[ED: Penny Chivas was one of the participants in our original Quantum Leap ensemble in 1999: performing On the Shoulders of Giants at The Street Theatre. She is now… well read on!]
Graduate 2004 Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts
2005 Victorian College of the Arts
Independent dance artist…. all of the above…
….all at once…..
When I trace back down this path through dance, it starts with childhood at my local ballet school, followed by several years with the inspiring, challenging and nurturing Quantum Leap in Canberra. It continues on to tertiary dance education with some phenomenal teachers, makers and artists in their own right.
And it continues to the post graduating blues, realising that teaching at a Melbourne ballet school wasn’t for me, despite the school accepting and even encouraging my progressive ways of teaching ballet. I felt stuck: I wanted to keep dancing, but I also wanted to keep growing.
On a whim… really… I got a ticket to Toronto, Canada. My former housemate in Perth, an actor, had spent a year in Canada and said it was “the best thing you could do for your career”. So I did – taking a year in Melbourne to save the money I needed (working as a barrista, life model, toy-train driver at Myer, ballet teacher).
Jumping into as many classes as I could in Toronto, with the aim to make friends, and of course experience new teachers, new ways of moving, and thinking. New York was close enough to visit several times – to Movement Research, Dance New Amsterdam… anything I could get my hands on. In Toronto I worked with choreographers such as Karen Kaeja, Heidi Strauss and Pam Johnson… and spent a great deal of time studying and learning about contact improvisation, Skinner Release and Butoh as well as taking classes with some world-renowned yoga teachers. I absorbed a great deal of “modern” dance techniques, contemporary barre classes and Graham technique. (Here: dancer, dance teacher, soap-maker, life model, waitress, and swapping ballet classes for delicious food.)
On a holiday from Canada I fell head over heels in love, with Mexico. I vowed to return and learn Spanish, and have now visited seven times, partly because of a connection I made with an actor, Nicolas Nuñez, who is credited with bringing Jerzy Grotowski’s work to Latin America, and his wife, Eva de Keijer, who’s eminent in Mexico City’s dance world. With Nicolas I have trained in his unique brand of psychophysical theatre, which draws on indigenous Mexican as well as Western theatre traditions, which feeds into my dance work in new and unexpected ways. I have returned many times to both study and to teach Contact Improvisation and Instant Compositional work in this incredible country.
The two years I spent in Toronto were both exhilarating and challenging, but in the end I found that being unable to access medical care, apply for arts grants or welfare took too much of a toll. Time to move again, to the UK to be precise, where I have extended family, and where I could gain a five year ancestry visa.
So, after a stint back in Melbourne to earn some money, I jumped on a plane to Britain, ending up in Glasgow. Why Glasgow? London does have an allure, with all the big names and lots going on, but it seems like most dancers (and actors etc.) are drawn there, so it’s easy to get lost there, and expensive to live. In Glasgow the pace of life is slower, and the arts world smaller, meaning that I’ve met and worked with people across a multitude of theatrical forms. From theatre companies like Mischief-la-bas, Theatre Cryptic and Lyra Theatre to Scottish Opera, as well as choreographers and dance companies such as Ian Spink, Plan B and Stillmotion Arts.
In Glasgow I co-founded and directed with Tom Pritchard, a community arts organisation called @TheGlasgowJam, and we were funded by Creative Scotland to mentor people to lead contact improvisation and somatic work. I teach contact improvisation across the UK and internationally, at jams and at universities, and I’ve toured to China twice with Stillmotion’s ‘We Dance, Wee Groove’, an interactive show for children.
Recently I taught at the Invisible Centre of Contemporary Dance (ICCD) in Tehran, Iran and it is incredibly scary and also so rewarding to teach dance in a country where dance is forbidden. There people put themselves literally on the line to grow the dance scene in the country. Sometimes, when I feel weighed down by all the administration and grant writing I have to do, I remember that dance is both a powerful political tool and a way of helping people to be free in their bodies.
BUT – I’m a little fish in the much broader scheme of things. I love to go study with a teacher by the name of Julyen Hamilton in Europe who teaches Instant Composition, and feel there is so much to learn, to wonder at, and a reminder that being an artist really is about life-long learning.
And that’s me, somewhere in the middle of all this, somehow threading it all together – performance, collaborations, teaching, administration and teaching yoga. Somehow looking up to other artists, and yet supporting others.
I wouldn’t do anything else. But it asks all of me… and gives all of me back.
Quantum Leap – the friendship, the fun and the foundation it gave me in dance has been phenomenal, and even now I continue to reflect upon my time there. I can’t recommend it enough – go there, be challenged, learn a whole lot. It was amazing. It is amazing and will continue to be so. Do it.