Stefan Karlsson on his return to the stage for Us 50


11 October 2019

We’re thrilled to be welcoming back former Company dancers as part of Gideon Obarzanek’s Us 50 in Season Two this November.

We spoke with Stefan Karlsson about his love of dance, his preparations to return to the stage and experiences performing with the Company during the 1980s.

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?

My first work was a solo by Graeme Murphy for Vast (1988) while I was at the WA Ballet Company, just having arrived from Sweden after seven years with the Cullberg Ballet directed by Mats Ek. Graeme invited me to join Sydney Dance Company in 1989, and that coincided with him taking a year Long Service Leave. But I performed one of the leads in Song of the Night that he had created for Nederlands Dans Theater. We also performed Arbos and Tabula Rasa by Ohad Naharin and Happy Trails by Ralph Lemon. It was great to work with both choreographers as they asked for different performance qualities and styles. I remember performing Some Rooms and Daphnis and Chloe (Graeme Murphy) with Jan Pinkerton who always had me in stitches, hysterically funny! Always when I was facing the audience! We performed Krannerg, which was an epic abstract work and very different from other more theatrical works by Graeme. We toured the US and just missed the major earthquake in LA where the freeways we’d recently been driving on collapsed. Thinking about it now, it reminds me of some of the great dancers and personalities that are no longer with us. It was the vulnerable times of AIDS… The tours to Europe were a highlight as my parents could come see me dance again.

I later returned to Sydney Dance Company as a guest artist to create Berlin with Graeme, and that was one of my absolute favourites as we were very much co-creators contributing to our individual character development and the work as a whole. The duet I did with Katherine Griffiths (Brown) still lingers in my memory as one of the highlights of my career. I also came over to Sydney as a guest for Free Radicals working closely with rhythms by Michael Askill and my personal interest and passion with flamenco rhythm (I even got to sing a bit!). Since then I have picked up flamenco in Perth and it has reinvented me as a performer. I feel like a dancer again, without having to do backbends, heavy lifting and kicking my legs around my ears anymore (well, they never quite reached my ears…).

Q. What do you love about dance?

Dancing makes me feel present to the world around me, it gives my innermost spirit a mechanism to express who I am, and what I would like to say about life. I love how it can effect people in so many different ways. Dance is also for being together as group, community or people. There is nothing better than to play ‘dance’ with kids.

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

Sure of course!! I have worked with Gideon before and loved the way he creates. I also saw him and his work in Perth at last year’s Festival and loved how he got the audience involved. It was a beautiful experience.

Q. How have you been preparing for performing in Us 50?

Do I have to prepare for it? I just dance how I dance… these days with quite a few restrictions. Someone told me a while back to ‘dance my age’ and I felt offended because I danced the way I did at the age I was, but if that meant I needed to look somewhat stiff and slow, I can probably live up to it now, finally, at 64.

Yes, I have been doing Pilates, gym work and some classes with Momentum (a company for older dancers) taught by James O’Hara and Darryl Brandwood.

Q. Where has life taken you since performing with Sydney Dance Company?

I went back to Perth and danced with Chrissie Parrott Dance Company for a few years until it folded, then guest performing with theatre companies and Independents, teaching at WAAPA, teaching in high schools and creating my own work Loaded with Margrete Helgeby which got us a Festival gig Aqueous with PIAF in 2004, involving some older dancers from around Australia (Natasha Middleton, Claudia Alessi, Adam Marchant and Sete Tele mixed with some young talent).

I co-created/performed in I am Nijinsky by Sally Richardson in Perth which unfortunately never toured! I performed with Sue Peacock and was a guest with Australian Dance Theatre performing and touring Birdbrain by Garry Stewart (I was 48 then). Two years later I danced my first classical ballet, Swan Lake as Rothbart (with Youth Ballet WA partnering a guest from the Bolshoi). In 2014, I performed with my son Yvan Karlsson, Natalie Allen, Kynan Hughes and Laura Boynes for Sally Richardson’s Rites at the Fringe in Perth. In 2016, I created a short solo for In Situ (site specific) in a Cathedral in Perth, using flamenco rhythm, a Bata de Cola and a walking stick. In 2016, I got my BA in Performing Arts and in 2017 my Dip Ed in Primary Teaching. I have been an education assistant in Primary education for 11 years and am also a qualified massage therapist. Last year I taught dance in a Primary School and was a classroom teacher in the country for a term. Since 2014, I have lectured and run workshops in Dance (new primary curriculum) at Murdoch University for Pre-Service Teachers. I have also studied flamenco since 2011.

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

I have only known the Company since 1988 and the style of choreography has changed enormously. Just like in many other places around the world, it has gone further away from the ‘story telling’ with elaborate designs and compositions (or known music), to more abstract technology based productions, inspired thematically and using a mix of contemporary dance techniques away from ballet aesthetics. Sydney Dance Company is keeping with the trends…

Stefan Karlsson performs 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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