surprise guests,” Lea enthuses. “King Neptune will make an appearance in Canberra and we’re looking for a silver stingray.” Hands up?
With 15 “fantastic” characters, such as Manta and Ray, Slinky the shark and a Crown of Thorns starfish called Priscilla, the moral of the story is still very clear: “We need to care for each other and for the future of Earth.”
“Reef UP!” Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, 11am and 1pm, October 6-7, bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.