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Finding form

Gail Priest: Annette McLernon, FORM Dance Projects

Sam Chester's Safety in Numbers Sam Chester's Safety in Numbers
photo Heidrun Löhr
Dance has long been popular in Sydney’s west. Once upon a time there was even a tertiary dance course producing professional choreographers and dancers. The demise of dance studies at University of Western Sydney was a significant loss but dance culture in the west has continued to develop in no small part due to Western Sydney Dance Action (WSDA), a resident organisation at Riverside Parramatta. Formed in 2001 its aim was to foster artists, community networks and develop audiences for dance in the area.

By 2011, the year Annette McLernon took over as director, Western Sydney Dance Action had grown from a grassroots organisation to a significant presenter of dance in Sydney. Director and board decided to reflect the growth of the organisation by rebranding it as FORM Dance Projects Inc. McLernon brings to FORM experience in a range of areas: as a filmmaker (documentaries and dance films); curator (film program, Perth International Arts Festival); and program manager for Bundanon Trust during its re-invigoration under CEO Deborah Ely.

Annette McLernon Annette McLernon

The Dance Bites program began with Western Sydney Dance Action and has continued to grow in strength presenting work by both established and emerging artists. McLernon says of FORM’s role, “[We] provide opportunities for independent contemporary dance artists in a landscape that’s really constricted. We function as an important part of the dance ecology. We are the ones providing the opportunities that are becoming so limited, particularly in the last few years.”

The 2013 program perfectly illustrated FORM’s ethos of diversity. It included established choreographer Martin del Amo’s Little Black Dress Suite (see RT117); The Tap Pack, by Jesse Rasmussen, Jordan Pollard and Thomas J Egan; Lineage, a group of dancers involved in mainstream musicals who funded their work via commercial means; and a double bill by Aruna Gandhimathinathan, Shruti Ghosh and Tammi Gissell exploring traditional and contemporary Indian and Australian Aboriginal dance forms. The latter artists came through FORM’s strong connection with the Cultural Performing Arts Network (CPAN) which has now reached a membership of 500. McLernon says, “I think it’s really important to present works that come from Western Sydney and are created in Western Sydney.”

The 2014 Dance Bites program, while not so wildy varied in terms of genre, shows a commitment to supporting dance practitioners at different stages of their careers. Established Perth choreographer Sue Peacock kicked off the season with her work Reflect, toured by Performing Lines WA (See RT115). Coming up shortly is Sam Chester’s Safety in Numbers, a work about how humans behave in the aftermath of disaster. Chester has developed the work through the Culminate program (Force Majeure with Performance Space and Carriageworks). McLernon says, “Sam is in a great position now in her career to have this opportunity and FORM is really happy that we can facilitate that.”

As part of the 2013 program, FORM also presented the first work by a group of 10 emerging artists, the Dance Makers Collective. Two of these pieces have been further developed and will be shown as a double bill in the 2014 program: Sketch by Flatline—choreographer Carl Sciberras, visual artist Todd Fuller and composer Mitchell Mollison—a multimedia exploration of the interplay between movement, music and vision; and Between Two and Zero by Miranda Wheen (see Miranda Wheen's In Profile) and Matt Cornell “imagining a social dance for the future” (website). The final work for the program is by Bodyweather artist Linda Luke. Still Point Turning is a performance/installation investigating “deep time” including “cosmic time, the eternal cycle of living and dying” (website).

Flatline, Sketch Flatline, Sketch
photo Carl Sciberras


At the core of FORM Dance Project’s agenda is education for both young dancers and audiences. McLernon describes it as “aspirational,” involving a choreographic workshop for Year 12 dance students in partnership with the Sydney Dance Company, and also the Learn the Repertoire, See the Show sessions for students years 7-12. McLernon explains, “That’s really to give the opportunity [to] these young dancers to not just participate in the skills workshop but to see the work, get a better understanding of it and talk to the artists about what it’s like to be a dancer—what the career pathways are.” McLernon stresses that these exchanges also include artform appreciation. “Whether they go on to become dancers or not, that artform appreciation and understanding of dance—what contemporary dance is and can become—is really important for developing those future audiences for dance.”


McLernon has big plans for the future. In the last year FORM has launched a new website which has seen close to a million views last year. McLernon says, “commissioning Vicki Van Hout ( as FORM’s blogger in residence in 2013 and 2014 has contributed to growing FORM’s on-line audience and making a contribution to reputable critical discourse around contemporary dance.” She wants the site to become even more active with more video and rich media content.

In addition to this online hub, McLernon hopes FORM will become a dance centre. “At the moment we provide some support to create new works but we really would like to become a physical hub where we can give opportunities to early career artists, for instance, Dance Makers Collective—they have the potential to develop into a company. FORM would also like to offer more funding support for those types of artists to set up their own companies.” Plans are also in development for a membership system with McLernon envisaging the hub as a place where members “can come in and have a sense of community and develop work, with studios hopefully.” If Annette McLernon can make this happen, it will be a truly welcome addition to the cultural landscape not just of Western Sydney but the city and the state as a whole.

FORM Dance Projects, Dance Bites: Safety in Numbers, Sam Chester, 9-12 April; Double Bill: Sketch, Flatline; Between Two and Zero, Matt Cornell & Miranda Wheen; 11-13 Sept; Still Turning Point, Linda Luke 27-29 Nov; Lennox Theatre Riverside;;

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. web

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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