Photo: Alex Makeyev
Leigh Warren is an incredible talent in both the Australian and international dance scenes. His award winning dance company, Leigh Warren and Dancers (LWD) are touring the prestigious Edinburgh festival and New York Summer Stage Festival. Leigh Warren kindly shares with arts interview his thoughts on dance in Australia and the rest of the world.
Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris
You established Leigh Warren and Dancers in 1993 and next year will mark its 20th anniversary, which is an incredible achievement. What do you attribute to the longevity of the company?
Well I think it’s a little bit of passion and madness really. We are just dedicated to what we do and have been very lucky to receive support along the way. We really have followed our hearts performing what we want to perform rather than be dictated to. Sheer passion drives you through the more difficult times.
How would you describe the difference between the contemporary dance scene in Australia compared with Europe or the rest of the world?
The Australian tradition is not so long established in a way. There were some fantastic people in the early days, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s when Elizabeth Dalman established the Australian Dance Theatre that Australia got anything that remotely resembled dance companies that were in Europe. I think we are certainly on our way but we have had a slower start because we are such a young nation. One of the major differences is our physical isolation from the rest of the world and the great thing is that we have managed to turn it into an advantage. Our isolation has allowed our dancers to develop our own way of doing things, of staging and conceiving performances. Whereas my generation of dancers went overseas to study and join companies before returning back home to Australia, young dancers these days have a variety of companies to join here in this country. Another difference is that we are not saddled with a long tradition in the same way as the Americans or Europeans and so our dance is far less pressured and this really impacts on the type of performances being made. When I was in Europe recently all the performances were really dark and when we took the stage it was like a room full of sunshine.
Is that how you’d describe the latest performance ‘Pari Pasu’ that you are touring to the Edinburgh festival and the New York Summer Stage Festival?
Well to a degree yes. Lets just say it will be a very uplifting performance. It was originally created for the outdoors for the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festival and so the whole focus is to recreate the sense of being outdoors and to really loose any sense of being in a theatre. Audiences and performers are at times very conscious of being in the theatre or on the stage, but this performance really transports you. We hope that the performance will be very uplifting for an international audience and quite a surprise for them.
What are the challenges you’ve encountered in preparing for touring a production internationally?
Well the first challenge for us is that we are not a full time company and as such we always have very short rehearsal periods and to get the production up to international standards is always a huge task. Its tough work as you need to get the dancers into condition and then into a stylistic mode so the greatest challenge for my company is getting the dancers working to the best of their ability for the production in a short period of time. Right now we are rehearsing three productions, which at times is a little chaotic but I have total faith in the dancers that everything will come together. Everyone is so focused and all the dancers in the company are so passionate about dancing so they don’t really need reminders about where they are there which makes my job easier.
What are the key differences between dance audiences in Australia compared with the rest of the world?
I think every audience is different, but having said that there are certain cultures that are what I would describe as more ‘dance literate’. The most wonderful audience for me was in Indonesia because dance for an Indonesian audience was not abstract or disconnected from the body, but rather an extension of communication. Performing for that kind of an audience was wonderful. When I compare this to a more Western audience, they have a tendency to be more intellectual and analytical in nature and seem to always strive to derive meaning from the piece as opposed to just enjoying the piece. Having said this, each culture is exposed to different forms of dance and so this will most certainly affect they way an audience responds.