GETTING TO KNOW: SONIA ANFILOFF AND BEN CONNOR

In 2010 Sonia Anfiloff completed a Masters of Music at ANU where she was the recipient of the Kornfeld Scholarship. That year she performed the role of Dido. Anfiloff’s Canberra performances have included: Sly in the ANU School of Music world premiere of Grimm and the Blue Crown Owl, written by Josh McHugh, and Minna in Rautavaara’s Gift of the Magi for the Canberra International Music Festival.

Recipient of ANU’s Harmony Endowment scholarship, Ben Connor moved to Vienna in 2010 after graduating and has performed in roles including Figaro (The Barber of Seville), Marcello (La Bohème), Falke (Die Fledermaus), Billy Bigelow (Carousel), Anthony (Sweeney Todd) and Freddy (My Fair Lady). Outside of his engagements at Viennese opera houses he has performed in Australia, Austria, Estonia, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

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THE STREET TALKED TO SONIA AND BEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THEIR RESIDENCY TO CREATE A NEW WORK FOR CANBERRA AUDIENCES

BEFORE YOU LEFT FOR VIENNA, WHAT WERE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR FORMATIVE YEARS AS PERFORMERS IN CANBERRA?

Ben: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (at the Street Theatre and was actually my professional stage debut), Grimm and the Blue Crown Owl, Gift of the Magi (with the Canberra International Music Festival).

Sonia: The Magic Flute, Grimm and the Blue Crown Owl, Dido. Also my first paid gig was Verdi’s Requiem with CSO and was terrifying and thrilling.

WHAT WAS THE TIPPING POINT FOR YOUR MOVE TO VIENNA?

Sonia: Realising that we needed to leave Oz for somewhere that had a more classical tradition to further our training. Also, knowing we needed to be somewhere that forced us to immerse ourselves in a language that would be vital to the repertoire and working environment.

YOU ARE THE STREET’S RESIDENT ARTISTS FOR 2018. WHAT ARE YOU EXPLORING IN YOUR RESIDENCY?

Sonia: We are exploring the use of spoken theatre, song, and dance within a dramatic form where all three forms are separate to each other, but irreplaceable to the function of the work.

Ben: We originally thought that a good dramatic vehicle for these mediums would be a story based around the very Greek idea of the Mortals, the Gods, and the influence the Gods exert on the Mortals.  However, we came to the conclusion very early on that this was not the best story to showcase these mediums.

WHAT INTERESTED YOU IN RETURNING TO CANBERRA TO DEVELOP NEW WORK?

Sonia: Canberra has always been a mixing pot for new ideas and collaborations. Also, it’s our home and a place where we have always found support and mentoring for our creative endeavours.

Ben: Canberra is also the place where we trained and spent our formative years and although you form other artistic connections throughout your career they never seem to be as strong as these original relationships.

YOU ARE WORKING WITH PLAYWRIGHT EMMA GIBSON TO PUT STRUCTURE TO A PUBLIC PERFORMANCE. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE HER TO COLLABORATE ON THIS NEW WORK?

Ben: Emma was suggested to us by Caroline [Stacey] when we asked her to help us bring a writer on board. After reading some of her work and a quite in depth Skype chat we decided that she’d be a good fit and are very happy we did.  She has a fantastic knowledge of dramatic structure and her ability to lead us through this initial discovery phase, in which we were searching for the best way to frame the original concept has been invaluable.

YOU ARE ALSO WORKING WITH COMPOSER JOSHUA MCHUGH. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE HIM TO COLLABORATE ON THIS NEW WORK?

Sonia: We’ve worked with him before, our paths first crossed at the Canberra School of Music, and we find his music very relatable. He also has experience as a singer and is able to write for voice incredibly well.

Ben: In particular our voices.  We’ve both had the pleasure of singing much of his work over the years. He really just seemed to be the right choice from the very beginning. We’re also very fortunate that Emma and Joshua seem to have a great understanding of how each other works.

WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOVERED IN YOUR FIRST WEEK OF CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT?

Sonia: That the first scenario you come up with will have practically no bearing on the middle/end product.

Ben: We were forced to pinpoint exactly what we were trying to achieve, in this case the use of the 3 dramatic mediums and how to make them integral to the work. When we realised most of the scenarios we had come up with weren’t going to work with the original premise, we re-examined the types of stories and how to use the 3 forms.

WHAT MEDIUMS ARE YOU USING TO DEVELOP A NEW WORK?

Ben: Spoken theatre, dramatic song, and dance/movement tied together with a musical score.

PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STREET.

Sonia: Apart from frequenting the café here during our studies at the School of Music, our relationship with The Street Theatre started with the same opera when Caroline Stacey directed the ANU School of Music production of The Magic Flute. Though not at The Street Theatre, we pretty soon understood the quality of work and commitment Caroline expected. Then we really felt at home here when PJ Williams directed the world premiere of Grimm and the Blue Crown Owl, composed and written by our very own Joshua McHugh.

Ben: I also had my very first paid gig here with Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. From there we have always kept Caroline and the Street Theatre in the loop with our careers.

WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

Sonia: We are finding this process of creating a new show inspiring in itself. This development and collaboration with Emma and Josh is taking us to places we normally wouldn’t explore in our performing careers as generally our job is to realise the work/vision of someone else.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON LATELY? TIME FOR READING AND WRITING?

Ben: I’m quite fortunate that my position at the Volkoper in Vienna gives me quite an eclectic season from Operatic roles like Figaro (Barber of Seville – Rossini) through Operetta roles like Dr. Falke (Die Fledermaus – Strauss) to musical theatre roles like Billy Bigelow (Carousel – Rodgers and Hammerstein).

Sonia: Stravinsky’s settings of Russian Fairy Tales and the dramatism of Senta’s role in Der fliegende Holländer by Wagner.

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