In December, 2014, the board of Force Majeure, one of Australia’s foremost dance theatre companies, announced that Danielle Micich would succeed Kate Champion as artistic director. Champion, who founded the Sydney-based company 13 years ago, has thoroughly endorsed the board’s decision.
In 2015, Micich moved her life from Perth to Sydney to begin the handover, with her husband and teenage son joining her in January this year. A couple of surprise events quickly took over her time in her new role – the resignation of Bec Allen, Force Majeure’s executive producer, and funding uncertainties with government arts policy changes. Micich took it all in her stride.
This ability to take on challenges and pursue her artistic vision through thick and thin has characterised Micich’s long career as a dance maker. It is no small feat to stay in the game as an independent artist for the duration. But it is her determination and energy and drive which have led her towards her new role.
Forty-two-year-old Micich graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts and took her first job as a dancer with Perth’s Buzz Dance Theatre. She showed an early interest in making dance and was a recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts Young and Emerging artists’ grant. From then on she hasn’t stopped. She directed Perth’s STEPS Youth Dance Theatre from 2004 to 2007; directed and assisted numerous theatre, dance theatre and opera productions; performed with Green Room Award winner Humphrey Bower in the highly acclaimed theatre piece Wish; toured her own works nationally; and worked in community development projects and as a mentor to many young artists.
All artists have different journeys. Micich’s has been solidly in the industry: “I never, ever got any of the fellowships I applied for but I got almost every grant to make a work. The WA state government has spent just under half a million dollars funding my projects which is a massive outcome for an independent person,” she says.
When the call went out for a new director for Force Majeure, Micich felt ready to take the next step.
Running a company is different to life as a freelance artist and dance maker. One of the questions Micich was asked during the interview process was, “how do you think you’ll be able to manage your office commitments when you’re inside a development?” It is a matter of focus, says Micich. “Running a company requires huge stamina and focus. There is so much to consider all the time, you just have to stay focused.”
As well as the administrative and creative work, she also wants to be as accessible as possible to artists actively seeking mentorship and advice, just as she felt Champion was with her when she first knocked on the door at Force Majeure back in 2012 when she was chosen to participate in the mentorship program, Cultivate and Culminate.
Micich considers her experience being mentored a fortunate one. Drawing on this, she envisions an even more accessible creative environment at Force Majeure. “When I started hanging out with Force Majeure I had the epiphany that it is about actually hanging out, working and making. It’s about being in the studio.” She would like Force Majeure to be a fluid environment where diverse artists can come to be involved in the creative process, branching off and returning, thereby fostering more Australian artists and art.
Micich has always been interested in young artists and ultimately curious about the perspective of the next generation. This has led to Fine Line, one of her first initiatives designed to grow a new generation of writers for dance theatre. She wants to know what we are going to be talking about in five years time and where that conversation is going to be coming from. And she strongly believes that our future writers should be assisted to find their voices now, as her mantra goes, in the work place. “You can’t go to a university and learn that. You have to go into the real world and start practising and making”.
Making what? What is dance theatre in your words?
“I use the term ‘dance theatre’ to help those who don’t understand what they are seeing. You can call it theatre or dance theatre – you know like #theatre #dance theatre! I think it is all of it. It depends what you walk into the theatre with ... the category is as broad as the performers and the makers who are inside it.”
Dance theatre is not so literal as theatre, nor so abstract as contemporary dance. It oscillates between the two and rests somewhere in between. Micich realised early on that, as a choreographer, pure dance felt limited while in text-driven theatre another element is needed “to take my physical body to that other place, a slightly dreamlike state or a place where it’s not reality. If I can slightly slip away into non-reality I am really happy”.
Force Majeure is known for work that is distinctively Australian and contemporary in theme, feel, look and movement. This is as much a result of intention as process. Danielle explains: “the work is driven by lived experience. This is what I am carrying on from Kate’s work, that lived experience is what gives us our truth. I am interested in the current stories like how are we living our lives now.”
The first work Micich will present under Force Majeure is Off the Record which premieres at Carriageworks in August. This is a co-production with Phillip Channells’ Dance Integrated Australia. She and Channells spent Dance Massive 2015 side by side watching and analyzing a multitude of works to get to know one another. Collaboration can be challenging. But Micich cites it as being one of her strengths and is very excited: “I didn’t know what it was going to like until I found four extraordinary artists.”
How do you create a common language and how do you train when working with so many diverse artists with varied abilities?
This is a question that Micich has been researching for some time. In 2017 she will launch a professional dance theatre intensive called INCITE. To develop and hone this intensive, she will be working with six artists (including the writer) of different backgrounds this year. As much as it will be about devising work, INCITE is about actual physical training – body, breath and voice – to learn to speak and move, to dissociate meaning from text and deliver it while saying something altogether different physically. Micich is striving to develop a thorough class to prepare artists for her work.
For this interview we are walking to Sydney’s South Head from Watsons Bay, looking out to the open ocean ahead and behind to the Opera House and all the Harbour’s inlets and bays. “I love Sydney,” Micich sighs. It is always a big decision to uproot from where you are settled and known. But Micich is thoroughly in love with her new home and although she is currently working seven days to stay on top of all that is to be done, and anxiously awaiting news of the new funding model (which was to be revealed in May, 2016) the future is bright.
- Emma Sandall
This article first appeared in the June/July issue of Dance Australia. Shortly before the issue went to press it was announced that Force Majeure had lost its Australia Council funding.Off the Record premieres at Carriageworks, 17-20 August. More info here.
Merrigong Theatre Company, Illawarra NSW, 12 – 13 August
Glen Street Theatre, Belrose NSW, 17 – 20 August
Civic Theatre, Wagga Wagga NSW, 24 August
Orange Civic Theatre, Orange NSW, 27 August
Ulumburra Theatre, Bendigo Vic, 31 August
Gasworks Art Park, Albert Park, 3 September
Theatre Royal, Hobart Tas, 8 – 9 September
Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre, Bunbury WA, 15 September
Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, Mandurah WA, 17 September