To define Chrissie Parrott’s latest multi-layered creative offering Façade is not as simple as calling it a dance, opera, comedy or live music event, because it is all of these and more.
The journey began in 1986 when director, choreographer and visual artist Parrott returned to Perth after living in Sweden at the time of the Chernobyl disaster and made a 20-minute piece for Perth Fringe Festival as one of six environmental site-specific works.
It was called DecaDance (as in decay dance) in reference to the plaster falling off the walls of the performance venue, the Moores Building in Fremantle, where she plastered up her dancers and had them fall apart in front of people’s eyes.
Returning to the Moores Building, Parrott has re-imagined, re-scored and re-scaled it into Façade, a huge extravaganza of a brutal baroque variety performance event with big costumes, big powdered wigs, puppetry, live lute playing, comedy, opera singing and dancers (two from the original season) performing pure baroque dance movement.
“We’ve researched and gone back to the orchestration of the original choreography from the court of Louis XV,” Parrott shares.
“The original version was similar but we didn’t have all the theatricality around it then that we have now. There’s no storyline, it’s all short pieces, vignettes, that are very punchy and each one has a little segue in between.
“The biggest part of this new extravaganza is the 5m x 8m proscenium arch which has a backcloth painted by Deborah McKendrick to make it look 200 years old.”
Extending the glimpse into Parrott’s imagination is exhibition Brutal Baroque featuring 12 large portraits she has painted of people she has worked with over the past 40 years, a career that included her choreographing a version of Coppelia for WA Ballet in the late 1990s that was filmed by the ABC and had three return seasons.
The experience made her the ideal person for cybernetics artist Geoffrey Drake-Brockman to collaborate with who, among other cybernetic, interactive and kinetic artworks from the past 20 years of his career, will show his robot ballerina Coppelia Doll One and the augmented reality ballerina Parallax Dancer for the first time in Perth in exhibition Simulacra Lounge in the upstairs gallery.
The twin simulacrum ballerinas are modelled on former WA Ballet principal Jayne Smeulders and were exhibited in 2018 at the Morris Museum in New York after more than a decade of working on them.
Since then they have stayed in their sealed shipping crate at the back of Drake-Brockman’s studio until Parrott contacted him about Façade.
“As part of the Facade performance, Chrissie will choreograph an encounter between real human dancers and my simulacra ballet dancers,” Drake-Brockman, who created Totem aka The Pineapple outside Perth Arena, says.
“The dance movements will be quite simple, but I see them as explorations of reactions ranging from horror to love, as well as the possibility of freely giving, or having stolen, one’s life force.
“I am interested in robot mythologies, well-known stories about created beings, artificial people that interact with humans and in the process reveal something about us; Frankenstein, Pinocchio, the replicants in Blade Runner. My favourite is the ballet Coppelia, about a clockwork girl who becomes the centre of a complex web of love and infatuation.”
Drake-Brockman explains that cybernetics art concentrates on the phenomenon of feedback.
Via the feedback process, an artwork produces an action, that action prompts the audience to respond in some way, and the artwork senses the response and in turn formulates its next action based on what has just happened.
“The process repeats and repeats, but each time differently, depending on how varied the responses of the artwork are, and all the possible reactions of the audience,” he informs.
“You can get strange and surprising things happening in this environment, which is what fascinates me. It’s not just a simple loop without variation.”
Façade is a ticketed event performed nightly at The Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery, Fremantle, September 12 to 20.
The Brutal Baroque exhibition is open at the performance and 10am-4pm daily until September 20.
Simulacra Lounge is also showing 10am-4pm daily, September 13 to 20.