The RISE Canberra Podcast

Alison Plevey and Liz Lea - Podcast 3

June 22, 2020 Jen Seyderhelm
The RISE Canberra Podcast
Alison Plevey and Liz Lea - Podcast 3
Chapters
The RISE Canberra Podcast
Alison Plevey and Liz Lea - Podcast 3
Jun 22, 2020
Jen Seyderhelm

Welcome to the third RISE Canberra Podcast!

In this episode Jen Seyderhelm is in conversation with Alison Plevey, Founder and Party Leader of Australian Dance Party and Liz Lea, dance artist, producer and mentor. Both talk about evolving to meet the current climate and situation, innovative practices and the grief of being unable to dance with and for other people and spaces.

Produced by Events ACT, RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events and to find new ways to connect audiences with experiences made in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists and businesses.

You can find out more here.

Each fortnight Jen talks to Canberra creators, getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. Check out the rest of the RISE Calendar online at www.risecanberra.com - where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE News page and keep up to date with all the developments for the new Where You Are Festival, coming to Canberra in July.

The RISE Canberra Podcast is produced by Events ACT. The music is Three Times by Dawn by The Screaming Zucchinis.

Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the third RISE Canberra Podcast!

In this episode Jen Seyderhelm is in conversation with Alison Plevey, Founder and Party Leader of Australian Dance Party and Liz Lea, dance artist, producer and mentor. Both talk about evolving to meet the current climate and situation, innovative practices and the grief of being unable to dance with and for other people and spaces.

Produced by Events ACT, RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events and to find new ways to connect audiences with experiences made in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists and businesses.

You can find out more here.

Each fortnight Jen talks to Canberra creators, getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. Check out the rest of the RISE Calendar online at www.risecanberra.com - where you can find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE News page and keep up to date with all the developments for the new Where You Are Festival, coming to Canberra in July.

The RISE Canberra Podcast is produced by Events ACT. The music is Three Times by Dawn by The Screaming Zucchinis.

Alison Plevey:

