I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet: Flare Dance Co.

By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.

How can you keep the dance alive when the industry passes you by or just isn’t for you? Melbourne-based performer, working mum and amateur dance activist Jane Khoo believes that the best solution is under lights.

“Why is it that there’s amateur theatre but no amateur dance?”

It’s a fair question. One that Jane Khoo still asks herself. However, rather than simply pondering, Khoo decided to create something of an answer. The result, Flare Dance Company, is now in its eighth year and just dropped the curtain on their latest annual production, i Am.

“I’ve been dancing since I was three and when I graduated from university I wanted to continue to pursue it from a health and fitness perspective but also as a social outlet; but coming out into the working world I realised that there weren’t that many opportunities for adult, amateur contemporary dancers,” Khoo explains. “There were commercial schools where you could go and pay for casual classes but there was nothing where you could work towards a creative or performance project.”

Khoo’s scenario will be familiar to many adult, non-professional dancers. Once the companies and the cruise ship contracts have passed you by and you reach your mid-twenties what remains for the passionate dancer?

Flare Dance Company i Am

Just as companies like Move Through Life have done in Adelaide, so Flare are doing in Melbourne; namely, creating a platform for both emerging and adult contemporary dancers and choreographers to continue to express, create and participate. For the company’s founding artistic director, FDC’s role in the marketplace is no different from the plethora of amateur theatre and musical groups in that it is an outlet for performance.

“I think there’s a real difference when you’re working towards performance,” Jane Khoo adds. “It gives it a focus. So, Flare is completely based around performance. We don’t hire any teachers and we don’t do ongoing classes.”

Although the company has many engagements throughout the year with the City of Boroondara in Melbourne’s east, their main focus is always their annual showcase. This year’s model, i Am was a series of short, introspective pieces examining the notion of identity and how we form a sense of self in the context of a world always seeking to influence us.

It was a confidently conceptual work, an idea that would not be out of place in the programmes of many of the bigger contemporary companies; and so the challenge for Khoo and co is how to match the quality of the idea with the reality of ‘amateur’ performance. “In terms of assuring quality we often do short works,” Khoo reveals. “It’s never gonna be perfection because we only rehearse once a week. We’re very big on supporting people’s work/life/dance balance, so we don’t really expect people to be out every night of the week rehearsing.”

Flare Dance Company

Artistic Director Jane Khoo. Photo courtesy of Flare Dance Company.

The pragmatism underscoring this approach is balanced by the company’s altruistic, outward looking commitment to supporting local charity. Since its inception in 2007, FDC has sought to develop a charitable angle and this year five dollars from i Am ticket sales went to the community support organisation Camcare.

Indeed, Khoo’s thoughtful and measured approach to FDC is reflected in much that she says. “There’s a lot of little dance companies out there that will be around for about three years and then they’re gone,” she states, “but we’re really big on being sustainable. So, this is our eighth year and although I probably do about seventy five percent of the work I have a big committee behind me and we certainly have a succession plan to make sure that the company is more than a one person show and that it can survive without me.”

Part of Flare’s remit is also social connection; something of particular relevance in the hectic multi-cultural whirl of Melbourne. As Khoo says, FDC has members from Japan, Mexico, South Africa and across South East Asia, (as well as Aussies and Kiwis), with ages ranging from 18-39. In fact, at one point the Flare family had burgeoned to around fifty before settling back to a more manageable 20-30.

Between them, they brought to life five original short works as part of i Am, which also featured two guest works. From Jane Khoo’s perspective, the show was the culmination of the company’s year round volunteer effort, with creators and performers augmented by pro bono stage crew, graphic designers and marketing officers.

“The dream really is that in ten years time FDC will keep running and that people will continue to benefit from what we have set up,” Khoo concludes. “Also, it would be nice to maybe get some more recognition in the industry for adult amateur dance companies like ourselves and Move Through Life because the industry shouldn’t just be the professionals.”

In the meantime, rather than complain, Jane Khoo simply keeps moving because, after all, dance is a verb.

Photo (top): Shermaine Heng from Flare Dance Company. Photo courtesy of Flare Dance Company.

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