Celebrate Australian Dance Week with Batchelor + Lea

Performing this work on International Dance Day for me highlights the space and time that movement travels. It’s a wonderful opportunity to show this work which speaks to the distance that I have traveled with dance, and where that sits in context with what has come before me.” James Batchelor
David Blanco  |  Art & Culture

In celebration of Australian Dance Week, the Canberra Theatre Centre proudly presents ‘Batchelor + Lea’, an enticing dance double bill showcasing the work of two acclaimed dance artists from Canberra, James Batchelor and Liz Lea. In the lead-up to their International Dance Day performance, Fuse spoke with James and Liz about ‘Shortcuts to Familiar Places’ and ‘RED’, their respective pieces in ‘Batchelor + Lea’.

FUSE: What can Canberra audiences expect from your dance work, ‘Shortcuts to Familiar Places’?

James Batchelor: The work is a contemporary dance performance and is concerned with how we embody lineage. In devising this work, I thought about the mentors who shaped my pathway into dance. These include Ruth Osborne, the Artistic Director of QL2 Dance in Canberra. Another choreographer who inspired this this piece is Gertrud Bodenwieser, a modern dance pioneer who brought an expressive European style of dance to Australia. I also reference Eileen Kramer, an Australian dancer, who in the 1940’s toured with the Bodenwieser Ballet. Eileen is still going strong and dancing at age 108!

FUSE: In ‘Shortcuts to Familiar Places’, your body serves as a map that is ‘deconstructed and recreated’. Can you tell our readers about how this concept of ‘the body’ is explored in the piece?

James Batchelor: We all have a ‘muscle memory’, and in recent years, I’ve come to question what I have stored in my body that comes out when I dance. And that has informed how I view the body, as a map of previous experiences that have shaped me over the years, expressed through the movement of dance.

FUSE: You are a Canberran who has choreographed and performed internationally to much acclaim. ‘Batchelor + Lea’ is a part of celebrations across the country for International Dance Day. What other significance does ‘Batchelor + Lea’ hold for you?

James Batchelor: Its very nice to work with Liz, who has developed her practice on the world stage very successfully. There is a perception that Canberra can be a cultural ‘bubble’, isolated from emerging international artistic trends. Having spent time working overseas, I have learnt different ways to create dance. This has expanded the scope of my work and it’s nice to be able to present this to audiences in my hometown.

FUSE: How has it been working with Liz Lea, and can you tell us about how ‘Shortcuts to Familiar Places’ and ‘RED’ complement each other?

JB: The pieces complement each other in that they examine the question of how dance is connected through different bodies and different generations. Liz’s work has a different in focus to mine, but it’s great to see the two pieces side by side, as they approach similar questions through different dance styles.

FUSE: Does ‘Shortcuts to Familiar Places’ have anything to say specifically to LGBTQIA audiences?

James Batchelor: The piece explores gender, a topic that resonates with many Queer people. Gender is also a theme often included in the works of the Bodenwieser Ballet Company. Bodenwieser’s work was quite feminine and featured predominately female bodies because there weren’t many men participating in dance at that time. The question for me is, as a ‘masculine’ person, how do I inhabit these ‘feminine’ movements?

FUSE: Could you please tell ‘Fuse’ readers about ‘RED’, its conception and main themes? What can audience expect from the piece? 

Liz Lea: ‘RED’ has had a long journey of creation and has been on tour for 5 years. The work evolved over time to focus on my experiences with Endometriosis, which was not its initial focus. It has been a fascinating experience to discover how deeply personal the work is because when creating it, we just got on with the sections: films, text, and movement under the expert dramaturg of Brian Lucas. Ultimately, we want to give the audience a good time - to entertain, move, laugh, and engage. ‘RED’ has now been on the road for 5 years and I have grown along with the work.

FUSE: Does ‘RED’ contain any elements that you believe may resonate specifically with LGBTQIA audiences?

Liz Lea: As a Bisexual woman I play between the loves in my life and the different protagonists within the story and the performance. People of all identities play a huge role in both my personal and professional life, and the condition I have lived with impacts people of all identities. There is also glamour, which I feel is an aspect of life and performance that the LGBTQI community are deeply connected with. We love a little glamour!

FUSE: ‘RED’ is an evocative title. The colour red represents a myriad of things. It may signal danger or tell us to stop. It is also the colour of warning and passion. Red is, of course, also the colour of blood. In your piece, what does red represent? 

Liz Lea: All the above! Primarily though it represents the blood that runs through all our veins, regardless of identity, ability, and background. Questions of physical wellbeing are so often related to the blood that sustains us. Endometriosis is a condition that initially impacts the uterus and this too is related to our life blood.  

FUSE: ‘RED’ has been performed to great acclaim both in Australia and Internationally. Why do you think it has resonated with audiences?

Liz Lea: Humour sustains us all – and seeing someone’s life stripped back to their mistakes and follies, shared on stage, and onscreen allows us to connect. The dramaturgy of the work is strong – my colleague Brian Lucas is a genius – and so the work holds together and gently knits into place over the hour. It is surprising, unexpected, and fast moving. There is no time to get bored!

FUSE: In what ways does ‘RED’ complement your fellow choreographer, James Batchelor’s piece ‘Shortcuts to Familiar Places’?

Liz Lea: We both have close connections to deep training in Bodenwieser style, as does James’s co-dancer Chole Chignell. We both share stories about our lives, influences, and passions. The works are very different and so the double-bill provides an opportunity to delve into current contemporary dance theatre practice in a way that is accessible and engaging. Supporting and being supported by Canberra artists and community is also a driving force for us both.


  • Batchelor + Lea
  • The Playhouse
    Canberra Theatre Centre
  • 3.00 pm 29 April

BATCHELOR + LEA: a dance double bill is presented by Canberra Theatre Centre as part of the New Works Program. Proudly part of Ausdance ACT’s Australian Dance Week program.


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