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From Isolation to Inspiration: Raewyn Hill’s Dive into Endurance and Dante’s Divine Comedy

“I had one of those moments on stage just thinking, wow we actually made this happen…”

Co3’s latest work may be its boldest endeavour yet. Celebrated for her audacious creations that push the boundaries of human strength and determination, Artistic Director Raewyn Hill has placed the theme of endurance at the forefront of her new work Architect of the Invisible.

The initial exploration of endurance came during an artist residency that Raewyn and a team of five other artists embarked on in 2021. The team spent seven days in isolation on Gubrun and Noongar Country with elders but with no comms, just some satellite phones and ERIBs. During the exercise the team came to one key conclusion, “In the stripping away of everything that we thought we knew to exist, we found that actually all we needed was each other to exist. And so, we had everything.” Raewyn explains.

The realisation of connection and companionship being essential to endurance, links directly to one of Raewyn’s key inspirations, Dante’s Divine Comedy. “The Divine Comedy has been a wonderful resource for me. In terms of the story there’s definitely some things I’ve really drawn on and one of those is that we’re never alone.”

“As soon as Dante’s alone he’s lost. That really resonates with me.”

Architect of the Invisible development. Photography by Stefan Gosatti.

The narrative poem has inspired the creation of images in Raewyn’s new work and serves as the foundation of the piece, with dramaturg Richard Longbottom reworking all 100 cantos into a more contemporary language to enhance her artistic vision and aesthetic.

Raewyn describes the Divine Comedy as a “relatively new journey” for her, having only been introduced to the book a few years ago. “I wish I’d known the story earlier.”

Knowing she wanted to incorporate the poem into Architect of the Invisible she connected with Emeritus Professor John Kinder OSI, (Professor of Italian at UWA) to provide further insight on the text. “I remember him saying to me, when you get to the end, most people say, ‘I just want to start again’.”

Raewyn agrees that the Divine Comedy will have a lasting impact on her, “I feel like I can start again with the story. It’s one of those life stories, this is just the beginning of work which will continue through the rest of my career. It’s a real gift.”

Architect of the Invisible development. Photography by Stefan Gosatti.

The theme of endurance has expanded on and off stage too, with the whole Co3 company working past perceived limitations in bringing this work to life. A visual embodiment of this is the grand set, a repurposed staircase so tall and wide it had to be assembled for rehearsals in a Northbridge warehouse.

Now installed in the Heath Ledger Theatre, with 50mm to spare on each side of the stage, Raewyn acknowledges the design and concept was ambitious but one she knew had to be pursued. “This was such a big dream of mine. It reminded me that you’ve got to keep expanding that bubble of perceived possibility.”

“If you have the right team around you, those like-minded people who believe in making the impossible possible, it can happen. I just had one of those moments standing on stage just thinking, wow we actually made this happen.”

Architect of the Invisible development. Photography by Stefan Gosatti.

The design presents a greater challenge for the dancers than initially expected. The set eliminates any opportunities for performers to remain unnoticed or concealed. “Often when you step onto the stage, you can step off, and there’s moments of peace, serenity and just repose on the side. But this here, literally, as soon as you step into the theatre space, you’re onstage and there’s nowhere to hide for the for the entire work, which adds a great level of challenge to the dancers.”

However, it’s a challenge that the Co3 and LINK Dance Company dancers are well equipped and ready for, as if they are naturally inclined for it, aligning perfectly with Raewyn’s artistic vision. “The qualities of Co3 dancers – those who are drawn to my work – possess a particular kind of personality and thirst. That’s what defines my work and my aesthetic.”

Whether you’re a dancer, production manager, designer or whatever your position may be, one thing is for sure when working with Co3 and Raewyn Hill, there are no half measures. And it’s certain that Architect of the Invisible will be a testament to that and to pure human endurance.

“There’s no choice in my work other than just be everything and give me everything, it’s all or nothing really. In the moment that the work is heading towards the audience, everybody in that work is united in the fact of being 100 percent and solely committed to bringing the work to life.”

Architect of the Invisible in on in the Heath Ledger Theatre from 11–15 October.