Welcome to the RISE Canberra podcast produced by Events ACT. RISE Canberra is your new home for experiencing local events, finding new ways to connect audiences with experiences made right here in the ACT by local makers, creators, artists, and businesses. You can find out more at risecanberra.com. Each fortnight we'll be in conversation with Canberra creators and getting to know more about the approaches they're using to deliver events during these times. I'm Jen Seyderhelm, and in this episode, we'll be talking with Alison Plevey and Liz Lea - dancers, creators and innovators. I'm Alison Plevey, and I'm the Party Leader of Australian Dance Party. I've been in Canberra that 10 years on and off. What did you want to be when you grew up Alison? I wanted to be a ballet dancer and that sort of shifted slightly but fulfilled somewhat of that dream, I suppose, slightly shifted more to the contemporary style and the more maybe conceptual and societal role of dance out in the world. Did you train in classical ballet? I did. Yes. Since five years of age - ballet exams, eisteddfods. I grew up in regional New South Wales. So contemporary dance, wasn't really a thing much out in the regions. We didn't really do more modern styles that often it was very much jazz and ballet and tap and musical theatre and things like this. So discovering contemporary dance later on as a teenager and going off to a WAAPA where I trained in getting my degree, a Bachelor of Arts in dance, that's where I really discovered contemporary dance and the modern form, I suppose, and choreography and improvisation and the power of dance beyond the physical and the aesthetic, I suppose. Was it going to WAAPA that was the turning point for you, or did you ever see your production and thought, Oh my goodness, that's where I want to go, rather than just classical ballet. I did actually see a performance that made me shift in that way. So I grew up in Bathurst in New South Wales or as well as Dorrigo up on the North coast and in Bathurst. And we have an amazing theatre there. I mean, it's one of the best regional theatres I would argue in Australia and Stephen Champion, who's the manager. He always gets incredible work coming through and touring. And so he had this piece called quick Brown Fox by Leigh Warren and dancers, which was this amazing contemporary dance work with just four dancers. And it had a scrim across the front of the stage with projection and words and images, as well as the dancers behind it. And then I did a workshop with the cast and I think there was like three of us in the workshop. So I had got to dance with all the other professional artists. And from then on, I was like, Oh, this is something else. And this is really interesting. And it was just incredibly a physical transformation, like a longing to taste more of this type of movement. And since then, it's been such a diverse range of dance, including today. I watched your Pandemic Behaviours and you absolutely freaking out in a bathroom, which I related to on a level that I can't, I don't think I can even explain to you. And I just want you to talk through what happened when you made that and what you were feeling because I felt it too Yeah, during the pandemic, obviously it's been very strange for everyone and with our creative practice with Australian Dance Party, we sort of wanted to, I suppose, use that and respond in our own creative way to the scenario of, I suppose, the paranoia of the hygiene element. And so I set this task to the group of artists that are in ADP currently to create a dance film in their bathroom about hygiene. And my response was this, I suppose , sort of like clinical character that was obsessive and scared and manic a bit in the bathroom about making sure everything was clean and definitely my bathroom. It's not. And so the response is this woman that's , I don't really see her as me for some reason. It's this other sort of heightened manifestation of perhaps this sensation that we were all thinking or feeling about going outside at a certain point and touching things and interacting with people and how unhuman that was and foreign, this person that I became. And there's a moment where you've got a tray with all the different levels in it. And I watched you and how I processed that scene was you put your hand through it and you kind of just touch the edge and then you kind of do, all of a sudden we're overthinking, touching everything, even our own objects and you sort of back away from it. I had that moment of, Oh, I've been there. I've been there in this pandemic. That's what it's bringing out in us. Yeah, absolutely. It's bringing out really different physical and psychological behaviors, I think. And there's definitely a longing for touch and a longing for connection with people. I think as time goes on now, the role of the arts and the role of dance and particularly those activities where we can connect with people, maybe not touch just yet, but find ways to connect and touch in other ways will be so important for the recovery of our community. That pandemic thrust us into this real foreign sense of ourselves. And we didn't really understand how to operate in the world and how to engage with others. And that was a really difficult negotiation at times, but also very interesting fodder for a creative response, I think, Yes . So you've come from regional New South Wales and you've come to Canberra and you've created, and I love the play on all of this, the Australian Dance Party, which, am I right, sort of came about just as there was elections going on and so on. And so it was a play into the different party factions, et cetera. And Canberra has totally embraced the various projects that you've done, but the meaning that can be behind the projects. What's Canberra meant to you? Being i n Canberra has meant a lot of things. I've established a really interesting creative community around me. I did a lot of solo work when I first moved to Canberra. I work with youth, I work with young dance artists, seeking careers in dance also, and also with musicians and poets and different collaborating artists. But really also saw that there was a real need or a gap potentially for professional dance artists in Canberra. And I was also yearning and longing for the sense of a group and a collaborative where we can create work together, but also build careers for dance artists in Canberra. We are this young, energetic, culturally rich city. And I think we can have a really exciting contemporary dance company. And hopefully we're really building that and the site specific nature of what we do as well as connecting to the political aspects and using dance primarily as a communicator to open up discussion and awareness about issues that we feel are urgent in our world, including the climate emergency and social justice issues that we've seen just recently, these are all fuel for our creative work and Canberra is a real place and a meeting place, as we know for the discussion of this kind of work. And I think Canberra can be the real cultural centre for that. And dance is a key part of it. One of the projects that you have done one version of, and we're now moving into 2.0, is Move to Zero and I today resavoured the commercials of sorts with the plastic people in the aisles . And it's so powerful. And I , as I was watching it , I was sitting there thinking my goodness, the amount of plastic that we just use and don't even think about. And I don't know who sang that song and background I have to ask because that music was perfect?

:

So that's my friend and collaborator, Joe Oppenheimer who used to live in Canberra. He went to university here and he composed this Plastic Rap, which is fitting for the unwrap ourselves in plastic. We really need to get rid of all the plastic that we're just shedding our world with and find out that the solutions that was a really collaborative process again, I mean, Move to Zero this year, we're developing a new series of films, which this time is focusing on transport with the zero emissions target, looking to 2045, where we will be net zero in the ACT. That's the aim and that's sort of nation leading. We really want to step it up. So we've found a role, I suppose, as a communicator and a motivator for community to be aware of this message and express it in creative and human terms and reach audiences, perhaps that maybe wouldn't necessarily be so conscious or aware of this target and that we all need to be on board for this zero emissions ambition, which is pretty urgent right now

Alison Plevey:

