From Colombia to Norwood, Australian Dance Theatre is on the move as the local dance company performs in new territories and finds a new home.
Jetlagged but jubilant, Australian Dance Theatre’s (ADT) artistic director Garry Stewart says that the company’s first visit to South America “had an amazing response”. It was a short trip with performances in early November in the seven-year-old Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo in Bogota, “a beautiful theatre that seats 1300” which saw the world premiere of Stewart’s The Beginning of Nature (a 45-minute extract was aired at this year’s WOMADelaide).
The theatre director, Ramiro Fonseca, a former cultural minister and diplomat, is “a very influential person”, says Stewart. “He knows everyone and he loved the show.” The theatre has a continuous program of brief seasons, many one- or two-night stands by an eclectic mix from around the world — singers, musicians, orchestras, dancers (Sydney Dance Company in February 2018) — and Stewart sees ADT’s season as a way into further South American tours. The complete work is showcasing to Europe in Amsterdam in February and will be part of an Australian tour later in 2018.
Australian Dance Theatre performs The Beginning of Nature (photo: Chris Herzfeld)
The next excitement is the season of Construct, the last work of Tanja Liedtke, who began her choreographing career as a dancer with ADT, worked in London and Europe, was appointed to succeed Graeme Murphy as director of Sydney Dance Company, but was killed in a road accident in 2007 before she could take up the position. It was a cruel loss; she was only 29. Premiered in London in May 2007, Construct has been praised the world over: “a small-scale marvel” (The Times), “scary and delightful at the same time … Exceptional choreographic ingenuity” (Jerusalem Post), “a stunning piece of dance theatre” (Seattle Times), “super-athletic and precisely articulated” (Sydney Morning Herald) and a “richly textured work” (The Adelaide Review).
Remounted by original cast member and, with Paul White, collaborator, Kristina Chan and rehearsal director Craig Bary, both ex-ADT, Construct is about building. In an interview, Liedtke said “construct could apply to many things, from personal careers and relationships, to larger matters. We build cities and destroy them. Great civilisations fall apart. Things increase and decrease. It’s a universal subject, something that is inherent in the world.”
Australian Dance Theatre rehearses Construct
Chan says that, 10 years on, Liedtke might have changed some of her ideas, “but because she’s not here, I feel a responsibility to try to be as integral to the original as possible”, but it has different meanings for a different cast. She aims to keep the essential quality of the work, but allow the dancers — Jana Castillo, Marlo Benjamin and Kimball Wong — to feel as if they own it. “It’s a fine line,” she says.
Construct begins in a builder’s workshop, as the work develops the cast manipulates tools and pieces of wood, defining emotions and relationships until towards the end the materials tend to dominate.
Then it’s on to ADTs next big move. After 15 years in the spacious Wonderland Ballroom, the company is about to take over Norwood’s Odeon Theatre at the corner of Queen Street and The Parade. Increasing rent was consuming too much of ADT’s core funding, says Stewart. By good luck, children’s theatre Patch was leaving the Odeon, and Arts South Australia has been “very supportive”, providing $400,000.
This will allow for retractable seating in the theatre, accommodating 220 audience members, and also more rehearsal space, adding to a studio upstairs. Stewart sees the move as “an exciting development for dance in South Australia in general”, as it will mean space for ADT’s work and coproductions with local choreographers.
Kristina Chan with dancers mid-rehearsal for Construct
Enhancement, an artists-in-residence program, will give free rehearsal room for
others to work and experiment, Stewart enthuses.
“While the company’s on tour they’ll be able to continue that program, and because it’s a small theatre we can also rent it out and derive some income,” Stewart says.
“Norwood is much more vibrant than Lower Mitcham, which is residential, but [has] not much in terms of cafés, restaurants, and businesses — a very low-key suburb. Norwood is much more dynamic, and the Odeon is right in the heart of it, on The Parade — good for our public dance program, general accessibility and exposure to the company.
“Most companies around Australia,” he adds, driving home a salient point, “have their own space, provided by their respective state governments. Arts South Australia has been very generous, helping with the fit-out, which includes new office space and the theatre — retractable seating is very expensive. And it’s not just about ADT, but providing space and resources for the broader spectrum of dance. We’re developing an international choreographic centre, so that will also play a role in providing opportunities for choreographers and dancers.”