The long and short of a dancer’s career in Australia

News of the imminent departure of two Sydney Dance Company dancers made me think about the small number of jobs for contemporary dancers in Australia and how lucky are those who make it into a company.

As every company website gives different information on its dancers, it’s difficult to be sure of how many dancers are employed and how long the dancers have been under contract.

But here’s a brief overview.

Sydney Dance Company

Fiona Jopp, who is soon leaving the company, is one of the stayers at SDC.

She first danced with the company in 2010.

Only two of the dancers in the company’s ensemble – Juliette Barton and Janessa Dufty – have worked continuously with the company for a longer period. They both joined since 2009.

So, too, did Richard Cilli, however he left after four years before returning last year.

Charmene Yap and Bernhard Knauer joined in 2010 and Todd Sutherland the following year while the remainder of the ensemble joined in 2012 or later.

David Mack, who is also leaving SDC, joined the company more recently, in 2013.

He is returning to Western Australia, where he began his dance career in 2002 at the West Australian Ballet. He then joined Rambert Dance Company in London before returning to WAB.

There are two newcomers to SDC, much less experienced than Jopp and Mack.

They are Latisha Sparks, 20, a graduate of both the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School and The New Zealand School Of Dance and Nelson Earl, 19, a graduate of Sydney’s Newtown School of Performing Arts and Sydney Dance Company’s Pre-Professional Year program. He has already danced with SDC in De Novo and CounterMove.

Bangarra Dance Theatre

The company has 18 dancers. Two have been with the company since the late 1990s and a further six of the dancers joined the company in the first decade of this century.

Close to half the ensemble has remained with the company for 10 years or more.

Australian Dance Theatre

The company has only seven dancers. Four of them have remained at the company for at least three years.

Expressions Dance Company

The website shows that there are seven dancers. One is a trainee who joined last year.

One of the dancers has been with the company since 2011, another from 2012 and a third from 2013.

It’s not clear how long the remaining three have been employed.

Chunky Move

The website does now show any permanent members of the ensemble. Under the label “dancers” it lists 23 people who have danced with the company in recent years, but the time frame is not given.

For those who do get a job in a contemporary company the benefit is that they are more likely to dance in almost every work than they are in a ballet company.

The Australian Ballet has more dancers than SDC, Bangarra, ADT and Expressions combined (78 in the AB compared with 48 in the four contemporary companies) and if they’ve reached the top ranks in the Australian Ballet the length of their career in the company is much greater than in contemporary companies.

There are 16 principal dancers and senior artists in the Australian Ballet and all but two joined the company before 2009.

The corps de ballet, in contrast, is a much tougher place to be. There are only three outcomes: a sequence of promotions to higher ranks; only one promotion and that’s it; no promotion at all.

According to the most recent survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in the 12 months to April 2009, there were approximately 348,500 females and 41,900 males aged 5 to 14 years in Australia who participate in dancing.

By now, those figures must be much higher.

What percentage of those continue on to a professional dancing career in Australia?

Perhaps it’s better not to even think about that.

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Fiona Jopp

Sydney Dance Company, Les Illuminations, Andrew Crawford and Fiona Jopp, photo © Peter Greig

David Mack

Sydney Dance Company, Quintett, Chloe Leong and David Mack, photo © Peter Greig