The Australian Ballet

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Jake as Icarus

Flight, triumph, downfall: the legend of Icarus is transformed into a stunning new dance film starring our Soloist Jake Mangakahia, who tells us what is was like to make it.

Icarus, by the arts multi-media collective Lumyth, will be released online on 30 May.

How did you come to be chosen for the part of Icarus?

My involvement with the film started at a birthday party for my best friend Candice MacAllister almost two years ago. Candice is an extraordinary stage and set designer who has many talents, including directing and getting things done (in some ways I am like that too, so I guess that’s why we’re friends). There were a lot of musicians and artists of all kinds at her party. I got talking to a composer, Troy Rogan, and Candice’s roommate Sage Fuller, a producer and cellist. Troy loves creating music for film, so naturally I said to him “We should create something”, and Candice held me to that until the day we created Icarus.

Once you were cast, how did Candice work with you to create the movement?

Because this started out as an idea between friends, and as I was the only dancer in the group, naturally I was assigned to dance and choreograph the piece. However, Candice was beside me 100% of the way - helping me, laying out her ideas, sharing her thoughts, not only in regards to symbolism and aesthetic of the Icarus myth, but coming up with ways that camera angles and certain cues in the music could create different levels of impact and effect.

This process really helped me appreciate the incredible wealth of knowledge Candice possess. If knowledge is power, she is a powerful woman. The historical and theoretical layers she can craft into her work are phenomenal and it was a joy to create this piece with her.

Icarus is divided into three sections: white, gold and black, signifying innocence, ambition and failure. The first section moves through growth and exploration into flight, the second has an all-consuming dynamic and a sense of reaching higher, faster, more passionately, until a final spiral downward into despair.

600 x 600 Jake Mangakahia Photo by Phoebe Powell C 20198 min

Photography Phoebe Powell

600 x 600 Jake Mangakahia Photo by Phoebe Powell C 20195 min

Photography Phoebe Powell

600 x 600 Jake Mangakahia Photo by Phoebe Powell C 20191 Copy min

Photography Phoebe Powell

As a dancer how do you relate to the myth of Icarus, and its themes of triumph and failure?

It seems a bit too relatable sometimes. There are moments in this profession when you feel like you can take on the world. And there are moments when, for whatever reason, you feel as though you have failed, that you’re not quite good enough. I believe it is important to cherish and remember our triumphant moments so that when we come across those moments of despair, we can draw from the memory of what we have achieved to learn and move forward.

Tell us about a time as a dancer when you’ve felt like you’re defying gravity (or that beautiful rush of exultation where it feels like you’ve transcended normal parameters in some way).

There are performances on stage or even in rehearsals where you’ve not only have accomplished the physical feat of the choreography, but you feel as though your capacity to give and connect with the people watching is endless, like an explosion going off in the room that emits some sort of spirit of passion for life - those experiences are to me the true meaning of what it is to be a dancer, and those moments are what I live for.

600 x 600 Jake Mangakahia Photo by Phoebe Powell C 20192 Copy min

Photography Phoebe Powell

600 x 800 Jake Mangakahia Photo by Phoebe Powell C 20193 Copy min

Photography Phoebe Powell

This is your second time working with Niv Novak – what have those experiences been like?

Niv is an extraordinary man. He is an incredibly tenacious artist, but more than that he is a facilitator of other artists. He has been so giving of his time, so willing to meet up and listen to ideas.

The first time I worked with Niv was on his film Missed Nuance. He had organised dancers from Australia and around the world, from companies including The Australian Ballet, The Royal Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and Bolshoi Ballet, to name but a few. He had also invited many different Australian fashion designers to contribute their beautiful garments for the dancers to wear. And so not only were the dancers working on what shapes their bodies made, but also on the shape and momentum of the movement of the fabric: for instance, a dancer's costume was made with ostrich feathers and the slow-motion filming made the feathers look as if they were sea grasses gently moving under water.

Working on Icarus with Niv and Candice was an equally fulfilling and absorbing experience. For the second section of Icarus we projected moving clouds onto a 20 X 10 meter backdrop, which just took our breath away, and Niv was able to find solutions so that he could film high-quality slow motion against a projection, which is no easy task. I really congratulate Niv and is awesome assistant Mark on creating such magic for people to enjoy on their screens. I hope who ever is watching this short film enjoys the piece as much as I did working with all these intelligent, passionate artists.

600 x 600 Jake Mangakahia Marlene Olsson Photo by Phoebe Powell C 2019 jpg Copy min
600 x 600 Jake Mangakahia Candice Mac Allister Photo by Phoebe Powell C 2019 jpg Copy min

Jake on set with Candice. Photography Phoebe Powell