Jeté across the gap between dance training and professional practice

Richard Watts

WAAPA’s LINK Dance Company is a pre-professional ensemble that offers graduate dancers a unique year of transition from education to career.
Jeté across the gap between dance training and professional practice

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Established in 2002 as a research project within the Dance Department at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), LINK Dance Company has evolved into a resident pre-professional company with a focus on the creation of new works, and a commitment to national and international touring.

A one-year Honours program, LINK Dance Company bridges dance training at a tertiary level and dancing professionally, and is designed for students who have already completed a three-year tertiary dance course.  

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The course is ideal for students who are seeking to expand their knowledge of choreographic processes and enhance their performance skills. Company members also gain practical touring experience through the program in addition to strengthening their academic qualifications.  

‘Auditions have already happened, however it’s not too late to apply,’ said Michael Whaites, Artistic Director of LINK Dance Company.

‘The company starts at the beginning of March so we can take applications until February. As long as you have a BA in Dance, just send your application in and include video footage of you in class and performance. We can then organise a chat via video for questions,’ he explained.

An experienced dance practitioner in his own right, Whaites trained at the Centre for the Performing Arts in Adelaide, later honing his skills at Townsville’s Dancenorth, where he was a founding member. He went on to dance with Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), Danceworks and internationally with Twyla Tharp Dance and the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, among others.

‘I seriously started to understand the complex coordinations of the body … through training with Leigh Warren whilst in ADT. Leigh was always incredibly prepared and his classes were always full of rich information, and even when he’d say “medicine is almost over” you always felt like you were dancing (and sometimes flying) in his classes,’ said Whaites.

Having taught and choreographed in many Australian training institutions, Whaites ensures that the program at LINK Dance Company mirrors the activities experienced in a small contemporary company.

Dancers attend daily company class, rehearsals, fulfil production responsibilities and negotiate funding issues to facilitate the company’s tours. Company members also explore a research topic of their choice, leading to a thesis, ensuring that LINK dancers gain both a transitional professional year and a further academic qualification.

‘LINK gives you the experience of being in a contemporary dance company that tours,’ said Whaites.

‘Honours also starts your research journey. It will broaden your perspective of the industry, offer new networks, connections and ways of working. It also allows you time to think about what sorts of dance you’re really interested in. While creating new works with local, national and international choreographers it provides performance practice opportunities in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and several cities in Europe on our annual international tour. 2019 will also see the company performing in Beijing for the very first time.’

Successful applicants to the LINK Dance Company gain access to WAAPA’s many resources, including rehearsal space and theatres, set and costume construction, and a range of experienced staff. They also have access to the skills and insights passed on by Whaites and other WAAPA teachers.

‘I often ask people to do two things at once – dancing can be like rubbing your belly and patting your head [simultaneously]. For me, great dancers layer. They can expose their personality and show you a part of themselves or what they’re feeling while performing something incredibly complex or very simple. How you engage with this, for me as a performer, is the artistry of dance. Your choice of timing, rhythm, expression, how much you give, how much you hold back is key and all a part of it,’ Whaites said.

‘I love seeing smart people apply information, learn something about themselves and engage with their physicality with confidence and humility, to be real and alive.’ 

Whaites urged dancers who might be considering applying to join LINK Dance Company not to be shy.

‘Do it!’ he said. ‘Perth has a great, vibrant dance scene. As a LINK dancer you will be connected to STRUT and the Co3 family through partnership programs. And as a dancer you never stop learning. Each work is new research. I would suggest keeping your learning alive and don’t stop practising. The BA qualification is just the beginning – now the fun part starts.

‘LINK gives you structure and freedom to think about the future, and fantastic contacts and networks to move forward in your career,’ Whaites concluded.

Learn more about LINK Dance Company at www.waapa.ecu.edu.au.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts