“THAW” premiere at Sydney Festival


Over ten-hours in one day, Legs On The Wall brings death-defying beauty to the current climate crisis, with the premiere of THAW. A lone woman on 2.7 tonnes of sculpted ice is suspended 20 metres over the waters of Sydney Harbour, from the foot of the Sydney Opera House.

The Woman performed by and developed with Isabella Estrella, Victoria Hunt, Vicki Van Hout

Understudy Performer: Jenni Large

Creator: Joshua Thomson

Composer: Matthew Burtner (Alaska, Turtle Island/USA)

Costume Designer: Aleisa Jelbart

Creative Producer: Cecily Hardy

Impact Producer: Sophia Marinos

Consulting Dramaturg: Liesel Zink

Crane Operator / Head Rigger: David Jackson

Production Manager: Jason Thelwell

Stage Manager: Daniel Story

Crane Partner: Active Crane Hire

Engineer Partner: Ironbridge Engineering

Artists in Development: Lisa Fa’alafi, Gabrielle Nankivell, Leah Shelton and Deborah Brown

Company Manager: James Beach


a dramatic theatrical statement on the need for action on global heating” – The Guardian.

another unmissable event – literally” – Sydney Morning Herald

major installation” – Limelight Magazine

Launch coverage – Australian Financial Review

the crowning jewel of the festival” – The Latch

Festival overview – 10 News First Sydney

About the Music:

This is a durational piece, lasting 10 hours each day for three days. My starting concept was to make a “super cold” sound, an ice sound that could withstand the summer heat in Australia. Perhaps my music could help the iceberg keep from melting. Of course the whole piece is about that ice melting, but at least I wanted to give it the best chance to withstand those days. I traveled out onto the Arctic Ocean and recorded a very special ice phenomena that can only be heard in the extreme cold, -20 or colder. I recorded this sound and used it as the basis for the Thaw musical composition. The piece starts with this raw field recording and then those recordings are expanded into music. 10 hours is a long time, and the piece needed to create periods of rest and reflection, and also periods of high intensity and drama across the day. This is not a typical dance piece because the dancers are up on the ice for three hours each, without break. I took an operatic approach, composing character music based on the three dancers and their choreographed characters, responding to rehearsals with the Legs on the Wall Director and Thaw Creator, Joshua Thomson along with the dancers, Isabella Estrella, Victoria Hunt, Vicki Van Hout and Jenni Large. These elements were then looped and expanded across the three three-hour sections of the piece on a day. Each dancer has a unique character, but also, each dancer embodies the feelings of the other dancers filtered through their personalities. As in opera, elements of drama juxtapose with elements of repose — aria and recitative. The music juxtaposes with long periods of raw field recordings. The musical material based on the original ice recording is interspersed with three other long field recordings: creaking  Arctic ice, melting Alaskan glacier, and large ocean waves. Across the three days, the ice block melts, and so the music also reflects elements that “thaw” across the three days. This multi-day thawing of the music was ultimately not implemented in the premiere at the Sydney Festival to minimize the complexity by not changing the QLab session each day.


Matthew Burtner