Let's get Bodenwieser Dance Centre back for the Sydney dance community!
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The site of the Bodenwieser Dance Centre at 18 City Rd, Chippendale is currently up for sale, due to go to auction on Friday 3 May 2019.
This sale presents an opportunity to return the beloved studio to the dance community of Sydney, ensuring that the cultural heritage value of the site is preserved and can again be a living legacy, supporting today’s dancers and choreographers to train and develop dance work.
We, the undersigned, are appealing for your help in making this vision possible. We want the City of Sydney and Create NSW to secure this site for the Sydney dance community.
Gertrud Bodenwieser is the most significant figure influencing the development of dance in Australia in the twentieth century. Escaping anti-Jewish politics emerging in her native Austria, Bodenwieser arrived in Sydney in 1939 already an accomplished choreographer, influenced by Isadora Duncan, Rudolf von Laban and other modernists. Amongst a list of her students and company dancers are luminaries Shona Dunlop, Eileen Kramer, Peggy van Praagh, Bettina Vernon, Anita Ardel—and Keith Bain and Margaret Chapple who went on to found the Bodenwieser Dance Centre after her death in 1959.
For decades, the Centre was where professional dancers were made, offering training and a place to meet likeminded artists; and where international dance companies (e.g. Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, Nederlands Dance Theatre) rehearsed while on tour. It was the literal centre for the professional dance community of Sydney, NSW, and Australia.
The Centre was sold shortly before Margaret Chapple’s death in 1996, and many of today’s dance artists, critics, academics and teachers still feel an important connection to the place of Bodenwieser’s and the particular site of the studio on City Rd. Dr Erin Brannigan, senior lecturer of dance at UNSW and a student at Bodenwieser’s in the 1980s-90s says: “I gained all of my professional experience from contacts I made at the Centre, and I still have relationships with many of the people I met there. I've always dreamt that it would someday return to being the vibrant heart of dance in Sydney that it once was. Now is our chance.”
Gertrud Bodenweiser’s story is foundational to the cultural history of Sydney and Australia; part of the group of Jewish WWII artists and intellectuals that fled Europe and ended up in Australia, contributing ideas about art and life that would greatly influence the development of modern Australia. In fact, the loss of the European avant-garde of this period to Europe was behind German choreographer Jochen Roller’s 2012-13 project The Source Code (see also SBS). Bodenwieser’s engagement with all sorts of artists, Max Dupain notable among them, and her embrace of expressionist art and dance made Bodenwieser Ballet, as quoted in the 2 June 1941 issue of Home magazine, “a most important force in our national culture.”
Sydney has begun to recognise we haven’t done enough to hold onto and honour our cultural heritage, and allow it to be felt as part of the daily life of the city. This is an opportunity to do something different. As it stands, 18 City Rd. has had little renovation since it was last sold in the 1990s, with the biggest change an open-plan apartment on the second floor that retains the open floor space; very minor works would be needed to return the building to a 2-studio dance centre.
A Living Legacy
Dance is an art form that needs time and space. The pragmatics of an accessible studio, centrally located and close to public transportation, that has appropriate flooring and is without structural hazards, and that is affordable for dancers (who are amongst our most lowly paid workers) is very hard to find in Sydney. The lack of enough and appropriate studio infrastructure has been repeatedly identified as one of the leading barriers to the ongoing sustainability of the dance sector in this city and is still unsolved.
Returning the Bodenwieser Dance Centre to a studio for the independent dance sector of Sydney would play a vital role in “making space” for dance in Sydney, while also giving artistic life back to our inner city. We can go and visit Gertrud Bodenwieser’s archive held in the National Library; but just as importantly we need a place in which the embodied history of dance can go on living, held by dancers and shared through working together in the studio.
We need to act quickly; the property is on the market, to go to public auction on 3 May.
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