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Dance fundamentals stretched by Arts Activated

03/05/2010 - Dance

Arts Activated 2010 Dance panelA focus on the place and practice of inclusive dance in Australia gathered a strong presence at Accessible Arts’ national conference, held in March at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

A series of preconference master-classes, a panel presentation, a contemporary dance theatre solo performance and a triptych of short films on dance, engaged performers, educators, choreographers and directors from Australia and overseas in the discussion and demonstration of inclusive dance practice.

The preconference dance master-class event, Beyond Technique | Searching for Authenticity was a professional and intensive development of work over two days, led by Restless Dance Theatre, artistic director, Phillip Channells. Engaging 35 people, dancers and performers with and without disability contributed to the broad range of experience that gathered at CarriageWorks to participate. There were also non-dancers in the group, which created another layer to the collaboration. A showing of the work attracted an audience of approximately 100 people.

“It is the vital first step in an ongoing connection between professional artists and those dancers who are often excluded from high level creative experience and training” said Accessible Arts’ Becky Chapman, “without such experience and training it is impossible to even think about enriching our dance culture with inclusive dance companies”.

At the conference, a panel presentation on inclusive dance was facilitated by Erin Brannigan, founder of ReelDance and lecturer in dance at the University of NSW. The panel bought together leading international dance practitioners, including Rafael Bonachela, artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, Philip Channells, artistic director, Restless Dance Theatre, Gaelle Mellis, designer, Restless Dance Theatre and Jo Dunbar, UK based dance theatre artist.

Rafael Bonachela signaled his support for inclusive dance practice saying, “Coming together at this conference can stretch Australian thinking about what dance is, who can dance and how to build the skills of those wanting to create dance that is real, that is human.”

Michelle Silby, Program Manager, Dance, Australia Council for the Arts reinforced working together on inclusion stating, “This dialogue needs to continue to capture the experience of national and international artists and organisations and move questions forward.”

Erin Brannigan reinforced a key point raised at the panel presentation, regarding access to professional dance training for people with disability and said, “The issue of including students with mixed abilities is one that needs to be put on the radar at UNSW and now is the time, with developments in the program occurring over the next 24 months.”

The powerful solo dance performance, Prelude, by Kyra Kimpton on the first day of the conference, demonstrated the quality of artistic merit that can be achieved through creative and professional development opportunities. Assisted by The Richard Llewellyn Arts and Disability Trust and the Australia Council for the Arts, Kyra had undertaken a one-month residency at Wreckless Arts Dance (UK) in January, and developed the piece in collaboration with UK choreographer Jemima Hoadley.

Screened on the second day of the conference, the award-winning triptych of three short dance films, Necessary Games, was another example of the excellence being achieved by young performers with disability, given creative and professional opportunities to develop. Necessary Games, a collaborative work by Restless Dance Theatre, Closer Productions and Rawcus Theatre has won a number of awards and is achieving widespread recognition.

The wide range of people involved, described the value of both the dance master-class and the dance strands at the conference. Sue Hunt, CEO of CarriageWorks, the master-class venue partner said, “We value the partnership we have developed and trust this will contribute to the growth of the contemporary art scene”.

For many, such as actor and dancer Gerard O’Dwyer, the creative dance experience was hugely satisfying because, in his words "I was born to dance. I always wanted to dance and it gives me a lot of joy."

Watch a video of the ABC News story.