your feet in the grass. Her back against a tree. The breeze on your face, the warmth of the sun.
All things that we rarely, if ever, get to experience in the theatre. But that will change with the premiere season of gene treean “Ode to the Planets” that immerses its audience in the great outdoors and a chorus of children’s voices and dreams of our possible future.
Prepared by St. Martins Youth Arts Centre, its young think-tank ensemble Congress (ages 11-17) and 15 young people from Dandenong Primary School aged nine to 12, gene tree will whisk you away from your everyday life to the nooks and crannies of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens to encounter the thoughts, feelings and hopes of young people who are asking “impossible questions” about our relationship with our planet.
gene tree has long roots, Nadja Kostich, artistic director of St. Martins and leader of the project, tells ArtsHub.
“It all started about six years ago with a collaboration with Elissa Goodrich, a composer who introduced me to an embryonic collaboration with evolutionary biologist Dr. invited Anna Syme, which was about how we’ve changed the environment and how the environment has changed us ?’
The three women spent time creating a music-driven exploration of the themes, then invited audiences to respond to the work. “The best and most interesting questions always came from the children in the audience,” Kostich recalls. “It just made sense for us to work with young people and let them lead the way.”
From that, gene tree would eventually emerge, a work that weaves storytelling, music and living sculpture into an outdoor promenade performance, with a cast of 30 children and a live four-piece band creating a ‘flow of music’.
“Evolution, replication, duplication, extinction and adaptation… Music can take those words and create a beautiful kind of external, visceral experience,” Kostich said.
“We describe the production as ‘designed by nature,'” she added. “Our artists take advantage of nature and reflect the sunlight. In this way it is extremely sensitive. We’d like to think it encourages people to lean in and notice small details. There is no competition with nature. It’s about revealing our connection and showing that we’re listening. And we wanted it to leave the smallest possible ecological footprint.”
The young collaborators were “beautiful partners” in the creation gene treesaid Kostich. “The Dandenong children in particular come from one of the most culturally diverse areas of Australia and many of them come from refugee families from countries that have seen war. I can’t tell you how poignant it was to hear her speak about adaptation and change from her perspective and then find resonances with our surroundings. They were absolutely inspiring and also challenging. All of the adults on the team have had really deep conversations about our relationship with nature.’
Young people seem to see nature from a very different perspective, Kostich said. “Often it’s the very small detail that she captures: a blade of grass, a raindrop on a leaf. We adults can be so “whole” about everything and we miss so much.”
gene treeThe audience of is invited to walk around the grounds and experience vignettes and happenings at 14 different locations. The work concludes on Princes Lawn with a spectacular finale featuring 30 children and the band before sunset.
Everyone will experience it gene tree something different, said Kostich. “It’s going to be about finding your own path, so get out of your FOMO [Fear of Missing Out] Behind. We say take your time; You may not see everything, but you won’t miss anything. All scenes complement each other in no particular order, and themes and motifs are repeated. You’ll walk away with a unique experience – something gentle that will elicit a smile and a moment of wonder, but will still stay with you. And you can always come back.’
gene tree Performed on 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, 12th, 13th November at 6.30pm at The Royal Botanic Gardens (Entrance via Observatory Gate), Melbourne. Tickets and information here.
This performance is wheelchair accessible. For more information, contact the Royal Botanic Gardens Visitor Center on (03) 9252 2429.
Performances with foreign interpretation: Sunday 6th November and Saturday 12th November.