IN a splendid affirmation of Canberra’s reputation as a seeding ground for dancers, former Canberran Daniel Riley has been been appointed as the new artistic director of the Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide.
The first indigenous artistic director to lead a non-indigenous dance company, Riley will take over at the company — founded in 1965 by former “CityNews” Artist of the Year Elizabeth Dalman and once directed by Meryl Tankard — when the present director, Garry Stewart, leaves at the end of the year.
Executive director of the ADT, Nick Hays, described Riley’s appointment as “a significant moment in Australian cultural history”.
Riley, born in Wiradjuri country and part of a large artistic family that included the late photographer and filmmaker Michael Riley and fellow dancer Beau Dean Riley Smith, was schooled at Telopea Park High and Canberra College, where he became infatuated with the Tap Dogs dance troupe and began studying tap, ballet and contemporary dance with Jacqui Hallahan at the Canberra Dance Development Centre.
Hallahan says a highlight of his time there was dancing in “Cinderella”, opposite his now wife Chrissie.
Advised by Dalman, he also began a 22-year association with QL2 Dance under Ruth Osborne, where he hit his straps before heading for Queensland University of Technology in 2004 for tertiary dance studies.
According to Osborne, Riley had joined QL2 Dance (Quantum Leap) from its inception in 1999 with the projects “Rough Cuts” and “On the Shoulders of Giants”, continuing with the company for every project between 1999 and 2003.
While completing his degree at QUT, he came back to QL2 as a commissioned choreographer for the “Chaos in the Courtyard” project as well as for the “On Course” young choreographers project, then, after completing university in 2006, the “Soft Landing” program for recent graduates.
Riley would go on to dance for Leigh Warren & Dancers, New Movement Collective and Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in Britain and Melbourne’s Chunky Move.
He joined Bangarra Dance Theatre, which he had first seen in Canberra, in 2007 and was part of the company for 12 years.
Riley made his choreographic debut with Bangarra in 2010 with “Riley”, then in 2013 created his second work for the company “Scar”, later collaborating on “Blak”, “Miyagan” and “Dark Emu” before leaving the company in 2018.
During his time there he returned to Canberra to perform and teach masterclasses to QL2 dancers, and as a commissioned choreographer in 2013 for “Hit the Floor Together”, remounted in part in 2013 for the Australian Dance Awards and in 2018 as part of QL2’s 20th anniversary.
He is now Creative Associate at Ilbijerri Theatre Company, and lecturer in contemporary dance at the Victorian College of the Arts, where he additionally leads a mentoring program for First Nations dance students.
This year he was selected into the Queensland Ballet’s “Bespoke” season.