Delving Below the Surface of Dance

By Grace Kirk/ Dance
Dance as a medium of expression gives an audience a powerful experience through their own interpretations. That is the message I took away from talking with performer, choreographer and director Lisa Wilson.

Wilson is creative director of Lisa Wilson Projects, and has practiced across a range of performative and creative roles throughout her successful career, with companies such as Expressions Dance Company, Queensland Theatre Company and The Australian Ballet.

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Lisa Wilson Projects and Lake

While Lisa Wilson Projects was only formalised in 2014, Wilson has been working in this space for years. Her transition into working as an independent artist allowed greater creative control.

She says she enjoys independent projects, because as a performer and choreographer of a piece, you’re completely engrossed in it, allowing another dimension of accomplishment.

“I’ve worked for big companies, which have been rewarding experiences but completely different to working independently where what you’re creating is exactly what you want to create,” she says.

“The independent work is a highlight because it takes years and cycles of funding that when you finally see it complete there is a sense of achievement.”

Wilson describes this transformation from performer to choreographer within her career being motivated by wanting a different perspective – a need to step “outside of the piece”.

Her projects are considered contemporary performance works, of which, her most recent, Lake, received outstanding success.

This show was a powerful and evocative performance piece with a number of creative elements working together. Visual design, video projection, an original musical score and, of course, Wilson’s choreography were pulled together to create an absorbing piece of contemporary performance.

A bold creative choice Wilson made was to have most of the set covered in water. The stage was a wooden frame filled with shallow water.

Even the images of the performance show the water creating another dimension of haunting reflections and questions of what may be just below the surface.


Photographer: Fen-Lan Chuang. Performers: Lisa Wilson and Timothy Ohl

“Inspiration always comes in different ways, shapes and forms,” Wilson says regarding her motivation to create Lake.

Ultimately, Wilson was exploring the ideas of how people are both drawn to water and terrified by it, and how what may appear calm on the surface may not be underneath.

It was Wilson’s creative vision that steered the project, but, like most creative endeavors it was a collaborative process.

“I work very closely with drama practitioners and sound, of course depending on the budget. Even for my latest work I commissioned a piece of music,” she explains.

Lake was picked up as a roadwork tour, which went to 17 venues nationwide. Lisa even performed as one of the dancers in the piece in some of the earlier 2012 shows.

Dance as creative practice

As dance can be physically demanding work, I was curious about the age restraints on a dancer’s career.

“I know some people who are older than me and still dancing and, in that sense, age doesn’t have a limit. But it depends on the type of dance it is stylistically. If it is physical work (like Lake) it is going to get challenging.”

Wilson can even argue it the other way – that if a dancer is too young and lacking in life experience, she questions, can they have expression beyond being aesthetically good dancers?

“It’s imperative to embrace and understand context – life experience is important, when you’re trying to draw more than a one dimensional character,” Wilson says.

Dance as a way to express ideas and emotions can be very powerful, “It leaves the door open a little more”.

Wilson says, “I’ve stayed away from using text… the beauty and what we can portray with dance alone is very powerful”.

In terms of expressing meaning through contemporary performance pieces, Wilson says, “it’s a cop out to say that it’s contemporary and therefore completely up to the audience, I try to dig a little deeper than that”.

Photographer: Fen-Lan Chuang. Performer: Hsin-Ju Chiu

Photographer: Fen-Lan Chuang. Performer: Hsin-Ju Chiu

Wilson’s dance career

Wilson graduated from QUT with an associate diploma of dance.

After graduating she went on to work for Dance North, and then spent five years in London as a performer before working at Queensland’s Expressions Dance.

“I think all of us need to branch out to gain understanding of where the work fits in a larger context,” she says.

The time she spent living overseas has proved crucial. She encourages all performers to understand the larger context of their work.

“Back then we didn’t have the internet so it’s a lot easier now to get an idea of what’s going on globally,” she says.

Wilson’s advice to budding dance performers and choreographers is to “be tenacious, be brave in what you do and experience life. Keep a clear idea of who you are and don’t be swayed by trends and fashions”.