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Heavenly Work Reprised: Raewyn Hill honours legacy of choreographer Douglas Wright

Raewyn Hill was in her first year at the New Zealand School of Dance when she saw the original cast of Douglas Wright’s Gloria perform in the St. James Theatre. 

“One day I want to be one of those people who gets to dance Gloria” she thought.

A few years later Raewyn met Douglas while working with Sydney Dance Company. “I fell under the spell of Gloria and Douglas again”.

He went on to invite her back to New Zealand to understudy his work, ‘How on Earth’ and in 1997 Douglas asked Raewyn to be one of his Gloria dancers in a retrospective season of his work.

“He [Douglas] allowed me to think that there was more possibility in me. He instilled this way of working that has transferred through my entire life; just to always be searching or asking, is it enough? Can I do more? Can it be bigger? Can I jump higher? Am I being truthful? It was so much more than just being a dancer.”

Now with her company Co3, Douglas’s Artistic Advisors Megan Adams and Ann Dewey, Raewyn is bringing this transformative work back to the stage. This will be the first time this work has been performed since Douglas Wright’s passing in 2018.

Gloria photography by John McDermott 1997

Having worked closely with Douglas, Raewyn has a unique insight into how and why he made Gloria.

“One of the things he was thinking deeply about, was the nature of human existence and the existence of a higher power. He wanted to make a work that celebrated all aspects of life from birth to death and he chose [Vivaldi’s] Gloria as a setting for this work because of its emotional range and its beauty. It’s a heavenly work.”

Hence when looking for a piece for Co3 and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra to collaborate on, Gloria presented itself as the perfect choice.

“I was looking for a work we could collaborate with WASO on. We’d been talking for about five-years about them performing live with us. Evan Kennea (WASO’s Executive Manager) suggested that we partner with the St Georges Cathedral Consort to sing live. We’ve brought the work to life in a way that Douglas never had the opportunity to do and that’s with live music and chorus.”

Gloria photography by Ross Brown 1990

The piece also honours Co3’s mission to honour intergenerational casting in the company, with two cast members from previous productions of Gloria returning to be involved in this work. Claudia Alessi is reprising her role that she performed 31 years ago with Chrissie Parrott and Sean MacDonald, who was part of the retrospective production Raewyn performed in, is also reprising his role.

“Bringing to life existing work is a big part of my direction. Within the casting of the work I thought that if there was an opportunity to honour the original cast members then I would bring them into the work.”

“You have dancers who have already embodied Gloria and that’s quite extraordinary. They’re passing this information to the next generation, the holders, of Gloria. Once you’ve performed Gloria it’s a great honour.”

Raewyn describes Gloria as work of joy that “encompasses all of life and existence”, prompting profound emotions from its audiences. 

“There’ll be moments where it will be deeply sad. But there will be other moments where it’s just so full of life and joy and that’s what we all need in our lives.”

Douglas Wright’s Gloria presented by Co3, featuring the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and St George’s Cathedral Consort conducted by Dr Joseph Nolan, is on from September 14 to 18 at the Heath Ledger Theatre.