Discoveries in a dreamscape

By William Dart

NZTrio work with composer to portray powerful stories

NZTrio member Justine Cormack rehearses with members of Massive Company. Photo / Andy Crown
NZTrio member Justine Cormack rehearses with members of Massive Company. Photo / Andy Crown

Classical music rehearsals can be sedate affairs but not so when Sam Scott works with the actors and musicians performing in Massive Company's upcoming My Bed, My Universe.

Over and over actor Dominic Ona-Ariki gives out the line, "Are we just little paintings of God hanging in his living room?" igniting a riotous flurry of rushing and leaping bodies.

NZTrio's Justine Cormack, Ashley Brown and Sarah Watkins don't join in the fray but stay on the side, stirring up varying degrees of tremolo fury to complement the action.

Composer Chris O'Connor spends a lot of the time hovered over a giant scrolled score unfurled across the width of the Town Hall Concert Chamber.

Violinist Cormack, warns that this eruption was the very last portion of a show that is still forming. "It's been one of the hardest scenes to get going because it's so crucial how the piece finishes."

The violinist's perspective on My Bed, My Universe brings on talk of journeys and discoveries in what she describes as "a dreamscape around ideas of one's place in the world. It's far from a straight play ... it deals out some powerful stories".

I'm interested in the relationship between one of our country's top chamber music ensembles and O'Connor, a drummer and percussionist who has worked on various theatre and dance projects as well as recently joining the line-up of Phoenix Foundation.

It all goes back some years to when NZTrio was working with composer Phil Dadson towards his 2010 piece Firestarters, in which he asked the players to explore the percussive qualities of two prone violins and an open Steinway with small mallets.

"Phil's piece required us to improvise around ideas that he gave us, something we'd never done before," Cormack explains. "He trained us up and got us playing little musical games. He organised an improv session at the Wine Cellar in Karangahape Rd in which we spent three hours making stuff up, with different people from the audience joining us for five or ten minutes. One of those people was Chris and it feels like we've come round a full circle working with him now."

A number of workshops last year saw O'Connor taking NZTrio together with the actors of My Bed, My Universe and "training us up in terms of rhythmic games and getting us comfortable with more sophisticated rhythms."

Director Sam Scott took a similar approach over that period, "encouraging us to respond to each other physically and emotionally, connecting with the actors and getting into the moment. We just had to liberate ourselves and go with it."

During a break from the almost gymnastic physicalities of the rehearsal, O'Connor and Cormack have a brief consultation, during which the violinist toys with a lyrical four-note phrase.

"The tune comes from earlier in the play," says Cormack. "One of the actors sings the words 'love coming home' to it and it was our idea to bring that back at the end of the piece for a transition into the final resolution."

Cormack does admit to "a certain amount of anxiety as to how our traditional audience might respond to what we're doing here. It will be interesting going back to our regular work after this. Without a doubt we'll have been changed by this experience."

The Massive Company cast for My Bed, My Universe features Dominic Ona-Ariki, Tuyet Nguyen, Max Palamo, Neil Amituanai, Wesley Dowdell and Miriama McDowell.

- NZ Herald

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