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July 19, 2017

Australian Dance Theatre celebrate 50 years with new book

FIFTY chronicles the tumultuous and long history of SA-based Australian Dance Theatre - the nation's oldest continuously running contemporary dance company.

  • Words: Sharmonie Cockayne
  • Feature image: Chris Herzfeld

Adelaide is home to Australian Dance Theatre – the nation’s oldest continuously running contemporary dance company.

It’s been no easy thing existing for fifty years, though. Since its founding by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, personalities clashed, controversies arose, entire ensembles were sacked, feelings were hurt, and careers ended. But, the company prevailed.

It would make a good book. It has made a good book.

In celebration of their lengthy existence, ADT commissioned the writing of a book titled FIFTY that chronicles it all.


FIFTY is available to purchase online now.

Conceptualised and authored by Maggie Tonkin, the book began with an idea in 2013.

“I started thinking about it at the end of 2013. I contacted Garry Stewart and I said I would like to write a book about the company because it was turning 50. They’re going to be the longest standing contemporary dance company in Australia,” says Maggie.

It was a natural project for Maggie, who has a history with the dance company that spans decades.

“I’ve always had quite a strong knowledge of their work… When I was a very young girl, I used to dance there. I had connections with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, she was one of my dance teachers back in the ’70s,” she says.

“I’d gone off and done other dance training, and I’d lived in Adelaide most of my life, I’ve always been to see all of their performances, and I’ve been writing for Dance Australia magazine – one of the national dance magazines – for about 14 years. So I’d started writing about them and knew them and had a connection, so that gave me an entree into the company I suppose.”

An enormous amount of archival work was undertaken in the making of FIFTY, and a great many interview were conducted with artistic directors and dancers past and present.

But such a tumultuous history often means incredible emotion, which is still prevalent in the lives of some involved in the dance scene currently.

“It’s still painful, I think, but they’re about to talk about it and be open about it. There was a mixture of sadness and raw grief in some instances, and also pride, and just wanting to have their contribution recognised,” says Maggie.

“On the one hand there was the pain and sadness of being dismissed and losing the company, but on the other hand they wanted to tell their story. They wanted to remembered. They want their work to be remembered.”

The enormous breadth of research conducted for FIFTY did more than bring to light the controversies of the company, it also revealed a tendency for less-than-perfect documentation of the performing arts.

“The performing arts is so easily forgotten, you know? You go and see stuff and move on. And we don’t keep histories of performing arts well, it’s not something we’ve done very well in Australia,” says Maggie.

And so FIFTY is here – a piece of work that not only preserves the history of one of Australia’s great dance companies, but also, larger than that, a significant part of Australian performing arts history.

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