Real, raw and unexpected: the secret to Restless success
âWe produce real, raw, always unexpected work,â artistic director Michelle Ryan said in a recent Restless Dance Theater video. “Our dancers are charismatic – they live the moment they are on stage.”
Resilient is another word that describes both the artists and the organization, which has grown from humble beginnings to a leader in the national performing arts scene and will be celebrating its 30e anniversary with an evening of theater, dance, cinema and live music this month at the Lab.
The Restless story began in November 1991 at Carclew (then Carclew Youth Arts). Restless was the name given to a series of workshops exploring the relationship between dance and voice, which British dance artist Sally Chance – founding artistic director of Restless – combined with a group of young people with disabilities she worked with.
Restless presented their first show at the Adelaide Fringe in 1992: a double program with youth choir Carclew Before You Were Blonde. Running a youth ensemble for young disabled and non-disabled dancers, as well as a workshop program, it continued to operate in Carclew until the late 1990s, after which it moved between several premises before moving to arrive at his current home on rue Gilles.
While the restless youth ensemble presented one or two major productions per year and toured local and interstate during those early years, including taking the job Precious To the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Cultural Festival, his profile has grown considerably over the past two decades, especially since Ryan took the helm in 2013.
âOne of my goals was to attend the Adelaide Festival, and we’ve been there three times in five years,â she said. Review of the company, which works with dancers with and without disabilities.
âAnother thing was to shoot, and we went to the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games, we went to Seoul, we took people to the UK, and we have these international collaborations as well.
“But the other main thing – the very, very important thing – was to make our dancers paid professionals and to create freer paths for them.”
Ryan herself has a distinguished career as a dancer, starting with the company of famous choreographer Meryl Tankard in Canberra, then performing with the Australian Dance Theater for almost seven years; she was working as a Tankard assistant in Europe when she was diagnosed with MS in 2001. In a recent HIS LIFE Profile, she said that returning to Adelaide to become artistic director of Restless was an opportunity to combine her experience as a professional dancer and designer with her professional and lived experience of disability.
âI think it’s the unique artists that we have and the increase in stage representation that become an important part of our culture,â said Ryan, when asked the key to the success and longevity of Restless.
âThe appreciation of our artists has grown over these years, and we’ve also invested a lot of time in developing dancers as performers and I think they’re now at a point where they really shine on the scene. mainstream scene. “
Some of these dancers have been with Restless for many years, one of the oldest being Jianna Georgiou, who joined the Restless Youth Ensemble in 2006. Georgiou won the Frank Ford Memorial Young Achiever Award at the 2020 Ruby Awards and is also a Nominated in 2021 for a star on the Walk of Fame of the Adelaide Festival Center.
Ryan’s work process means that the dancers are fully involved in the creative development of the works brought to the stage. She says they bring something different to the dance landscape, “where dance is generally seen as a perfection of both body and technique.”
âThere is something very strong about showing vulnerability on stage – vulnerability but still strength. There are both with our interpreters.
Today, Restless operates through several different branches and programs including what is known as The Company (a core group of advanced dancers), Impulse (formerly Youth Ensemble), Junction (continuing education for dancers over 26 years who have performed in a Restless work) and a two-part workshop program.
Over the past decade he has done work everywhere from the Hilton to the SA and Kingpin Norwood Art Gallery, with highlights including In the balance (performed at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2016 with The Audreys, with whom they also shot a music video), show 2017 Adelaide Festival Intimate space, the work directed by Tankard Zizanie, the immersive experience of last year See through the darkness, and the 2021 Adelaide Festival show Gutter.
It was after the Ruby Award and nominated Helpmann Intimate space that Restless evolved its model in order to be able to pay the full price to its core of dancers. âAs they increased their education and skill level, especially over the past three years, they’ve really blossomed and grown,â says Ryan.
The biggest challenge Restless has faced in recent times has been last year’s shock loss of its multi-year federal funding through the Australian Council. However, the company was bolstered by the overwhelming public response to a subsequent fundraising campaign and also garnered project support through other public programs including the Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand grants ( RISE) from the federal government.
One of the Restless projects supported by the RISE grant is Listen To See), which is the result of a collaboration with a Canadian choreographer and company, and was originally intended to be presented with four Canadian dancers and four Australian dancers until the pandemic interrupted international travel. The individual work was produced as part of the DreamBIG Festival this year and will also be part of WOMADelaide in March 2022, when Restless will debut at the World Music Festival at Botanic Park.
âWe will have nine Restless dancers and we use all the music from South Australia as part of our performance,â says Ryan. âBasically, a dancer has headphones and an MP3 player, gives a headset to an audience member and plays a solo just for that personâ¦ it’s a very special moment for that audience member. “
The following month, Restless will present their major new work, Exposed, at the Space Theater of the Adelaide Festival Center. With a score by musicians Hilary Kleinig and Emily Tulloch and lighting by Geoff Cobham, it is an exploration of vulnerability, uncertainty and risk.
Two excerpts from Exposed will be performed live by Restless dancers at 30e anniversary celebration at The Lab’s performance venue in Light Square on November 24. The event will also include a live performance by See through the darkness, a digital exhibition of restless works from 1991 to 2021, presented with a live score by Tulloch, as well as a screening and live preview of another new work in development, Correlation.
Correlation is the result of an international collaboration involving Ryan, Korean composer Sngkn Kim and eight dancers with and without disabilities from Korea and Restless. It builds on the relationships formed when the company visited the Seoul Street Arts Festival with Intimate space in 2019.
âIt was created on Zoom and shows that you can still pursue international collaborations even at a time when you can’t come face to face,â Ryan said of the work, which hopefully will be presented in Korea in 2022 and Adelaide the following year.
If that’s not enough to keep the company busy, she also has a new job in development with Adelaide-based Patch Theater that premieres next year and will feature artists with disabilities to a young audience aged around four to eight. years.
As he moves into his next phase, Ryan says Restless will look to expand his reach and the breadth of his projects through live performances, films, digital works and site-specific experiences: âThe the larger community we can access, the better. “
It’s a sentiment echoed by boss Robyn Archer in the company video: âI think the more people who can see Restless and what he does, the better,â she says. “When you see a company like Restless, you go to the heart, to the heart of the human mind, and it is almost always with a sense of awe, awe, awe.”
The Restless Dance Theater will be celebrating its 30e anniversary with an evening of dance, theater, cinema and live music at The Lab on November 24, with two performances at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Details here.
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