This article was first published for Artery on 7 November 2013
When award-winning choreographer, installation artist and dance-film maker Sue Healey received an Australia Council for the Arts Creative Australia Fellowship she never imagined it would lead to performing again.
Healey has performed in four events this year, recently working with Martin del Amo in Little Black Dress Suite and with The Australia Ensemble (Piano Quintet) at UNSW creating a duet with Raghav Handa that was performed live in the Ensemble’s final 2013 season.
‘I’m completely having this, well a mini renaissance really,’ Healey laughs of her return to dance after 15 years. ‘It’s quite hilarious but fabulous,’ she says not just because it reenergises her connection with dancers and the process of performing but also because she can still do it.
New Zealand born Healey’s career began in the 80s in Melbourne where she attended the VCA and was a founding member of Danceworks. In the 90s she created works for many dance companies touring nationally and internationally before gaining a Masters Degree in Choreography and receiving a Choreographic Fellowship from the Australia Council. Based in Sydney since 2002, Healey has produced numerous live performances, dance films and multi-screen gallery installations including the award-winning Will Time Tell? In 2012 she premiered her debut feature documentary Virtuosi, about eight New Zealand dancers who have established their careers around the world.
Healey is using the first half of her Fellowship to extend the concepts of moving image portraiture she explored in Virtuosi to create a series of five moving-image portraits of Australian contemporary dancers presented as performance-film installations, currently under the working title On View. It features del Amo and Handa as well as Shona Erskine, Benjamin Hancock and Nalina Wait. The project sees Healey again working with Virtuosi’s cinematographer Judd Overton. It is to be presented by The Performance Space at Carriageworks in November 2014.
‘My first forays into film began as a quest to find an antidote to the transient nature of dance,’ Healy explains. ‘I wanted to make the intangible slightly more tangible – to question how to preserve the elusiveness of dance through the medium of film.’
Also as the project On View has the potential to be an ever-evolving archive of the moving histories of Australian dance, it will illustrate the lineages and connections between many artists – that we are part of a continuum, Healey says. ‘ Ultimately the work celebrates the vitality, determination, fragility and fearlessness of dance artists.’
As the culmination of a recent two-week residency at Chrissie Parrott Arts Space in Perth, Healey had two sell-out showings of the first of her On View portraits, one of long -time collaborator Shona Erskine who performed live in conjunction with the film.
The audience reactions were immediate and powerful, Healy says. ‘I have come away from Perth knowing I am on the right track with this portrait work.’
The other major project Healy has planned for her Fellowship will investigate non-human movement and extremes of scale from the celestial to the molecular. In 2014 she will collaborate with Professor Richard Harvey, a developmental biologist whose focus is on the cellular and molecular building blocks of the embryo, and Professor Steven Simpson, a biologist who studies the movement of swarming locusts.
‘These collaborations are designed to set up a provocative interplay between radically different dialects, to challenge my perceptions of order and movement [beyond the human form],’ Healey explains.
Receiving the Creative Australia Fellowship has been life-changing Healy says. ‘It sounds like a massive cliché doesn’t it? But that’s actually an understatement. It’s already completely altered how I work.’
Not only has it given her the confidence to launch headlong into new ideas, it has provided the security to take creative risks and the ability to increase the scale and scope of her work, which she says is vitally important at this point in her career.
‘And you know what the Fellowship actually celebrates is the independent status,’ Healy adds. ‘It enables this incredible capacity to enjoy being independent and being truly honest to your own artistic intentions.’