LINK Dance Company offers viable option to graduates

By Elle Evangelista of Dance Informa.

In operation since 2002, LINK Dance Company provides an Honours program attached to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), serving as a “link” for post-graduate and pre-professional dancers. With eight current members in the company, acceptance into the program is by audition and requires completion of a tertiary dance qualification. The extra year of training, and the opportunity to complete a thesis, makes LINK a very viable option for dance graduates who desire more time in a supported dance environment.

“I decided LINK was something I definitely wanted to do after injuring my knee in my last year at WAAPA. I decided I needed an extra year to get on top of my game and to figure out exactly where I fit in in the dance world,” said LINK Company Member Emily Malone. “Graduating from the full-time course, especially injured, raised a lot of questions and doubts, and for me the LINK year was all about getting back into that mindset of full-time training and finding out where I wanted to go with it. ”

Structured to provide members with a taste of professional company life, LINK rehearses five nights a week and all day Saturday, ultimately leading to performances and touring. In May, LINK performed its season Groundswell, featuring a guest performance by Beijing Normal University. The company is currently touring Europe to take workshops and classes and perform works by Natalie Allen and Tamas Moricz. LINK’s present European tour is being facilitated by Artistic Director Michael Whaites, whose European career included dancing for Pina Bausch.

Dancers Sarah Chaffey and Rachel Forster-Jones

Dancers Sarah Chaffey and Rachel Forster-Jones performing an excerpt of a dance work in development. Photo by Matt Cornell.

“I am chief cook and bottle washer at LINK,” joked Whaites. “I have support from other staff at WAAPA, but essentially my job is to do all that’s related to planning the year and running the company on a day-to-day basis. It stretches from programming the works [and] contacting and commissioning the choreographers to creating works myself, liaising with production teams, managing the budget, grant writing, tour managing, planning and negotiation, schedule creation, rehearsal direction, teaching class and pastoral care and management of the dancers.”

Since becoming artistic director of the company nine years ago, Whaites has ensured this European tour is a highlight of the yearlong program.

“We have been regularly attending contemporary dance festivals, Julidans in Amsterdam and Montpellier Danse in Montpellier France,” accounted Whaites. “Other highlights for the company have included: One Body, One Career Summer Intensive with Anouk Van Dijk in Amsterdam; Summer Studio Workshops at P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels; Small World Workshop Festival in Ekaterinberg, Russia; Performances at ACT Festival in Bilbao; ITS Festival Amsterdam and at the Ufer Studios at the University of Arts in Berlin.”

Malone considers the tour an important element of the course that aids her in establishing roots in Europe. “My plan after graduating was always to go to Europe and immerse myself in the dance scene over there, and LINK seemed a smart way to get a taste of this,” she said. “We get to perform in Europe, which is not only great for us but it generates an interest in Australian choreographers and the WA dance scene. It grants both the dancers and choreographers exposure on an international scale and gives us all the opportunity to participate in international dance festivals and workshops with a range of internationally renowned dancers and choreographers.”

She continued, “It’s a great opportunity to make future contacts, and figure out where your interests may lie. I am so looking forward to being in Montpellier and going to a dance show almost every night, free class with awesome choreographers every morning and being able to perform twice while there.”

For those students in tertiary dance who are concluding full-time training, LINK is becoming an increasingly viable pathway, especially for those who desire an extra year of training or are interested in dance research.

Dancer Maddie Bird

LINK dancer Maddie Bird. Photo by Tamas Moricz.

“The benefits are countless. LINK gives us all an opportunity to find who we are as dancers in a way the BA or Diploma course never did,” Malone said. “There’s less of us, which means more opportunity to dance, really, and to feel like we’re all getting a chance to be seen, which can be difficult at times in full-time training. For me it was essential, I would not have been fit or able enough to go into the dance world on my own, having missed out on so much with my knee. The research work is really interesting, and we get to listen to each other’s ideas, which is really cool. I’m learning a lot through my thesis work, and finding it’s all relevant and can be applied when rehearsing and performing.”

Whaites also emphasizes the benefits of an extra year of training after what is often a very hectic undergraduate course. He said, “LINK develops compelling performers and reflects what is happening in the real world. It allows students to deepen their research in their chosen area while working in a group context.”

He added, “Personally, I believe it gives students time after their hectic undergraduate training to process what it is they like while they experience a company environment and make decisions about how they will move forward in their career. Since being the artistic director of the company, 98 percent of graduates are still in the industry either working as an independent choreographer or dancer or working in companies full-time.”

There are many opportunities to see LINK perform throughout the year, including: October 16-18 in SURGE at Western Australian Ballet Centre Studio; during the company’s November tour to the Lo Myers Studio at UNSW and Dancehouse in Melbourne; and at the end of November in Paea Leach and Jo Pollitt’s Beast.

Photo (top): LINK Dance Company beginning Day 1 of the European Tour. Photo courtesy of LINK Dance Company.

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