Collaboration made in creative heaven

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Gyan and rabbit friend wait in the Community Centre theatre for Michael Leunig to arrive for their music, art and movement show together on Tuesday.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Gyan and rabbit friend wait in the Community Centre theatre for Michael Leunig to arrive for their music, art and movement show together on Tuesday. Kate Oneill

BYRON Bay musician Gyan and Melbourne cartoonist, poet, and national treasure Michael Leunig go back a long way.

In fact, Gyan says, "Michael has been with me for most of my life, and has always travelled with me through his books".

So when she found herself at a crossroads after a traumatic time in the US nearly a decade ago, she turned to Leunig's poetry. After a year of "playing with it", she found she had about 40 songs based on his work. Mustering all her courage, she approached Leunig with the songs and he jumped on board for a collaborative project called Billy the Rabbit.

They tested the water with the work at the Byron Writers festival in 2006, then produced a book of cartoons and a CD.

"Working together provided the highest moments of artistic collaboration I've ever been involved in," Gyan says.

It was more of a spiritual than a showbiz experience, she said - and one they took on the road.

Recently the two have revisited the project - and added to it - partly as a by-product of Leunig's compiling a massive retrospective of his life's work. They bring the whole shooting box, with an enlarged ensemble of jazz musicians and a string quartet, under the direction of famed choreographer Meryl Tankard, back to Byron next week.

Leunig will give little talks on various topics, draw, paint and tell stories. And, Gyan says, there may be an opportunity to see if he has a singing voice.

Billy the Rabbit is at the Byron Community Centre on Tuesday, October 23.

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