Zsuzsi Soboslay has been involved in creative collaborations across art forms for over 20 years. Her work spans professional and community-based/participatory theatre, dance, music events, and script-based work. She was recently in London on a 3-month Australia Council Community Partnerships research grant, and has been awarded Residencies at Bundanon, ACT Artists-in-Schools, and the National Film and Sound Archive. Performances include Under Milk Wood at the Street (2012) and in Past Present (2013), two plays by Mary Rachel Brown, for South East Arts (2013). Her solo on the life of Jane Avril has played at the National Gallery of Australia and for DANscienCE (CSIRO and Brisbane). Teaching includes for Canberra Dance Theatre [mixed abilities] and in 11 tertiary institutions around Australia. She co-directed 2 major concerts with Synergy Percussion at Angel Place (2011) and Carriageworks (2014) in Sydney, the Angel Place performance winning the ABC Limelight Award.
Both of her parents were Hungarian nationals who emigrated to Australia as refugees at the end of the Second World War.
Zsuzsi talks to The Street ahead of The Chain Bridge season.
How did you get your start?
I have not had a clear career trajectory as an actor. Rather, I have worked in different guises as a dancer/teacher/trainer/creator over the past two decades. My first real gig, aged 22, was being ‘handed the baton’ during a University review to do all the warm-ups and impro prep sessions. The project directors could see I knew how to help people get ready to perform. Maybe it’s a gift. It almost doesn’t matter now, which side I am on: as performer, choreographer, or director, I’m so interested in how far people can go in performance, to create a believable role.
What have been the big moments of your career?
Performing at the National Gallery of Australia, as Jane Avril, muse to Toulouse-Lautrec, in a show I created about her life and her struggle with an incurable movement disorder. She was beaten as a child, which created a disorder in her brain affecting her sense of balance and coordination. She still managed to become one of the most celebrated dancers at the Moulin Rouge. I dreamt the piece, which gave me the courage to persist against certain bureaucratic blockades which initially didn’t even want to hear the story. Someone seated in a wheelchair in the audience was nearly jumping out of her seat in excitement. I knew I must have done something right in this performance.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Your work is a piece of shit.”–an objective judgment from an academic, about 30 years my senior at the time. He approached me 6 months later at another conference and said he couldn’t’ stop thinking about my work, and that he referred all this students to it.
I learnt about the gap between what a performance affects, and the kudos you might be lucky to receive in the initial stages. Maybe that’s what keeps me going to this day.
What do you wish you had known when you started out?
That works need to tick boxes to get funding; and that these boxes are different from the truths that drive your work.
Do you have a personal connection to The Chain Bridge? If so, how?
Oh golly. WWII, middle Europe, the Diaspora. Exile. It’s all in the family background. I vowed to forget Hungarian from the age of 6. I couldn’t stand the bigotry of my grandmother’s stories, and lived with the weight of secrets never revealed by my parents. My father died when I was 12, taking many other secrets with him to his grave. . But we are where we come from.
In more recent years, I have tried to come to grips with my home country: an unhappy country, forced into allegiances during the war years; still struggling to understand its role within the EU, and thence face-to-face with so many desperate refugees who are just trying to find “home”.
How do you get into the head of a new character? Talk us through the process.
I work very musically and think the interaction between breath and movement holds a strong key to character. I look for patterns, drives, and intentions that inform a character.
Are you superstitious? Is there a process that you always like to go through before stepping out on stage?
Ask me later in the rehearsal period!
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