Interview: Sisters Grimm is back with Voices of the Amazon

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Liam Burke & Michelle Buckley in Voices of the Amazon. Image by Johan Persson

Following on from the Grammy® Award nominated success of INALA, Sisters Grimm is back with a colourful, upbeat dance musical with an important message about the environment and the Amazon rainforest. We speak to choreographer Helen Pickett about bringing the colour and energy of the Amazon to life through movement.

Voices of the Amazon is set deep in the jungle, where a water spirit from the Amazon river, who ventures deep into the rainforest in search of a cure for her dying sister. Entranced by the beauty of the natural world, her eyes are soon opened to the realities of deforestation.

It was this message of unity and caring for the earth that really spoke to Helen Pickett, who collaborated with Sisters Grimm team Pietra Mello-Pittman and Ella Spira to choreograph the new work.

“It’s very timely. With the President of the United States leaving the Paris Agreement. It truly is this story of the Amazon which is this amazing, fertile piece of earth that is the foundation for so many medicines and so much diversity of life within the animal kingdom and flora and fauna and humans. That’s what I love about the story, how things work the best when they work together.”

Helen has created over 30 ballets and is currently Resident Choreographer for Atlanta Ballet. Voices of Amazon, is a development on her style offering a chance for her to work with an established narrative.

“I made a ballet based on Camino Real by Tennessee Williams three years ago and really loved that process. I could always go back to the truth, that the narrative could not be changed. It’s strange, with all my improve background, I actually liked that boundary.”

“Voices of the Amazon has that wonderful strong foundation of narrative. It’s such a beautiful anchor” Helen enthuses.

The performance features a mix of duets and large group performances. The group dances were a chance for Helen to try something new. “I really went that way which was really fun” she laughs adding she really enjoyed creating movement where ‘everyone is united’.

Despite a lot of her former work being abstract narrative has often been a base for Helen’s work, “Even if my pieces are abstract, I always create story… I’m really about how people break the fourth wall in order to connect and communicate.”

This theme of connection and communication runs throughout Voices of Amazon, which fuses ballet, contemporary and capoeira styles together to create a fun and energetic performance, celebrating the spirit of Brazil.

Narrated by Jeremey Irons, the show is also supported by WWF and the Eden Project. WWF have provided scientific consultation as has Alexander (Xand) Van Tulleken.

Alexander explains, “The themes in Voices of the Amazon are based on indigenous stories but the danger the sister’s face is a danger we all face as the rainforest is increasingly threatened by human activity. Indigenous life and knowledge is important, fragile, under threat, and undervalued. Voices of the Amazon is a powerful reminder of this”

Helen agrees, “It’s another reason I love this story. It can be an educational tool.”

Any key moments to look out for? Helen laughs, “The song Gaia is my jam. It’s one of the first pieces I choreographed because I was so attached to it as I saw movement. I am bit kinaesthetic, so if I see the music in shapes, then I know I’ll be attached to it.’

Voices of the Amazon is at Sadler’s Wells from 4-8 July and then at Latitude Festival on the 15 July.

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