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Penny Chivas, dance artist and activist in BURNT OUT

Publication: The Orkney News

BURNT OUT, a dance-theatre performance and discussion about environmental issues is touring Scotland. It was while in Orkney that The Orkney News took the opportunity to talk to creator Penny Chivas about her work and what motivates it.

Burnt Out | Photo by Brian Hartley | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

Originally from Australia, Penny Chivas is a Glasgow-based dance artist and activist. In Burnt Out, she draws on her experience of the bushfires that devastated Australia. Growing up in Australia, the daughter of an environmental geochemist, she experienced the Canberra fires of 2003, the blacked skies over Melbourne during Black Saturday 2009, and during a visit in 2019, Black Summer.

I asked Penny what motivated her to encapsulate those experiences in a dance-theatre performance.

‘I had to do something’, she said. ‘This feeling of devastation and trauma…what do you do with that feeling?’

For Penny, that ‘was something that would ‘house her feelings’ she transferred into creative expression, eventually evolving into Burnt Out.

Burnt Out takes us on a journey and asks the question, ‘Why do we feel we are unable to acknowledge the changes around us even when surrounded by thick smoke?’ 

In the performance, Penny’s experiences are contrasted with Australia’s reliance on coal – even using coal-powered electricity to “clean the air” during the fires. 

In May of this year, the Australian Government, elected on a climate action ticket, approved a new coal mine. The Isaac River coal mine is expected to produce about 2.5 million tonnes of coal over five years. Australia is currently the fifth-largest producer and the second-largest exporter of coal and has the third-largest reserves of coal in the world.

The Mineral Council of Australia uses the tagline ‘Coal: building Australia’s future’.

The 2019 Black Summer was an extended period of uncontrollable bushfires, which earned the term ‘mega fire’.

“The fires burnt an estimated 24.3 million hectares (243,000 square kilometres), destroyed over 3,000 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people.” – 2019-20 Australian Bushfire Season

Penny commented:

“When can we sit down, and reflect, and feel.”

Penny was encouraged to include Orkney in the Burnt Out touring dates by Move Orkney, and whilst here, Penny held a community movement workshop.

The performances of Burnt Out in Orkney, suitable for 12+years, were held:

Fri 8 Sep in Stromness Town Hall and Mon 11 Sep at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall.

Burnt Out has a valuable message for all of us at this critical time in our future on this planet.

Created and Performed by Penny Chivas, Music by Paul Michael Henry, Lighting by Great Snakes (David Bowes)

Funded by Creative Scotland’s Touring Fund for Theatre and Dance and supported by QL2 Dance (Australia)  

Other dates in Scotland:

Sat 16 Sep | 7.30pm Mareel, Shetland01595 745 500 |

Fri 29 Sep | 7pm (BSL interpreted)The Barn, Banchory 01330 825431 |

Wed 4 Oct | 7.30pm  (BSL interpreted)Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling 01786 466 666 |

Thu 5 Oct | 6.30pm (BSL interpreted)The Byre Theatre, St Andrews 01334 475000 |

Fri 6Oct | 7pm (BSL interpreted)Platform, Easterhouse 0141 276 9696 (opt 1) |

Sat 14 Oct and Sun 15 Oct | 6pmThe Phoenix, Dumbarton FREE | Tickets in advance: 

Sat 28 Oct | 2pm Quarrymen’s Arts Centre, Creetown 01387 253 383 |

BURNT OUT is touring until Saturday, 28 October. Each performance will be followed by a post-show discussion with a local environmental activist. In line with Chivas’ commitment to being ethically sustainable, the tour is aspiring to be done by public transport – train/bus and ferry travel and any car transportation mileage will be tracked and recorded. 

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