Dance company takes first steps into uncertain future

Victoria Laurie for The Australian.

Australia’s newest arts company was launched on Friday with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over its future.

Western Australia’s new contemporary dance company, to be called Co3, has received $500,000 from the state government and enthusiastic backing from the dance sector, the City of Perth and founding supporter Michael Chaney and his dancer wife Margrete Helgeby.

But Wendy Wise, Co3’s founding chairwoman, says the company’s plans have been thrown into turmoil after the sudden cancellation last week of Australia Council funding rounds and programs. “We’re an exciting new initiative looking for a way to be funded,” she says.

“We would have liked to have been considered for six-year funding but we are now rethinking our program for next year.”

In a surprise federal budget move, Arts Minister George Brandis cut $110 million from the Australia Council, redirecting funds to a new National Program for Excellence in the Arts within his own ministry.

Australia Council chief executive Tony Grybowski says its new six-year funding model has been suspended due to the budget cut.

Wise says Co3 is still making plans for its first dance season in October. “The real difficulty is it’s unclear what the Australia Council is going to be supporting in ­future, or what the new guidelines for the ministry funds will be,” she adds.

“Until now we and the state government have had really positive conversations with the Australia Council about the new company, and we were getting positive responses.”

The company, which has also assumed responsibility for training more than 60 school-age dancers, is among 140 small to medium companies across Australia facing financial uncertainty.

Perth’s experimental theatre space the Blue Room is another. Executive director Kerry O’Sullivan says she had submitted a bid for the Australia Council’s now suspended six-year funding scheme.

“We’re happy that the major companies have been told they are secure, but we want that safety too,” O’Sullivan says.

She says the Blue Room nurtured the careers of 460 artists last year. Artists who launched their careers at the Blue Room include Malthouse Theatre’s Matt Lutton, comedian Claire Hooper and Tim Minchin. “We may have to cut programs and be less of a hand-holding partner with new artists,” O’Sullivan says.

“I can’t see us getting funding from either the Australia Council or the new fund, yet the sector tells us we’re vital to the ecology of the arts here.”

The Blue Room receives $130,000 from the Australia Council and $249,500 from the state government, which recently changed its funding process to synchronise with the federal agency’s six-year funding cycle.

Former Australia Council chairwoman Margaret Seares says the turmoil is leading to “a divide-and-rule scenario” between different parts of the arts.