Optimal Stopping: a show only ever rehearsed on Zoom comes to Wollongong

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Optimal Stopping is a dance performance with Mexican and Australian dancers that will be presented in Wollongong from today until Sunday. The show was born on Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Mexican dancers have never rehearsed with the Australian dancers in the same room. Their first performance today will be the first time they all dance in the same room. We spoke to Ilse Orozco, one of the Mexican dancers from La Infinita Compañia about the Optimal Stopping production.

Optimal Stopping


The Optimal Stopping show will be performed at Wollongong Town Hall from today. What is the show about?

The show consists of different tableaux where the dancers have the freedom to improvise under different guises. The dramaturgy is composed in real time with decisions made by the dancers. At the beginning of the show, the audience decides who will perform certain roles.


Talk to us about the 2023 MEERIGONGX Artists’ Program

Find out about it here: https://merrigong.com.au/merrigongx/merrigongx2023/


How did the three companies Merrigong Theatre Company, Proper Motion & La Infinita Compañia meet?

Lisa McDonell (Proper Motion) and Raúl Tamez (La Infinita Compañía) first met in Mexico during the FIDCMX (Festival Internacional de Danza de la Ciudad de México) in 2018. At first, they talked about doing a duo, but it wasn’t until 2019 that they decided to do a piece with several Mexican and Australian dancers. During the pandemic, they received funding from the Australian Government to start working via zoom. A few years later, the Optimal Stopping project received further funding to bring the Mexican dancers to Australia. It wasn’t until this point that Lisa generated the link with Merrigong Theatre Company, who decided to be the official host of the international project.


How did you prepare the show via Zoom?

During the pandemic, Zoom was one of the only ways we could connect with each other and create. It was a privilege for artists from two distant countries to come together to work on an art project. For a few months, we improvised, performed and worked on the structure of the piece with a common score.

Is it true that you have never rehearsed in the same room only on Zoom?

That’s absolutely true. We only rehearsed in groups, the Mexicans and the Australians, separately. It was the choreographer’s decision that the first meeting between all of the artists would be on the day of the performance.


Have you ever danced in a show where you haven’t done rehearsals in person together before? Does that give you a bit of freedom?

I have danced in two shows without rehearsals, it gives a lot of freedom but at the same time uncertainty, because you don’t know the outcome and sometimes situations fail. It’s a constant reminder to be present but also to let go and let everything flow.


How long have you been dancing?

I have been dancing since I was 12 years old.


When and why did you decide to become a dancer?

When I finished high school, the first generation of a private contemporary dance school opened in my town, my dance teachers encouraged me to join. I hadn’t decided that I wanted to study and I accepted. During the first year, I realised that this was what I wanted to do.


You have studied dance in Mexico, the Netherlands and Israel. Tell us about your studies abroad?

Studying abroad has broadened my artistic vision. Learning about other ways of working, other techniques, other cultures and other types of bodies in movement inspired me. I also met many people with whom I still maintain contact and generate projects.


You have also danced in France. Tell us about the recognition, awards, support and medals you received in France.

When I was studying in the Netherlands, I saw a dance competition announced in Biarritz. I applied and they accepted me. I rehearsed two solos (contemporary and modern dance) on my own with a Mexican choreographer and went to France. I won two silver medals in both categories in the pre-professional category in 2011 at the International Dance Competition in Biarritz.


Have you ever been to Australia?

Never, it’s my first time, I’m super happy to be here and from the little I’ve known and travelled, I can say it’s a wonderful country and I’d love to come back.


Why would you recommend that people come and see Optimal Stopping?

I would highly recommend going to see this show because it’s nothing like what you find in Australia: bi-national projects, based on improvisation and with talented dancers from different backgrounds and ages. Also, the audience plays a very important role in the work.

We thank Ilse Orozco for this interview.



WHAT: Optimal Stopping, a dance performance between three companies: Merrigong Theatre Company, Proper Motion & La Infinita Compañia

WHERE: Wollongong Town Hall | Main Auditorium


  • Thu 30 March, 7.30pm with Q&A after the performance
  • Friday 31 March, 7.30pm with Q&A after the performance
  • Saturday 1 April, 7.30pm with Q&A after the performance

HOW: Book your tickets through this link https://merrigong.com.au/shows/optimal-stopping/

HOW MUCH: Pay what you feel. You still need to reserve seats before attending the show.



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Ride Above is an inspiring, but predictable, film about finding the courage to ride again

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Ride Above is a film about facing adversity and finding the courage to pick yourself up again which is in the Family category of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 program. Zoé was born in a stable while her parents’ horse also gave birth. Zoé named that horse Tempête (the French title for the film). She has always dreamed of being a jockey. All of those plans and dreams are thrown into disarray when a tragic accident in which she is trampled by a horse, sees her become a paraplegic and therefore unable to walk.

