This youth orchestra reminds us why collaboration is everything


Here at CutCommon, we’re nurturing a secret: we absolutely love stories about collaboration.

Musicians, designers, dancers — we’ll take them all. We love to hear about the ways you’re working together, breaking those boundaries and creating something vibrant and new.

Okay, so maybe it’s not too big a secret. But it’s certainly what appealed to us about the Western Australian Youth Orchestra’s new initiative. And in the true spirit of collaboration, when we reached out to interview WAYO all-rounder Rebecca Erin Smith about it, she did nothing short of bringing two fellow artists into the conversation, too.

Those other artists are Scott Elstermann and Giorgia Schijf. Before we get to their roles, you should first know what WAYO is up to, and how it’s changing the game for youth orchestras.

WAYO has just launched a new initiative called Merge. It’s the brainchild of Rebecca — who is WAYO’s sponsorship and development manager, as well as a composer (and now, a program creator). Merge is all about collaboration: it sees the orchestra partner up with other creative industries, commissioning and producing new works. It benefits the young musicians. It benefits the local arts industry. And — very importantly — it benefits Australian audiences by giving them access to a diverse concert experience.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? (This is why we love collaboration.)

Enter Scott and Giorgia. Scott is a choreographer who has selected an Australian composition called Foreigner or Foreigner to set to dance. Giorgia is one dancer from the ensemble that will realise this vision. There’ll be 25 guest musicians alongside the 107-piece youth orchestra, too.

The dance will be performed in WAYO’s upcoming event Rite & Revolution, this July at the Perth Concert Hall. If you’ll mind the alliteration, it’s the first time WAYO has commissioned a choreographer to create this sort of cross-disciplinary collaboration. So in this interview, we learn all about it.

(Oh, and Rebecca herself composed Foreigner or Foreigner, by the way.)

WAYO in its glory, captured by Andrew J Clarke Photography. (Featured above: Rebecca.)

Rebecca, you’re a composer and arts administrator. Tell us a bit about your work and how you got involved with WAYO.

REBECCA: My administration work with WAYO began as something to financially support my compositional practice. Over the years, it has steadily gained personal importance. I have been afforded so many opportunities in my various roles at this organisation, from running rehearsals for our family of ensembles to producing shows for Perth Festival and international touring. Now, as sponsorship and development manager, I have the chance to think outside the box and implement real change through developing new programs, and enriching relationships with new and existing sponsors.

In a lot of ways, composition and my role at WAYO are very similar. You conceive of an idea, problem-solve for the resources you have available, and guide the idea from your brain into the physical world. They are two sides of the same creativity coin; one feeds my drive for artistic creation; and the other, my drive to challenge the way the arts industry functions, and build a more diverse future for the community one tiny step at a time.

Beyond these roles, you’ve also been instrumental in creating WAYO’s Merge initiative. As it’s your brainchild, tell us why you’re interested in collaboration across the artforms. 

R: As an interdisciplinary artist myself, I am an active proponent for cross-genre pollination and its benefits to one’s creative development. Practising your discipline in isolation gives you a single perspective on your craft. Practising with others multiplies this perspective, broadening your understanding of your craft, the resources available to you, and the potential for innovation.

If we are the sum of our experiences, let our experiences be diverse, and give rise to innovative, explorative, impassioned works of art. Because in diversity, we find strength. 

A powerful sentiment, Rebecca! Now, WAYO hasn’t seen an initiative like this before — and I feel like now is an excellent time for artists across the disciplines to be coming together and supporting each other. Opening the floor for this question, how does Merge speaks to the needs of our broader arts industry? 

SCOTT: Collaboration has become a key part of my practice as an independent artist, and I have no doubt that it will also become a part of many of the WAYO players’ practices as well. Some of my favourite experiences have been collaborating on shows that aren’t necessarily dance-driven but merge different artforms.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is becoming more and more prevalent in the arts as we explore new ways to create work, and support each other through this difficult time. It’s so exciting to be a part of this new wave. The options are endless, and everyone learns something new from the experience. 

GIORGIA: Our current arts industry needs a supportive environment to be able to flourish, and initiatives like Merge are the perfect platform to create new, exciting yet strong, and stable collaborative relationships between artists of differing disciplines.

Due to today’s circumstances, opportunities for artists to perform have been few and far between. However, initiatives such as this have allowed many artists — both emerging and experienced — to be able to practice and perform their craft at a professional level. 

Dancer Giorgia Schijf

Being part of this youth orchestra, what are your feelings about encouraging young musicians to get straight into collaboration from so early in their practice?

G: I feel that collaboration so early into these young musicians’ practices can only be beneficial: it opens their eyes to the possibilities of unique collaboration, performance opportunities, and perhaps even avenues for new artistic relationships.

One of my favourite parts about working directly with musicians is how excited they become when they witness dancers embodying what they are playing, and I find it often positively influences their approach to the piece. I feel that this collaboration has the potential to inspire these young musicians in the same way.   

R: At WAYO we are trying to give our members an experience that is representative of the community and culture they exist within; this includes giving them opportunities to work in diverse fields of music. Versatility is hugely important for the modern working musician, and giving our members a well-rounded musical education supports this versatility, even in their formative years.

Aside from feeding their creative spirits and inspiring them with artistic possibilities, a focus in interdisciplinary collaboration better prepares them for a real career in music. We want our members to feel inspired, engaged, and ready to take on the world. 

Scott, for this collaboration, WAYO said you could choose any work to choreograph. And you chose Rebecca’s. Tell us about this music and what it’s been like to work together.

S: I had the chance to collaborate with Rebecca in 2020 and fell in love with her composition. When WAYO proposed the option to choreograph another short score for Rite & Revolution, I asked Rebecca what she had in her catalogue. I was immediately drawn to Foreigner or Foreigner. It has a playful irregular time signature, light and shade, dissonance and swell. The score conjured up many images of perpetual motion that I was keen to explore with a group of dancers. I’m so excited that WAYO gave it the tick of approval, and I can’t wait to bring her score to life! 

So Rebecca, what’s it been like to see your music brought to life on the stage — especially when it wasn’t intended as a dance work? How are you seeing your own music in a new light?

R: My approach to composition has always been a very visual one. This may seem counterintuitive for an aural medium, but really it’s following in the grand ol’ tradition of the tone poem: illustrating or evoking the content of a poem, short story, novel, painting, landscape, or other non-musical source.

Right from conception, my work has a focus on translating visual texture, colour, light, and gesture, into sound. In this way, Scott’s work and my own intersect rather beautifully. Hearing him speak about my music from a dancer’s perspective is like watching him walk around inside my brain. I’m very fortunate to have found such a kindred creative spirit, and feel like we are truly on the same wavelength. His physical translations of my music make complete sense, and seem to be an entirely natural extension of the work, despite its original intent as a piece of concert music. It’s totally thrilling, to be honest! 

See this collaboration at WAYO event Rite & Revolution, 7.30pm July 10 in the Perth Concert Hall. Learn more about Merge here.

Choreographer Scott Elstermann captured by Stefan Gosatti.

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