Gesture and Stance: CDT dancers respond to sculptures by James Rogers

Jacqui Simmonds, Artistic Coordinator at Canberra Dance Theatre, writes for us about Gesture and Stance -

'Canberra Dance Theatre’s (CDT) recent relationship with our neighbour, the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, started mid last year when Pam Diver (Chair of the Board) and I visited the Gallery to see their beautiful space and to enquire if it might be possible to perform there. This led to CDT performance group REVEL responding to works by abstract painter Ildiko Kovaks for a Friends of the Gallery event, and to Unframed – an evening of dance, refreshments and socialising for CDT family and friends.


Like so many organisations, CDT had to suspend studio classes in late March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Missing the comaraderie of the studio, not to mention dancing in expansive spaces, I was delighted to receive an email in early April from Anne-Marie Jean at The Drill Hall. Also in lockdown, Gallery staff were exploring new ways of engaging with their Friends and audiences, especially in relation to Tunnelvision, their postponed retrospective for sculptor James Rogers. Anne-Marie described James’ sculptures as “gesticulating, curved steel ribbons [that] evoke bodily gesture and human stance”.

Leaping at this opportunity to continue our relationship with the Gallery and engage in a creative project, I invited some of CDT’s teachers and more experienced dancers to get involved. We got together, socially distanced of course, and discussed the elements of the project: the pictures of the sculptures, imagined sites for the sculptures if they were to be exhibited in the landscape, costumes, music, editing of the video.


Each dancer chose a sculpture to work with and how to respond to it, be that visualising interacting with it, or embodying its shapes and tensions, or sensing its inherent movement potential. Local composer Rob Kennedy (my partner) created music inspired by the human gestures he saw in the photos of the sculptures.


We decided to film our movement responses as much as possible in sites featuring aspects of nature. One of the challenges of working outside is that a site might change when least expected. This happened for us, so there was a last-minute change of plan from the Lyneham Wetlands, which were full one day and empty the next, to Sullivan’s Creek on the ANU campus. Our other site was opposite the dam at Lake Tuggeranong. We managed rain on the first day of filming and brilliant sun on the second.


As much as we reminded ourselves that the brief was an ekphrastic event between the sculptures and dance, i.e.: using dance to translate or illuminate features of the sculptures, inevitably and appropriately other elements also played a part in the creation and performance of our movement phrases – be that Rob’s music we listened to as we rehearsed, the sounds of the ducks on location, the uneven (and for some wet) ground we danced on, the play of light in the trees.


The Drill Hall Gallery reopened to the public on Thursday 30 July 2020, our first chance to actually see James Rogers’ sculptures. Gravitating to the sculpture I worked with, I was struck by how familiar yet different it looked. I could easily recognise the features that I’d worked with, but noticed so many others that I’d missed in the two-dimensional photo.'


Warehouse Circus is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the mental and physical health of young people through the medium of social circus.

Warehouse Circus has been providing social circus classes in Canberra since 1990. We have a host of programs including core circus programs for beginner, intermediate and advanced performers, adult classes, school holiday programs, and workshops and performances for community festivals and other events.

We foster a co-operative environment rather than a competitive one, and aim to give everyone an opportunity to learn fun skills. We provide performance opportunities including theatrical works devised by our young artists with guest professionals from the circus and wider arts industry.

Warehouse Circus helps launch careers in circus arts: Graduates from Warehouse have been invited to work with companies including Circus Oz, CiRCA, Gravity and Other Myths, Casus, Cirque Du Soleil, Highwire Events, Solid State Circus and many more. Our artists have established successful independent, award-winning companies.

From the Artistic Director:

I’m so incredibly proud of Warehouse Circus. Having grown up in Canberra, Warehouse Circus helped send me to NICA, tour internationally with Circus Oz and extensively with some great smaller Australian companies. The trainers and staff of Warehouse gave me the holistic understanding of creating circus work that helped me write, produce, direct, perform and coordinate tours of shows for my own company.

It's so exciting to see how much Warehouse has grown, and how high the average skill level of the students is now. I am excited to see the future works by these talented young artists.

- Tom Davis






An initiative of Belco Arts, the Dance for Wellbeing program (DWB) is specially designed for people living with Parkinson’s, for people living with Dementia, and for people living with a range of other physical and neurological challenges.  Its beginnings hail back to 2013 when we commenced a dance program for people with Parkinson’s at Belconnen Arts Centre with one tutor - it has now grown to 4 different class streams delivered by 5 co-tutors, across Canberra, and with dance colleagues and friends around the world, and quite a few performances under our belt! 

 2020 - We commenced this year with high hopes, welcoming back many smiling faces to the dance studio, and sharing stories of the challenging times throughout December and January.  We launched excitedly into a term full of dances and music from great films, shows and musicals - evoking many a fond memory of previous trips to the theatre, cinema or drive-in. The absolutely fabulous dance team of Jane Ingall, Gretel Burgess and Jacqui Simmonds was joined by AmyMacris (at Belconnen Arts Centre), with Philip Piggin continuing as Program Co-ordinator.

IMPACT OF COVID 19 & ONLINE CLASSES - Just as we were about to plan our first performance extravaganza, to mark World Parkinson’s Day at the lakeside, we became aware of the rapidly impending pandemic.  This forced us to temporarily suspend our face to face classes from March 9.  We were devastated, but fully appreciated that the priority is the safety and wellbeing of our dancers, volunteers and tutors.  Since then the tutors have been working fast and furiously with the Belconnen Arts Centre staff to devise and deliver online classes for our dancers - now to be done in the safety and security of their very own home. No travel required!  The classes are added to weekly, and listed on the Belco Arts website - for dancers (and family and friends) to do whenever suits.  Dancers just click on their computer, and then start clicking their fingers and heels!  

