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Canberra Today 3°/9° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Subdued festival still brings out some stars

Scottish choreographer Morag Deyes… a splendid coup for the Bold dance festival.

Liz Lea, a former CityNews Artist of the Year, once again shows herself to be a force of nature as she embarks on her fourth dance summit, Bold.

It may be, as she claims, a more modest affair than those in the past, but nonetheless she’s doing it, paying tribute to Canberra’s dance culture, to the “elders” of the dance community and to the rising interest in dance films.

“Keeping the flag flying for Bold while preparing for a much bigger event next year” is how she puts it.

The launch takes place on International Women’s Day, March 8, at Canberra Museum and Gallery with performances by QL2 Dance, Apsaras Arts, All of a Sudden and Vilaisan Campbell. 

The same evening at the National Film and Sound Archive, a series of dance films directed by ACT-connected female dance artists will screen. 

Ninety-year-old dancer Elizabeth Cameron Dalman looms large and indeed one showstopper will be the world premiere of Lake Song, a film by Sue Healey focusing around Dalman and her arts centre, Mirramu, starring Canberra Dance Theatre’s GOLD Company.

Another figure looming large is eminent dance reviewer Michelle Potter, who will be front and centre in hosting conversations, not least one about dance criticism with author Emma Batchelor and another with Dalman, who is incidentally the patron of Bold,

Other highlights are a conversation between QL2 dance legend Ruth Osborne and Bill Stephens, as well as a workshop headed by First Nations dancer Tammi Gissell. There are many more classes and even a “cake-off”. 

The three-day festival winds up with a Bold Burlesque Breakfast where Lea will slip into her “inner showgirl” to lead classes and have fun over a glass of bubbles. 

“It’s a celebration of our local dance stars with a sprinkling of international love,” Lea says.

Talking of which, in a splendid coup for Bold, Lea has engaged famed Scottish choreographer, Morag Deyes who was honoured with an OBE in the King’s New Year’s Honours List this year and who was, from 1994 to 2022, artistic director of Dancebase, Scotland’s National Centre for Dance in Edinburgh.

When I visited the Edinburgh Festival in 2022, I saw Prime, her bold troupe of over-60s dancers, supporting Lea on stage in the production, Red.

When I catch up with Deyes by WhatsApp to Devonport, NZ, I learn that she’s been gadding around on a research commission, looking into the way elders are celebrated in indigenous populations in Taiwan and NZ.

“In Western Europe, elders are expected to retire, but now that I’m an elder, I decided I didn’t feel what was happening was retirement, I felt more that it was advancement – I started to look at that, to celebrate getting older,” she tells me.

Deyes’ views are remarkably comparable with those of Dalman, whom she has not yet met. 

“I got quite obsessed with indigenous communities that see the value in later life,” she says, noting that such cultures that celebrate “eldership”, run counter to western modernisation, which places little value in elders.

So, she applied to the funding body Creative Scotland, got a grant and has been working with elders of four Taiwanese tribes and Māori communities of Aotearoa.

While in NZ, she’s been hanging out with Māori elders, celebrating the culture over a cuppa, looking at the ways people approach movement for the older body and learning a lot.

“Working with the Prime dancers, I needed to be sensible and not ask them to do things which are going to injure their knees or hips – it would have been very stupid to assume that they can jump around like when they were 25,” she says.

But it’s a way of expanding creativity, and while some Prime dancers started out very shy, saying: “I don’t have the confidence, I’m old now”, after a year of dancing, they were part of the “look-at-me” brigade. 

“The force of character is just accentuated as you get older,” Deyes says. 

She’ll be in Canberra from late February for an extended visit and will give an informal dance class at Bold, sharing a tale or two from her Taiwanese and NZ adventures.

The Bold Festival, March 8-10, program at

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Helen Musa

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