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Fill The Void


On a cool August night 2021, in the midst of rolling COVID-19 lockdowns, a magical thing happened. A small group of performers managed to stage a performance in a small, rural hall. Against a backdrop of pandemic fear and isolation, this was a strange and wonderful thing to occur.


It was part of a larger project, Big Art Small Halls, conceived by the shire council as a project to support local artists in the South Gippsland region, and to keep a cultural candle alight, when everything had all but shut down. The idea was simple enough—give four artists a tiny hall, each, in which to create something new, almost in defiance of the state of emergency. Of course, the program was constantly thwarted by that very pandemic. And, of the four individual projects that the artists embarked upon, only one made it through the storm.


It was the brainchild of local professional dancer, performance artist and community facilitator Samara Cunningham. Aptly named Fill The Void, the idea was to attract a diverse range of locals, to co-create a multimedia dance performance, to rehearse, and then perform this to a small audience. And those that came couldn’t have been more diverse. The youngest performer was under ten years old, and the oldest were in their sixties. Some had no dance experience whatsoever. Others had some. One woman had been a professional dancer in Hong Kong. There was one man in the group, with his daughter, and a woman with Downes Syndrome.


I was commissioned, right at the start, to compose the music and design the overall soundscape for the production, which was to also include the spoken voices of the performers. My job, therefore, was to lay the foundation and create a tone and emotional arc for the performers to then build on. A call for participants was also put out to the local community, and then video artist Kate Russell and costume designer Mayumi McPhee were brought onboard to create visual layers for the production.


However, this production was only partially about the final performance. It was far more about the collective process of conjuring a multimedia dance piece into being during the COVID 19 pandemic. And the impact this had on everyone involved was profound. It was particularly powerful for me to see the work being built on top of my music. The final performance was for a small audience. The music and soundscape was created and played in 5.1 surround, with the audience and performers inside the sound field. Mayumi McPhee’s exquisite costumes were designed, individually, for each performer, and the whole scene was finally washed in Kate Russell’s gorgeous, atmospheric video, which was the only lighting for the show. Aspect’s of this can be seen in Karli Michelle’s beautiful photo (above), and Luke McNee’s evocative video (below).


All thanks go to Samara Cunningham for conceiving this project, and for inviting the rest of us to join in.

Listen here to the full soundtrack, which has been mixed down from its original 5.1 surround version, as used in the performance to immerse both audience and performers in the atmospherics.

Michael ShirrefsFill the Void—Performance (stereo mixdown from 5.1)
Performers & Creators

Hannah Bradsworth
Wing Yi Chan
Elizabeth Collins
Eadie Edgelow
Zoe Koci
Stephen Koci
Aiya Murray
Bridget Nicholson
Leticia Prosser
Sue Stanecki
Jasmine Susic

Composer & Sound Designer
Film Projection Artist
Costume Designer

Samara Cunningham
Michael Shirrefs
Kate Russell
Mayumi McPhee
Luke McNee

Filed under: past