What was Saturday for you? What did that mean? What was that for as an experience? We've had a series of workshops for Move to Zero 2.0, focused on transport, as I said, because we're now looking at transport is the number one emitter in the ACT. Everybody uses their cars and we're really got to try and drop that amount of car usage. Even if it's one time a week where we ride our bike or walk to the bus and jump on the bus, we really need to make those small changes to drop our emissions so that we can have clean futures for our children and grandchildren. But the workshops, I digress, have been about collecting input and collaborative ideas with different people in the community. And I've had targeted groups with electric vehicle experts and with some sectors of the public service, to understand how they're thinking about traveling every day and what information that we can all put into this development of these films. And so it's sort of arts, but it's cross sector community. And all of this is hopefully developing awareness and developing agency for everyone to make their own movement towards zero emissions and to see how they can potentially spark their own sustainable behaviors within their different communities that they have influence in. So that that sort of behavior can filter on and have this ripple effect. And then hopefully see some really big change. I read the most beautiful quote from yourself around you were saying before hand about the joy of collaborating and how energetic and you love working with young people as well, but around how coming from someone like me, who doesn't feel like they can dance or can never dance. And that to you is it's like I've spoken in a foreign language. You always have to be reminded that there's people out there who feel that way for some people encountering it is it's really daunting. And you're an agent for changing that in a relatable way. Yeah. Hopefully look, I love dance. That's pretty clear, but it hasn't been an incredible power because we all have bodies. We all have a kinesthetic awareness of ourselves, hopefully. And so the power of the body to be vulnerable and to be empowered and to make an action that is visible is huge. And if, if we can be active and agents for change in this way, through our creative work, but also just out there in the world being role models, we're using our bodies as a communicator, as a means for others to see how they might also follow in that direction. So that being the case and because there is that need for distancing from each other at the moment, how has this COVID experience affected both the Australian Dance Party? And you personally? It has definitely affected us. I would say both positively and negatively dance as a physical kinesthetic interpersonal form, which relies on contact. A lot of the time and energetic transfer has been absent from our lives for the last three months or so, or a little bit less. Some of us; so I haven't experienced that ever really in my life. I've been dancing since very young age. And so it was this sort of strange grief of like, not feeling that endorphin rush that energy in the room that you really feed off physically, but also creatively. But having said that we really did adapt and we thought, well, we've got to keep going. This is a creative opportunity as well. And we've got to show resilience and I think creative people, perhaps more than any others are able, we're always shifting and moving between different ideas and different projects and different formats of what we're doing and this commission and that space and this show and whatever. So we have that innate ability, I think, to do that. And so we had to find solutions like everyone, I think. And so we developed a zoom creative practice where we met in the mornings and we warmed up and we talked about how we were feeling. And I think that was really also part of it, the mental health stuff to stay connected as a group and talk about what's going through our minds and our bodies, and then do a bit of a physical practice together. And then I'd set some creative tasks. Everybody would go off for the rest of the day and complete these tasks. Then we'd come back and share at the end of the day on zoom. So we sort of had this checkpoint mode going on and we found that was the most effective because if we stayed on zoom the entire time, we were sort of glued to the screen and felt disembodied. Like we couldn't actually physically fully be present in our physical selves to do the creative tasks or sink into those thoughts or whatever it was or respond to the place we were moving in that day, which could have been the balcony or the kitchen or whatever. So there was really interesting processes that came out of it. And it was a good time as well, to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what we're doing and why we're doing it. And us as individual artists within the group, what are our ambitions? Where do we want to go? And why is this important and really reaffirm those values that we believe ADP to have. And so, in a sense, there's been absolute creative challenge and we've found ways to still connect to the audience through the films, as you say, the pandemic films and showing video of our old pieces and an online community of for Move to Zero, where people were contributing thoughts about behaviors that they're noticing that they're adopting and they want to continue in their life after COVID or during, as we're coming out of it. And so we found these other ways to still connect to the community and audience, because that's also what it's about. It's about the relationship between the artist and the viewer and the audience. And for you, the, one of the things that I'll come back to that you mentioned earlier that doesn't have to be impacted by that is you can be site specific. So you could go out to let's say, Tidbinbilla, hypothetically, you've got a massive open space. You could have 50 dancers and well, and truly have your metre and a half space and still interact together, but have no issues around the isolation while it's wonderful to be in the Canberra Theatre Centre in front of an audience. You also, part of your remit is that site specific work. So you're obviously able to challenge that in different ways. So we did do a project in May, in Hague Park, in that similar way. And we took the social distancing as a choreographic framework, I suppose. So that was part of the