History and Mission
An introduction to Dancehouse...
by Becky Hilton*
As the first organisation of its kind in Australia, Dancehouse was at the vanguard of contemporary dance practice twenty years ago and it continues to lead the way today. Quietly influential, having inspired like-minded organisations in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia, Dancehouse stands strongly and truly for independence, experimentation and for the belief that art is a necessary and powerful force in contemporary society.
Melbourne has always been the spiritual home of contemporary dance in Australia and as the form flourishes, Dancehouse evolves with it; sometimes in anticipation of and sometimes in response to the needs and desires of its communities. The Dancehouse vision has consistently offered crucial time and space for dance artists to explore and investigate the form, while also providing a range of opportunities for them to present and connect their work out into the world. Dancehouse is an internationally recognised centre for Australian contemporary dance practice, research and performance; it is also home to an actual and virtual community of Australian independent dance artists.
Look at any biography of Australia's most successful dance artists of the past twenty years and there you will find the name Dancehouse; unpretentiously, but profoundly and fiercely supporting independent dance and dance makers into the twenty first century.
* Choreographer, dance educator and Dancehouse current Board member
DANCEHOUSE IN A FEW WORDS
A solid, resilient and unique organisation, with a long-standing reputation for excellence and rigour in delivering its diversity of programs and services, Dancehouse exists to advance independent contemporary dance in Australia.
Established by a working group of independent dance practitioners, Dancehouse is the only presenter in Australia dedicated solely to contemporary dance. From its base in Melbourne, its reputation and influence has crossed state boundaries to shape the art form nationally and internationally.
Through its programs of research, performance and artist development, Dancehouse creates an environment where creative risk, independent career paths, collaborative relationships and diverse practice and presentation can flourish and proliferate. At the vanguard of contemporary dance, Dancehouse presents rigorous, cutting-edge research and performance, thus playing a significant role in the development of innovative dance practices, new audiences and ongoing artistic enquiry. Dancehouse is also a crucial link to a network of movement practices, artists and organisations, in Australia and internationally. Dancehouse thus nurtures and connects the independent dance community with audiences and networks, locally and globally, contributing solidly to outstanding and sustainable career paths and engendering a broader and more informed appreciation of the art form.
With a 20-year history Dancehouse has, in recent years, emerged as a confident, competently governed and resilient key industry leader in nurturing new thinking, supporting engaged dance practices and cultivating audience access and appreciation. Recent initiatives such as the Keir Choreographic Award, Dancehouse International or Dancehouse Diary - have brought unprecedented recognition and momentum. Dancehouse is undoubtedly an art innovator, a hub of knowledge, resources and opportunities for dance makers, and a catalyst of inspiring approaches to engage with new audiences.
The only organisation of its kind in Australia and an unique incubator for developing challenging, invigorating and socially engaged art, Dancehouse stands strongly and truly for independence, experimentation and for the belief that art is a necessary and powerful force in contemporary society.
Over the last quarter of a century, Dancehouse has transformed from a small creative community of artists into a nationally and internationally significant art centre for contemporary dance. This evolution occurred over three phases of our development.
Phase one: A spaced inspired by international models
In the early 1990's, a group of independent dance makers envisioned a space in Australia that could provide continuity of support for contemporary dance practice. This vision was inspired by their overseas travels and knowledge of such facilities outside of Australia. The space was to offer the infrastructure to support professional independent dance artists working outside of company structures by providing rehearsal, development and performance facilities, and an enriched context for dance artists in Australia. The space was also to be a focus and site for visiting international independent artists to meet with Australian counterparts. The small working party of Helen Sky, Sylvia Staehli and John McCormick formed to submit a proposal for three- months of performances, classes and workshops under the title Dancehouse and in July 1992, the Melbourne City Council gave the program a house in the old Carlton Community Centre (circa 1877), now known as Dancehouse. In 1993, Dancehouse received funding from the Australia Council for a program of events, coordinated by co-artistic directors Hellen Sky and Sylvia Staehli.
Phase two: The centre is solidified.
Following our establishment, Dancehouse matured quickly as an adeptly run organisation. This maturation was physically and visually manifested with building renovations and improvements (including a new gallery studio) and the development of Dancehouse's brand identity. In 2002, in celebration of our 10th anniversary, a new foyer opened and the downstairs theatre was officially named in memory of co- founder Sylvia Staehli. Artistic Director Helen Herbertson and, later, Diane Reid continued the approach that is still honored today: to embrace the many artistic voices and visions of the independent dance community. Their successes, including their many collaborations with dance organisations and key artists, culminated in Dancehouse commencing multi-year funding from Australia Council and Arts Victoria in 2006. The following year, the position of Artistic Director and CEO was combined, with David Tyndall being appointed to lead the organisation.
Phase three: Dancehouse becomes a centre for national and international significance
In 2011, around 20 years after Dancehouse was instigated in response to international models, new Artistic Director/CEO Angela Conquet arrived at the organisation with a wealth of international experience. This experience has enriched Dancehouse’s evolving approach and networks, and grown its status as a centre to support local artists and attract international artists. Since 2011, she has built on Dancehouse’s legacy and its artist-centred origins to grow the organisation’s investment in dance performance, research and artist development. In addition, she has reimagined Dancehouse’s relationship with artists, audiences and networks to broaden horizons and deepen engagement. Recent successes have included Melbourne Festival program Dance Territories, Dancehouse Diary (a unique print and online publication connecting dance to other artforms and wider societal issues) and the much-acclaimed Keir Choreographic Award. Such successes testify to our decades of development and our evolved role as a nationally and internationally significant centre for dance.
1992: Dancehouse opens and is run by artists on a volunteer basis, with a range of classes, workshops and forums.
1993: Dancehouse receives funding from the Australia Council for a program of events, including performance series, Touch and Bodyworks, coordinated by co-artistic directors Hellen Sky and Sylvia Staehli.
1994: Great Escapes and Mixed Metaphor seasons are presented for the first time.
1997: Renovations to the rear of the building, including a new gallery studio. The first Dance Lumiere screens at Dancehouse.
2001: New Artistic Director Helen Herbertson is appointed. Renovations including a new foyer and office.
2002: In celebration of the 10th year anniversary, Dancehouse and Councilor Jackie Fristacky of City of Yarra open the new foyer and officially name the downstairs theatre in memory of co-founder of Dancehouse, Sylvia Staehli.
2003: Dancehouse presents the inaugural season of The Dance Card. BalletLab's Nativity and Ros Warby's SWIFT Reframe are performed here as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
2004: New Artistic Director Dianne Reid is appointed. Graduate showcase and Dance flicks seasons presented for the first time.
2005: Dancehouse re-branding, including new logo designed by Midnight Sky and website designed by Sputnik Agency. The Joker, as part of the Melbourne Comedy festival presented for the first time; and Dancehouse partners with Westside Circus, Centre of Contemporary Photography and City of Yarra on the Rotary Youth Arts Project.
2006: Dancehouse receives recurrent funding as a key organisation from Australia Council and Arts Victoria.
2007: New Artistic Director/ CEO, David Tyndall is appointed.
2011: New Artistic Director/ CEO, Angela Conquet is appointed.Dancehouse celebrates 20 years in an anniversary season ALIVE! bringing together 20 artists who have shaped Dancehouse