We found a passionate advocate for dance when we interviewed Felicity Bott, artistic director of Tasdance.
Where were you born and what were your parents’ occupations?
I was born in Perth, WA. My Mum was a school teacher and my Dad a doctor in general practice. I am the eldest of ten. At some point, we have all taken dance lessons…!
What is your first memory of dance?
My first memory of dance is flinging myself around our lounge room, improvising to my parents' records. My memory of my first dance lesson was at a venue in South Perth by the river. Ruth Obsorne was my first teacher. How lucky was I! My mother Eileen had gone looking for “creative” dance classes and had found Ruth and Bev Smeets and their joint venture The Contemporary Dance Centre. In those early years, I was mesmerised by them both.
What drove you to take up dance yourself?
My mother had helped me roll the ball with formal lessons when I was seven. By the time I was nin I was well and truly “hooked” had begun to see dance as an integral and defining part of who I was. I always loved making up my own dances as much as I enjoyed learning “modern” dance, ballet and jazz. As Ruth was my teacher, I am a third generation Bodenweiser dancer. This modern dance teaching method included a lot of improvisation and dance invention alongside the rigorous syllabus that was developed by Margaret Chapple in Sydney. Ruth and Bev would take us to Sydney each January to study with “Chappy” at her summer schools down the road from Grace Brothers department store. All of these experiences drove me and formed me.
You were a performer before stepping into directing roles: What is your favourite memory of performing?
Standing in the wings at His Majesty's Theatre in Perth when performing with the Chrissie Parrott Dance Company in the mid-1990s in a work called Sabotage. I had to perform a contained solo downstage right, en place. It required me to nail two triple turns inside it, every time. Heading onto stage, I was terrified and exhilarated all at once.
You came to Tasdance with a decade of experience in youth dance theatre, namely four years with Steps, a youth dance company, and six years with Buzz, a professional dance company that created work for children and young people. What is the difference between working with a youth group and professional artists?
As a director, they are very contrasting experiences because the cultural “contract” underpinning each context is fundamentally different. Youth dance performance operates as “rite of passage”. That is, the company dancers are offered the opportunity to pit their mettle against the non-deferrable deadline of a performance in the company of their peers. The experience has powerful social dimensions and occurs at a point in the lifespan as an experience from which the dancers, as “initiates”, will emerge, transformed. All youth innately crave this opportunity. It is a vital developmental stage. This makes youth dance companies absolutely vital for reasons beyond the development of dance as an art form. They exist for all sorts of young dancers, from those who dance for recreational reasons through to those who are considering dance as a vocation.
Professional dancers, on the other hand, are actively cultivating deep and abiding relationships with dance as an art form. In the process, their mind/bodies become “bespoke” cultural articles. The professional dancer’s artistry aids the director or choreographer to weave the fabric that comprises a dance work’s meaning and impact. The transformative aspect of this cultural contract lies within how the professional dancer’s presence on stage as a human subject affects the audience. I am in awe of professional dancers. I think everyone should be.
Most of your career has been in WA. What are the differences living and working in Tasmania?
Surprisingly perhaps, there are more similarities than differences. Both locations are on the outside edges of the continent so there is much that I recognize here in Tassie. A standout difference is that Tasdance has its own beautiful infrastructure: studio, apartment for residencies, 180-year old administration building with a heritage garden to match. It is a like a jewel within the beautiful jewel that is the Tasmanian landscape as a whole.
What are the best things you have discovered about Tasmania?
The “space” – both physically and in terms of time. “Tassie-time” feels like a real thing and it has profoundly human dimensions
What would you still like to achieve?
I think that the ephemerality of dance – so intimately linked with the corporeality of the body – is profoundly instructive for all of us all through our lifespan. I want to be a part of art-making that harnesses this ephemerality – but it is elusive. I want to be, and I want Tasdance to be; “a heavyweight in the art of the ephemeral” – a deliciously paradoxical desire!
If there was one choreographer you could commission from anywhere in the world, who would it be?
The late Pina Bausch comes first to mind – but could one actually transplant her expressionism into an Australian context?
What word(s) would you use to describe your feet?
They have my mind and heart down there in them.
This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of 'Dance Australia'. The photo is of Felicity Bott with Isabella Stone and Olivia Mcpherson.
Photo: MAYA KANAMORI