way we worked. We thought, okay, this is what we've got to work with. So let's work with it. And how does that affect the creative content that we're exploring? And we did this residency in connection with sea change festival in Jervis Bay, where we were originally going to be in Jervis Bay, but because we couldn't travel, we did the residency in Hague Park and other artists are still working in Jervis Bay. So we had this here and there. The project was called Here and There. And we had this dialogue between us here in Canberra and Jervis Bay, and then worked with a videographer instead of having audience. So he captured the work that we were making, which will go onto a digital festival for Jervis Bay, for the Sea Change Fest . I have to ask you a question then, did you take something off your bucket list? Cause I had read a little while ago that you'd always dreamed of doing dance in the ocean. Oh , I have done some dance in the ocean, but I think I meant like a choreographed big something. We've done some pieces in water actually. So we did a piece called Watertight in the shine dome moat two years ago. Um , and that was for Art Not Apart festival. So yeah, I'm ticking those things off the bucket list slowly. There's really interesting spaces that we can create work and enliven and draw audiences and open up and people just see us and think, Oh, dance, why is that here? And what are they doing? And what does it mean? And I think that's great that then people are challenged by the presence of dance in an unexpected place. And then they're often like, well, I want to see more of this. How do I do this? Maybe I'll go to the theatre. Maybe I'll just notice a bit more what's out there in the local art scene here in Canberra. Because it's very rich. It is indeed. What is this still on the bucket list? Oh , I'd love to do a piece on a rooftop. Oh yes. Oh my God. That'd be amazing for us. I mean, I say rooftop, but for me it's often about the concept in collaboration with the place and how that is in dialogue in terms of how we choose this place that we do the work. So for the solar farm piece, we did called Inertia that was looking at the renewable energy debate at that time. And the take up of renewables and a push to do that a little stronger and also this energetic reflection on how we're pushing our bodies to the extreme and sucking the resources from ourselves, probably at a rate that it's not sustainable and that we maybe perhaps need to slow down. And so the parallel of the body, how we're treating our body and the planet, these sort of dialogues I have in my mind about the work and the concept. And then what the place is that we might choose to frame that work in. So you've got two, well, probably much more than two, but the two threads at the moment that are going through RISE Canberra, there is the Pandemic Behaviour. So they're still coming out, t hey're still being released aren't they? Actually we've stopped creating them because we're back in the studio. I mean, we could, I suppose keep creating, but our focus has shifted now that w e're a little bit more able to go ahead with our projects that we'd planned. We're sort of focusing in on Move to Zero and projects like this, but they're definitely all up there on our Patreon now, all the Pandemic Behaviours films. And there's some still really interesting and relevant content there for people to enjoy. And we hope y ou have fun with them. And what else is on the horizon? Then, as I mentioned, we've got our Move to Zero film project and that we're developing with community and artists and Screencraft Media, and that'll be released hopefully later in August, depending on how filming goes and all of that. And then looking to do our bigger show, like our major onsite series work, hopefully in some sort of forest outdoor parkland, which I'm still locking in the exact space of where that will be, but the show's called a Regeneration. So it is about this sense of renewal and rebirth, I suppose, and this cyclical nature that we go through and those ideas of the circular economy as well and circularity of what we're using and how we're moving through the world and connecting with others. And that sense of renewal, both energetically and through generations. So we'll work with some older dancers as well. One definitely a parallel of the human with the tree. I've been reading this book called The Hidden Life of Trees. So there's an incredible symbiosis that happens with the tree and the human being. For someone who's listening today, but young, be it old who has always wanted to dance or just express themselves, have you some advice for them if they would like to use their body in this way, but just don't know where to start? I think there's so much we can draw inspiration from as to how we might move. And for me, that comes from definitely an awareness to our own body. So it might be like a sense of just closing down your eyes and noticing what you're feeling in your body and maybe amplifying those sensations that you feel in your body. And then that can create movement. Well, like conversely, going out, going external, looking at what's around you and the information that's right here in front of you and responding in that way to this place. And I feel like dance has this really incredible ability to attune sensitivity to ourselves and our world. And that at times we just go obliterate through the world and miss everything, but a dance and a movement practice enables that attunement and that listening and that care actually that we really, I feel need more in our world. I have this natural hyperactivity, I suppose. So I just have to sometimes stop and breathe and be, and I think that's also a product of the society we're in, that's just churning and churning and churning. So at times I do feel caught up in a cycle that I'm not really in control of. And so to sort of pull the body back and pull the mind back and just land. That's why I love your Zoom Sessions in the morning! And I honestly think, I wish every workplace was doing this in the morning connect. Imagine if we all warmed up together in the morning, it doesn't have to be the, probably the warmups that relate into your dance practice. But what is that for anybody else in their workplace? What is a warmup? What is an attunement to the group and the team that you're connecting with? How does that then trigger this new creative or productive space for that workplace?

