Gabrielle Leah New discusses the power of aging in Reclaim the Crone

by | Jun 20, 2024

Gabrielle Leah New’s latest work,  , poses the question, if older women were recognised for their strength, beauty, and power, could humanity move in a more positive direction? A stirring point to ponder and one that New visited when she was turning 50.

“I had a residency in Lisbon and was researching how older women were portrayed culturally and in social media,” she says. “I discovered a plethora of information about the invisibility of older women, so much anti-aging, stay young, and non-acceptance of the older woman that I wanted to offer alternatives. I was looking for older female role models about how to age powerfully. This show seems to have been part of the Zeitgeist that has been growing over the past few years. There is a lot more happening in this arena than there was 6 years ago.”

New is also very concerned about the state of the environment and humanity’s relationship with, what she calls, Grandmother Earth and began connecting the archetype of the Crone, the wise old woman as a force to connect, respect and relate more caringly to each other and the planet for healing and change.

For New the Crone represents wisdom, strength, fierceness, caring, compassion and the cycles of life and death. “I feel that part of our problem with not taking care of the planet is that we are Death-avoidant in our culture (we believe resources will last forever, or we can dump waste into the oceans endlessly without any consequences). I feel that if we can reclaim the archetype of the Crone and bring her out of the collective shadow it will help us to be more caring toward each other and the Earth and recognize that death and decay are part of life.

Perhaps it’s time for The Patriarchal, consumerist paradigm in which we exist to die so that a rebirth can occur where we can look after the planet and recognize our interconnectedness with all life. That’s the dream and the inspiration!”

New’s research often starts with looking into myths and archetypes and drawing on these to tell stories that resonate deeply with current social and psychological issues. She was particularly drawn to two stories, one from Greek mythology the other Japanese, where the Goddess has withdrawn from her duties due to mourning.

“Demeter after losing her daughter to the underworld was flashed by an older woman -Baubo – which was so ridiculous it made her laugh again and return to her goddess duties,” explains New. ” In a similar story – Amaterasu is the sun goddess who retreats into a cave after a fight. She is also lured out by Ame-no-Uzume who also flashes her bits and makes her laugh, resulting in her return to the important Goddess duty of providing light.

During the development of Reclaim the Crone I was lucky to be able to work with the stories of older women from the community. Some of them are integrated into the show through poetry and video projection and their voices make up a part of the soundscape in a part we call “Crone Wisdom”, joining together to create the voice of Mother Earth.”

New says that speaking to a range of older women was a privilege and an eye opener to the range of stories and understandings people have of the patriarchal system that we currently exist in. All of the women she interviewed had extraordinary, unique perspectives on ageing, the Crone archetype, and their relationship to nature.

New began working on the predecessor of Reclaim the Crone, RUST, just before she turned 50. RUST is an installation with video performance, sound, poetry, and body prints – that was 6 years ago. There have been a number of developments and Covid in-between before the final major development and premiere in 2023 where funding was received from the Mornington Peninsula Performing Arts Fund for Reclaim the Crone.

Like many independent groups, New, who is the founder of The Space Between Performance Collective, acknowledges that one of the big challenges to creating performance work is securing funding to be able to pay people. The current system is very stressful and problematic for creators who are never assured of securing funds before committing to projects. It is very competitive and a lot of blood, sweat, tears and time go into writing proposals, and nothing is ever assured, making it mentally and financially stressful for creators with important stories to tell.

The collective has had a number of other developmental stages including a residency in India, one at The Donkey Wheelhouse in Melbourne and one with the Lucy Guerin Out of Bounds program. “Making the work has been an absolute joy and I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful team of experienced and talented people to work with,” says New. In July they will be supported to have their Melbourne premiere at Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory.

New is an Occupational Therapist and Art Therapist, as well as an artist and performer and draws on her work as a therapist in all of her art making.

