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The Australian Dance Theatre production G, inspired by the classic ballet Giselle. Picture: Chris Herzfeld

The Australian Dance Theatre is internationally acclaimed but in WA the company is better known by reputation than direct audience experience because it's been 17 years since its last Perth season.

If you haven't been following the fortunes of Australia's longest- running contemporary dance company since that 1996 visit, ADT has been directed by Garry Stewart since 2000. Stewart's exhilarating choreographic style, adventurous artistic collaborations and original, sometimes challenging themes have ensured that the Adelaide-based company continues to enjoy international success.

Why is it, then, that American and European cities have enjoyed ADT seasons more recently than Perth?

"We're funded to present our work around Australia," says Stewart matter-of-factly.

"It's an issue with the Australia Council and something that they are looking at dealing with. Companies like ADT and (Melbourne's) Chunky Move, we're funded to make work but we're not funded to present our work around Australia. We present work in Adelaide and then take it overseas, except for the occasional Australian season."

While Stewart's frustration is evident, he is optimistic that things are going to improve. "I think slowly it will turn around for us," he says. "The Australia Council are very aware of the issue. We've been a bit more vocal about the concern that Australian dance audiences only see one or two Australian dance companies."

But why is there funding to go to Europe and not to Australian destinations? "We can tour Europe because we get paid a fee by the venues where we perform," Stewart says.

"We also get funding from the Australia Council to tour internationally, and from Arts SA. Sometimes we also get funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade because it's seen as an act of cultural diplomacy."

And Stewart's not knocking any of that. "International touring is our bread and butter. We get to play to tens of thousands of people every year because of it," he says. Nonetheless, he can see the irony of the situation. "We're called the Australian Dance Theatre but we're possibly better known in France than in Australia because we tour to France every year."

Happily, Stewart and Co. are making it across the Nullarbor this year to play in Perth, Bunbury and Mandurah, thanks to the Australia Council's Playing Australia program.

The drought is being broken with G, Stewart's radical reinvention of the Romantic ballet Giselle. Created in 2008, G isn't Stewart's only foray into the world of rewriting classical ballets. His first full-length work for ADT was Birdbrain (2000), a contemporary re-telling of Swan Lake.

So what is it about these seminal ballets that inspire Stewart to make new work?

"I think it's interesting investigating a pre-existing text. You're not just dealing with a benign, unknown story, but something that has its own power as a cultural artefact," he explains.

"Classical ballet is a privileged form. It was originally constructed to entertain the aristocracy. Because of those origins, big narrative classical ballets have cache within our society. And so, in a way, they set themselves up to be critiqued, pulled apart and re-configured."

For those unfamiliar with Giselle, the story sees the character of Giselle, a peasant girl, go mad and die as a result of discovering that her supposedly peasant fiance, Albrecht, is actually a nobleman, engaged to someone else. Once dead she becomes a wili (the ghost of a young woman who has died of unrequited love). The wilis appear at night and any man who crosses their path is doomed to dance to his death. Albrecht encounters the wilis at Giselle's grave, but she chooses to save him from her vengeful spirit sisters.

As Stewart notes, the 19th century fascination with madness is a central motivating factor for the original story.

"In Paris, at around the time that Giselle was made, about 3000 women were incarcerated in a sanatorium for the mentally ill," he says. "Often they were diagnosed with hysteria, which, in terms of etymology, is connected to the Latin word for the womb. So madness was connected to women.

"That interest, within the broader culture of the time, in women and madness, and the idea that madness in women could be caused by emotional trauma, mainly in relationship to men - that being jilted by a man was enough to send a woman over the edge into madness - that was the cultural subtext for Giselle."

It's that subtext - the 19th century obsession with madness - that's the starting point for Stewart's contemporary reconstruction of Giselle. And reconstructed it certainly is.

Gone are the pale, ethereal, sanitised wilis and in their place are angry young women, alive and violent. With an eye-popping LED backdrop, bright green pared-down tutus and Stewart's trademark high-octane choreography, G is a far cry from the medieval village/forest glade setting and ghostly whiteness of Giselle.

While G is intense and thought-provoking, Stewart's advice to first-time ADT viewers is not to get too caught up in worrying about what it all means.

"Seeing ADT is experiential, it's sensorial," he says. "Upon reflection it's interesting to think more deeply about the meaning of what you've just seen but while it's happening I think it's best to allow your body to experience it in its own way."

G is at the Bunbury Entertainment Centre on June 26, Mandurah Performing Arts Centre on June 29 and the State Theatre Centre from July 4-7.