Canberra Dance Theatre, directed by Stephanie Burridge. Canberra 1998.
Where has Canberra Dance Theatre come from, and where is it going?
CDT has been invited to appear in South Korea, presenting Journey, choreographed by Artistic Director Stephanie Burridge and danced by Sydney-based Anca Frakenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer. This 50 minute duet, of an independent pioneer woman's relationship with a convict, has had successful seasons in Sydney and Canberra, most recently at the Festival of the Contemporary Arts at Gorman House last October.
Journey was requested by Joo Youn Hee, Manager of Korea Dance Institute, for the International Dance Festival in Taegu City on April 5, after she viewed the video of the Sydney production. CDT's videos present Burridge's work to the modern dance network, while Asian companies seek out works - in Joo's case from 10 western and eastern cultures. The Festival tours from Taegu to Pusan, Ulsan, Pohang, Andong and Taejean over four days.
Unfortunately two weeks is a long time in dance, especially when the Asian currency meltdown is hotting up. We have just heard that Taegu has been forced to withdraw the CDT invitation for purely financial reasons.
South Korea would have been a new destination for Burridge, after The Philippines, Hong Kong and India of recent years, not to mention her now completed doctoral study of the influence of Aboriginal dance on choreography in Australia.
Long ago, 20 years in fact, Stephanie Burridge was invited to direct Canberra Dance Ensemble, a local company with big ambitions. In the mid-80's the name changed to Canberra Dance Theatre - a more significant development than it seems. The 90's has seen a new approach to funding: the one-off project approach instead of funding the company for a year at a time.
Other dance companies have come and gone - Human Veins to Meryl Tankard - but CDT continues, growing from its early strength in the local community to an international outreach company. This is a significant achievement which has not received wide enough recognition locally, maybe because Burridge's work is so firmly centred in the contemporary or "modern" dance tradition in a town where classical ballet has such a hold.
Burridge trained at the Rudolph Laban Centre in London. Laban's theories about movement, and his method of recording dance (sometimes called Labanotation), are credited with being the basis for modern dance in both Europe and America. Coming from so close to the source, Burridge's CDT has always had two elements of Laban's work: an analysis of dance into its essential movement qualities, and a cross-cultural emphasis. Her training gave her the framework for creating quality work, teaching modern method, and relating to other cultures through what is now an international language in dance.
Dance Theatre was the concept preferred by Laban - dance designed to have theatrical impact - while "ensemble" suggested a smaller scale perhaps less expressive ambition. So CDE became CDT. The change in funding has been a force, good and bad. Project funding starves the artists between projects, so Burridge had no choice but to free-lance and promote CDT further afield, and the Asia connection has developed as a result.
Following Burridge's visits in 1996 and 1997, CDT now has a strong connection with Ballet Philippines. We shall see them here in October in a season including Islands, developed from Burridge's Choreographic Centre Fellowship work, and her new work Spirit of Place. Ballet Philippines has already toured excerpts from Islands to various other Asian countries.
So Canberra Dance Theatre is now a local teaching and development company, a company drawing on top quality dancers nationally, and a source of choreography for other companies internationally. Maybe it's time for funding arrangements to reflect the consistent dedication over two decades and into the foreseeable future of an Artistic Director who will almost certainly soon be Dr Stephanie Burridge.© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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