WHILE she was artistic director of dance at the Mains d’Oeuvres in Paris, Angela Conquet regularly met Australian dancers who were completeing residencies at the famed cultural hub. It was during this tenure that she met Dancehouse’s previous artistic director, David Tyndall.
“Speaking to him, I really felt that Dancehouse would be a dream place,” says the 38-year-old, who jumped at the chance to fill his shoes when Tyndall stepped down. “Curiosity got me here.”
Coming on board seven months ago, Conquet inherited the role at a fascinating time for the North Carlton home of contemporary dance – the centre turns 20 this week. “That’s some legacy I inherited just like that,” she says, snapping her fingers. “Having celebrated 10 years [at Mains d’Oeuvres] and knowing how tough it is to get there, this is very illustrative of how vibrant the independent sector is here and how much meaning it delivers.”
Dancehouse’s original artist-led vision is still central to the company’s success. While filming a recent documentary about the two decades, Conquet interviewed all the previous directors and drew on their achievements and unfulfilled ambitions to build her own pathway.
Conquet’s priority is to build on Dancehouse’s strong relationship with its artists. “I want to go beyond giving them space and money, to really be there for them beyond each project and make this their home. It’s all about people.”
That includes the audience, with Conquet focusing on finding new fans for Dancehouse’s creations and tackling perceptions that contemporary dance is complicated or elitist.
“It’s probably the most instantly impacting artform. The artists translate our world with their bodies, and it stirs something inside of you. It’s a less solitary discovery than books, for instance. You come to it because somebody took you by the hand.”
Conquet has her own benchmark with which to measure her ability to draw a crowd. “I’d be happy if I get 50 people in the theatre and if, out of them, for 10 it’s their first piece of contemporary dance. I’m passionate about artists and excited to discover new work, but what excites me most is when I can see their impact on the audience.”
Conquet fell in love with dance as an 18-year-old. While walking in the Centre Pompidou, she saw a video of Pina Bausch’s Cafe Muller, recognisable from Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her, and was transfixed. “Nothing mattered more at that time than those five minutes, and it’s stayed with me. I got to see her dance that piece live before she died, and I thought ‘oh my god’. I wanted to weave that moment for others.”
Alive! 20 Years – 20 Choreographers, June 20-22 at 150 Princes Street, Carlton North. Details: call 9347 2860.