Feathers in hospital wards, dance everywhere

[Ed: Liz Lea had a Curated Residency at QL2 to work on Taking Flight as part of Dance Week 2016]

Taking Flight is the name of a show I created for the National Library of Australia in 2012.

It was fitting to reuse the name and reform parts of the work and costumes for a new piece that we created in 2 days (!) at QL2 Studios. I am thrilled to have had a Curated Residency to work with Olivia Fyfe, Susanna Defraia and Jamie Winbank.

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The new Taking Flight arose when Ausdance ACT brought me into the fold to curate their Australian Dance Week 2016 events, and we had a theme of “dance for all in all spaces.” We had an excited array of dance all over the place, including the National Film and Sound Archive who showed two dance films and had a lecture from Dr Michelle Potter on Sir Robert Helpmann. One of the films was Spear — it was a sad week to have lost the composer of the film.

We brought hip hop into the National Portrait Gallery and dance and climate change together at New Acton for a wonderful opening evening; local dance artists Alison Plevey showed Sprout! with Olivia and Debora di Centa – it was great! Latai Taumoepeau performed another extraordinary work Ocean Island… mine.

We also welcomed two dancers from Queensland University of Technology to Canberra for Belconnen Arts Centre’s Dance on the Edge program — supported by QUT no less. They were Claire Bathgate-Petersen and Aiden Birney-Kilner, in a new work by choreographer Lewis Major.

So, things are hotting up in Canberra – even as it cools…

But back to Taking Flight. We created the work especially for the Canberra Hospital Paediatrics ward. I can honestly say that this is the first time we all did not want a large audience – lots of sick children and their families are not what anyone would hope for. However, those who were there loved what we created. We took advice from Dr Jenny MacFarlane regarding what might be the best way to approach developing a performance and her advice included a character with whom the patients could identify – scared and shy and a keeper or more authoritative figure. Kids also love polaroids. So, we came up with a bird (funnily enough) and two keepers who are clean freaks and giving away a ‘dream feather’ – to hold all the dreams and keep people safe. Then we take a polaroid that people can keep. And so I went spending money on more and more feathers — I was in heaven — and with the fabulous cast wove together the following themes:

  • a bird
  • dreams
  • feathers
  • cleaning
  • humour and gentleness

All with strong dancing and atmospheric music – in 2 days… perfectly normal really.

We also learnt a little bit of the hand dance which has been developed to teach people how to wash their hands properly when going into hospitals or nursing homes.

From here we also took the show to four Retirement Homes, and I am now working on further shows specifically for older people as well as more to take back into the hospital for Paediatric, Geriatric and Cancer Wards. I have long wanted to take dance into hospitals, and take the skill we have as dance artists into the very places where dreams can feel so elusive. Ideally we can create a work with QL2 dancers in the future that will bring joy and smiles to young people and their families at a time of great stress and illness.

Following this my mother fell unwell and each time I washed my hands with the pink hand sanitiser I did the hand dance…