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Lucy Guerin Inc celebrates 15 years

Jul 28, 2017

Lucy Guerin Inc. is one of Australia’s most respected contemporary dance companies. Founded by Lucy Guerin in 2002, the company presents an annual program of work in Melbourne, including Pieces for Small Spaces, a curated program of new dance works by emerging choreographers, and First Run, an opportunity for artists to share their current practice through studio showings of first-draft works. The company has been nominated for and won various awards including Green Room, Helpmann and Australian Dance Awards.

Lucy Guerin was the recipient of the Australia Council Dance Award in 2016. We caught up to congratulate her on the company’s 15th birthday and their recent wins at the 2017 Helpmann Awards, including Best Choreography and Best Dance Production.

Production shot from Lucy Guerin Inc’s Split. Photographer: Gregory Lorenzutti

When Lucy Guerin Inc. first formed in 2002, what was your vision for the company?

I started the company out of a need to have a supportive structure in which to make my own works. As I started to feel more stable, I very quickly began to work on the idea of support for the independent sector which I had so recently come from. That quite quickly became a part of the vision, to create a connectivity and support for choreographers outside of major companies.

Lucy Guerin Inc. has been credited with having a major influence on the identity of dance in Australia. How do you think the sector has grown and developed over the past 15 years, and what role has the company played in that?

I spent seven years working in New York and there’s such an amazing dance community over there. I felt that I was part of a community that really cared about the artform and that supported each other. When I came back to Melbourne, I didn’t feel that people here talked to each other. I don’t want to take credit for anything that’s happened, but when I returned I did want to create a sense of community amongst independent artists. In order to do that we set up programs like Pieces for Small Spaces and First Run. We also have residencies for independent artists, and an annual Resident Director program where we mentor all aspects of running a company.

How important is that sense of community to your own creative process?

A sense of community is very important because it’s a communal art form. Once we started to have other choreographers come into the company, I found that really inspiring. It keeps me in touch with the ideas that independent choreographers are working with, what their influences are, and we can have conversations about what’s going on.

In my working space I like to create a kind of ease, because I rely on people really being themselves, expressing their sense of individuality and working to their own particular strengths. I think that’s what really enables me to make my work.

Production shot from Lucy Guerin Inc’s Split. Photographer: Gregory Lorenzutti

Can you share some of the highlights of the past 15 years with Lucy Guerin Inc? What are some of the greatest achievements you and the company have had?

I think every opening night has been a huge highlight. The creation of work is such an intense time. On opening night I almost don’t even want to watch. I want to sit in the bar and have a vodka! But I do watch and it’s always incredible just to see something that’s come together from nothing.

Then there’s the presenters and festivals that have shown our work. There was a fantastic moment when Stephen Armstrong and Michael Kantor were at Malthouse and began to present dance including a few of my works. That was a really significant moment when our work gained more exposure. In more recent years Arts House in North Melbourne has become a really important venue for us. I think without those opportunities, it can be very difficult finding a place to show your works. Also when we made those steps from project funding to annual funding to multi-year funding with the Australia Council and Creative Victoria, and now the City of Melbourne, those were incredible milestones and cause for celebration for us, to have that kind of stability.

Another highlight has been our international tours around the US and Canada, and recently our European tour through France, Belgium and Germany. In the past couple of years I’ve also created works for Lyon Opera Ballet, Rambert Dance Company and the Young Vic in London. Those opportunities to travel internationally and to learn how other people do things has been really challenging, but also really satisfying.

Having worked all around the world, what do think it is that make Australian dance unique to Australia?

Dance here is really diverse, I think about the work showcased recently at Dance Massive, or the work presented by Sydney Dance Company, Australian Dance Theatre, or Force Majeure. All these companies have different influences and are working with very different things. In most companies I’ve worked with internationally there’s always an Australian dancer. I think we work with a freedom of ideas and movement, and there’s often a bit of humour in our work. It’s part of our national identity – we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which can be a problem, but can also allow us to try things. Some countries are very weighted down by their history, which is a rich resource, but can sometimes be quite a load to bear. We’re incredibly lucky, and I think it’s very important to make use of the incredible position we’re in.

What’s next for Lucy Guerin Inc?

Really, I just want to keep trying to progress my relationship with the form of dance. That’s my vision for the future. I think the company’s always had a philosophy that we’re not so keen to grow in terms of operational size, we’ve always wanted to stay reasonably small and nimble. That does sometimes limit the scale of the projects we can do. I think one thing that I would be interested in trying to develop more is partnerships with other companies. We recently partnered with Dancenorth on our work Attractor. We’re both small companies but by working together we’re able to present something larger.