Introducing Mod Dance Company

By Rain Francis.

Earlier this year, ex- Sydney Dance Company member Teagan Lowe was wondering what to do next. Like any smart dancer, she was considering the practical options of going back to study, and dance-related career paths. When friend, fellow dancer and Founding Director of Mod Management Agency Linda Alescio suggested forming a new company, the seed of Mod Dance Company was officially sprouted, and has been growing steadily stronger ever since.

Lowe is now Associate Artistic Director of the new Mod Dance Company, working alongside Artistic Director Brett Morgan, former Rehearsal Director and Acting Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company. With the addition of distinguished choreographer Graeme Murphy and some of Australia’s brightest dancing stars, the success of Mod seems certain.

Murphy is excited about this “brave new face” on the contemporary dance scene: “I think it’s the gods wanting something exciting and new to happen,” he says. “There can never be enough activity in dance for me, and I know Brett Morgan was really keen that some of the repertoire he’d worked on over the decade didn’t get lost.”

Hence Mod’s premiere production, which kicks off at Melbourne’s State Theatre in March 2011, is a fusion of two highly successful works from the Sydney Dance Company repertoire, Synergy With Synergy and Free Radicals. Both works integrate dance with live percussion under the expertise of Michael Askill, and although the contrast between the two is extreme at times, Morgan evidently saw great potential in fusing them into one new creation. This new work, Suite Synergy is described by Morgan as “… a pulsating mix of live music and powerful, high energy dance. Mixed with an intriguing blend of humour, sensitivity and sensuality… it will have the audience at the end of the evening wanting more”.

Despite Synergy With Synergy and Free Radicals being first performed almost a decade apart, Murphy sees them as intricately linked: “The works are sister works in a way, even though they were born a long time apart – they weren’t twins but they were definitely in the same family. We found that our audience broadened incredibly with these works because something about them pleased almost everybody. Both pieces had a wonderful life and I always thought that the power of the two of them would be greater than the individual”.

Morgan and Murphy agree that the reason for the success of both of the original works was their ability to speak to a wide range of tastes and interests – many people were drawn to the production for the percussion aspect. Suite Synergy then, with Askill back on board as Musical Director, is what Morgan calls “the perfect commercial contemporary dance experience”.

Developing the commercial aspect of contemporary dance is an important part of this fledging company’s mission. Mod is privately funded, and its business arm is currently exploring further sponsorship and PR avenues. Without being tied to government or other funding bodies, Mod has more freedom than a lot of dance companies, both creatively and in terms of practical issues, such as tour schedules.

The idea is to free up the artistic side so that the people with the creative vision, such as Graeme Murphy, are able to realise their vision without being restricted,” says Coruscade Director, John Noble. (Coruscade is Mod’s commercial management team, comprising Noble, co-Director Samantha Yearwood and Founding Director Nicholas Hyland). “There’s so much modern dance out there at the moment – everybody loves dance; we want to give people complete artistic control and enable them to commericalise those ventures as best they can”.

It seems Mod is capitalising on the current dance-mad climate – an extremely smart move. It’s true that numerous TV dance shows have helped to popularise the art form as a whole, and it’s high time some of the limelight from typically commercial styles such as jazz, hip hop and ballroom spilled over onto contemporary and classical dance which is often considered more high-brow and less accessible. And if we’re to trust anyone to make these beloved cornerstones of dance technique more “accessible” without losing integrity, we can trust someone with the track record of Brett Morgan.

“Brett’s been amazing,” says Murphy. “My life is very different now, I run round the world … but Brett has kept me in the loop, we have never lost contact even though we no longer work together on a daily basis. We feed off each other. I think Brett’s commitment to quality dance in this country is much underrated, and really important.

We all have a lot to learn about how to make [Mod] work, and it’s about building the trust of the public, but some of the names involved (Brett and certain dancers and myself) will give the public confidence. We’re really fascinated with who our audience will be. We want to have the broader audience who are all fascinated with dance at the moment through all the dance reality TV. We want to give them absolute quality and show them what the next step in dance is, because that world is all about the three minute grab, whereas this is about engaging an audience for a full evening of fascinating dance”.

Brett agrees, hoping that creating a contemporary company with a more commercial feel will “encourage a new and larger audience base to appreciate not just Mod Dance Company, but also other contemporary dance productions”.

Even before curtain-up, Mod has begun to achieve that aim, with two of its behind-the-scenes team members – Mod Director Michelle Grace Hunder and John Noble. Both became involved with the company through a friendship with Lowe, and despite not coming from a dance background, are now firmly converted to the joys of dance. They speak passionately about their commitment to both the Mod vision and the broader world of contemporary dance, and their genuine enthusiasm is infectious.

“It’s amazing the energy you see people put into something that they actually enjoy,” says John. “Even without a dance background, I find it astonishing”.

Michelle agrees: “Dance people are so passionate about it, and we now understand the magnitude of what we’re involved in. We know that when we say ‘Graeme Murphy’, that people involved in dance literally just go ‘What?! Oh My Gosh’, and we’ve got that passion now too. We can’t wait for opening night. We talk about it all the time, about sitting back and going ‘we’ve achieved this’. That’s what’s motivating us right now”.

And an achievement it will certainly be.  The launch of Mod is a grand step forward for the Australian dance industry, not just in terms of broadening the contemporary dance audience, but in that it is helping to create work for, and propagate the work of this country’s talented artists.

For more information visit www.moddancecompany.com



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