Sacha Copland, founder and artistic director of Java Dance Theatre, has been living in the wonderful world of cheese since last year, developing her newest show. Sacha, who grew up in the country and has toured the world presenting her unique, sensory brand of dance, is excited to share the epic journey from milk to mozzarella at our upcoming National Arts Festival with Cheese. 

We sat down with Sacha to find out more about the farmyard world she has created that will be coming to stages in March.

Hey Sacha! We can’t wait to see the world premiere of Cheese on stage on Saturday 18 March. What inspired you to explore the marvellous and magical world of cheese in this new show?

So much joy comes from sharing cheese, and there are so many different kinds of stretchy, delicious cheese in the world. It seemed impossible to resist making a show about it. Cows and goats are a great inspiration for dance and I have always wanted to choreograph a cheese lassooing dance. Making this show reminds me lots of growing up in the country – the Java van definitely smells like the country now. I love the idea that kids from Wellington will get to experience that country feel and see where cheese comes from. Mooo!

Plus cheese is part of our artisan series- we started with bread…

How are you learning about cheesemaking?

We started in true Kiwi style with DIY mozzarella. It was the very first thing we made together for the show and it turned out to be stretchy, fresh and delicious.

We have also been researching with the Drunken Nanny cheesemakers near Martinborough who have 40 goats and make their delicious fresh goat’s cheese on site. We’ve watched them being milked and seen them climbing and playing and chewing our shirt sleeves – the goats, that is. Plus they made Camembert in front of our eyes.

I also did a residency in Burgundy in France and got up super early to see cows being milked, the cheese being made and to visit the aging rooms filled with pungent cheese. Paul Broughton of C’est Cheese in Featherston also gave us some great advice, and we discovered he was a dancer once upon a time!

We’ve all been travelling a bit in the past year and so we’ve been noticing cheese from near and far, from India to France to Masterton.

Have you had any cheesy mishaps during rehearsal?

We do have some super stretchy synthetic mozzarella-type goop and discovered that if you leave it on top of something high it droops and stretches until it looks like slime has taken over the set. 

I hear you’re working on synthetic milk to be used during the show – can you let us in on the secret?

We can’t give too much away but we can tell you that our ‘milk’ is very good for your skin, natural biodegradable and it won’t make you cry. I think if you had a bath in our synthetic ‘milk’ you would give Cleopatra a run for her money.

A glass of milk… or is it?

What’s your favourite part about developing a new show?

I love it when the dancers and musicians are all in the rehearsal room together and suddenly all the ideas you’ve been thinking about and researching for months (or sometimes years) spring to life. It’s like a new world appears before your eyes. The idea turns into sounds and sights and smells and textures, and there are always so many surprises. You put something out there and the dancers and musicians take it and run with it in all sorts of unexpected directions. It’s like letting a bull out of a gate, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is the fifth Capital E National Arts Festival that Java Dance Theatre have performed at. Why do you keep coming back to the Festival?

We love performing in our hometown of Wellington, and we love to perform for children and their families. After touring as far afield as Edinburgh and South Korea it’s amazing to return home and perform for Kiwi kids. Being part of a festival that focuses on imaginative high-quality work for children and performing alongside artists from all over the world is a treat. Working with Capital E since 2007 has been a great way to develop new and exciting works for kids.

Sacha and dancers visit a cheesemaker

What drives you to produce theatre for children?

Children understand physical storytelling. As dancers and musicians, we speak their language and they speak ours. Every now and again we even let the adults in on it. I love being able to let my imagination run wild and kids are such a responsive audience.

I grew up in the country in the South Island, and when I’m making shows for children it transports me back to the freedom of jumping over sheep pens, scrambling over bushes, playing outside in the dark on summer nights  and diving into piles of fresh cut grass. I’m passionate about offering kids a tactile, smelly, wild world on stage, giving them an experience that’s absolutely alive and full of imagination. Live music, live dancers, real wool, hay flying through the air and cows jumping before their eyes.

Just remember don’t feed the animals… unless you can’t resist.

And most importantly, what’s your favourite kind of cheese?

Definitely blue cheese!