The Snake Run Project in Albany
In early February I spent a week’s secondment with Vancouver Art Centre in Albany. VAC (and the City of Albany) were partnering with the Perth International Arts Festival to present an opening event for PIAF’s Great Southern program, which centred on ‘The Snake Run’— one of the oldest skate parks in the world, this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. I went down to assist with ‘The Snake Run Project’—a day of skateboarding, live music, and a performance of community skaters and local dancers.
Denmark local artist Annette Carmichael was engaged as the performance director/choreographer. Before beginning to create the choreography, Annette had spent months collecting oral histories from the multiple generations of skaters to whom the Snake Run skate park was a significant part of their formative years. This made for an incredibly genuine community basis for Annette’s performance creation, enabling her to get to the heart of the skate park as experienced by those who have loved it. In this context, there is possibly no better way to gain respect than to properly listen to people’s memories and treat those stories as valuable, and one of the first things I noticed was that the skaters involved clearly respected Annette. Every afternoon the 15 skaters turned up to rehearsal, dedicated and attentive. It was easy to see that they wanted to be a part of the performance, and it was wonderful to see Annette’s natural way of treating all performance participants and artistic staff as equally vital to the process draw them in further.
The Snake Run itself is a winding concrete trail set into the side of a fairly steep hill, with a reputation amongst skaters of being a difficult park. One of the post-it notes from Annette’s performance concept brainstorming simply said ‘happily bleeding.’ The mix of danger and fun is a central element of the skater’s relationship with the Snake Run, and the tricky course garners a deep respect for ‘the snake’, the skaters acknowledging that each time they go down they run the risk of causing an injury. This combination of risk, adrenaline and respect was well represented in the choreography performed by the professional dancers, the highly athletic pieces conveying a feeling of almost—but not quite—being out of control. Two dancers played the role of ‘the snake’, their bodies slithering close to the concrete and rising up to interact with the skaters. This brilliantly showcased The Snake Run as a very real player in the lives of local skaters, as a site with personality and history. During rehearsals I saw firsthand a few skaters happily bleeding, their scraped skin evidence of their place in the skate community and their fearlessness.
The actual event was an incredible success. American skateboarding legend Russ Howell had opened The Snake Run in 1976, and came back to participate in the 40th anniversary celebration. He was clearly stoked to be there– for years he had been telling people about how the community had come together to create the skate park. I was pleased that Russ wouldn’t be disappointed 40 years later— around 2000 members of the Albany community turned up to see The Snake Run Project. The performance was beautiful—and from my position at the top of the Snake Run, I admired how the site-specific work encouraged the audience to feel included. The audience surrounded the performance space, the dancers and skaters moving from above, below and on the same level. There was no backstage area to hide in or curtains to close off the stage. The performance concluded with much cheering and applause– it was awesome to see the wider community celebrate a space and sport usually relegated to the cultural outskirts and acknowledge it as an important part of their city’s identity. Equally smile-inducing was the community skater’s involvement in an artistic performance—they were beaming with pride for hours afterwards.
It takes a lot of work for an event to run so smoothly and to resonate so successfully with the community, and I met a lot of dedicated, talented (friendly!) people over the week. It was truly an honour to be involved in such a unique project, and I left with the sense that Albany has a treasure trove of an arts scene where community involvement and accessibility is seamlessly mixed with professional excellence.
Post and images by Tegan Morey, Regional Arts Development Officer.