PERFORMANCE –  Just to whet your appetite, please enjoy this award winning performance by the Parkinson’s dance group, of I USED TO RUN MARATHONS, as part of Canberra Dance Theatre’s GREAT SPORT! performance at the National Museum of Australia in 2016. 


INTERVIEWS – To hear some more, please join Philip Piggin (Dance for Wellbeing Programs Officer at Belco Arts, and Churchill Fellow)  talking about the origins of the program from his London days in the 1980’s, its context and its realisation and delivery across Canberra, on Living Arts Canberra.

FURTHER INFORMATION – Our programs owe much to the work of Dance for PD, located at the Brooklyn based Mark Morris Dance Group, in the USA.  Visit their website for a very comprehensive listing of resources, research and activities from around the world. 


We know that the world will eventually start to spin a bit more normally, sometime in the future - and then we will welcome our dancers back to regular face-to-face classes that take place at Belconnen or Tuggeranong Arts Centre. Until then, everyone is invited to take us home so we can dance together in your lounge-room!  Most importantly, keep on dancing - exercise is the best thing to keep the brain and body activated, energised, engaged and alert, throughout this challenging time.  


We send our warmest wishes to you all for a very healthy and happy Dance Week 2020.


Philip Piggin (and the Dance for Wellbeing Team)

Canberra's Australian Dance Party and Move to Zero

Australian Dance Party was founded by Alison Plevey.  ​In excellent news, in late 2019 the Party received 2 year program funding from the ACT Government through artsACT.  Well done the Party :-).

The Party "challenges audiences to think, questions ideals and debates current issues". They seek out opportunities to create works, including filmed works, which promote environmental sustainability.  Move to Zero is just such a project.  Recently the Party launched the second series of MtZ films!


The Party says on their website: "Move to Zero is a project of Australian Dance Party, supported by the ACT Government’s Community Zero Emissions Program.

The first Move to Zero micro-video campaign launched in 2018, has reached audience of over 100k worldwide.

In 2020 we are thrilled to launch our second series of films with a focus on active and electrified transport." 

You can read more and see the films HERE!

"Dance is how I communicate, feel, and live. It has been in every part of my life and it is in everything I do. I love watching others grow in their artistry and sharing that passion to move. I hope you enjoy Dance Week 2020!!"

Emma Laverty is an Independent First Nations Dance and Visual Artist, Dance Teacher and Business Development Manager of DancEdge School of Performing Arts, Group Facilitator at Belconnen Community Centre, Ausdance ACT Board Member. Image below is from one of two pieces choreographed by Emma for Education ACT’s Step into the Limelight 2019.

 So, here we all are, all of a sudden. Physically distant. Mostly at home. Keeping ourselves 1.5 metres apart. Missing those dance classes, those rehearsals, those audiences... this was definitely not in the plans for 2020! What to do? Adapt!

Here is how one independent dance artist, Jamie Winbank, formerly Ausdance ACT's Youth Dance Festival Creative Director, responded to isolation and the need to dance - The Social disDANCE Project: Dancing On My Own.

And here is how Dance for Wellbeing at Belco Arts responded - classes, online.

Online is the place to be in the time of Covid 19.  Organisations and studios are providing classes using video and virtual 'conferencing' services. Dance companies and choreographers are making work, at home, about being in this strange time -  Canberra's Australian Dance Party is active with video. 


As we celebrate dance through Dance Week 2020, we see that online is the significant development in dance services and performances. It's something we'll be exploring and featuring.    

Dance Community

The dance community of the ACT and district has lots of opportunities for dance participation in classes and performances. Many studios and organisations have kept class opportunities going through this period of physical distancing. Classes and performances are opportunities for students (of almost any age), educators (schools, colleges, studios, organisation), creators, producers, performers, entrepreneurs, companies, audiences. 

In 2011 Ausdance ACT did a survey of who was teaching dance and where in the ACT and nearby areas ('Dance and Spaces used for Dance'). Back then Ausdance ACT found: '99 studios, social groups and dance clubs conducting public classes for fee-paying students in the ACT, with a further 18 studios within an hour’s drive of the ACT border'. We know that, by March 2020, those number will have increased, with dance studios offering a very wide range of dance classes, taught by some very gifted, highly qualifies and experienced dance teachers. A 'To Do' now that Canberra is in 'Covid recovery' will be to update that 2011 survey.

Dance is part of the ACT education curriculum and many participate in Ausdance ACT's Youth Dance Festival as well as Education ACT's Step into the Limelight and other performance opportunities.

Three ACT arts Centres - Gorman, Belconnen and Tuggeranong - together are homes to Ausdance ACT, QL2 Dance, Australian Dance Party, Dance for Wellbeing and Fresh Funk.

Canberra Dance Theatre - home of a number of classes and performing groups, including the GOLDs, is a hub of community dance.

Canberra based independent dancers also work internationally and nationally. Here are two examples - Liz Lea's independent company, Liz Lea Dance, has thrilled audiences with her work Red in Australia and in the UK and is working on a new work about Canberra for performance in 2021 in the new space at Belconnen Arts Centre. 

Debora Di Centa specialises in Laban Movement Analysis (Choreological Studies) with a specific focus on the benefits of human movement and embodied practices for health and wellbeing. She works as a teacher and mentor of dance for wellbeing, while continuing to work as a performing artist and dance-art researcher

The list goes on ..! Ausdance ACT will be connecting with, featuring, showcasing the known and unknown (to be known!) participants in this rich and diverse dance landscape, here in our website.