A CHARISMATIC and persuasive artist who singlehandedly talked our national institutions into supporting a significant dance summit this year has been named 2017 “Canberra CityNews” Artist of the Year, it was announced tonight (November 27) at the ACT Arts Awards evening held in the Canberra Museum & Gallery.
Liz Lea was singled out by the Canberra Critics’ Circle judging panel for having “galvanised dance audiences in the ACT with her commitment to developing their expectations about what dance is,” receives a cheque for $1000 from “CityNews” and a fine porcelain artwork crafted by Canberra ceramic artist Tania Vrancic.
A tearful Lea said when contacted in Tasmania by “CityNews”, where she was completing a dance workshop and preparing to fly to Indonesia for the Festival Kampoeng Nusantara: “I am completely stunned, I feel very emotional, but this is a community effort, I wouldn’t have been able to do things if people hadn’t jumped behind me and said ‘let’s do it’.”
Lea, classically trained in Indian dance yet combining an interest in contemporary performance, had already established a formidable reputation in England and Europe before coming to Australia. She has been performing, researching and teaching in Canberra since 2000 and moved here permanently in 2010.
Creating a whirlwind of dance, she founded the DANscienCE Festival at CSIRO Discovery, where she was choreographer-in-residence, directed Canberra Dance Theatre, set up the GOLD (Growing Old Disgracefully) over-55s dance company and devised and staged kids’ dance/science shows such as “Flying Facts” and “Star Struck”.
Lea researched the nature of flight in birds and humans, then put it into dance, using the resources of Questacon, the National Library, Mount Stromlo Observatory, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Gallery, the National Museum, the Canberra Theatre Centre and, above all, QL2 Dance.
“Doors began to open” she says, and all the stars aligned for her in ‘BOLD’, her festival of talk, workshops, performances and discoveries in March this year that celebrated the legacy of dance and attracted to Canberra leading dance figures such as choreographer Meryl Tankard and David McAllister from the Australian Ballet.
“BOLD”, the judges said, was entirely attributable to Lea’s driving energy and her knack for talking to the movers and shakers in Canberra.
“I’ve been very, very busy since I’ve come to Canberra,” she says.
“And the dance artists here are quite extraordinary, with bucketloads of talent.”
She’s been working as a mentor for dancers with disabilities at Belconnen Arts Centre, creating cross-form works such as “Great Sport!” at the National Museum, dancing with Alison Plevey’s Australian Dance Party and preparing a new solo show called “RED”, which will open at QL2 in March alongside an exhibition of costumes from 20 years of her dance practice.
Canberra works for her as an artist. Describing it as “absolutely the seat of knowledge where your mind gets blown by people who are open to ideas,” she also notes that “Canberrans have a strong sense of humour and if you pitch a crazy idea to them they might say, ‘let’s try it’ – in bigger places like London they look at you as if you’re mad.
“One of the best things about Canberra is that you can tuck yourself away and do work… it’s good to step away from the massive hustle and bustle, and I still get excited when I see kangaroos.”
The ACT Arts Awards evening, hosted by the Canberra Critics’ Circle at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, also featured the Critics’ Circle’s own awards, which went to dance photographer Lorna Sim, dancer-choreographers Liz Lea and Katie Senior, essayist Jessica Friedman, poetry publisher Shane Strange, poet Andrew Galan, theatre directors Chris Baldock, Karen Vickery, Jarrad West, Chris Zuber, Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg, actor-entrepreneur-director Jordan Best, production companies SilverSun Pictures, Pigeonhole Theatre, Supa Productions and Free Rain Theatre Company, visual artists Hannah Quinlivan, Kirstie Rea, Elisabeth Kruger, Waratah Lahy, Robert Boynes and Katy Mutton, movement artists Hannah Carey and Emily Appleton, actor Vanessa de Jager, film-makers Che Baker, Tim Maddocks and Sarah Mason, music venue owner Nigel McRae and musicians Sally Greenaway, Elise Walsh, Oriana Chorale, Rachael Duncan, Helena Popovic, Lyn Fuller and Thomas Lau.
Full details of all arts awards at canberracriticscircle.