Australian performer and choreographer Liz Lea believes all the various styles of dance are actually one, if you have a body that works
Try to picture a contemporary dance pose, arms held aloft with a Bharatnatyam mudra, lunging forward in a movement for the martial art Kalaripayattu. This kind of cross-cultural dance is what Australian performer and choreographer, Liz Lea is creating ripples in the field of contemporary dance with.
“Dance is not just what I do, it's what I am. It has defined my life and all it encompasses. People raise a lot of questions because I'm not Indian. It's not always easy. But I know that in the end a strong performance will answer any such questions,” says Lea, who has trained at the London Contemporary Dance School, Akademi (a dance organisation) in London and Darpana Academy in India.
“I tried Kathak, Kathakali and Kuchipudi. But I physically identified and resonated most with Bharatnatyam. I find Indian classical dance beautiful, defined, codified, intelligent and hard to contextualise.”
She's currently in India to take part in the Vikram Sarabhai festival as part of the Darpana Academy, scheduled to perform on December 29. “We're making a piece based on the seasons and on Rabindranath Tagore's poetry. It's pretty exciting.” She was in Bangalore for a week, teaching a workshop on contemporary dance at the Just Dance Academy.
“As a dancer, I'm interested in the movement path between Indian and Western dance. For me, the process starts with the idea, followed by research. Then I create movement through gestural phrases, which develop into movement phrases. My dance is characterised by performance, attention to detail, and strong movement. If I'm working with a company, then I try to draw on the strengths of that company.” Liz is currently the artistic director of Canberra Dance and Theatre, the associate director at QL2, Centre for Youth Dance in Canberra. She has worked with many dance companies including the Maya Dance Theatre and La Salle college for arts in Singapore.
“I started learning Kalaripayattu when I was at the Intoto dance company. Kalari is a good movement path that sits well between Bharatnatyam and contemporary. It acts as a communicator between two very different and difficult styles.”
“What I've found is that all the various styles of dance are actually one, if you have a body that works. Of course, they all feel different. But people become bound to this feeling. You have to respect the different forms, but it's wrong if you think that these are all different languages that cannot understand each other.”
For Liz, dance transcends thought. “I always go from my gut feeling when I choreograph. There have been many people who I've admired. I don't let them influence my work. I don't watch any other performances when I'm working.”
She feels that the dance scene in the world today has grown too big to observe from a distance. “Eighty years ago, you could see what was happening. Now it's just too vast to define. These days, people think that technology is the answer to everything; it's not. Classical and contemporary dance are more accepted now and are widening its practise. But there is this sense among young contemporary Indian dancers that contemporary dance does not involve expression. That's not always true.”
Liz has performed and taught in Korea, Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Nigeria, Canada, the USA and other places. She divides her time between the UK and Australia. “I'm hoping to come back to India next year. I'm trying to create a base here with some dancers who are equally strong with classical and contemporary dance, and form a group whom I can work on projects with.”