Canberra Critics Circle Awards 2017 including Artist of the Year
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Canberra Critics Circle Awards 2017 including Artist of the Year

The 27th Canberra Critics Circle Awards 2017. Canberra Museum and Gallery. ccc-canberracriticscircle.blogspot.com.

Canberra dancer, choreographer and director Liz Lea said being named the Canberra Critics' Circle Canberra Artist of the Year was "huge ... I haven't taken it in."

Liz Lea in Reef Up!

Liz Lea in Reef Up! Credit:Lorna Sims

Lea, who has been performing in Canberra since 2000 and was formerly artistic director of Canberra Dance Theatre, was cited for her commitment to inclusiveness - working with dancers of all ages, abilities and ethnic groups and acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which her choreography is performed.

Convenor Helen Musa said Lea was "a very strong nomination in a strong year", with an unwavering commitment to, and focus on, making, directing and promoting dance in the ACT. Musa said Lea was a dancer who straddled both classical and contemporary forms.

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"She trained in classical Indian dance and branched out into all kinds of contemporary experimentation."

In 2017, Musa said, Lea presented the BOLD Festival in March that drew attention to Canberra dance with a program of lectures, demonstrations, film and programs with participants and audience members from around the country. It received support from institutions including the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery and Ainslie + Gorman Arts Centres. And, Musa said, the committee noted this came about without any government funding but through the hard work and determination of Lea in making it happen.

Musa said the committe was also recognising Lea's enterprise in getting things together. Among her own shows this year was Reef Up!, a humorous educational show about the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef developed with the support of the Canberra Theatre Centre that went to tour 35 schools in Queensland. She also performed in India Meets, a program by Indian dance practitioners in Canberra she initiated to finish an Australian tour by dancer Seeta Patel. In That extra some, part of Escalate 11, a mentoring program for ACT-based young people, of which Lea is a primary mentor, she worked with Down Syndrome dance artist Kate Senior (and Lea and Senior were also cited by the CCC for this work). Her activities over the years have also included the senior dance group GOLD (Growing Old Disgracefully) Dancers.

Lea has also presented dance works as special events for 2017 including during Dance Week and Science Week and in 2017 received an Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance. She now works freelance and is a part-time program Curator for Ausdance ACT

Musa said, "She's a force of nature."

Lea received $1000 and a work by porcelain artist Tania Vrancic.

Lea was also an example of what Musa said was a notable feature of this year's award recipients: a number of them fit into the category of "facilitators and enablers" in the Canberra arts community.

"In quite a few cases, they're somebody who will make things happen."

Nigel McCrae, cited under Music, was cited for having turned Smith's Alternative into a going concern, she said, making it a recognised and sought-after hub of music - jazz folk and classical - as well as poetry all year round.

Similarly, Andrew Galan was cited under Literature for his initiative in establishing the eclectic poetry night Bad!Slam!No!Biscuit!. Ssince 2009, it has been part of the National Folk, Canberra Fringe, Multicultural Festival and Corinbank. Galan was also cited for curating The Salt Room poetry and performance nights at Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres.

While Canberra has long has a strong short film culture, the film critics cited the producers of two local feature films, Blue World Order and Rip Tide, "for making it happen ...the critics thought it was quite remarkable to get them off the ground".

Jordan Best, co-founder of Pigeonhole Theatre, was cited for outstanding contributions to Canberra theatre as an actor and director and for her entrepreneurial role in taking Pigeonhole Theatre to the 16th Mondial du Théâtre in Monaco with their debut production, of April De Angelis's Playhouse Creatures. Pigeonhole Theatre was also cited for its production of Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

Also in theatre, there was an emphasis on directors: Karen Vickery was cited for achieving outstanding performances from actors in Everyman Theatre's production of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart; Jarrad West and Chris Zuber were cited for their superb ensemble production of Alan Bennett's The History Boys for the same company; and Chris Baldock was cited for his perceptive direction of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge for Canberra Repertory Society.

In visual art, the citations included Elisabeth Kruger for her moving exhibition The Sea Paintings at Nancy Sever Gallery and Waratah Lahy for her exhibition celebrating a year in the life of the artist through daily acts of observation and drawing, Three hundred and sixty six, at Canberra Contemporary Art Space Manuka.

The full list of winners can be found at ccc-canberracriticscircle.blogspot.com.

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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