Jen Seyderhelm:

What's the best lesson you've learned in your dance career thus far?

:

Oh, not to be afraid of failing and not to be afraid that you have something to say or contribute.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It has been such a joy speaking to you today. Alison .

:

Yeah. You also, Jen, thank you very much.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Alison Plevey.

Liz Lea:

Hi, my name is Liz Lea. I'm a dance artist, producer and mentor, and I've been based in Canberra for 11 years now.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Liz, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Liz Lea:

From the age of seven I just wanted to be a dancer, which I know is really quite stereotypical, but that's all I wanted to do. I didn't really think it would happen, but that's what I wanted to do.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Was there a moment that was the trigger for you in wanting to become a dancer?

Liz Lea:

My best friend, Nicole, we were living in Melbourne, went off to ballet classes and I insisted that I join her the following week. And that was it. I was off.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It's funny that you should say stereotypical, but it's been interesting in this journey of interviewing various Canberra artists, how many wanted to be actors when they grew up. Have you met a lot of people along the way, teens and older people who've said, Oh, I've always wanted to be a dancer?

Liz Lea:

Yes. I mean, there's a lot of professional artists that I work with and that's all they've wanted to do. I think sometimes we say it with a little bit of surprise that i t actually happened or that you're making it work or whatever it might be. There are others that I've come across who y es have said, Oh, I always wanted to be a dancer or I've always wanted to dance. I hear that a lot, particularly doing a lot of work in different areas of community. I'm working with a lot of dance elders. They're just so excited and thrilled to be dancing and to be part of a dance community. I had a fellowship working at the National Film and Sound Archive researching early influences on Western dance here in Australia through film and radio and sound. And I was also doing some work with QL2 dance. And it was at the end of that year that I was approached by Canberra Dance Theater to see if I would be interested in joining the organisation as the Artistic Director. So I applied and I was given the job and to be honest, I never expected to stay in Canberra. I had an MA by research arranged up at QUT in Brisbane, and then, Canberra grows on you, and started doing more and more projects with CDT and branching out and doing more of my own work as well and started making more company work because when you're touring, when I was based in England for 20 years, it was easier just to tour me as a solo artist than obviously a company of people across the pond. So it was great started making more company work and, and developing from there.

Jen Seyderhelm:

So yes, you've done quite a lot of collaborative. And as you said, quite a lot of individual work and a friend was just telling me this morning that their first experience of you was watching you do a dance at the Lake near Belconnen. I think she said it was, and her daughter was transfixed by you. And I was thinking about, as she was telling me this, that this is the kind of experience in these COVID times that can still be an expression solo wise. How has your practice had to adapt to the current climate?

Liz Lea:

Goodness, that is a really good question. And my immediate response, which is not the correct response, but my immediate response is it all stopped. So I was on tour with my one woman show RED, which is ArtsACT funded. I was over in the UK touring that and I was also working in Kuwait. So the day I flew back to Australia because of COVID, I was due to fly back to Kuwait , was working on a wonderful production over there with an incredible team of people on a really big budget show. The kind of one where you go, Yes!! And I came back and everything just stopped. And I mean, I , I'm almost not being able to speak, which doesn't help. If you're doing a radio interview or doing a podcast, you don't need silence, but it just takes your breath away quietly, quietly. Gradually the reality of this thing starts to creep in. I did a diary. I did a two month diary or rather I, I looked back over my first two months and put some little bits of film together and it's to reflect back on that and kind of go, okay, that did happen. And that was me and I didn't just live in a, I wasn't in a coma for two months. So of course there were things I was doing, but in terms of my practice, in terms of being in a studio with other dancers, obviously that hasn't been happening and sharing ideas that hasn't been happening, dreaming up new projects. I'm very lucky. I received a Homefront grant to learn Auslan and audio description, but my regular practice just stopped. And it's quite breathtaking when that happens. I know there are some people who've been almost three times as busy during COVID and there are some, who've been maybe just as busy, but they've had to homeschool and I don't have kids. So I haven't been doing that. I've had some health issues. So in some respects, it's kind of been a good time to be a bit quiet.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Funnily enough, in this isolation experience also, because one of the things that takes your mind off anything is , is work and being busy and whatever, and sitting in the COVID thing.

Liz Lea:

Yes, Yes! I should have talked to you earlier.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I hear you. I hear you so much. And I have experienced a lot of girlfriends who have been coping. I'm going to use that word across the board and COVID has made things worse because all of a sudden those outlets are not there.

Liz Lea:

Yes. So I stayed at my folks place for two and a half months. And with all the traveling I had been doing prior, I really hadn't been home for about five months, but I know the Canberra home pretty well. I know the Sydney home pretty well. And then I had a meeting in a theatre the other day and I kept bumping into things. Cause I was like, Oh , I don't know where anything is. I've lost my spatial awareness. After a 15 minute chat with someone, I'm just looking at them, dribbling going, I'm exhausted. You are alive. This is not real. I don't want to talk to you anymore. And then I was on the bus and I'm standing at the bus, the front bus door, which anybody who's using buses in the ACT will know that no one's using the front door and the driver's looking at me like get a life Blanche, you know? And then I get on the bus and I just sitting there going, am I a llowed t o touch anything - what's going on? Where are we going? It's like, life's an adventure. So yeah, different ways of coming back and sitting and engaging with people. And I'm a raging, like I'm a wimp. I spent Saturday in bed going, I can't cope with the world.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I have a question for you that I'm dying to know the response from, because we were talking about this from an acting perspective. The other day, Lexi Sekuless said to me that she'd heard the quote about when you go to the cinema and you're the only person in the cinema watching a film. That's okay, that's normal. But when you go to the theatre and you go and see actors, and there's only one person in the theatre, that's not normal. And it never feels normal because you rely on the energy of the crowd. And we've got this weird situation now where we're going to have to adapt how crowds look. For you, because you've, again, you're in that situation where you've done shows on the water without a sort of set regulated crowd. And in theatres when you're in the theatre, does the crowd matter?