Ride Above

After the accident, Zoé blocks everyone out and can’t bear to see or be near the horses that she so loved before. Stable-hand Seb (Kacey Motten-Klein, Farewell to the Night, AFFFF 2020) patiently waits until she’s ready to dip her toes in the water again and becomes an unlikely accomplice.


In the background to Zoé’s struggles are her parents’ own financial struggles with an American investor having come in and spent a lot of money renovating the stables and the property. Philippe (Pio Marmaï, The Trouble with You, AFFFF 2019, and Felicità, BIFF 2020 ) tries desperately to get his horses to win in the various harness racing competitions (horse racing where the rider is in a two wheeled chariot-like cart riding with split legs) without success. The American investor threatens they will lose everything if they don’t turn things around and win soon.


It is the second film from Director Christian Duguay involving horses. The other, Jappeloup, screened at the AFFFF 2011. He also directed two other films that you may have seen at the AFFFFF in previous years: A Bag of Marbles and Belle & Sebastian, the Adventure Continues… That said, Duguay said when the producers of the film approached him with the idea, he was reluctant because he was worried about being pigeon-holed. Together with Lilou Fogli, Duguay wrote the script and adapted the story from the book Tempête au Haras by Christophe Donner.

Ride Above/ Tempête

The three actresses who played Zoé at various ages did so convincingly: June Benard (5 year old Zoé), Charlie Paulet (12 year old Zoé) and Carmen Kassovitz (17 year old Zoé). Special mention to Charlie Paulet, who played Zoé after her accident when she was struggling to accept her new life without being able to walk or ride. She convincingly portrayed the depressive mood and anger that Zoé was going through.


Mélanie Laurent plays Marie, Zoé’s mother. She is a strong character trying to hold everything together as the world seems to crumble around them. Pio Marmaï is also excellent in his role as the father and husband Philippe.


While Ride Above only has a run time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, it felt quite slow, particularly the first 40 minutes or so while they were setting the groundwork for their trials and tribulations with the horses and how integral horses were to Zoé’s childhood. In fact, most of that in succinctly summarised in the first 60 seconds of the trailer (which you can see at the end of this article).


Ride Above is a film that is meant to, and does, inspire but it is also quite predictable. We know that this is a film about Zoé getting the courage to overcome her new disability and to get back on the saddle but unfortunately it was quite formulaic.


Horse lovers will appreciate Ride Above perhaps most of all, and those looking for an easy feel-good film to watch.


Matilda Marseillaise watched the film via a screener.


To find out when Ride Above is showing in your city, click this link:





WHAT: Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 (AFFFF 2023) – the 34th edition of the largest celebration of French film outside of France!


Sydney, NSW: 7th March to 5th April – Palace Central, Palace Verona, Palace Norton St, Chauvel Cinema, Hayden Orpheum Cremorne

Melbourne, VIC: 8th March to 5th April – Palace Cinema Como, Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Palace Westgarth, The Astor Theatre, The Kino, Pentridge Cinema

Perth, WA: 8th March to 5th April – Luna Leederville, Luna on SX, Windsor Cinema, Palace Raine Square, Camelot Outdoor Cinema

Canberra, ACT: 9th March to 5th April – Palace Electric Cinema

Hobart, TAS: 9th to 19th March – State Cinema

Brisbane, QLD: 15th March to 12th April – Palace James Street, Palace Barracks

Byron Bay, NSW: 16th March to 5th April – Palace Byron Bay

Adelaide, SA: 23rd March to 19th April – Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas, Palace Nova Prospect Cinemas

Port Pirie, Renmark, Whyalla, Mount Gambier: 24th March to 26th March – Northern Festival, Chaffey Theatre, Middleback Arts Centre, Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre

Gold Coast, QLD: 29th March to 16th April – Dendy Southport

Parramatta, NSW: 29th March to 2nd April – Riverside Theatre Parramatta

Victor Harbour, SA: 3rd and 10th April – Victa Cinema

Bendigo, VIC: 21st to 23rd April – Star Cinema

HOW: The full program of 41 films can be viewed at the official Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 website via this link:  https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/

HOW MUCH: Ticket prices vary between cities and there are also discounted festival passes available if you want to see several films. (NB You will need to pick the films and sessions when purchasing the pass)


See below for more AFFFF content

Our picks from the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 program

Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 first 15 films announced

Country Cabaret: a fun farm film to see at AFFFF 2023

Final Cut: a comedic zombie film that’s even for people who don’t like horror or gore

Happy 50/Plancha is about a group vacation gone wrong

Paris Memories traces the difficulties of being a survivor of the Paris terrorist attacks

Sugar and Stars: an inspiring tale about the road to sweet success

Silver Rockers: a film inspired by the story of rocker retirees from Normandy

The Colours of Fire: an heiress seeks revenge

The Origin of Evil is a must-see film this AFFFF

Which films won at the César 2023 and where you can watch them



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