Canberra producer-choreographer Liz Lea's work 120 Birds was a hit at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
A mixture of live performance, vintage film footage and period songs, it's a rags to riches to rags story, named after the 120 birds - many of them Australian, but some brought it from overseas - which accompanied avid avian fancier Anna Pavlova when she toured Australia in 1929.
120 Birds begins at a soiree in 1933 and tells, retrospectively, the story of Company Elle, a fictitious Australian dance troupe created in 1923 after Russian ballet star Anna Pavlova first tours this country. Inspired, director Madam Lou (played by Lea) takes her company of four on a journey around the world following in Pavlova's footsteps, meeting other dance companies and celebrities such as designer Florence Broadhurst, swimmer turned film star Annette Kellerman and the Australian cricket team.
''They're always following in the footsteps of Pavlova through Europe, Asia, Africa and South and North America,'' Lea says.
The show is very much Lea's baby: she wrote it, directed it, assembled the images and sound and created the costumes.
''It's a labour of love.''
Now this tribute to the legacy of Pavlova is having its Australian premiere at The Street Theatre.
During a 2009 fellowship at the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), Lea spent hours engaged in research and watching films.
Lea, who was inspired by her own journey following in the footsteps of Pavlova, says ''There's not much film footage of Anna Pavlova - and not of her dancing. There's film of her arrival in Melbourne when 10,000 people met her at the train station.''
She chose snippets from hundreds of films and old popular songs such as Yes Sir, That's My Baby and Masculine Women! Feminine Men! to evoke the period.
The NFSA had the rights for some of the films and music tracks and gave her permission to use what it could; to use some of the others she had to write to the copyright holders. The National Gallery of Australia gave her permission to use images of Ballet Russes costumes in its collection.
Madam Lou is the narrator of the piece: the dancers are Leslie Light (played by Miranda Wheen), Lola Loop (Melanie Palomares) and Lyda Lovely (played by Ash Bee).
''The others are dancers I've brought in from Sydney,'' Lea says.
The show will feature examples of 1920s dances - including a special version of the charleston - as well as contemporary dance and there will be some extra performers at particular points.
''We are joined at one point in time by eight members of the Canberra Dance Theatre, their burlesque class, and also four special guests from Canberra Dance Theatre's GOLD dance group of over-55-year-old performers.''
Lea - who is the director of Canberra Dance Theatre - trained at London Contemporary Dance School and Akadeki in London, and Darpana Academy in India She has been adding speech to her choreography and performances in recent years, and 120 Birds sees narrative and speaking take centre stage.
The show has been three years in the making, though Lea had the idea long ago. ''Twenty years of my life have gone into it,'' she says.
While it's light, Lea says, ''There's a lot of very strong dancing and very strong technique.''
■ 120 Birds is on at The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West on May 19 and 20 at 7.30pm. Tickets $29 full, $27 concession, $19 student. Bookings: 6247 1223 or thestreet.org.au.