Sydney Dance Company dancer Janessa Dufty is venturing into the choreographic spotlight for the first time as part of New Breed, our annual showcase of raw talent and fresh ideas from Australian dance creators.
Her premiere Telopea is inspired by the Australian waratah and the strength, endurance and beauty of its bloom. The work takes improvisational cues from the dancers and includes live performance from opera singer Tobias Merz. We talked to Janessa about her love for native wildflowers and her intuitive approach to dance making.
Q. What is the inspiration behind your work for New Breed?
This inspiration for this work comes from the intriguing Australian wild flower Telopea speciosissima, also commonly know as the waratah. I’ve chosen to reference this magnificent flower and its qualities of strength, endurance, courage and healing. Its adaptability in Australia’s harsh conditions encouraged me to create this dance through memories of the flower’s vibrant bloom.
Growing up in Yamba NSW, I was surrounded by many beautiful wildflowers. I’ve always loved nature and been grateful for what it shares with us. If I didn’t become a dancer my childhood dream was to become a florist. It was only recently that I discovered all the street signs surrounding the home I grew up in are all named after wild Australian flowers. Across the road from where I lived there’s a street called Telopea, and another named Waratah. That was a sign for me to begin this choreographic journey.
Q. Do you normally work with dancers? Tell us about your past choreographic experiences.
This is my tenth year as a dancer with Sydney Dance Company, so yes, I would say I work with dancers closely since we often collaborate together for other creations. As a choreographer, I feel extremely privileged to have this close relationship with the dancers already, making this first time experience a real joy.
Q. How would you describe your choreographic style?
As this is my first time creating, I’m still discovering my groove. For Telopea I’ve found myself using my intuitive response to energy in movement and space, much like free painting on a blank canvas. My guide is trusting my artistic ability and allowing the dance to grow and unfold over time.
It is a real joy for me to bring together everyone’s artistic qualities and strengths: the music by Tobias Merz, costumes by Aleisa Jelbart, lighting by Alexander Berlage and of course the dancers Bernhard Knauer, Todd Sutherland, Petros Treklis, Davide Di Giovanni and Ariella Casu. The dancers play a huge part collaborating with me, which keeps the space open for individual creative expression and their incredible knowledge and bodily intelligence. Their individuality is what makes this work so unique.
I am passionate about combining other art forms, which is an area I’d like to discover more of in the future. For Telopea, I’ve used live singing elements as well as some structured improvisation moments for the dancers, which allows for new pathways to experience each show.
Q. How would you describe the music for your piece?
The music is a collaborative exploration with the astonishing singer and composer Tobias Merz who will be singing with his heavenly voice. Encouraged by Australian wildflower poetry and creative expression from heart and nature, Tobias has captured sounds of powerful beauty and that of dawn to dusk.
Q. What can audiences expect from your piece?
A journey which lures you closer with its raw beauty. The five dancers and the singer perform with elegant movement of strength, beauty and endurance, responding to the Telopea flower’s qualities of growth and bloom. There is an awakening by the sun, the intertwined bodies of endless life and movement taking shape and form, a guidance of survival through harsh conditions, moment of a cleansing bush fire, the sound of cracking seed pods through the body’s percussion, and a rebirth unfolding into vibrant bloom before the night sky appears.
Q. What has been your career highlight so far?
Definitely performing with Sydney Dance Company. It’s hard to share one particular time because there have been so many moments in my career which have nurtured my love, growth and passion for what I do. There are moments of true presence, like when my heart is full and happy after a performance.
Q. What do you love most about contemporary dance?
The individual interpretation and true expression that flows through the body, and the imagination’s endless ideas which bloom to creation.
New Breed is on at Carriageworks, 29 November – 8 December.