Sydney’s newest cultural icon, Phoenix Central Park, has welcomed in the new year with the release of a new series of digital commissions, including a new site-specific work from choreographer Rafael Bonachela and Sydney Dance Company.
Completed in February 2020, the award-winning building designed by Durbach Block Jaggers and John Wardle Architects is the latest project from Sydney philanthropist Judith Neilson, well-known for her collection of contemporary Chinese art exhibited at the popular White Rabbit Gallery.
Nestled in Sydney’s new art district of Chippendale, Phoenix Central Park opened its doors briefly in February 2020 with a performance by experimental music group Ensemble Offspring, before the global pandemic forced the building’s closure, along with performance venues and arts institutions across the globe.
Creative Director of Phoenix Central Park, Beau Neilson, says the Phoenix team were in final preparations to announce a full year of programming when the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly changed their plans.
“Just as we welcomed artists and audience into the space for the first time, we realised our plans for the year were not going to be as expected,” said Neilson. “All our assumptions about what type of performance the space would and could host in 2020 were quickly thrown on their head.”
Conceived as both a live and digital performance venue, Phoenix Central Park then served as a surrogate stage for artists during the heaviest of the lockdown period in 2020, providing a much-needed artistic outlet as well as critical financial support for hundreds of Sydney-based artists.
“At the point restrictions came into place, we were still finding our feet. But within a matter of days, we had embraced the full digital possibilities of the space, which, fortuitously, had been considered as part of the building’s design” says Neilson.
“We’ve since given the main performance space the nickname “The Nest” – not only a reference to the organic bell-shaped roof, but also because the building served as a place of solace and shelter for artists when they needed it most.”
The new digital commissions to be launched throughout 2021 feature a diverse group of collaborators including Sydney Dance Company, sonic improvisation duo Party Dozen, post-punk group Loose Fit, as well as pianists Sonya Lifschitz, Sally Whitwell and jazz pianist Brekky Boy.
Working with such a commanding architectural presence has taken some experimentation, and the new digital commissions match these artists with some of Sydney’s most creative film directors to celebrate the interplay between movement, sound, space and film.
“The building is an omnipresent artist in every performance,” said Neilson. “We collaborated with the artists and directors to respond to both the aesthetic and functional beauty of the building and seize the opportunity of creating an immersive digital experience.”
“These digital performances quite literally take over every inch of the building, from our subterranean car park to the house of mirrors bathrooms, to the Kubrick-esque hallways.”
The first film to be released features the acclaimed Sydney Dance Company in a work entitled Touch – choregraphed for the space by Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela.
“Phoenix is an inspirational space, which embodies the nexus between architecture and creativity,” says Bonachela. “Working with the Sydney Dance Company dancers to bring to life a creative response to Phoenix Central Park was a delight.”
“Contemporary dance reflects the new, the future, the vanguard and it was incredible to have the opportunity to make a short film driven by the sinuous lines and surprises around each corner of this breathtaking building.”
Even with doors closed for 11 months, the Phoenix Central Park building has commanded attention from architectural aficionados and social media fans alike, awarded both national and international architectural prizes, including the prestigious NSW Architecture Medallion, and awards for interior and commercial architecture.
Live performances at Phoenix Central Park are expected to be resumed in mid-2021. For more information visit: www.phoenixcentralpark.com.au for details.
Image: Sydney Dance Company at Phoenix Central Park – photo by Evo