Liz Lea:

Yes, yes. And yes. And three cheers for L exi. She's an extraordinary woman. I was very lucky and I have some ArtsACT funding to premiere a really big new company work. This was going to happen in November at Belco Arts Centre. It is not happening in November anymore. I really had some, I was about to say I had some grief, but that's a very strong word because no one had passed, but I was terrifically sad because I genuinely thought I genuinely thought that would stay on my calendar this year. So I've just had to wipe the whole calendar. And then you kind of go, Oh my goodness, what am I going to do? Anyway, talking to one of the producers there , wonderful team. There, there's a question around how many people could be in the audience. And some numbers were thrown around and I was aghast because if you can have a really small audience, I mean, it is very true. You walk into a show and if no one's there, your first thought is, is this show going to be really bad? Yeah . And then sometimes you can sit there in a show and go, why aren't other people here? Or there might just be a really small audience. And you're giving out three times the amount of energy to the performance so that they feel supported and the performers are like, I'm just going to focus in on you. And I know when I'm rehearsing a piece in a venue, I try and cover all of the audience. So it can be really difficult when you're performing into an audience that's maybe not there. And you're playing up to the people in the back right hand corner, and there's no one there and you have to change your focus. So there's questions of the focus, there's questions around psychologically, what it will be like for audiences and performers . If you have a venue of 200 seats and you can only have 50. However, if that is the reality in say March next year, I think psychologically, our heads will be more familiar with it. It will be devastating for the industry on an economic level, on a reach level. So say for example, if you're going to have four shows, you're hoping that you're going to get, I don't know, let's say, let's say you sell out and 800 people have seen your show. If you can only have 200 people total for four nights, that's a lot less people seeing art that takes just as long to create and live theatre is not the same when it's live streamed.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It's not the same. And having also worked on stage and sat in the audience, I, as an audience member, feed off other audience members, as much as anyone else. And that's such a critical point because they can be responding differently to me. And I'll feed off that. They can laugh at something and I'll laugh along with them. So the energy of the crowd is so important and I am that person also, who will invest in sitting in the front row. And there is a trauma. And I want to go back to your thing about grief, because I think what you just said, because you feel bad putting the word grief to it, but your works are your babies. And I'm the same. I have things that you invest time, you look forward to. And when that's taken away by situations that are beyond your control, I would spend a weekend in bed over it. I am attached to it in a way that is primal because it's mine. So I think that the grief side of things for a lot of artists is very real because all of us are working way ahead in our calendars. That's just how the artists industry is. And so when all of a sudden six months is barren, grief is a word that I would use too

Liz Lea:

And six months is b arren, but with no idea of what, or when it will return and if it will return and what the return is going to be. And I think as artists, we're pretty adaptable. We're pretty used to kind of having to pivot on our heels and go okay, I gotta go over there now. But there's a certain surety in what, you know, you're creating. We're on really, really look we're in unknown territory. But particularly with the creation of live theatre and arts, we just really, really don't know. I mean, I have some very dear friends who had to shut down their dance schools and go online and , and I'm in awe of their energy and how they kept going. And I also wonder because there were times when I was just so debilitated energy-wise I thought, how on earth could you run a dance class? And yet, if that's your business, that's everything you're going to be energised to do. Do you know what I mean? And then when they know the questions of how many people can go back into classes, and what's the difference between New South Wales and the ACT and all of those things, but there is a notion that you can reopen, you can potentially start to rebuild as independent artists were just kind of left going, I don't know what's going to happen next.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Yes. And this also comes from a perspective of you having worked and trained in London, worked in Singapore, you mentioned Kuwait, and now y ou're in Canberra, which I do want to come back to. But what has the international experience given you? Do audiences respond differently?

Liz Lea:

Yes, they do. We lived in a lot of different countries growing up with Mum and Dad's job. I've always loved traveling. I've always loved moving. And there was a time when I first moved to Canberra that I actually didn't want to travel anywhere. So that was the first time of my life. I didn't really want to go anywhere. And then the bug came back. But when I was touring, my solo works. What would happen is that I would take the work performing in a different country. And if let's say the first three or four, maybe five countries I performed the work in there would be things that I would tweak along the way, as long as when I was in the zone with the works, when those pieces didn't need any more tweaking, when they had resonated in every country, then, you know, the work was solid and it is different on each land on each country. When talking with first nations elders and younger people, the notion of being on Ngunnawal land is different and it is different being on Ngunnawal land than it is to being on Gadigal land, for example. So you fly into India and not only do the smells of the dust and the heat hit you, it's different land. And moving across Europe, you feel shifts and changes when you're performing. And it was really only through a First Nations leader, Marilyn Miller. We're talking at the national dance forum up in Darwin, on Larrakia country last year. And she was talking about the notion of home. And as she spoke, I went, Oh my goodness. I've traveled all around the world, looking for my home. And it really was where I was born Gadigal land of the Eora nation in Sydney. And that's the place I always go back to, to be in the sea in Fairlight and just kind of bathe and heal if you know what I mean. So yes, been traveling all over, looking for the notion of connection, but using that seeking if that makes any sense to keep working on those pieces. So if they resonate wherever you go, they're working because they're solid enough to sit firmly on different countries and in different places, in different lands and different cultures do respond differently. People will come up and have different references to what you've done or what you've seen. And it also depends what your work is programmed with. But I think that's the other thing about dance is that because we have one vessel and it is our bodies and that's what, that's what we live through. And it doesn't matter what your verbal languages, when you're dancing, we innately resonate with and connect with the different bodies that you see performing.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Oh , there are so many threads in that. That means something to me. One of the things about working in the medium, I wish people could have seen your hand gestures as you did it. And I have always felt like an extremely uncoordinated soul, but everything you do is measured and graceful, even in your hand gestures there. So you worked to set up the GOLD Group and the CDTeens for someone of any age who has just had that ambition to dance, whether professionally or just for pleasure, what have you learned that would be a bit of advice that you would suggest to someone who does?

