Back in February 2011 Canberra Dance Theatre gathered together a group of Canberrans aged over 55, men and women, for a 10-week, community dance project. They named the group the GOLDs, an acronym for Growing Old Disgracefully.
At the end of the project the group performed Baroque Flock at Belconnen Arts Centre and the National Library of Australia. The GOLDs are still dancing and they have become well-known across Canberra for their performances in the city's various cultural institutions, including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and CSIRO Discovery.
Their story was recorded in 2014 by award-winning filmmaker, Sue Healey, and her documentary, The Golds, has been short-listed for a 2015 Australian Dance Award in the category Outstanding Achievement in Film or New Media. But shortly, 10 of the dancers will embark on the most ambitious GOLD project to date - an international tour.
The GOLDs begin their tour in late September in regional cities in England - Brighton, Liverpool, Leeds and Bradford. They will take classes and perform with similar groups in those cities, including Three Score Dance, Yorkshire Dance, Bisakha Sarkar, Grand Gestures and 50 Moves. Then it's on to Vienna to work with the Age Company before heading back to London to Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. There they will meet up with those engaged in a project called Retired not Tired, which offers a music and dance program for those aged over 60. In London they will also perform the funky and irreverent Air Kiss, choreographed for them by Hobart-based Glen Murray, artistic director of MADE (Mature Artists Dance Experience). Their performance will be part of a program celebrating International Day of Older Persons on October 1.
During their tour the GOLDs will perform a range of works from their growing repertoire. In addition to Air Kiss, the programs audiences will see will include Pop Art, a nostalgic look back in time to the music of Nat King Cole and Cliff Richard, Indian Light to celebrate the International Year of Light, and two dances exploring the writings of Ahmed Kathrada the South African political activist. Liz Lea, who shares responsibility for the artistic direction of the GOLDs with Jane Ingall and Philip Piggin of Canberra Dance Theatre, has deliberately sought to involve a variety of choreographers for the GOLDs.
"We have over 10 nationally recognised choreographers who have created works for the GOLDs," Lea says. "This has been a specific approach we have taken. In this way we give the dancers a great variety of experiences. The dancers are always on their toes and they welcome this."
The Healey documentary, shot in various locations around Canberra, both indoors and outdoors, will also feature on the GOLD programs, as will a short film of Elizabeth Dalman performing Incense, a work originally created in 1953 by American dancer Ruth St Denis.
Perhaps the highlight of the tour, however, is the final stop, Edinburgh. There the GOLDs will be the company in residence at Dance Base, Scotland's national centre for dance. They will take part in the Luminate Festival, a festival celebrating creativity and ageing, and will perform with Scottish Ballet Elder Company and Prime, a Scottish group for the over 60s.
So what does this tour mean to those 10 intrepid over 55ers? Lea has been able to draw on contacts she made while working in England as a solo artist to secure gigs for the GOLDs, but the 10 performers have funded this tour themselves and have taken on the responsibility of booking travel and accommodation in what Lea calls "a testament to their commitment and passion for dance".
Edna Dundas was one of the first members of the GOLDS, and performed with her mother in Baroque Flock. Dundas was 60 and her mother 88. Although her mother died in 2013, Dundas is still performing.
"I am going on this tour with mixed feelings," she says. "I would have dearly loved to have done it with my mother. That said, I am looking forward to the trip and to dancing our way around England, Vienna and Edinburgh. I enjoy dancing. It is more than exercise. It is fun and develops a sense of community. I will be visiting places that I have not been to and want that selfie at Dundas Castle, which is within sight of Edinburgh Castle."
After a rather punishing schedule during what is certainly a very full three weeks, and also definitely a landmark tour, Lea has some advice to her dancers for October 10 when the tour officially finishes: "Collapse in whatever city takes your fancy," she says. When they do return to Canberra, the GOLDs will begin rehearsals for a new project, recently funded by ACT Health, which will take place at the National Museum next year.