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After receiving relatively small amounts of support (nominally ‘program grants’) from the Australia Council in 1996 and 1997, the Paige Gordon Company failed to receive subsequent funding towards a new work Raising the Standard. Arts ACT, the company’s main funder did support the creation of the work. However...

JP What made you want to leave Canberra?

PG Although we didn’t receive Australia Council funding, we have been pretty well-funded by Arts ACT—the second best funded company here. However, dollars funding is one thing, support in terms of ongoing administration is another altogether. They fund you to a point and then expect you to survive. So no company in the ACT ever gets a chance to grow. In terms of a full-time dance company, $80,000 just doesn’t cut it. It’s crazy. And they have an expectation that you’ll do the work for free, and you’ll keep on doing it for free. And that’s ‘quote-unquote’ what they’ve said to me. There’s no valuing or comprehension of what a full time contemporary dance company means. It’s happened to a few companies, dance companies in particular—Meryl Tankard going, Vis a Vis going, and then Padma Menon going. So if my skills are going to be better rewarded somewhere else in the marketplace, then I’m going to seek out that opportunity. That’s exactly what I did.

JP Is it also more difficult now with the presence of The Choreographic Centre?

PG I guess as soon as that was set up and well-funded, it was going to be knock out competition. The Centre gives little bits of support to lots of artists and so, in terms of grants, they’re actually pleasing a lot of people. And I’ve spoken to the artists who have been there and they say it’s a great opportunity. But in terms of development of their craft, I don’t know how much it contributes. And the Centre doesn’t have to build audiences—they’ve got a capacity of 60 in their theatre, and they’ll get that anyway because people are interested in dance. It is a good place to have a choreographic centre because Canberra is a transient place, everyone comes and goes. But in terms of follow-up for the artists, I’m not sure it meets a need.

Canberra’s a great place but people would love to have a dance company they could call their own. There are lots of people who don’t want The Choreographic Centre. And there are lots of people that, yes, they like seeing performances there but they don’t feel a sense of ownership. And whilst I think it is really true that The Choreographic Centre is fantastic nationally—where else could it really be other than the national capital—it’s a shame that things can’t be considered equally in funding terms. I think there is enough room for the centre and for a company and I think the funding bodies should recognise that.

JP How did you carve out your own niche in the context of bigger companies visiting more frequently and presenting work on a larger scale?

PG We’ve visited all the high schools in Canberra to help them with their rock eisteddfod performances; we do corporate gigs (like the opening of the Canberra museum and gallery); and we did the opening of Playhouse. I see dance as being a really vital part of living—not just on stage. And a place like Canberra is fantastic for that. It’s also great that Meryl Tankard and Chunky Move and the Australian Ballet and Bangarra come and do that big stuff, which then enables me to do work on the fringe and outside the mainstream.

JP What does the new position with Buzz Dance Theatre in Perth hold for you?

PG Well my work is going to develop—while I’m on salary, which is wild! And the dancers will be on salary and the studio is going to be heated and we won’t have splinters in our feet and we’re going to have administrative support and a production person. And I’m going to have a chance to be in the studio every day. I’m walking in big shoes—Philippa Clarke has been there for 8 years so there is really quite a high standard. The company also does a lot of regional touring, and a lot of school work, which is important for developing the next generational audience. As well I want to bring to Buzz the national network of contacts that I have.

JP Have you been happy with what you’ve done here?

PG Well it’s always easier to assess your work in hindsight. I think that most of the pieces that I’ve done, I’ve been happy with. I like to put a work on and then 6 months later look at it again, that’s part of the choreographic learning process. It does take years and I’m quite happy to spend my life learning the craft. I want to be able to say when I’m 60, ‘Yeah, I think I got about five shows right.’ I really want to keep evolving.

JP Are you leaving with any negative feelings?

PG The reason why I sought out the job in Perth was related to just knowing that after 7 years of going ‘please, please, please’ I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew that while we were going to be up for triennial funding next year from Arts ACT, we were also told that it was going to be the same amount of money. What did they want, my blood? So while I’m not leaving with any really negative feelings, I think Arts ACT do need to realise that if they want to nurture a professional dance company—or theatre company, or opera company—they actually need to look at how they’re structuring the grant applications for those organisations.

With the Australia Council, they funded us for 2 years running, and then they changed their policy so it was project-related funding. So, Made to Move for instance, who are quite interested in touring my work, are not going to take us on just the possibility that we may get funding for next year. So they take on the companies that have guaranteed funding for next year. So it’s a bit of a bad situation that dance has got itself into. I don’t know how, but it has.

The Paige Gordon Company production Party Party Party has received the support of Playing Australia and Health Pact and will tour in August.

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 16

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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