“As a Therapist I am interested in people, the mind, our stories, and how we relate to our culture, society and environment,” she says. ” My art and work are extensions of how I express myself in the world. I feel like I am always navigating the connections and relationship between these two aspects of my life.

Being an Occupational Therapist has always been very creative, as it uses creative mediums therapeutically which is one of the reasons I got into it in the first place. I went on to study Holistic Integrated art therapies later.

The underpinning concept in all of my creative work is about healing and transformation so I think this is where it really connects with my Therapy work.”

The production is a bold and haunting performance that marries contemporary Butoh dance theatre, projection, soundscape, poetry, and song. Butoh is what New is trained in and passionate about and the main medium she works with when devising shows.

New explains that Butoh is the perfect art form for this work as it is often used to represent the oppressed, the overlooked and those on the fringes of society… like the Crones or older women who are often perceived as invisible.

New has been working with Butoh since 1998, including being a company member with Mau Dance Theatre in New Zealand, but she has developed her own style and way of working – something which Butoh allows for.

As a multi-arts practitioner New loves weaving together different mediums with dance. In Reclaim the Crone, most (but not all) of the movement draws from Butoh. Some is choreographed forms using projections, transforming costumes, poetry, and music to weave these together with an evocative, original soundscape by New’s long-time collaborator, Norm Skipp.

This piece is created to be provocative and asks many questions, we the collective do not aim to provide answers necessarily but offer a lens through which potential solutions may be viewed.

The public programs provided free with the shows are an opportunity to ask questions and discuss themes of the show. “We love robust dialogue and stimulating discussion and hope that people can join us for these,” she says.

After show Fri 19 July:

In-Conversation with Deborah Hart from CLIMARTE and Director Gabrielle Leah New.

After show Wed 24 July:

Artist Q&A with Composer Norm Skipp and Director Gabrielle Leah New.

“A few topics that come to mind that we would love to inspire conversations around include the invisibility of older women and the cultural, social and environmental implications of the Crone archetype. Environmental issues and what we can do to improve the support the well-being of all. How to develop more respect and care for our bodies (and the Earth as a body), especially during the ageing process – embracing it to be good role models for the younger generations. How to develop more respect for women in general and older women in particular. How can we be more comfortable with death. The role and power of art to bring about change and discussion about the effects of the Patriarchal system.

These discussions are timely and relevant. The work emerged from my personal feelings of impotence in the face of Climate devastation, and we have been lucky to have the ongoing support for this project from CLIMARTE.”

New founded The Space Between Performance Collective in 2009, inviting collaborators to develop new multi-dimensional performance works primarily aimed at pushing the boundaries of the live performance experience exploring ‘the space between’ things like self and other, audience and performer, body and place/environment, interior psyche and exterior action, sensory perception and movement, dance and sound, sculpture and performance, archetype and myth, etc.

The group has had four major productions; CREATURE (2009-2011 Directed by Gabrielle Leah New) and Ten Worlds (2013 Directed by Helen Smith) and Thing with Feathers (2013 Gabrielle Leah New and Kathleen Doyle) and Reclaim the Crone (2023-and beyond Directed by Gabrielle Leah New).

The shared practice of the performers and makers is Butoh – which is a contemporary style of Physical Theatre/Dance from Japan. It is relatively rare having a company dedicated to working with this form. The work of The Space Between Performance Collective draws on a range of different art forms. The collective creates otherworldly experiences for audiences that is not reliant on the verbal but explores other sensory communicative pathways which broadens accessibility.

A multi-layered journey of defiance, growth, and transformation, Reclaim the Crone is a provocative treat, asking audiences to imagine a world where age, experience, and knowledge equate to power, beauty… and trouble.

Says New, “Reclaim the Crone is an evocative performance with a lot of elements to intrigue all sorts of lovers of art. If you’re into dance, theatre or the visual arts you’ll be surprised how these are all married together in an exciting and seamless way. Come and be taken on a wild immersive adventure.”

July 17 – 27

www.theatreworks.org.au/2024/reclaim-the-crone

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