Independent Spotlight: MOH – On the Concept of Love by Ankoku Buyo Collective

Perth’s theatre scene is full of enterprising people who want to work on creatively fulfilling projects that allow them to produce cutting-edge works, maintain artistic control, and provide Perth audiences with quality, unique productions. Cicely Binford takes up-close look at some of the ‘independents’ in Perth and their steadfast commitment for producing exciting theatrical works of superior quality for Perth audiences.

Ankoku Buyo Collective is a young theatre collective founded by dancer and director Jay Emmanuel. Jay was born in India and was trained in Indian classical dance, graduated from ECU/WAAPA, and cites many influences which include Antonin Artaud, Kazuo Ohno and Zen Zen Zoh, just to name a few. He'll soon be on his way to study the Physical Theatre Creation course at the renowned L’Ecole Internationale du Jacques Lecoq in Paris, France. Ankoku Buyo Collective (ABC) is currently in production with a new work called MOH – On the Concept of Love.

This is a physical theatre piece with limited text, an audiovisual component, movement and dance. Jay was kind enough to find a moment to answer a few questions I had about his group and the show he's in the final stages of producing.

Katherine Shaw, Kevin Wangai and Declan Burgess. Image by Mustafa Al Mahdi
Katherine Shaw, Kevin Wangai and Declan Burgess. Image by Mustafa Al Mahdi

Who makes up the collective? Have there been many changes to its make-up since its inception?

Ankoku Buyo Collective is a growing family and is quite expansive, extending to even the other side of Australia. Over the years we have become more selective with whom we work, because the projects are usually a long-term engagement. During the last three years, many things have shifted in the collective, the style and the structure of the company. At its inception I planned to have a core company, but after a month it was clear this wouldn’t work for various reasons. Since then, we invite talented and trained artists to work with us as per the need of the project. This year we also opened a training centre  which focuses on bringing internationally renowned training courses and workshops to Perth. We have had one permanent company member Declan Burgess, who also directed COLLAPSE project for the company. The style has changed tremendously too; we started as a ‘Butoh’ influenced dance theatre company and from there have come a long way, now creating contemporary experimental theatre.

How would you describe your process for devising a show? At what stage do you start to consider the technical aspects of your work as you are developing it? How long do you usually spend in development of a piece?

Process is a dependent variable that depends on the dynamics of space, resources, time, intent and the audience. The process has changed every single time, and to find a process is a process itself, which takes time, but at least now it has solidified, in a sense. For us process starts with communication, being clear about what I know and what I don’t know as a director, sharing my concept, vision, images and ideas. From there we create compositions during which we collaboratively explore, create, destroy and then re-create those images. Before starting a show, we know precisely what effect the spectacles must have on the audience. That almost drives the whole creation which is a quite a violent act. We are brutal and honest when something is not working and try to keep that way throughout the process of rehearsals. While creating, we keep away from technical aspects as much as possible to make sure we remain independent. This way our technical requirements remain only to add that ‘extra’ to the spectacle without having any drastic effect without it.

It seems like your works blur genre lines. How do you categorise your works, or describe them in layman’s terms, or to the uninitiated? What themes or concepts do you like to explore?

Theatre is an act of alchemy. We love to combine, mix, experiment with genres. ABC’s work having changed fundamentally over the last few years has become more about representation of inward significance of things rather than the outer appearance thus quite violently revolting against imitation of life. This directly relates to our choice of concepts and themes, they are sometimes very broad and sometimes very specific.

Declan Burgess. Image credit to Mustafa Al Mahdi
Declan Burgess. Image credit to Mustafa Al Mahdi

Who is your target audience?

Changes all the time. Theatre is there to serve none and all.

Do you have a system for culling ideas and honing works as you go along? Do you self-edit or do you bring in someone to assist with the shaping of the show from an observer’s point of view?

While we create we are constantly talking about what works and what doesn’t. We also love to have various showings throughout the rehearsal process for some outside perspective.  The panel for showing consist of the production team and mixed group of people, some who belong to the theatre world and some who do not. Feedback from such a group helps us to understand the needs of a spectator and about the clarity of intent of the work.

What is your opinion on the climate of independent theatre at the moment? Where do you see yourselves in that sphere?

Independent theatre is thriving in Perth, there are so many opportunities and funding. I think independent theatre companies should collaborate more; that would not only enrich their work but Perth’s performing arts culture. ABC has been creating and will continue to create bold and visceral spectacles for local, national and international audiences for years to come.

What are your plans? Do you have a clear pathway or goal in mind, or do you perhaps go from piece to piece, focusing on the works themselves rather than on a grand scheme?

Yes, we have plans for year 2014. It is going to be another thrilling year of course, but we will need to wait just a little bit more till we can disclose more details.

How do you go about finding venues for your rehearsals and performances? Have you found it difficult to find the right spaces to fit what you want to do, within your budget?

We have been lucky to have ECU/WAAPA rehearsal rooms to our disposal. Trying to find a venue was a little bit hard because when we create a show we keep an acute focus on the dynamics of the space. It is very important because we are using space and body to communicate ideas. Without a precise idea of the space, I usually find myself bewildered. This bewilderment in a way forces us to take a new journey and adapt our process to the challenge. I remind myself every time before I go into the rehearsal space that I have to be honest with myself and rather than seeing challenge as a problem see it as a door to another opportunity.

Are you self-funded, or have you had government, philanthropic or crowd funding? What is your opinion on funding for independent theatre makers? Have you found it difficult to find the money to do what you want to do, or has it not been a major obstacle?

At this point, we are self-funded. We have received partial funding for two of our projects in the past from Propel Youth Arts, Healthway and Drug Aware.  We are also honest with the lack of funds and try to create keeping in mind we don’t have any external flow of money.

What do you hope audiences are looking forward to in your latest piece? What are you hoping they will take away from it?

I am hoping audiences come with no expectations of what theatre or love is or should be. Hopefully they will take away an experience and questions about themselves.

MOH – On the Concept of Love

Mise en scène
Jay Emmanuel

Devised in collaboration with
Declan Burgess, Katherine Shaw and Kevin Wangai

Time 6.59 pm

Preview 21 August
Season 22-25 August

Price: $14.99 + booking fee
Venue 8 MacEwan St, West Leederville

Book at

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Cicely Binford

Cicely originally hails from Dallas, deep in the heart of Texas, USA. She graduated from Texas Woman's University with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama. While at university, she had the opportunity to explore as many aspects of the theatre world as she could fit under her belt, both as a performer, as well as in a number of different design and technical roles. After moving to Australia in 2007, she found herself back in the theatre world, performing, designing, and even directing once again, with a passion rekindled by the increasingly vibrant theatre and performing arts scene in Perth. She is also an avid photographer and can often be found around town at various performing arts events with a camera strapped to her neck. Her aim is to have her finger on the thriving pulse of the arts scene in WA through participation and immersion in everything it has to offer.

Cicely Binford