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Shaun Parker On...Happy As Larry

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Australian choreographer Shaun Parker has starred in the film Moulin Rouge and featured in various dance companies. Happy As Larry sees him team up with the Dance Touring Partnership and explores what makes us happy. We caught up with him before the show arrives at the Lowry to talk about the piece, his favourite choreographers, Baz Lurhmann and the show itself.

Can you tell us a bit about Happy as Larry?
Happy as Larry is my new dance work, which has been created in collaboration with my performers as an exploration, through highly physical, yet easy to understand contemporary, commercial, street and break dance, into the notion of happiness.
The piece is really accessible thanks to the high energy, easy to understand choreography and we have a 7.2meter chalk board cube at the back of the stage with a chalk artist who acts as a narrator, as he illustrates the dance piece through the chalk art, which makes the dance even easier to understand. There is a lot of break-dance and contemporary styles of street dance in the piece, so it really relates to what’s happening in today’s TV programmes and music videos, it’s really current. We have 4 break-dancers in the show and the audience loves them. The show is intense, physical, funny and also moving.

This is your first UK tour - how do you think we Poms will react?
Yes, this is my first tour of the UK in which I’ve used my own choreography, I’ve been to London a few times before but never got out to see the rest of the country until now, it’s a really beautiful place. We’re now half way through the UK tour and thus far UK audiences have had a really positive reaction to the show and they seem to really connect to it. There is a lot of humour and comedy in the show and I feel that Aussie and British humour is fairly similar, as nations, we are both fairly sarcastic and ironic in our humour, so audiences have really enjoyed that. Australian dance is known for being very physical in style, dancers are acrobatic and the choreography is full of energy. This combined with the dancers’ skills and energy makes the show really easy to understand, enjoyable and audiences seem to really connect to it, which has been great.

The piece is described as experimental. How?
Although the piece is somewhat experimental in nature I’d say that better words to describe it are investigative and voyeuristic. It’s an observation of how people deal with happiness or the lack of it and we even have a scene where there isn’t necessarily anything to be happy or unhappy about, its more about how that individual’s perceptions of happiness have become distorted through past experiences.
You have appeared in the film Moulin Rouge. How was that experience?
Moulin Rouge was an amazing experience  and I featured mostly in the Tango scenes, the big musical numbers and also in the Can Can scenes. Baz Lurhmann is an innovator and he was inspiring to watch and to work with and I feel that I learned a lot from him, the way he directs and the way he films. I have worked on a lot of TV commercials and music videos and Baz’ influence comes through quite a lot. I enjoyed seeing how Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman and Jim Broadbent worked too, Ewan is a really fun guy and Nicole is a true professional. Another highlight of the film was it’s opening at The Cannes Film Festival, as well as the premiere itself, the after party was pretty amazing, Fatboy Slim DJ’d, so we were all really stoked for that.  
Which choreographers do you admire and why?
I admire so many different choreographers for different reasons and it’s hard to compare as everyone has their own style. Lloyd Newson from DV8 Theatre springs to mind instantly for his theatrical physicality. I also admired and still admire the late, great Pina Bausch, she’s an inspiration because of the way she worked and the frontiers she broke for dance, she increased opportunities for the genre and connected it with the theatre to make it more accessible for audiences.  

What was the last thing you saw on stage and loved and why?
The last thing I saw and loved was Lloyd Newson’s latest DV8 piece, Can We Talk About This at the Sydney Opera House, which was about censorship. I loved it and thought it was a beautifully crafted masterpiece.  
Why should UK audiences see Happy as Larry?
 UK audiences should see Happy as Larry because it’s a show which changes the mood of the room, which is something I love to create in my pieces. People come into the theatre talking about work, playing on Facebook on their phone or having a moan about someone or other. The curtain goes up and the audience seems to connect with the piece fairly instantly, we take them through humour, sadness, moving performances and beautiful forms of dance in its most physical form, and the audience seems to leave on a much more upbeat note, all talking to each other about the piece and how it affected them. We do post show discussions after most performances and a lot of people have told us that they like the piece so much because they can really understand what it’s trying to convey and takes the audience on a journey which is somewhat personal to each one.

Shaun Parker was speaking to Glenn Meads.

Happy As Larry is at the Lowry from 18 - 19 October.


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