Liz Lea:

Just start. When I was with Canberra Dance Theatre, we would often get phone calls o f people saying, Oh, look, I've really wanted to do ballet, but I'm in my mid thirties and I've never done it. And I don't want to be scared by the younger dancers. And, and we would just say, look, the CDT is just, it's a very open and welcoming space and great teachers. And i t just very, cozy is not a great word, but it's a very welcoming space. So just to come back to the GOLDs, yes, the GOLDs were set up that we have in their 10th anniversary next year. And they were set up along with Jane Ingall and Philip Piggin. And I didn't establish the CDTeens. They were already running when I arrived and I was thrilled to get to know them and their families. And they're still going, they're not teenagers anymore, most of them. But yeah, I would just say, try. One of the things that was extraordinary about the GOLD dancers is we set this thing up at the beginning of 2011 as a 10 week dance project thinking we might get six people and it was with an ACT Health grant and there's been some brilliant dance initiatives that have come out of ACT Health. After the 15th, 16th inquiry, I stopped writing the names down and then we had 32 people rock up for the first class. And it just went from there. Most of the people who joined had never danced, they just felt like joining and it worked and it clicked and it connected. And off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you how many of the original members are still part of GOLD, but there's at least 10, possibly 15 of them. And as I say, many of them had never danced before. And it's about the camaraderie and the classes and the technique, and then the capacity to perform. And there was this wonderful moment when they premiered at Belconnen Arts Centre. And Sahira, who was our, one of our elder dancers at the time, her granddaughter came early and did her makeup and sat with her boyfriend and watched grandma performing before they left to go and watch the footie all day. And what I loved is because it's quite often the grandparents in the dance school performances, and here's the grandkids watching, Oh dear don't start me off. And yeah , so there are really special, very feisty group of people. And so they should be, but yeah, that would be one of my life's joys. And it was also, we always ensured that there was a really strong professional standard. So it was like right now we're doing class . All the teachers are extremely professional managed to wangle grants, small grants left, right. And centre. And we commissioned 14 different choreographers to make 16 different works in six years, which is pretty, pretty remarkable.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It's very remarkable. And on top of that, with regard to the success of your grant applications, it's because you think outside the box, it doesn't have to be an arts grant. As you said, health, that's fundamental to all of us and the well being and the pleasure and the health fitness aspects that come out of it absolutely fit within that grant. But again, sometimes it's just that, I'm sure you're saying, well, of course I thought outside of the box, but it's not always straightforward for a lot of people who go into those roles to sit there and think, well, you know, I can apply for an arts grant for this, but health is such a big factor towards dance and the mobility of your body and the health of your body long term in terms of the maintenance of it, especially for GOLD.

Liz Lea:

Absolutely. And I think this is for me, this is one of the positives of COVID in that for many, arts have been something that people have turned to in COVID times, dance in particular seems to be something that people have turned to. I think it's about seeing a moving body in a large space, which no one can get into. Lots of people will be making dance videos, and kids have been getting involved and that fantastic series of films of like getting grandmas and granddads and everyone's is an Irish family trying to learn a dance. And I'm watching this going, mom and dad are downstairs, but I so know they wouldn't do this with me, but just loving all of these families coming together in isolation, in a house and dancing, well, it doesn't really get much better than that. So to be honest, I think that could be a real positive and more of a notion of look, dance is not an elite art form. We all do it, all the time. And I'm not saying it is an elite art form, but I think some people kind of feel that it is sometimes and therefore they don't want to fund it or they don't want to go or whatever it might be. But at the same time, I think as well, there's been a lot of people who have been three or four times as busy during COVID to kind of handle the crisis. And they may be the people who need to have more of an understanding of how powerful the arts are. I mean, if you shut down all the radio programs played no music for a week. No dance. You didn't look at any art. Didn't read any books, nothing would happen. Nothing would happen. Even driving a car, they're an art form of engineering to a certain degree. Do you know what I mean? And the aesthetic line of a car or the colour, it's all there. You could be doing a lot of walking in nature, but even then you're going to be listening for the bird song and that's that's music. It is all around us, but we kind of forget, and then it gets put into a box.

