Dynamic choreographer Freya List (Chess, Next To Normal, RENT) was recently nominated for the Green Room Awards' Betty Pounder Award for Excellence in Choreography for her work on Bright Star and will bring a whole new, athletic edge to movement in the show Cruel Intentions: The '90s Musical.
Question: Can you tell us about Cruel Intentions: the '90s Musical?
Freya List: I think the production says it best when they say it is the ultimate '90s throwback experience. Cruel Intentions: the '90s Musical is full of classic tunes that transport you back to 1999 and is based on one of the greatest cult classics, Cruel Intentions, starring Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
As our show states, the story draws you deep into the manipulative world of Manhattan's most tempting liaisons: Sebastian and Kathryn are seduced by revenge and fuelled by passion. Set out to destroy the virtuous Annette Hargrove and anyone who gets in their way, the step siblings find themselves entangled in a web of secrets, temptation, and the cruellest game of all: love.
Question: What or who inspired your love of choreography?
Freya List: I wish I had one succinct anecdote that wrapped up and symbolised my love for choreography, however it has been a culmination of moments and people that have fed my passion. Among my first inspirations were the musical soundtracks my parents gifted me throughout my childhood. I would listen to them on my discman as I carved out a space at the top of my stairs to create in. I've been fortunate to have had access to inspiring teachers and Performing Arts schools and programs that encouraged storytelling above all else.
Watching movement enhance a story, whether it be in a music video, play or mainstage musical, has always been something that has fuelled and inspired me. As someone who didn't quite fit into a particular box or genre of movement, I have been inspired by choreographers that have forged their own path and used all of life's experiences to create their unique style and creative process. Within Australia, I have been able to look up to strong women like Kelley Abbey and Yvette Lee, among many other trail blazers that have been important female role models to show me what's possible within the industry.
When talking about inspiration, the list could go on, and I could tell detailed stories of the importance of my travels, live events I've attended or breathtaking paintings that have all become integral factors of my creativity.
My greatest inspiration often comes from somewhere personal and close. Having the opportunity to regularly enjoy works of many local artists and creatives such as Sian Kelly and Kim Adam,among others, gives me immense joy and motivation.
Question: What can you tell us about the casting process?
Freya List: The casting process was extensive and we were exposed to an incredibly large amount of talent from around Australia. This show demands very specific casting, which always makes the casting process a gruelling and complex puzzle. However, we believe that hard work has paid off and are incredibly fortunate with an extremely talented cast that will bring this show to life in a special and entertaining way (no bias at all).
Question: What moment in your career stands out the most?
Freya List: The first job, show or opportunity of someone believing in you will always stand out when reflecting on your career. However, recently working on the 2021 tour of CHESS, which somehow dodged lockdowns, isolations and border closures to be able to play in most major cities across Australia, there was a moment. It was during opening night of the Melbourne season, and although we played to iconic theatres and concert halls throughout the tour, this one was at the beautiful Regent theatre. I was sitting in the audience behind a child raised on a booster seat, who was gleefully watching the show, seeing my movement on one of Melbourne's most prestigious stages. It reminded me of the shows my parents would take me to as a child and how excited I would be as it all unknowingly influenced a major part of my identity. To have local creatives present work on the big stages is magical and unfortunately not common enough, so to have that opportunity and to become part of a lineage of work housed within such a renowned space is an honour and privilege that I've not taken for granted.
Question: What's your favourite part of your job?
Freya List: My favourite parts of being a choreographer are the creative challenges and people I get to work with across each differing job. Collaboration is one of those buzzwords that can sound inauthentic, but I truly enjoy being surrounded by a diverse range of artists to bring different stories to life and learn about others (maybe it's the psychologist's daughter in me).
I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to work and create art in Australia.
We might be a relatively small country compared to others, but I feel privileged because the quality and uniqueness of the arts in Australia consistently impresses and excites me.
Question: What advice do you have for aspiring choreographers?
Freya List: It's important to know that there is a place for everyone and that you don't need to know all the answers to pave a successful path. We are all continually developing our process, leadership and style, which may not look like anything that already exists, so trust in yourself. No pathway is linear, especially as a creative, so continue to make art and protect your love of movement and the reason why you love it.
Also, in my experience, the mentor culture in the arts in Australia is something that you have to actively go out and ask for, so don't be afraid to reach out to those that have come before you, as most are more than happy to impart wisdom. You are not expected to have all the answers! Keep feeding your creativity and keeping your ego in check.
And simply, have fun.
Question: What's a typical day like?
Freya List: Well… it starts by pressing snooze on my alarm about four times, despite the light flooding in through the warehouse windows and my partner practising piano scales, followed by popping on the kettle to make a tea that I usually let get cold on the bench. I scribble out my thoughts as part of my morning pages (for all those The Artist Way fans or just people that wake up with a mind that needs to be cleared), shower for far longer than I will ever like to admit, perform my very quick skin routine that I copied straight from Zoë Foster Blake's instagram, I press play on my Spotify discover playlist, and put on a version of active tights, a sports crop top, loose top and runners… all before walking to one of my fave local cafes for a needed Melbourne coffee.
Following this, the day is pretty typical of an independent and freelance artist, completely random! I could be prancing off to rehearsals, preparing for upcoming jobs, settling into a cafe to complete an ever growing pile of admin or running to yoga before teaching at one of the Arts Institutions around Naarm. This commitment could range from a 12hr rehearsal day to a full day of planning and research in complete solitude. I have learnt to love the waves of the wonderful unexpected and unknown.
Question: What's next for you?
Freya List: Hanging out with my 10 month old nephew.
And then when I am ready to get back to work, I am very fortunate to have some shows and projects lined up for the second half of the year that I will need to start preparing for throughout the Cruel Intentions tour. I will hopefully be able to continue to work on some local and self produced projects. An event that I founded along with artist BrailleFace, I now run with a wonderful team of 3 women, called Playing Field, involves highlighting local musicians whilst a mover improvises to the song (imagine your inner dancer having space to express at a live gig).
We have been able to collaborate with festivals, Arts Access and record labels to be able to have a broader reach to the community, and we hope to be able to pencil some more in after having to cancel them during the pandemic.
After so many months of lockdowns and of the arts being so far in the back of most every day Australians minds, I'm enjoying contributing to growing the arts back to where they deserve to be in Australia, at the forefront of our consciousness and leading important conversations to help shape and inspire our world.
Interview by Gwen van Montfort