Supporting a timeless dancer: How Elizabeth Dalman made contemporary dance her life’s work

Mirramu Dance Company, L project, 2015. Photo credit: Barbie Robinson.

Dr. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman’s (OAM) life reads just like a book. She started dancing ballet from the age of four, lived and performed in Italy for 12 years and experienced firsthand the 1960s social revolution in Australia.

As a pioneer of modern dance, she faced peer outrage after introducing contemporary dance in Australia in 1965 and founding the first Australian Dance Theatre Company in Adelaide. She wanted modern dance to be a part of the revolution and took dancers out of their “tutus and pointe shoes” to the streets of Australia to dance challenging them into new depths.

Fast forward 50 years on from the establishment of the company, and Dr. Dalman is now called the “mother of modern dance.”

In 1990, she started up Mirramu Creative Arts Centre beside Lake George near Bungendore NSW, the site for many of her works and collaborations with international artists through Mirramu Dance Company.

At 81 years of age, this performer and teacher shows no signs of slowing down or retiring from the industry, challenging the idea that one cannot dance after a certain age. In recognition of her work in the industry, Dr.Dalman was recently inducted into the prestigious Hall of Fame at the National Australian Dance Awards ceremony in Adelaide. She and her team also commemorated five decades of dance with an adaptation of Dr. Dalman’s award-winning production Sapling to Silver into a project called L.

Arts NSW funded the theatre company’s 50th birthday production, the L project through the Arts and Cultural Development ProgramArts & Cultural Projects funding round in 2014 and was performed in Q Theatre in Queanbeyan and then Adelaide which was self-funded.

L (the Roman numeral for 50 and the first letter of Liz as she’s known in her circles) explores the difficulties and joys of a creative artist’s life, incorporating key elements from Dr. Dalman’s own life and career spanning over 60 years.

The work developed in collaboration with communities in regional NSW commemorates Dr. Dalman’s 50 years of choreographic practice. “I’m sure that our L project and particularly our performances (supported by Arts NSW) have contributed enormously to my being nominated for the Service to Monaro award. I thank Arts NSW for supporting me and my work with Mirramu Dance Company,” says Dr. Dalman.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ms Barbie Robinson, photographer and marketing consultant to Mirramu Dance Company who works closely with octogenarian Dr. Dalman to organise shows.

“The funding we received from Arts NSW helped in redeveloping the production for a new audience, in marketing and publicising the event and in paying our Company dancers’ fees and expenses,” says Ms Robinson.  The company line-up for L included: Dr. Dalman, Vivienne Rogis (co-founder of Mirramu, based in Victoria), long time Mirramu dancer Miranda Wheen (NSW), Amanda Tutalo (NSW), Mark Lavery (NSW) and Janine Proost (VIC).

Dr. Dalman inspires all those who come into contact with her and her passion for dance is well known.

In 2014, Dr. Dalman was famously quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying, “There’s no hiding the fact that I’m 80 [years old] as soon as I walk on the stage, but I can still pull back the spirit of my 25 year-old self,” she said. “Whenever I think of giving up, I remember that it gives people pleasure and that perhaps that’s why I’m here on the planet, to carry the dance through.”                                                                                                                                                          Elizabeth Dalman dancing in L project, 2015. Photo: Barbie Robinson

This love for dance has led to Dr. Dalman’s recent research into how older people can incorporate it into their lives. “In August 2015, I took part in a residency at University of NSW and Rushcutters Bay to study dance material for an 80 year old body and possibly a future dance film or solo program also supported by the funding from Arts NSW.”

Mirramu Creative Arts Centre will continue to play a central role in helping to foster creative excellence especially in the field of cross arts.

“Presently, Mirramu caters to dancers, and also musicians, hosts yoga retreats and welcomes any other creative artists wishing to immerse themselves in the arts,” says Ms Robinson.

So what’s next for this inspiring octogenarian performer? Dr.Dalman continues to perform on stage, teach and mentor other young and upcoming dancers.

“Elizabeth is dynamic, an innovative thinker and an inspiration to all those who come in contact with her,” says Ms. Robinson.

Arts and Cultural Projects funding supports professional arts and cultural projects at any stage of the creative process. All projects must involve professional artists and arts/cultural workers based in NSW. Applications for Arts and Cultural Projects funding (round two) close on 6 November 2015 at 5pm (AEDT – Sydney time).

For further information and general eligibility requirements please click here.

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