Procenium is a work that researches and expands the choreographic and spatial tools for the proscenium stage. In Proscenium, the theatre itself is a performer. Its equipment and mechanisms such as the lights, speakers, curtains, ropes, rails and ladders are all theatrical devices that are subtly manipulated in the work. Amidst this graceful movement of architectures emerges a new cosmic dance.
Proscenium is the outcome of a three-year research project, during which James worked with various artists and theorists to study the architectural performing of the Proscenium theatre. Based in the Canberra Playhouse, the team studied the spacing of performer and object, temporal spilling of past and future spatial relations, the pacification of the audience and the Proscenium as frame, mirror and window.
In 2019 James was commissioned by QL2 Dance to create a performance of Proscenium with 28 young dancers from the Quantum Leap Ensemble. Theatre architect and performance theorist Dorita Hannah joined the team in Canberra to contextualise the research within a wider discourse on theatre design and performance:
the part of a theatre stage in front of the curtain.
the stage of an ancient theatre
short for proscenium arch.
Dancers once inhabited the choros – a circular dancing ground – as the connecting space sited between the audience in the theatron and the staged action on the proscenium, which was a raised platform in front on the scenery/skene. However, this in-between space of ancient Greek theatre has disappeared, leaving only the dividing element of the proscenium, which is reduced to a frame that delineates the boundary between those who perform and those who witness. The term ‘proscenium’ has therefore come to represent the proscenium arch; an architectural feature defining the conventional picture frame stage. Although the proscenium’s position and focus has shifted over millennia, it remains a powerful element in contemporary theatre: representing a borderline between audience reality and staged imagination; acting as the invisible fourth wall and therefore a window to other worlds; while standing in as a metaphorical mirror reflecting truth via fiction.
Through his focus on the relationship between choreography and architecture, James Batchelor understands and works with the proscenium as frame, border, wall, window and mirror. However, while recognising Canberra’s Playhouse as a proscenium venue, he approaches its stage primarily as an expansive landscape to be filled up and emptied by performing bodies. These bodies moving in and out of direct view have a reciprocal relationship with the architecture. The dancers make the built environment conspicuously present, just as it structures how they move and how the audience receives such movement. James therefore challenges the notion that theatre architecture’s role is to disappear when the lights are lowered; instead acknowledging it as dynamic material space, a technological performance machine and an arrangement of sentient bodies on both sides of the divide.
– Dr. Dorita Hannah
CREATIVE TEAM with QL2 Dance
Choreographer: James Batchelor
Dancers: Quantum Leap Ensemble
Composer: Morgan Hickinbotham
Lighting Designer: Mark Dyson
Dramaturge: Dorita Hannah
Dancers: Jacqueline Trapp, Amber McCartney, Jack Riley, Nikki Tarling, Ben Hurley, Ryan Stone, Madeline Towler Lovell, Gabriel Sinclair, Nasim Patel
Producer: Bek Berger
Lighting Designer: Matthew Adey