Internationally acclaimed for the emotional punch packed into her inventive choreography Meryl Tankard is one of Australia’s finest contemporary artists. She continues to work around the world with projects ranging from a sell-out Sydney Festival collaboration with Taiko drummers, to a Broadway musical.
Having leapt to fame in Europe with Pina Bausch, Tankard returned to Australia to create a dance aesthetic all her own. Her time at Australian Dance Theatre is noteworthy for the succession of landmark productions she created on a dynamic, versatile company, touring extensively to high acclaim.
Tankard has created work for some of the world’s finest companies and her large-scale commissions, such as the opening ceremony for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, bear testimony to her imaginative range. Work in film and opera accompanies her choreographic research and ongoing engagement with contemporary dance theatre on the world stage.
Meryl Tankard was born in Darwin, but moved frequently across the region due to her father’s air force career. She spent her early years in Penang, Melbourne and Newcastle, acquiring a taste for change and adventure which was to pattern her entire career.
As a young child Tankard chose ballet over basket weaving as an ‘after school activity’ at the local town hall and discovered a talent, despite the rigours of the teaching regime. Tankard entered The Australian Ballet School and from there the Company, in 1975. Her first work, Birds Behind Bars, a humorous spoof on feminism created for an Australian Ballet choreographic season, won a prize which enabled her to travel to Europe to learn more about the thriving European dance scene.
Meryl Tankard’s life took a radical new direction when she encountered the work of German choreographer Pina Bausch. She joined Bausch’s Wuppertaler Tanztheater and enjoyed a distinguished career for a number of years as one of Bausch’s leading performers. Alongside creating roles in landmark productions such as Café Muller, Kontakhof Walzer, Bandoneon, Arien, 1980 and Keuscheitslegende, she also dabbled in film. In 1983, she co-wrote and starred in the 50 minute film Sydney an der Wupper which was awarded a gold film band at the Berlin Film Festival.
After many years at the peak of her game, Meryl Tankard felt the need to create her own work. On a tour with Wuppertaler Tanztheater to Australia in 1983 Meryl realized how much she missed that vast Australian blue sky and a year later she left Pina Bausch’s company. She began to work as a freelance artist for projects in Australia and Europe. She starred in the ABC TV series Dancing Daze and on stage and TV in Robyn Archer’s Pack of Women. It was during this time she created what would be recognised as her signature pieces Two Feet, Echo Pointand Travelling Light. She was also invited back to Pina’s company on many occasions, to perform as a guest artist for major tours, including the company’s premiere at BAM in New York and at the LA Olympic Arts Festival. During this period, she also performed with Lindsay Kemp’s Company in Italy and South America.
Then in 1989, Meryl Tankard founded her dance company in Canberra, creating and producing numerous works such as VX18504, Nuti, Kikimora, Banshee, Court of Flora, Songs with Mara and Chants de Mariage 1 and 11. Tankard had successfully synthesised the range of influences from her early career to create a dance theatre style all her own, building a repertoire of work with a thread of dynamic movement, strong emotional content, commitment to design and innovation in staging. Meryl Tankard was named Canberra of the year in 1992
Collaborating with photographer Regis Lansac, she had begun to develop original techniques using photographic and video projections and to design her own costumes and sets. Significantly, from 1993-99, Meryl Tankard was Artistic Director of the Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), creating an illustrious repertoire for this groundbreaking company including Furioso, Aurora, O let Me Weep, Seulle, Rasa, Inuk and Possessed. The Company toured Europe, Asia and Australia and was invited to perform at BAM in New York, Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam, Sadler’s Wells in London, Aoyama Theatre in Tokyo and at the Aarhus Music Theatre in Denmark. During this time of prolific creativity, she also created The Deep End for The Australian Ballet and The Blue Angel for Horipro Productions in Tokyo. For Opera Australia, Meryl Tankard created choreography for Death in Venice and Orphee and Eurydice.
Meryl Tankard was the recipient of the 1993 Sydney Myer Music Award and, in 2002, received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Australian Dance Awards. She was the subject of the documentary feature The Black Swan, directed by Michelle Mahrer.
After six years at Australian Dance Theatre, Tankard accepted a number of international commissions including Bolero for the Lyon Opera Ballet, Merryland for Nedlerands Dans Theater 3, @North for Ballet Komische Oper in Berlin and Petrouchka for Nederlands Dans Theatre 1. In 2000, Meryl Tankard conceived, directed and choreographed Deep Sea Dreamingfor the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, bringing widespread recognition. She also created Ocean Dance for his Holiness the Dalai Lama for a Tribute Concert at the Sydney Opera House.
In 2003, Meryl Tankard created Wild Swans for The Australian Ballet, to a commissioned score by Elena Kats-Chernin. Her Wild Swans and The Deep End have both been screened on ABC-TV. Meryl’s international theatre work includes the choreography for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Beautiful Game, for which she received an Olivier Award nomination, and choreography for Disney’s production of Tarzan on Broadway in 2006.
INUK 2 was Meryl Tankard’s first commission with Sydney Dance Company.