Jen Seyderhelm:

And so what is your hopes for for dance and for the arts post this COVID experience?

Liz Lea:

Well, I'm going to say what I think he's probably really stereotypical and I hope we come out of it, which sounds a little bit defeatist, but I think we're still in it. I hope we come out of it better, which sounds really naive and shallow, but I hope we come out of it as better human beings with more of a sense of care and connection. We're not going to come out of this within the next six months. And even if we came out of it within the next six months, we're not going to be fixed because I think what this has revealed is certainly within the arts, there were a lot of things that are really fragile and a bit broken. Those of us who working freelance and you go from job to job, we bust our guts to make sure we've got as much work lined up for the next 18 months and so on and so forth. And you do the best job you can so that you can hopefully keep employed and so on. And this has revealed that there is a fragility within that. Like if something in the system stops, we come to a grinding halt and we work incredibly hard. And I think we need to look at the system that we have to see what we can do to ensure that if something like this happens again, it's not a grinding halt, but there is a way through it. I mean, I've got a lot of different colleagues who were starting to look at different career avenues, not necessarily stopping being an artist anymore, but doing a business management degree, do I really want to be an administrator anymore? What else should I be doing? Obviously, I don't know all the answers, but I, I think one of the issues with answering that question is we genuinely don't know when we're going to come out of it. And we don't know what we're walking back into. One of the things that has been causing me panic to a certain degree is hearing about all these incredibly well-funded venues like the Royal opera house is apparently in trouble. West End venues are in trouble. Yeah . Wow. And I'm not saying, Oh my goodness, that's dreadful . I mean, it is dreadful, but those are the kind of venues that are really well supported that have a strong, I would say business model, if they're in trouble, how does the average Joe Blo on the street make it work? And where does everybody go to make a living to live? So there's these different undulations of uncertainty within our industry overlaid with what's happening with covered overlaid with government decisions. And it's quite easy to feel quite powerless.

Jen Seyderhelm:

It is, especially when the major decision makers for the arts community have got rid of that little arts word in their remit. Anyway, as a final question, I have totally fallen in love with Canberra. And one of the things I love the most is exactly why I'm here with you today in that we are looking to reignite the arts. We're trying to be at the forefront of finding new ways and offering opportunities in unexpected avenues, we're doing the best we can. And we're in a very fortunate situation where also we're not as burdened with this COVID situation. What can you see on the horizon in terms of positives for Canberra and your practice?

Liz Lea:

The Canberra arts community rocks. It really is the Canberra arts community that's gotten me through this because as an independent, not affiliated with any organisation, I have felt really quite lost in a number of different ways. And the Canberra Artist's Action Group has kind of been my lifeline, absolutely been my lifeline and a group of dancers we've been coming together once a week as well. And just having a pink, fluffy jumper chat, how are you, how are you? And it's made a world of difference and there are some weeks where you just go, Oh, I can't cope. And there was one week actually after I had surgery, I didn't put my camera on because I just looked terrifying and I wept through most of the meeting, but it felt great to hear everybody else's voices. Do you know what I mean? Just to kind of connect. So I think with the whole RISE Canberra program, that's a great initiative to be with Events ACT. The Homefront grant has given a number of different people, different projects, but fascinating again, 378 applications and only 66 were successful. There are a lot of artists out there and maybe loads, more artists than one might necessarily think the different festivals that are coming up the way you are festival. So hopefully there's some opportunity there for different people. I've been very lucky to have been working closely with Belconnen Art Centre on hopefully different iterations of this work that I was meant to premiere next year. And finding ways that I could maybe put out different iterations or different presentations in the run up to the final shebang. Maybe I'll be able to go back to Kuwait and finish that job and pick up the clothes that I left there. Seriously.

Jen Seyderhelm:

I know, but isn't it funny how it's the little things that are big things right now. I'm so delighted to have had this time to really chat with you today, Liz, and thank you for everything that you've brought to our community and for the chat today.

Liz Lea:

You are very welcome. I am very grateful and great to chat to you as well.

Jen Seyderhelm:

Liz Lea. Make sure you check out the rest of the RISE calendar online at risecanberra.com, where you can also find out more about other innovative offerings from Canberra creators on the RISE n ews p age, and keep up to date with all the developments for the new Where You Are festival coming to Canberra, this July. The RISE Canberra podcast is produced by Events ACT with the support of Talking Canberra 2CC