Graeme Murphy, Christopher Wheeldon, Andy Blankenbuehler, Wayne McGregor, Christopher Gattelli, Stephen Page and Benjamin Curé. We spoke to the Director of Lion Heart Dance Company to find out how he came to be included in such an inspiring list and how his work is now a part of the Victorian Dance Curriculum.
Curé was introduced to dance later in life by his church group. But it wasn’t until after his second open heart surgery that he admits he started to take it seriously. Two scholarships saw him train at The Edge and later The Space in Melbourne, before he found the courage to create his own company.
Tell us about your dance training and how you came to form Lion Heart Dance Company in the first place.
“I was doing things like little mini performances and Christmas shows, and I did a rock Eisteddfod. From there, I was invited to audition for a full-time course. I’d never set foot in a studio with mirrors until the audition. I auditioned for The Edge and I trained there on scholarship for a year. Following that, I started working with a couple of companies and did a little bit of work performing and teaching. But I was born with a heart condition, and I started to deteriorate. I had open heart surgery for the second time in my life as a 20-year-old. I went to rehab for a year and learned how to walk again, lift my arms and move. Then after rehabbing, I decided that dance was what I wanted to do, and I had to start back at the start again.
So, I trained at The Space. They had a full-time course at the time, and I trained on a scholarship for a year, and I was exposed to a lot of incredible teachers there. But I also learned how to produce my own work. I continued from there creating shows and then in 2015, I decided to create a company. I was motivated to create something that wasn’t the Benjamin Curé Dance Company, something that was bigger than myself, and it was for more people than just myself. I started Lion Heart with a vision to see the industry filled with passionate artists and purposeful work. There were loads of incredible dancers I was training with, and there just weren’t many opportunities in Australia for people to use their training.”
If you had to sum up your choreographic style, what would you say?
“I think I’m a bit of a chameleon. I don’t tend to do the same thing. If you were to look at my very first show and then look at the next one and then look at every consecutive show, you would be able to see some stylistic threads that you can tell are my choreography, but they are vastly different works. I prefer exploring dance for what it is rather than trying to stay within the genre and don’t like being boxed in. Maybe if you’re trying to market a class, those labels are helpful, but I don’t think there’s any point in limiting ourselves when we’re trying to create something. Why constrain yourself to someone else’s idea of what your work is? Isn’t that the foundation of contemporary anyway? The definition of contemporary arts is moving away from all that exists.”
You’ve created six seasons now of work for the company. How has your journey with the company changed over the years?
“I’ve always said the mission for the company is creating art that moves the heart. No matter what it is, no matter what you want people to feel, it’s making sure that the work we’re creating is trying to make people feel something. I think art is a mirror; we look at it and we see it through the lens of our own lived experience.
But as long as the work is causing people to think or to feel or to walk away different from when they walked in, that’s one of the driving factors for me. I hope that’s a common thread for the work, and I think that’s what people expect, to come and see something and be moved by it in some sort of way.”
Your work Rubik’s Fugue has just been added to the Victorian Dance Curriculum. How did this come about? Tell us about the work and what you think that dancers should take away from it.
“Rubik’s Fugue is part of that film that we did coming straight out of COVID lockdowns in Melbourne. We started developing little video pieces and decided to work with our media sponsors and partners, Pride Productions (Andrew, who runs Pride, is one of our original company members). We filmed a number of different works that were joined by a thread to make this film called ‘Collection’ (2022).
I do a lot of work in schools with VCE students, so I go in and run workshops and teach. I’ve just been chatting to some different teachers and, you know, they express some of the frustrations they have of just, there’s not enough access to things. You can’t contact the director, you can’t dig into resources. It’s a bit challenging to analyze and explore the work. And so it was definitely on Vic Ed’s radar that they wanted something from a local artist. So I said, we have this film, we wanted to make it a study or resource, even just for practicing how to analyze dance or having short little bits of work that the students could watch the entire film and then they can choose whatever speaks to them and be able to pick apart. It was something that was going to be a lot more accessible for students who maybe don’t have a ballet background. It’s like geometric and space. It’s sort of tutting, which comes from a subgenre of hip hop which meant that it was a little bit easier, perhaps for students who didn’t have the language to wrap around ballet terminology, to still be able to analyze work and be able to access it.
The whole film is about objects and the different significance be that historical, personal, financial, sentimental or whatever value we put on things. This piece was about a Rubik’s cube – the idea of the game of playing a Rubik’s cube. Those initial moments where you feel like, this is cool, I got this and then when you start getting into it, you realize the complexity of it and the depth of it. And then the simplicity and almost child-like joy when you finish it. As adults, we sometimes forget what it’s like to be a kid and to play and to just do this kind of thing. It was just meant to be quite a light-hearted piece within the context of the film.”
The Victorian Group Dance curriculum includes works by choreographers like Graeme Murphy, Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor and Stephen Page. How do you feel being part of that list?
“It’s encouraging. It was a really wonderful moment. The industry is a very, very tough industry to be in, particularly over a long period of time. I’ve been working in this industry since 2009, and it can be a long sip between drinks. You can be creating work and putting things out there, and we’re not as great in our industry championing and celebrating the successes of everyone. It’s so hard to come by that recognition.
The independent sector is such a huge part of the industry because, the bigger you get, the more you have to cater towards a specific audience to hold your position. Whereas so much of the independent sector is the people who are creating things that challenge expectation – that encourages chameleons. So yeah, it was really encouraging and very motivating.”
Your work is part of the dance curriculum, and Lion Heart Dance has a youth company. How important is it for you to pass on that legacy of education?
“I’m really passionate about education. I think dance is powerful, not just for people who want to become dancers. For about seven years, I have been a teaching artist working in primary schools through a beautiful company called The Song Room, who put artists in various capacities in schools that don’t have access to an arts program using Government and philanthropic funding.
I worked in a primary school with kids who were coming from what would have been 80 to 90 percent migrant families or children with trauma. I went from my first year there working with students who literally stood at the back of the room with their arms folded, refusing to participate, even in a game, to, after working there for a kid’s full journey of life span through the primary school, every single kid in school participating. The difference that you could see in their confidence, in their creativity, their abilities to work in groups and teams like dance is such a powerful thing.
Being able to support the teachers with some professional learning, support the students with access to a company that’s right here in the state, can really help.
Often, I worked as a teaching artist with students who are culturally, linguistically diverse who linguistically could not convey an idea. You would watch them when you do group work, get so frustrated and upset, and all this stuff inside would be brought to the surface. Teachers would then rush in to provide support. But then they come to dance class and they push their support worker away and jump in because it’s their own body that they know and understood and can communicate themselves. They could express, they could get involved and feel a sense of success and ownership over their life that doesn’t require them to be able to use language or to be able to tick all these other boxes that other people expect of them. I really do think that there is so much value to dance as a therapeutic process and we should look to it as a preventative process also.”
VCE Teachers: Ben Cure is a guest speaker at Vitality Dance Teacher Conference by VDF24 and his company Lion Heart Dance will also perform as part of the opening festivities.
VDF invites you to take advantage of this unique opportunity to examine his work and engage with the choreographer first-hand. Participate in a practical workshop exploring its themes and motifs and then impart your newfound knowledge to your students. Find out more about Vitality Dance Teacher Conference here: VDF.com.au/teacherconference
By Nichola Hall of Dance Informa.