A SENSE of sheer pleasure pervaded the 10th birthday party of Canberra‘s GOLD (“growing old disgracefully”) dance troupe last night, (April 10), as pianists Gemma McKeown and Lynne Kowalik welcomed dancers, patrons, media and well-wishers to the ANU Drill Hall Gallery for an hour-long celebration.
The company, which had been founded in 2011, is now at the forefront in Australia of the dance movement for older people, as the artistic director of the hosting organisation, Canberra Dance Theatre, Jacqui Simmonds, explained to those present before introducing a short program of dance and speeches.
Dance advocate Jane Ingall, also a former CDT director, spoke about the foundation of GOLD at the time when Liz Lea was director at CDT and had joined GOLD rehearsal director, Philip Piggin, in securing a health grant to set up classes. A group of 27 people signed up to attend workshops, including an intensive by choreographer Glenn Murray, whose arch work “Air Kiss” was to conclude the birthday evening.
Over-55 GOLDs who attended the first workshops and performed in an April 2011 production at Belconnen Arts Centre, Ingall explained, had insisted that the classes be continued, and they had.
The troupe has since performed in national institutions and community settings in the ACT, winning a 2017 Australian Dance Award for “Great Sport”, a 2016 site-specific production at the National Museum of Australia. They’d also been filmed by Sue Healey, 11 of them had been to Europe and they had danced at the DANscienCE festival.
Apart from the health benefits, she said, the GOLDs had “kicked holes in stereotypes”.
Founding co-director Lea spoke of the early days and how she and Piggin had worked out how to do the classes, which had since resulted in many different original works.
In Lea’s view, GOLD had changed Canberra‘s dance landscape, and connected the dancers to senior artists like dancer Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, who was also present last night.
Director of QL2 Dance, Ruth Osborne, stepped up to describe the GOLDs as “such an inspiration”, and to know that so many people want to dance late in life was greatly motivating, she said.
The high point in Osborne’s experience had been QL2’s 2018 production at The Playhouse, “Boundless”, in which dance artist Dean Cross choreographed seven GOLDs and 37 young dancers in his work, “Samsara”, which dealt thematically with the concept of life flowing in an ongoing loop.
GOLD member Penny Richards, who had danced with CDT when Stephanie Burridge was director, before spending many years away in public service, had come back to join GOLD and had since found herself doing everything from line-dancing to Bollywood with public servants like herself, an ex-policeman and a nun.
Richards also named “Samsara” as a highlight, especially the “real thrill” of performing for people paying real money in a real theatre with a real stage manager and real technicians.
Over the years, she said, they had performed in very public venues like the National Museum and more privately for 70th, 90th and 100 birthdays.
Best of all, she said, they’d all got to wear fabulous ballgowns, headdresses and even swimsuits – “It’s a fabulous thing, dressing up”, Richards concluded.