One of Launceston's most prominent dance companies celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2021. Though reaching a big milestone is a feather in the cap for anyone, it is the changes on the horizon for Tasdance that have got the community buzzing.
Tasdance was founded in 1981 as Australia's first dance-in-education company. Over the years there have been several people at the helm, but the core of the company has stayed the same. It is dedicated to the creation of new dance works and providing opportunities for artists.
In 1997, the late Tasmanian choreographer and dancer Annie Greig became the artistic director for the company, where she remained until she stepped down in mid-October 2015.
Ms Greig's life partner, Jen Brown, shared an insight into the time her partner spent with Tasdance and what it meant to her, including prioritising work and development opportunities for Indigenous choreographers and dancers.
"Annie was a multifaceted artistic director of Tasdance, often taking on administrative and educative roles as well as her primary one of curating the company's professional performances," Ms Brown said.
"When she took on the role ... she made it her mission to revitalise Tasdance, set exciting new creative directions, secure ongoing funding, and raise the professional profile of the company nationally and internationally."
Ms Brown said Ms Greig saw facilitating collaborations between different art roles and artists across the world important, and coveted her mentoring role to those in the industry.
"She ensured that Tasdance regularly toured regional centres on the mainland, got international gigs wherever possible, and toured extensively around Tasmania," Ms Brown said.
"Dance education was always a high priority for Annie. The weekly programs taught in the Tasdance studios included a diverse array of classes for children and adolescents, as well as adults of all ages."
Reaching 40 was an achievement Ms Greig was most proud of, and though she was too ill to attend the civic reception held in Launceston to celebrate the milestone, she sent her thoughts to be read.
As everything must, Tasdance has had to evolve since Ms Greig's time to stay relevant and meet the needs of the people involved, but she supported the changes.
"Annie gave her full support and blessing to the artistic vision and new initiatives planned for the company by Adam Wheeler and Emma Porteus," Ms Brown said.
Adam Wheeler took on the artistic director role of Tasdance three years ago and found the company in a position of turnover at the time.
"The world and contemporary dance were shifting so rapidly that even if I wanted to follow on with the artistic legacy of what Annie was producing, it became kind of irrelevant. We had to shift the way we wanted to make our work," he said.
Mr Wheeler's attention, unintentionally, started to shift towards activating the space Tasdance inhabits - at 197 Wellington Street, Launceston - as a hub, and creating more unusual collaborations.
READ MORE: Final countdown for Empty Stocking Appeal
"It wasn't until COVID hit and ... Emma identified my artistic interest with the company had become about these real tight collisions between different artforms, and what happens if you bring two artists from different disciplines into a room to make something," he said.
SITUATE's executive producer Emma Porteus joined the Tasdance building after conversations with Mr Wheeler convinced her that moving the company from the South of the state to the North would be a good idea.
"I started my career here at Tasdance. It feels like home, it's in my DNA. Although I didn't see the connection to begin with ... now I'm here it feels like this was always going to be the way it was going to unfold," she said.
"The thing that is underpinning it all is wanting to make exceptional Tasmanian work and support exceptional Tasmanian artists."
Now Tasdance is in its 40th year and celebrating more than 200 works, made by more than 100 choreographers, and involving more than 300 artists.
However, turning 40 has led to conversations about where Tasdance could and should go in the future to continue to grow and provide opportunities to artists while pushing the boundaries of what art is.
"The first thing we have looked at is how we reshape the identity of the actual premises. This place has been embedded in performance since the early '60s. By rebranding the building, and calling it something different, it entices the idea of coming together," Mr Wheeler said.
The building that currently houses Tasdance, as well as SITUATE and other companies, will be renamed as ASSEMBLY 197 and act as a thriving arts hub in Launceston.
"What's going to be at the heart of what happens in the building is live performance, or live art-making. That will be as broad and as vague as it needs to be. We don't want to pigeonhole it," Mr Wheeler said.
Ms Porteus said the aim was to create a space where artists felt they had the skills and opportunities needed to interrogate their practice and how it connected with audiences.
Launching the new brand and vision was scheduled for this month and will take about a year to change the surface logistics. However, a deeper level of structural change and funding to the building will take longer.
"We love this old girl, but she's tired. We can't get anyone with wheelchairs in the building and that is not okay," Mr Wheeler said.
The changes planned will mean the ASSEMBLY 197 building will be able to hold multiple projects at the same time and have them all rehearsing in conjunction.
"We are not trying to create the next Earl Arts Centre or put the Princess Theatre out of business. We want to be an alternative to those two spaces when the art is right for it," Mr Wheeler said.
Ms Porteus added the space would be more intimate and more experimental, with works to be shown in varying stages of their cycles before completion.
Next year will be a development year for the two companies as they form ASSEMBLY 197, and though there will be some works produced, the focus will be on what can be shown in 2023.
What do you think? Send us a letter to the editor:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.