Nina, Bill and Wakako: 46 years of combined history with Sydney Dance Company


8 November 2019


Pedro Greig

Bill Pengelly and Wakako Kuhara are three of our 10 alumni who are performing on stage again for our 50th Anniversary. They take turns answering some of our questions on their personal history with Sydney Dance Company, how they’ve been preparing for their encore performance in Us 50 and their thoughts on the evolution of Sydney Dance Company over the past half a century.

Book your tickets now for Us 50, part of Sydney Dance Company's 50th Anniversary double bill Bonachela / Obarzanek from 1 - 9 November in Sydney.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your career with Sydney Dance Company? What was the first work you performed in and some of your favourite memories?

Nina: I joined Sydney Dance Company three days after graduating from The Australian Ballet School December 1976 and the first major season I performed in was at the Opera Theatre/Sydney Opera House early in 1977. The program opened with the trio Sequenza VII choreographed by Graeme (Murphy) and performed by Graeme, Janet (Vernon) and myself. The other works in the program were Mirage (Leigh Warren), Deserts (Anna Sokolow) and Glimpses (Graeme Murphy). For a young 18 year old, it was an incredibly exciting experience.

I have numerous special and treasured memories of my 13 years with the company:
The first New York season at City Centre where we opened three programs in three days – 1981;
performing After Venice in the Herod Atticus Theatre in Athens followed by performances at the Spoleto Festival Italy – 1986; and the yearly international touring between 1981 and 1990
that took the company to the USA, Asia, Europe, Turkey, the UK and the Netherlands.

Bill: I joined Sydney Dance Company in 1980 as a dancer. During the 16 years I was with the company I continued to dance and became Rehearsal Director as well as reproducing Graeme Murphy’s work for other companies. The first work I performed with the company was Viridian, choreographed by Graeme Murphy to the music of Richard Meale with lighting by John Rayment. The costume was a cream all over. Needless to say there was a bit of weight reduction going on at that time. My favourite memory was the international and national touring and all the fun times that were had. My favourite Murphy work was After Venice.

Wakako: My first work was King Roger. My favourite works are Grand, Ellipse and Underland

Wakako Kuhara in Underland 2003. Photo credit: Jeff Busby.

Q. What do I love about dance?

Nina: I relate to “dance” on many levels. Firstly, as a young child it was the primal response of moving to music and the expression of self that I loved – a totally honest and authentic reaction with no right or wrong. Moving forward, my relationship with dance has been somewhat chequered. I started lessons at age four and it became a way of life for me which I think has helped me withstand the challenges I would go on to face in pursuing a career. Although I had abilities I don’t consider myself as naturally suited or as gifted as others, I’ve considered myself quite fortunate in being able to earn my living through dance as a performer and teacher. I gave much commitment to developing my skills and still do. Ultimately, it is a love of being physical – of being in the body and working it to attain what has been asked for. It is a never ending source of fascination for me understanding how it works and to this day I still invest in doing so through study and training in aligned somatic practices such as yoga and Gyrotonic methodology.

Wakako: You find out what you are and who you are through dance.

Bill: Dance has been my career for 45 years.

Q. What was your initial reaction after being asked to participate in Gideon Obarzanek’s Us 50?

 Wakako: Are you kidding me?

 Nina: Apart from feeling extremely honoured I wondered if Gideon realised how old I was.

 Bill: Yes, without hesitation. Being a cancer survivor, I don’t say no to much these days.

            Nina Veretennikova with Neil Grigg, 1982. Photo Credit Branco Garcia.
Q. How have you been preparing for performing in Us 50?

Wakako: Since I got this news, I have been taking two ballet classes per week. Before I was taking once a week.

Nina: I have a significant teaching load teaching ballet and various somatic practices at The Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and this requires a certain amount of demonstration. I also have a strong commitment to practicing Iyengar yoga which I have done for nearly 20 years and over the past 10 years I’ve engaged in training and eventually certification in Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic methodology – I practice these modalities regularly. I walk a lot, ride a bike, use a cross trainer, do stabilising and strengthening exercises and keep as physical as I can –  “use it or lose it” being the motto. I aim to do something physical every day – particularly so the last couple of months where I’ve aimed to do 3-4 hours a day on non-working days.

Bill: Firstly, I lost 15 kilos then I started swimming and a physiotherapy and exercise program to help strengthen my body to try to help reduce the pain of my osteoarthritis.

Q. How do you think the Company has changed over the last 50 years?


Nina: Although the company has changed throughout time what I see as being central to the period of Graeme’s time and hence that of Rafael’s is virtuosity in classical ballet and contemporary dance techniques. I can’t really comment on the company prior to when I joined but in the early generation of Murphy’s directorship there was considerable diversity in the dancers’ dance backgrounds and training which created a big mix of physical and personality types testified in the early works. In later years more emphasis on technical ability came to the forefront and Rafael has continued this legacy. The Company dancers today are immensely talented and I have admired their performances on many occasions.

Bill: Obviously, each time there is a change of Artistic Director the direction of the company is going to change. The one constant over the last 50 years is that Sydney Dance Company has not stopped producing original and exciting contemporary dance.

Wakako: I hope to find it out through Gideon’s work, Us 50.

Nina Veretennikova rehearsing with Sydney Dance Company in the Herod Atticus theatre in Athens, Greece 1986


Nina, Bill, and Wakako are performing in Gideon Obarzanek’s Us 50 as part of   Season Two from 1 – 9 November.                           Subscribe  now and save 15% on tickets.

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