stepping out

martin del amo: link, waapa’s graduate dance company

Variant, LINK

Variant, LINK

Variant, LINK

OF THE MOST OVERUSED WORDS DESCRIBING ARTISTS AND THEIR WORK, ‘UNIQUE,’ WOULD SURELY BE THE CHART TOPPER. WHEN APPLIED TO PERTH-BASED LINK DANCE COMPANY, HOWEVER, IT’S A MATTER OF FACT.

LINK is Australia’s only graduate dance company—one of a kind. It is based at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), part of Edith Cowan University (ECU). This year marks the company’s 10th anniversary.

LINK was originally established by independent dance maker Chrissie Parrot as part of a practice-based research project within WAAPA’s Dance Department in 2002. Subsequently, it evolved into an ongoing resident company. As a one-year postgraduate program, LINK is open to dancers who have completed a three-year tertiary dance course. It functions as an Honours Year for BA graduates and a conversion year for Advanced Diploma students, allowing them to upgrade their qualification to a BA. Each year a new company is formed.

Michael Whaites, LINK’s current artistic director, took up the position in 2006. An accomplished performer, choreographer and teacher, he was an internationally successful dancer during the 1990s, working with Twyla Tharp in the US and Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater in Wuppertal, Germany. It’s his experience of working with a wide range of choreographers, Whaites says, which has shaped his view that versatility can be a dancer’s greatest strength. He explains: “My philosophy, if you like, revolves around the idea of diversification, the ability to work with a variety of different styles and approaches.”

True to this philosophy, Whaites seeks to ensure that the two programs LINK presents each year—one in May, the other in October—are of works that expose the dancers to vastly different choreographic visions. This year’s May program, Variant, is a case in point, bringing together a 1996 creation by American modern dance legend Twyla Tharp and a more recent piece by Larissa McGowan, best known for her work with Adelaide’s Australian Dance Theatre.

The LINK experience also includes extensive touring both nationally and internationally. Performance seasons in Melbourne (Dancehouse) and Sydney (Io Myers Theatre, UNSW) towards the end of the year are complemented by a mid-year overseas tour comprising performances and workshops. Over the years, Whaites has forged the strongest connections with presenters and arts organisations in Amsterdam, Brussels and France. During this year’s tour, LINK performed at Mouvement sur la Ville in Montpellier and at the prestigious Julidans Festival in Amsterdam.

So, what is it exactly that attracts dance graduates to apply for LINK? “What the year gives them,” says Whaites “is reflective time to work out what it is that they are interested in. Most of the dance courses in Australia are so busy teaching and imparting information that it’s hard for dancers to figure out what they really want. LINK gives them a sense of being supported while also having the opportunity to start to think for themselves.”

There is no denying that the LINK year places high demands on the dancers. In addition to attending daily class and rehearsals, the members also take on production responsibilities and are expected to help raise funds for the annual overseas tour. To graduate from LINK, the dancers are further required to write a thesis, exploring a research topic of their choice. Whaites insists that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. “I haven’t done the fine lines of the statistics,” he laughs “but I would say that of the over 80 dancers who have been in LINK since its inception, more than 90% of them are still in the profession—whether they are working on independent projects or are making work themselves or dancing in companies.” The list of LINK graduates who have gone on to successfully work within the Australian dance sector is impressive indeed. It includes Jhuny-Boy Borja, dancer with Bangarra Dance for many years, Philip Channells, until recently the artistic director of Adelaide-based Restless Dance Theatre and Juliette Barton, dancer with Sydney Dance Company.

And as for the 10-year anniversary celebrations, what’s in store? “The October season is going to be a first for the company, which is exciting,” Whaites says. “It’s a co-production and in partnership with Fremantle Arts Centre. Five choreographers—Kim McCarthy, Sue Peacock, Jacob Lehrer, Jo Pollitt and myself—are going to collaborate on the work. All the choreographers will be performing in it as well. The work will be in a promenade format and will take its inspiration from the varied history of the building.” Not surprisingly, Michael Whaites named the piece Diversify.

RealTime issue #110 Aug-Sept 2012 pg. 34

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

10 August 2012