AUSDANCE ACT’s newly-arrived director, Cathy Adamek, is looking around for an electrifying place to hit the dance floor, but she’s not very optimistic about her chances in the current covid climate.
Fresh from Adelaide, she’s an actor, dancer and choreographer armed with a doctorate on dance music culture who can as easily converse about strategic plans for the arts as about acid house and disco, one of the most important music forms of the 20th century, she believes.
Trained as a classical dancer with Adelaide’s Joanne Priest and Sheila Laing, Adamek also holds a degree in literature from the University of Adelaide and acting qualifications from both NIDA and the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. She views contemporary dance as a hybrid art form which, despite its ancient pedigree, is only just asserting itself alongside other major art forms.
And she’s not just a theorist. Her long career in artistic and commercial performance includes a recent tour with Australian Dance Theatre, in Garry Stewart’s “Be Yourself” and acting in Jen Kent’s psychological film “The Nightingale”, and the feature “The Babadook”. She has even produced and choreographed “Here’s Humphrey” and worked on post-production for the US feature “Charlotte’s Web”.
Adamek had only been in town for three days when we met and was bunking down in rented accommodation on the edge of Civic with her 12-year-old son while she looked around for appropriate schools and places to live – she’s impressed by stories of Canberra’s educational opportunities.
Her initial impression that Canberra was a “very quiet city” was completely dispelled when she was directed further down the street to the Bunda Street precinct, which she found was hopping with activity. She already senses a subtle difference between Canberra and her home city, where she fears the arts may be declining and where there are “silos” in the arts forms and a surfeit of politics.
Her arrival from SA has caused some excitement at Ausdance ACT, which hasn’t had a full-time director since 2015 when, in the wake of massive funding cuts, they had to let Neil Roach go.
Ausdance ACT president Lauren Honcope, exhausted by this year’s costly cancellation of their big annual money-spinner, the Youth Dance Festival, can hardly hide her relief, telling me how her team of volunteers have expended blood, sweat and tears to keep the office going until they obtained sufficient funding to hire a director again.
“The cancellation hit us in the guts but now the future is looking brighter,” Honcope says.
Adamek arrives job-ready. An actor-dancer who has worked extensively with independent dance companies, she has also served as the president of Ausdance South Australia and has no illusions about the challenges the organisation faces as it rebuilds.
With that connection to the organisation, she speaks quickly and fluently about its aims. Ausdance, she says, supports a wide range of genres of practice and professional dance but also community dance of all kinds, serving as an umbrella structure and encouraging networks which are linked nationally.
Initially trained in ballet, she is very sceptical of the rigid classical teaching approach of yesteryear that was all about following strict rules to perform in “Swan Lake” or if you were an actor, Shakespeare. She applauds the nationwide move toward safe dance techniques.
To her, dance represents bodily freedom from restrictions and control and her eclectic view of dance has led to a keen interest in the function of dancing in health so she looks forward to meeting Philip Piggin, founder of the Dance for Wellbeing program, at Belconnen Arts Centre.
To Adamek, dance is personal. As a young woman in Adelaide she was immersed in the groundswell of youth culture and says, “I was introduced to the Toucan Club on Hindley Street, where I found goths, people in theatre costumes and big hairdos. It was the most amazing culture, where the DJs were curating a new sound at a time when Adelaide radio was ultra conservative”.
“It was as if I’d found the key to ‘The Secret Garden’ on the dancefloor,” she says.
“It was the perfect art form.”
Cathy welcomes emails from those wanting to discuss dance matters at firstname.lastname@example.org