My artist profile on the new Arts Access Australia website

Arts Access Australia put me in the Spotlight…

philip channells // dance integrated engages people of diverse cultural backgrounds in an inclusive environment. Led by a company of associate artists with and without a disability, I specialise in high quality dance education and performance projects, advocacy for disability arts practice, and professional development for teachers and artists working in schools, community groups and day centres.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve only just recently returned from Taiwan where I presented my work at the Global daCi/WDA Dance Summit at the Taipei National University of the Arts. Following this event, I spent time at the Zuoying Senior High School where I began exploring chorographical possibilities for a new work in 2013.

On my return to Adelaide, I stopped off in Hong Kong and spent time with the Centre for Community Cultural Development at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre and have been invited to return there to make another new work with the Symbiotic Dance Troupe. bitter // sweet will investigate their personal stories, memories, dreams and fantasy’s about what ‘home’ means to them.

I am currently mentoring NSW-based dance company Dirty Feet on ‘The Right Foot Project’ which is a series of dance workshops for people with and without a disability. Led by Sarah-Vyne Vassallo the workshops are designed to develop the participant’s understanding of a compositional process in a collaborative environment.

Later in the year I will be working with Arts Access NSW on The Catalyst Dance Masterclass Series aimed to provide skills development and training for dance practitioners, teachers, choreographers and dancers with and without disability currently working or interested in working in inclusive practices. I will be presenting the final outcome of this dance series in a studio showing at the Carriageworks in Redfern.

I’ve also been having initial discussions with staff of the Adelaide University’s Design and Architect department about developing a Design Studio called ‘Physical Perspectives’ for the Bundanon Trust Artist in Residence program in 2013. This is an exciting opportunity to develop my skills and experience and expand these to include an architectural focus in my work.

How did you get into art?

Unlike many people I know in dance, I had a ‘life’ before becoming a dancer. I’ve done many things before I ever took a class, but it was an old friend from ages ago that invited me to work in his bar in London who had a staff member that was a ballet dancer. One night she taught me to pirouette around the bar and other ballet moves and encouraged me to start dancing. I thought she was joking but then when I used to wait on tables a lot of guests would ask me if I was a dancer, so I thought there must be something in it. Eventually I went to Janis Claxton’s ‘Free & Wild’ class at the Sydney Dance Studios and although I was quite nervous, I had a great time. Janis gave me the nod to try out for ‘The Con’ in Lismore, but then 10 days before my audition I had a car accident and couldn’t make it. I was absolutely gutted. I was living on my own remotely on a commune and thought there was no future. But then a friend’s mum who works out there in the universe visited me and guided me back through a meditative state of consciousness to a place where I almost instantly began dancing… wildly and almost uncontrollably. It was an incredible experience I’ll never forget.

So as part of my rehab, (that sounds very Macauley Culkin doesn’t it?) I joined a group of men that danced together just two hours every week at the Bellingen Memorial Hall. It was a creative dance class led by a builder whose girlfriend was a ballet dancer. It was a really integral part of my growth as a man exploring my identity and possibilities to shift my life to give it meaning and purpose. Something shifted in me here and knew I needed to follow this through as far as I could. So the following year I auditioned at The Con and although I had absolutely no formal training, got accepted.

This is where I was introduced to Sally Chance through Kat Worth who was my first contemporary dance teacher and who later took over from Sally as the artistic director of Restless Dance Theatre. At this point I had absolutely no idea that this too would be the path I followed in my career, but knew that there was something right about working with people with a disability. Probably because I felt I had so many barriers to get over myself from starting so late in life and having an injury before my career even began.

I was really taken by the work Sally was doing in Adelaide and had seen a VHS of ‘The Flight’, which she and Liam Steele from DV8 had directed. I was totally blown away and so I wanted to be part of it (Restless). I ended up sending an audition video to Gillian Rae-Millard who was then the Head of Dance at the Centre for the Performing Arts. I couldn’t make the audition because I was performing with Kat’s Company CHAOS. I lied about my age and knocked off 5 years because I was 28 when I started dancing. Someone had told me that a dancer’s career finishes by the time they reach 30 and I was afraid that if she knew how old I was, she wouldn’t look twice at me.

For three days I week I worked hard on my technique and improved out of sight. At the end of the year my teachers told me that they thought I could do what ever I wanted to if I kept working hard, so I finished the year feeling that I needed to honour that and continued my journey. Cheryl Hazlewood was one of my Butoh teachers at The Con and she’d invited me to be part of a project called ‘The Universal Lake’ at Elizabeth Cameron-Dalman’s property Mirramu near Canberra. I didn’t know who Elizabeth was, had never been to Canberra and quite frankly was like a rabbit in the headlights.

This was my introduction to ‘professional dance’ in less than a year of training. Working with people like Elizabeth, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Arun, Luke Hockley, Nalina Waite, Viv Rodgers and a whole bunch of others was quite an eye opener for me. I knew I had to keep working hard if I wanted to be half as good as these guys and so off I went to the CPA and kept my focus set on being as best I could be.

What is the worst job you’ve ever done?

That’s a toss up between banana picking in Tully, North Queensland (it was so bad I didn’t even go and pick up my wages), spending a day in a deep pit at a saw mill in France shovelling saw dust into hessian bags for the horse stables I worked in across the border in Italy, or serving cooked breakfasts in a caravan park in the South West of England while wearing an aqua-coloured cumber bun and a matching bow tie.

What is a usual day for you?

I used to get up in a flash and just get straight into my day thinking about where I had to be and what hat I had to put on. I now take a moment in the morning to think and reflect on how I’m feeling creatively about an idea. I usually have 100’s of ideas all floating around in my head, so I’ve taken to writing them down now. It’s a really great practice, which I haven’t done for some time now. I always go out into the garden and sit and watch the little birds. I sometimes wish I could be one and just fly away wherever I like.

What is your biggest challenge as an artist?

Trusting that everything will be fine and that people will relate to my work or resonate with it in some way. I think by having integrity in what I do, I cant really go wrong, so I guess the biggest challenge is switching off the endless ‘to do’ list in my head and balancing my personal life and relationship with my work. I haven’t found the secret to that yet.

Who is your hero?

Clearly the following people, but ultimately I think my partner is pretty amazing for leaving everything behind to be with me. I’m really stunned by that actually – how did that happen?

What is your favourite piece of art ever?

I have been physically and emotionally moved by several things in my life including Tom Ford’s eau de parfum BLACK VIOLET, Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark with Bjork and being spellbound by Cecilia Bartoli live at the Adelaide Festival Theatre, but I think the 2008 Mark Rothko exhibition at the TATE Modern in London was where I was so absolutely stunned, pinned to the floor. I was simply captivated, allured by the warmth and brilliance exuding from the canvas and was so completely immersed in his work that I found a new appreciation for beauty.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

I’d like to play Oliver Reed in the story of his life (if I had a dollar for all the times I’ve been likened to him as a young man, I wouldn’t ever have to work again) but I think I’ve left it too late for him to play me in mine. Actually, I met his PA in a bar I was working in on Ladbroke Grove in London in my mid 20’s. She assured me that the stories I’d heard were absolutely true and what impressed me most was that she thought my eyes were bluer than his.

Tell us a joke…

I once turned up to my primary school book week celebrations dressed as one of the Ugly Sisters from Cinderella… except I spent quite a bit of time getting ready and turned up to school that day to find that my two other friends (Steven Grace and Stuart Cowin) who’d agreed to dress up as well, didn’t make quite the same effort I’d gone to and so didn’t recognize me because they thought I was the new prac teacher. I got an award for that prank.