Dancers leap boldly into uncertain future

Stephen Bevis
Artistic director Raewyn Hill and dancers Russell Thorpe, Talitha Maslin and Mitchell Harvey rehearse at the State Theatre Centre. Picture: Megan Powell / The West Australian

The State’s new flagship contemporary dance company is taking a bigger leap into the unknown than it had expected.

After years of planning, the Contemporary Dance Company of WA will be launched under the name Co3 with a performance at the Western Australian of the Year Awards tonight to kick off the WA Day long weekend.

While the launch celebrates Co3’s proud WA origins, the company has had the rug pulled from beneath its collective feet by shock changes to arts funding by the Federal Government.

It has strong State Government and private backing but had factored in solid Federal support to help fund an ensemble of dancers and program its first full season next year at a budget of about $1 million.

It has about $500,000 of that from the Department of Culture and the Arts, money which had been allocated each year to the Steps and Buzz youth-focused dance companies which folded to make way for Co3.

“It is a critical time for us and the game has changed a little,” Co3 chair Wendy Wise said. “There is an element of shock but there is a great determination for his company to work. There is a great desire for us to find a way through all of this.”

With the company emerging from the ashes of Steps and Buzz, the Co3 name reflects its three-way focus on the professional dance ensemble and its youth and education engagement and training programs.

For tonight’s show, artistic director Raewyn Hill has created a dance piece set to Lanterns, the hit by Birds of Tokyo, the headline act at the State of the Art Music Festival tomorrow.

“That song is the story of a journey so for us that made sense as well,” Hill said.

Hill said the gala would be a great way to introduce the company to the public despite uncertainty about the scale of the first full Co3 season in 2016.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” she said. “We are completely committed to moving forward and launching the company. We see a bright future ahead of us. We will contribute to a vibrant arts community here and we will support and nurture artists and dance-makers of the future.”

“Challenges come and go and you either rise to them or there is a break point. For us we are rising to it and moving forward. The State needs a contemporary voice and a contemporary company. We have a brilliant team assembled and there’s no reason we can’t make this work.”

Like many arts organisations around the country, Co3 has been knocked sideways by the Australia Council’s suspension of its new six-year key organisation funding after Federal Arts Minister George Brandis stripped $110 million from the council’s budget over four years.

Instead, Senator Brandis is setting up a National Programme for Excellence in the Arts. Details about how it will work and who will be eligible to apply will be revealed in coming weeks, with applications from arts bodies and artists sought for next financial year.

Wise said Co3 eagerly awaited the details of the new program and also would apply for Australia Council project funding in September.

“It means we will probably not know until December whether we have support for our program for 2016 from the Australia Council,” she said.

“One of the aspirations of this company was to have a full-time professional ensemble presenting a number of works over the year. Clearly, we will have to rethink how many works we can produce in a year and to think creatively about how we keep dancers on contract and employed throughout the education and youth ensemble program.”

The company is the first in the WA contemporary dance field since Chrissie Parrott’s company folded in 1996. It has been seven years in the making since the State Government initiated its Future Moves dance reforms in 2008.

A driving force has been the Future Moves co-ordinator and former Chrissie Parrott and WA Ballet dancer Margrete Helgeby, whose businessman husband Michael Chaney is founding supporter.

Wise said the prospect of securing other private and corporate support was good but many wanted to see the company strut its stuff at its inaugural season at the Heath Ledger Theatre in October before committing.