Contemporary Women showcases four female choreographers at the fore of Australian dance.

In 2007, German-born choreographer Tanja Liedtke was appointed director of Sydney Dance Company. Tragically, the 29-year-old was hit by a truck and killed before she had the chance to take up the post; a devastating loss to the Australian and international dance community. 

The Spaniard Rafael Bonachela was called in to take over Liedtke’s would-be directorship. But he never forgot the immense impact of her work. Now, in a four-part shared program entitled Contemporary Women, Sydney Dance Company showcases the rich talents of four young, emerging female choreographers.

“I really don’t like themes, to be honest. I hate the whole ‘Oh, it’s all about green or it’s all about blue’,” Bonachela laughs. “I thought about the many choreographers who have approached me to make work for Sydney Dance Company – the works I put in the folder “I Like”. The four choreographers I chose all happened to be women, so the show became a celebration of that talent.” 

He had also read an article in The Guardian about how women choreographers in Europe are becoming increasingly marginalised. But in Australia, he insists, with artists like Meryl Tankard, Lucy Guerin, Natalie Weir and Kate Champion, that’s not the case. “There are more female choreographers in leading companies, leading the way in choreography in Australia, than there are men. I just thought, let’s celebrate that.” 

The result is “four very distinct voices” from four states around Australia. Brisbane’s Lisa Wilson uses gesture to evoke human emotions in Desire; in Fanatic, Larissa MacGowan of Adelaide offers up a humorous piece inspired by YouTube junkies, and SDC dancer Emily Amisano’s makes her choreographic debut with the company in yield, an exploration of push and pull in relationships. 

“A lot of my mentors and choreographic idols are women,” says Melbourne-based Stephanie Lake, whose Dream Lucid is a highly rhythmic piece with electronic music by Australian composer Robin Fox. Of her three colleagues in Contemporary Women she adds they all enjoy taking “sneak peaks at each other’s work in rehearsal”. 

“The program is highlighting what we have here in Australia,” says Amisano who, in addition to performing in Wilson’s work, is directing four dancers in her own. Through movement she strives to express “the small subtleties of unspoken communication that happens between people through body language and reading people”. 

Bonachela, who curates the Sydney Opera House’s Spring Dance Festival for the first time this year, is known for defying traditional gender roles in his own choreography. “In my work when I’m dealing with dancers, I rarely deal with them as male and female,” he says. “I’ve done very, very physical duets with two women; I’ve had women lifting men in my work. It would be interesting to show the work to someone and ask if they think it’s by a man or a woman. I don’t think there is a special sensibility either way. The talent comes first. 

“Don’t assume that this will be feminine and pretty just because it’s four women. at times it’s full-on and hardcore.” Tanja Liedtke would be proud.

Contemporary Women runs from August 28 – September 1. View event details here.