Hello beautiful Balanced Ballerinas! I have a story for you…
About five years ago I came across Meryl Tankard’s work on YouTube. I was trying to find an example of an Australian choreographers work to show my students when I came across her piece Two Feet which explores the mental and physical demands of ballet.
Two Feet was a one woman show that Meryl choreographed and performed solo throughout Australia before sharing it with international audiences to much acclaim. When I started deep diving into Meryl’s work, I came across interviews and fell in love with her candid nature and devotion to a creative and original life.
A few years later I was visiting Adelaide when I heard that Meryl was reviving Two Feet (three decades after it was originally conceived!) with the one and only Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova and it would be featuring at Adelaide Festival – I was beyond excited, until I wasn’t. It was sold out.
I reached out to Meryl anyway and we had a short conversation over Instagram before moving it to email. After I didn’t hear from Meryl, I had presumed that she was far too busy to have a conversation with me for the podcast so I didn’t follow up.
Fast forward to two weeks ago when I signed up to attend an ‘inclusivity in the arts’ workshop being hosted by Supercell Contemporary Festival here on the Gold Coast. To be honest, I usually don’t have time to attend these events, but I really do want to educate myself about how I can be more inclusive… but I also felt really compelled to attend this event for some reason.
I was seated waiting for the workshop to commence when a woman with dark hair and noticeable stance entered the room. I didn’t recognise Meryl at first, but I couldn’t help but notice the signature red lip… five minutes later Meryl Tankard introduced herself to the attendees before taking a quiet seat towards the back.
Honestly, I almost jumped out of my seat to officially introduce myself. We had been communicating sporadically over the past five years and I had assumed I was annoying this incredible woman with my emails and direct messages across social media so I stopped. But the reality was that Meryl had remembered our brief interaction but lost my contact information when she had trouble with her emails in late 2019.
We arranged to meet later than weekend and she was more than happy to have a conversation for this wonderful audience as I told her what this platform is all about. You see Meryl is a standout when it comes to talking about sexism in the dance industry, advocating for dancers mental health and harnessing your creativity without the expense of suffering artists. In her opinion, life should be about play, laughter and a genuine love for creativity.
Meryl’s work challenges the elitist barriers often associated with ballet and through her work in musicals, television, film, opera and obviously dance companies she is a pioneer for women wanting to design their own freelance career in this space. If you are a creative at heart and passionate about choreographing and producing new works, I couldn’t think of a better role model.
See why I wanted to have a chat for the pod? She’s a perfect fit…
Born in Darwin in 1955, Meryl began ballet classes at a young age before heading to The Australian Ballet School. Shortly after being accepted into the company, Meryl took a leave of absence to work as a Principal dancer with the infamous Pina Bausch in Germany.
Eventually craving to be artistically challenged even more, Meryl then spent time between Germany and Australia appearing in television series for ABC television before finally returning to Australia to continue her love for choreographing as the Director of the Meryl Tankard Company in Canberra before moving onto the Director of Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide.
Meryl’s work is nothing short of varied and colourful; creating Bolero for the Lyon Opera Ballet, commissioned by Tiffany & Co to produce a piece for New York’s Museum of National History, she was also responsible for Nikki Webster’s debut and the entire Deep Sea Dreaming piece in the Sydney Olympic Games opening ceremony, a piece titled Ocean Dance to welcome the Dalai Lama to Australia, the choreography for Broadway’s Tarzan The Musical and finally but not even close to covering it all worked with Sydney Dance Company, The Australian Ballet, Sydney Opera House and Netherlands Dance Theatre.
Honestly, what you just heard only scrapes the surface of Meryl Tankard’s credits. I haven’t even mentioned achievements like a Helpmann Award in 2000 or Officer of the Order of Australia in 2019. I’ve just chosen a handful to share with you as otherwise this would be a very long episode!
I think todays story is a beautiful example of following your gut and that ‘chance encounters’ often take time and patience… and aren’t really ‘chance’ at all!
It was obviously wonderful sitting down for a conversation with Meryl Tankard however it was an honour simply meeting her. Much respect.
Please enjoy this conversation and don’t mind a little background noise as we were recording in the art gallery and a small child decided to run circles around us as we recorded…
Grit & Grace,