Kate Usher, co-founder, Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance

Dance doesn't rely on a shared understanding of language or form and can be incredibly primal in how we see, share and engage with it. It’s egalitarian. I like that ...

Even those of us with two left feet can agree that there’s something special about the art of dance. It is a communicative art form that can tell stories and convey emotions through the subtlest movements, evoking a primal response from audiences from all walks of life. Kate Usher clued in on the magical properties of dance early on, and has since dedicated her life to furthering the industry across Queensland. As one of the co-founders of Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance, Kate has been delivering considered programs of cutting-edge dance theatre to Brisbane, and 2019 is shaping up to be the festival’s best year yet. Ahead of Supercell’s arrival on Saturday March 30, we had a chat to Kate about her fascination with human movement and what we can expect from the festival this year.

To start, take us back to the beginning. Where did your fascination with dance first originate?
Gosh! Sometimes it feels like it was always there, but my parents would say at the age of three I was a fidgety and precocious little kid. I was always skipping around and demanding to be the centre of attention. As a solution they enrolled me in the local ballet studio, hoping to find an outlet for some of that energy. Wearing pink jiffies and a purple swimming suit covered in polka dots I attended my first dance class. I fell in love and it opened up a whole new world of expression with the most brilliant combination of magic, physicality and beauty. The smell of new ballet shoes and the sound of a rad plies exercise played on a scratched old CD floods me with memories and big smiles. Almost 27 years later and Miss Barbara Everson is still a sought-after dance educator in Brisbane!

In your opinion, what can a work of dance convey that is different or unique compared to other artistic mediums?
Dance hits you straight in the ‘feels’ – right in your gut. It doesn’t have to rely on a shared understanding of language or form and can be incredibly primal in how we see, share and engage with it. It’s egalitarian. I like that.

Tell us about how Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance first came to be! What was the founding ethos of the festival when it began?
Supercell evolved out of a bit of a goading remark from one of Australia’s arts leaders, Robyn Archer. Myself and co-founder Glyn Roberts were undertaking some professional development in Korea with the Atelier for Young Festival Managers. In a session, Robyn was really up front with us and asked, “So, how are you going to contribute? You know ‘the lay of the land’, what is missing from our ecology?” That really struck us – the premise of having the choice, the obligation even, to make the art we want to see rather than conforming to or climbing up through the existing ranks of arts organisations. Upon our return to Brisbane, over a coffee in delightful Paddington, Glyn proposed we put our mutual love for dance into something useful. Out of some long-term planning and conversations, Supercell was born. The founding ethos of the festival was one of sharing – bringing artists and audiences closer together through a deeper exchange of gathering, celebrating people and place.

How has the festival evolved since its first edition?
We are getting better at pulling together a festival working the ‘gig’ life. No one in the team has the time or resources to work full-time on the festival, so we are a scrappy, mighty, dance-loving bunch of arts nerds who bring this to life. So, in that sense the kind of dull premise of HR has evolved to support the ambitions of the festival. Curatorially, we have got a little more considerate in our shaping – that is, reflecting the existing aesthetic of contemporary dance whilst being a little daring with some more boundary pushing performances and art-esque pieces. Great attention has been paid to presenting artists and works that reflect the diverse and lived experiences of audience members and the people of Brisbane. Our concept of society and inclusion is expanding, and this needs to be reflected on our stages and in the art and culture we consume. Supercell hopes to provide a contribution to this vital evolution.

Tell us about this year’s event! Is there a guiding theme or concept behind 2019’s program?
It is going to dance up a storm, that’s for sure! For 2019 we have been thinking a lot about how as an individual our views on the world are shaped by those around us and the experiences we have. As Australia is hyper-connected to the Asia-Pacific through increasing geo-politics and government policies, we absolutely must engage in art and culture from our neighbours. In doing so, perhaps we can cultivate greater empathy for our peers and broaden our views on the world. Maybe we take a walk in another person’s shoes and, just maybe, address some really tricky and tough issues that are happening both at home and around the world. To this end the program offers a variety of ‘peep-holes’ into stories and experiences from artists across Australia and around the world. 

What would you say are some of the must-see performances on the program this year?
Supercell 2019 has so much variety with enough to whet the appetite of many, but here is some insight to help you select a brilliant festival experience. For access to dance companies that never make it to Queensland in touring circuits, check out award wining national company Lucy Guerin Inc. with her work Split. For our first co-commission ever, responding to the global refugee crisis, Brisbane/UK artists Bridget Fisk and Joe Lau have teamed up with artists from the Netherlands and Brisbane for They Gather. Our international guests this year bring you HK Stories and The Singapore Project with six of the hottest choreographers making waves globally. As for home-grown talent, Nerida Matthaei’s angel-monster is a saucy up-late immersive experience. There is just so much to cram into a week! If you are feeling like getting your own groove on, we have our PARTICIPATE program which offers a wide selection of workshops and dance classes suited for everyone from the total novice to a professional dancer.

What direction would you and the team like to take Supercell in the future?
We would love to take dance to the streets of Brisbane. A program that breaks out of the theatre and arts precincts and inhabits the nooks, crannies, river lifestyle and open spaces that Brisbane and broader South East Queensland have to offer. We have the weather for it, after all!

In addition to being Supercell’s co-founder and curator, you’re also the Executive Director of Ausdance Queensland. What do you think is the most exciting thing about Queensland’s contemporary dance scene right now?
I am, yes. I’m beyond lucky that my work and my passions are ensconced in dance and that Queensland is home to the most resilient independent dance artists. They make some of the most outstanding work and stay true to their creativity and integrity. Queensland also has four dance companies – we are the only state with such a volume of companies. With this diversity great possibility is born. So, if you want to see world-class dance, then Queensland is the place to be.

How would you like to see the state’s dance sector grow over the next few years?
I am passionate about figuring how we get Queenslanders dancing. Embracing not only our professional makers and companies, but local dance groups, wellness centres, physiotherapists and occupational therapies. From the young to the young at heart, we all need to get our bodies moving. There is so much good for our bodies and brains if we move, and I’m determined we break down some of the barriers to accessing dance experiences in all its forms.

Finally, what is the best piece of life advice you’ve ever received?
‘Work for knowledge, not for money’ – that one is curtsey of my father. And also to ‘back yourself’. Brett Howe, an Executive Producer over at QPAC and a mentor of mine, still to this day will remind me of this one. I think both resonate with me as they value curiosity, fortitude and self-confidence.

Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance will be taking place at the Brisbane Powerhouse from Saturday March 30 to Sunday April 7. Tickets for the events can be purchased here.


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