On location inside the ‘Ancient Mother Tree’

Eileen spent a day in early March filming more scenes for her latest dance work in the womb of a giant Moreton Bay fig in Glebe NSW.

The work has been in development for many months, evolving through the stops and starts of a lock-down year.

It began as something to do with nature and art, she says. “I saw a picture of a Japanese forest with a painting hanging from a tree, and it looked so interesting I thought, ‘Oh, I’d like to do something like that’. But I did it and it didn’t look so thrilling, so I gave it up and went in another direction.”

The Glebe fig tree, with its extraordinary aerial roots, became part of the project two or three months ago. “This tree was like a magical palace with haunted rooms and mysterious passages. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted it to be the location for my dance film,” says Eileen.

“Richard [Corfield], the cinematographer, and my collaborator, filmmaker Sue [Healey], went to the tree before I did. When I got there it seemed as if they were waiting on the front porch, full of excitement. Sue said she had something to show me – a leaf on the end of a long thread, like spider’s silk, hanging from a branch. The leaf was spinning wildly in one direction for quite a long time, until suddenly it stopped just for a moment, before turning and going back in the opposite direction. The expression on Sue’s face was as if she had found a filmic treasure.”

“Logically we had intended only to shoot what we believed would be useful to us. But I began to expect, with such treasures hidden away in this tree, that we might be shooting a lot of other things as well.”

As well as Sue and Richard, the team includes Patrick Harding-Irmer and Anca Frankenhaeuser, who had been top contemporary dancers in London, Julia Cotton, a dance teacher and performer at ADT, Shane Carroll, who has worked with Bangarra, and Geoff Weston, described by Eileen as “a restaurant owner who had given up security for the sake of adventure”.

And on that day in early March they were joined by actress Maria Mercedes, who had flown up specially from Melbourne.

“Maria was a great success. ‘Tis the day … of the wasp,’ she says, as the spirit of the Ancient Mother Tree. (There is this wasp, a tiny creature, that has chosen this tree out of all the trees in the world. No other wasp will do for the tree either.) Then she says, ‘Tis the day… of the purple fig – the symbol of fertility, and love.’ (We had already shot me performing my ‘dance of the fig’ a few weeks ago.) And finally, Maria says, ‘Tis the day of those who come to dance in the shade of the Ancient Mother Tree.'”

Stay tuned!

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