Michael Hankin interview

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Published:  March 13, 2013
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Michael Hankin interview

Looking to other forms of creativity within the design industry is often a way to keep inspired and stay across innovations and new directions. Which is why we met up with set and costume designer Michael Hankin. Sydney-based Hankin has worked with a handful of top theatre companies (Bell Shakespeare Company, Belvoir Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company) but is currently working on his first project with dance collective Chunky Move at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

Working with artistic director Anouk van Dijk, Hankin has been involved in the set design for 247 Days, a dance performance exploring the dynamics of human interaction. We sat down with him to discuss his design background, as well as what was involved in the set design for this project.

247 Days set model by Michael Hankin. Photo: Hamish-Lane

Can you please tell us about your design background – what first drew you to set design?
I’ve always been hands on – knee-deep in paper, glue, and paint. An early fascination in theatre, film, characters and the world in which they live, naturally led to a career in set and costume design. From an early age, I was involved in drama classes, amateur theatre groups, dragging friends to backyard plays. In year 11 and 12, I attended Newtown High-School of the Performing Arts where I loved brushing shoulders with like-minded people; dancers, visual artists, musicians, actors and teachers. This creative support led to a successful application into the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, where I completed the three-year set and costume design course. There, I studied the theories behind architecture, design, theatre and fashion, as well as the technical skills of life drawing, computer-aided drafting, model making, costume rendering, scenic-art, set-construction and costume making. Since graduating, I’ve reveled in some wonderful design opportunities – collaborating with fine actors, directors, playwrights and other key creatives.

Do you find that you look to trends within other design disciplines (graphic design/architecture/interior design) to inform/inspire your work?
Definitely for inspiration – recent films, theatre productions, artworks, websites, places and faces influence my practice – I’m constantly poring through books, blogs, magazines and museums, collecting hundreds of images at a time. Some I look to for historical accuracy. Others I look to for a mood or a feeling. For 247 Days we were influenced by the work of installation artists Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson, Jenny Holzer and Carsten Höller. We’ve been hovering over the idea of the spinning ballerina in a music box and faceted mirrors creating an army of elegance.

247 Days - Michael Hankin pictured with his set model. Photo: Hamish Lane

247 Days - Michael Hankin pictured with his set design model. Photo: Hamish Lane

You have worked with an impressive list of theatres – Belvoir Theatre, Bell Shakespeare, Opera Australia, and this is your first time working for Chunky Move. How did you get involved?
Chunky Move’s previous artistic director, Gideon Obarzanek, saw my designs for a chamber opera in Sydney and recommended me for the gig. This is unusual in that I hadn’t interacted with the company before, I could have been a monster! He thought that Anouk and I would share a similar aesthetic and approach to the piece – 247 Days is a new work, developed over 12 weeks, so I had to quickly throw myself in the deep end, tossing ideas into the ring.

Can you talk us through what is involved in the set design for 247 Days? Look/feel, materials used/ people involved.
247 Days looks at the dynamics of human interaction – how we view the world and how the world views us. It’s a reflection on self, and a reflection of the way we catch ourselves in unguarded moments. The set design responds to this idea by creating a semi-circle of 16 vertical mirrors, creating a kaleidoscopic effect. The mirror panels are on a sophisticated hinge system that allows them to pivot backwards/forwards, they’re attached to towers that move around a curved track. The design allows for multiple configurations, at times the audience will see the dancer’s bodies fractured into several pieces, at other times they’ll see both the back and front of the six dancers, thereby amplifying the sense of observation. The design very quickly creates a sense of illusion, so to demystify this, no automation is involved – the dancers move the set themselves and we see the mechanics of how it works. To achieve the design I collaborate closely with our production manager, Michael Carr, stage manager Blair Hart, set construction company Show Works, lighting designer Niklas Pajanti, costume designer Shio Otani, choreographer Anouk Van Dijk and of course, the talented dancers.

247 Days poster design by Motherbird

What have been a few highlights of working with Chunky Move and Anouk van Dijk?
I’m used to working with playwrights and text, so it’s been liberating to work in a more abstract medium. And Chunky Moves’ productions are never merely a ‘lights and tights’ show. They’re strongly conceived, bold and genre-bending. I’m thrilled to be working with a company renowned for its innovative set designs – the team have a wonderful understanding of the power of stagecraft. Anouk is a wonderful collaborator too; she has a great sense of space, dynamics and composition. I could watch the dancers translate her arresting physical language all day, which is more than I can say for my own dance moves… I’ll stick to paper and glue instead.

247 Days runs from 15 March – 23 March at The Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

Thumbnail image: 247 Days poster by Motherbird.

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One Response

  1. Tenille Callaghan

    This sounds like a fascinating piece. I am definitely going to take the time to see this performance. This set sounds phenomenal and intriguing!

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