For a few years now, dancer Alison Plevey has been making a mark in Canberra as a solo performer, as a teacher of contemporary dance, and as the organiser of dance events at various local festivals. Now she has launched her biggest and most adventurous project yet, the Australian Dance Party, a company she hopes will re-ignite the vibrant professional dance scene that once existed in Canberra.
Plevey has the backing of Canberra-based property developers, the Molongolo Group, one of whose directors, Jonathan Efkarpidis, has been following Plevey's creative projects since she arrived in Canberra from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2009. A few years ago Efkarpidis asked her why there was no professional contemporary dance company in the city. Plevey says she felt so energised by the philosophy of the Molonglo Group, especially their interest in investing in people and culture, and in facilitating events where people can gather and connect, and the Australian Dance Party was born from that early conversation.
The name she has chosen for the new company has, of course, a distinctive Canberra ring to it: Plevey says its repertoire will be "dance for the political capital." She wants to use dance to explore and experiment, and to extrapolate opinions.
"I hope the Australian Dance Party will position dance as an integral part of society, and will open people's eyes to the value of the arts in society," she says. "At this point in time the arts are suffering from a serious downturn in funding and appear to have such a low profile. But dance is a tool, a communicative tool, and it's time to position the arts in political rhetoric. I want the company to have a strong voice, and to make bold statements, through dance and through a collaborative aesthetic, about what it is to be a human being in our society."
Of course the word "party" has connotations beyond its political overtones and Plevey is not averse to adding humour and quirkiness to her work. She also stresses that the structure of the company will be a democratic one. She is the initiator of the project and will lead the company, but she wants to make it one in which collaborations are possible across the spectrum of society, including with those working in non-arts sectors such as the science and business areas. She also wants other choreographers to make work with the company, and to cultivate a Canberra voice through dance. As well, she has an interest in creating a situation where Canberra's young dancers, including those who come through the QL2 program under the direction of Ruth Osborne, can see that there is a professional career to be had in dance, and that it can be had in Canberra.
The debut show for the Australian Dance Party is Strings Attached, a collaboration with six musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and four dancers - Plevey herself, Liz Lea, Janine Proost and Gabriel Comerford. The show is designed to highlight the connections between dance and music over time, and to show how they have encouraged self-reflection in a variety of situations and spaces. In Strings Attached musicians and dancers will be onstage together. "They are not dancers, not musicians," Plevey explains, "but human beings with a capacity to express. I am interested in shared spaces and a shared language."
The show will take place in a pop-up space in the Nishi building, New Acton. It is the space used for the "fix and make" workshops and talks that began last year where participants were encouraged to make things from used or damaged items in an effort to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Plevey refers to it as a "raw space" and says the Australian Dance Party will be dressing it up with soft furnishings, giving it a sense of entry, adding a bar, and putting in special dance flooring. In addition, visual artist Victoria Lees, well-known for her temporary string sculptures, will be decorating various parts of what Plevey hopes will be an immersive space for the audience.
It may take a few years before Plevey can come close to fully realising her dreams for the Australian Dance Party but she is committed.
"The company will be project-based for the time being," she says, "although I hope it will eventually become a sustainable company. But I am looking forward to taking the journey to develop it and also to develop my competence as a director."
Although she grew up in Bathurst and still has a strong interest in promoting regional dance, Plevey now counts Canberra as home and says she loves the generosity and friendliness of the Canberra community. It is decades since Canberra was home to a professional dance company. The city is ready and waiting.
Strings Attached. Presented by Australian Dance Party and Canberra Symphony Orchestra. Nishi Playhouse, 2 Philip Law Street, New Acton. August 25-27, 8 pm. Bookings: eventbrite.com.au