Pedal pushers and sand castles

Two works fuse spoken word with dance and song at Holden St Theatres this Fringe season thanks to dancer Eliza Sanders and her brother, Charles.

Since they were kids growing up in Canberra, Eliza Sanders and her brother Charles — Charlie to her — have been doing things together. They both trained at Canberra’s Kim Harvey School of Dance but feeling New Zealand might offer a more physical style than Australia, and being curious about New Zealand anyway, Eliza moved to Wellington and picked up a bachelor’s degree from the New Zealand School of Dance.

Hungry for more, she trained in Inyengar Yoga, Anouk van Dijk’s Countertechnique and the Alexander technique as well as a few others. Charles came to Adelaide and completed an AC Arts advanced diploma in acting, then later moved to Sydney for a master’s in directing at NIDA, where he is now a guest director and lecturer’s assistant. He is also a regular guest lecturer at AC Arts. They both had stints in the US at the Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI).

While Charles developed his acting and directing skills, winning several accolades including the Adelaide Critics’ Circle 2011 Emerging Artist Award and a couple of NZ Fringe awards in 2016, Eliza was becoming a notable choreographer, dancer and filmmaker. She created her first professional work for Canberra’s QL2 company in 2010, and continued choreographing and performing in New Zealand and Australia.

house-sand-eliza-sanders-2018-adelaide-reviewEliza Sanders

In 2015, she gained one of the Australia Council’s last ArtStart grants, which took her to SITI, Performing Arts Forum (PAF) in France and ImpulzTanz in Vienna — immensely significant for her development as a dancer and choreographer. To top it off, in 2016, she won a scholarship from Transformation Danse in Montreal and returned to dance with them again last year.

In January 2015, brother and sister teamed up to form a company, House of Sand, for their first co-production, Pedal, which they are bringing to Holden Street Theatres for the Fringe, along with Castles (2016). She’s the creator/performer, he’s director/dramaturg. Siblings combining in dance are unusual, but when I asked about it, Eliza laughed and said, “Being a family member there’s no muckin’ around — we say it straight as it is — the work never finishes.”

Pedal, which has won several awards, looks at the way we pedal through life, and how we peddle our offerings to society. Eliza’s method involves text, movement, lighting and stage design. She likes “playing with ambiguity”.

“I like manipulating sound and my own voice in the same way you would abstract and manipulate movement,” Eliza says. She really enjoys it when people interpret her work in different ways. “Some people perceive a theme and others see a narrative.”

Much of Castles was made at PAF, an arts institution in a former nunnery in St Erme, a small village between Reims and Laon, 150 km northeast of Paris. Eliza found it a highly stimulating place. The old chapel, with “beautiful stained glass windows was such an ideal place,” she says. She didn’t know much French, but her classical ballet training in mime was a great help.

“I do a lot of writing when I’m travelling,” she says. “Themes of travel and movement and displacement are in all my work because I’m so transient myself. And it is so relevant to [the] world at the moment. People are forced to move to different places, and people travel so much by choice. That comes into my work. When I’m travelling I don’t have access to a studio, I can’t create movement, so I write.”

Having created more than 20 works since 2010, and performing in many of them herself, Eliza sees her current work as being abstract with a narrative element. Living in New Zealand has had much influence over the way she works.

“There’s a real sense of openness and community and sharing. There’s an abundance of nature and space — I walk a lot and explore and get lost in a beautiful wilderness. I think about texts I might put in shows, and generate shows.”

Pedal and Castles
Holden Street Theatres (The Studio)
Until Saturday, March 17
holdenstreettheatres.com

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