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Come fly with me

Inflight

Liz Lea & Co

May 31-June 1 National Library Of Australia

Bookings 6262 1271, or nla.gov.au

Liz Lea, artistic director of Canberra Dance Theatre since 2010, is one of Canberra's most dynamic dance artists. Always open to new directions and new possibilities for presenting dance, she is currently choreographer in residence at the CSIRO Discovery Centre, was the recipient of a National Film and Sound Archive Fellowship in 2009 and a few years ago was given a small grant by the National Library to investigate its E.A. Crome collection of Australian aviation history. These three threads of her activities are about to come together in a new work called InFlight.

Watching her in the rehearsal studio, her enquiring mind is obvious as she furrows her brow slightly and then comes out with a suggestion: a costume needs altering to accommodate her choreography so she reaches for the scissors, a prop needs to be moved, a movement changed. Her four dancers, Alison Plevey, Miranda Wheen, Marnie Palomares, and Melanie Palomares, engage in the conversation and then go back to the choreography. It's all hands on deck as opening night approaches with a photographer and a dressmaker also working in the rehearsal studio.

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InFlight is in two sections. The first follows the journey of four young ladies as they fulfill their ambition to fly. This section is inspired by the exploits of Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm and their crossing of the Pacific in the Southern Cross in 1928. It is framed by the disappearance in 1937 of American aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart. The four would be aviatrixes are buffeted by danger but filled with determination.

The choreography for this section is a little frenetic and captures something of the glamour of the 1930s. The action takes place against material sourced from collections at the National Library and the National Film and Sound Archive - photographs and newspaper headlines, film footage and audio, including the voices of Kingsford Smith and Ulm. A plane, ingeniously constructed by product designer Christiane Nowak, is assembled on stage. The tips of its wings are decorated with a black and white design by 1930s Australian design icon, Florence Broadhurst.

In the second section of InFlight, Lea's work at the CSIRO Discovery Centre has been her inspiration. Her dancers are transformed into exotic birds, and as they stake out their terrain they move through a softly falling, feathery installation created by Naomi Ota. Lea says her work at CSIRO has enabled her to have access to an extraordinary collection of birds and feathers, which she describes "beautiful, delicate and extraordinary in detail - a privilege to be able to see and source".

In choreographing the second section, Lea has drawn in part on her background in the dance styles of India, especially the classical Indian style of Bharata Natyam. Her four dancers also make use of feathered fans and they move with nodding heads and probing movements to build a nest.

The premiere of InFlight on May 31 marks the 85th anniversary to the day that Kingsford Smith and Ulm took off from California on the beginning of their transpacific flight. And on June 1 both the Canberra Aero Club and Questacon will join the celebration. The Aero Club will do a fly past of the National Library at 2.45pm before the 3pm matinee, and Questacon will feature four free science of flight shows throughout the day.

InFlight is being shown as part of the Centenary of Canberra and it demonstrates the wealth of material available to creative artists in Canberra's cultural institutions, which in the hands of Lea are being used in surprising ways. The work also engages with science, thus pushing the boundaries of dance performance into unexpected areas. For Lea, InFlight represents a new stage in her career. She says: "I spent so many years working solo and travelling. After four years of being in Canberra I am finally developing a company practice. It is a great joy and feels like a rare privilege."