Limelight: Shaun Parker

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Dance Australia catches up with the founder and artistic director of Shaun Parker & Company. This interview was first published in the April/May 2019 edition of Dance Australia.

Shaun Parker. Photo: Shantala Shivalingappa.
Shaun Parker. Photo: Shantala Shivalingappa.

Where were you born and what was your parents’ occupation?
I was born in Mildura, which is on the border of Victoria and NSW, and sits on the beautiful Murray River. My father Chester ran our farm as we had 30 acres of grapes, and my mother Beverley raised my brother, Cory, my sister, Kim, myself, several dogs and 12 chickens.

What is your first memory of dancing?
I truly experienced dance first when I went to see my sister Kim dance in the ballet Watership Down which was put on by the Mildura & District Ballet Guild. I was 13 years old and I remember feeling absolutely compelled by the dancing and the production. I remember feeling a strange sense of déjà vu. I remember having visions of creating entire ballets in my mind, all dances that I wanted to do one day.

What was your first public performance?
I remember being about eight years old when my parents made me sing for an entire restaurant of guests!

Where did you first train?
As mentioned above, I trained at the Mildura & District Ballet Guild, but I also studied karate and played soccer for many years.

You initially studied science before moving to the Victorian College of the Arts to study dance. What made you change careers?
I left dance after high school to become an academic. I didn’t really know that you could have a career in dance as such. We didn’t have the internet back then, so everything seemed so far away, and I just didn’t have exposure to visual inspiration or access to knowledge to understand the pathways to become a professional dancer. However, when I was studying science at Monash University, I accidentally discovered the university dance club and I decided to dance in a small production. I soon realised that I must, at all costs, return to dance. It was definitely a “calling”!

You were a member of Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre and then an independent dancer before forming Shaun Parker & Company in 2010. What did your years as an independent teach you?
Working with Meryl Tankard for so many years was simply amazing. I was only 22 when I joined and I learnt so much – it was like a gift to be chosen to join her company. Years later, working as an independent and after dancing with several other companies across the globe, I ultimately realised that I needed to created my own work. I wanted to wait until I was in my 50s before I started choreographing, but I was compelled to create much earlier.

Lately, and particularly with your work The Yard, you have taken up the cudgels against bullying. How did you come to this particular preoccupation?
I created The Yard with teenagers in the western Sydney region over several years of workshops. The production was inspired by their experiences of life in the schoolyard, as well as my own memories of school. It definitely felt like a battle for survival! And the work certainly gives a nod to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Your latest work, King, “interrogates the notion of male power, control and group dynamic amongst men”. What prompted the work?
Being a science nerd, I wanted to investigate genetics, and in this instance the “y” chromosome. It was fascinating how this chromosome affects the diverse aspects of “maleness” on both a micro and macro level. I remember being appalled by the election of Donald Trump in the US, and other forms of toxic masculinity. I am also investigating different notions of “maleness” within the socio-politico-sexual contexts. The set design is part cocktail lounge, part jungle. We are touring it overseas in April to four countries, including Austria. As well, my extant work Happy as Larry will tour across Germany, which will be fun.

What are you reading at the moment?
My daughter Ava, who is 13 now, brought home from the library the seminal work To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I read this 30 years ago, so it is amazing to read it again alongside my daughter.

Do you have a favourite choreographer?
Mother Nature and an “etch-a-sketch” would be my top two!

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
I’d really love to have met my grandparents on both my mother’s and father’s side, all of whom passed away before I was born. And meeting God would be kinda fun!

How would you describe your feet?
I walk on them. No, seriously, my feet look a bit like Fred Flintstone’s!

Shaun Parker has just been awarded a Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Music and Performing Arts, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the Performing Arts Sector in Australia. Congratulations to Shaun!

Shaun Parker and Company premiered ‘King’ in Sydney in February. Another aspect of the show is ‘Queer Bites’, a mentoring opportunity for LGBTQI identifying artists which culminates in a two week intensive workshop period from 16 to 28 September at the Seymour Centre in Sydney.

Photo: Shantala Shivalingappa

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