By Brett Kennedy
SIR Robert Helpmann Theatre will forever hold special memories for globally-renowned contemporary dance choreographer Lewis Major.
The Limestone Coast – where Major grew up on a sheep farm – is far from his home in France yet the region has remained close to his heart throughout his decorated performing arts career, which has spanned six continents.
In recent weeks Major – who turned 33 on April 1 – has forged new memories at the Helpmann, a venue he considers the state’s best with a stage he recalls experiencing his first spark of inspiration to pursue dance.
Major will lead his dance company of 15 performers in a double billed show featuring S/WORDS and Unfolding in the Blue Lake city on Saturday night, fresh off an Adelaide Festival premiere last month.
It is a special moment for Major who developed one of the works around two years ago at the Mount Gambier theatre, only for the COVID-19 pandemic to derail the planned April 2020 debut.
Even after 10 years of global performances and life abroad, regional Australia, and more specifically the Limestone Coast, has always been at Major’s core.
A self-confessed “late bloomer” in the arts sphere, Major moved away from the region to an Adelaide boarding school aged 16, having previously attended Kangaroo Inn Area School, making a serious foray into dance at 18.
Over a decade later, Major has returned to Australia to further hone his craft and share his talent.
“Since returning to Australia I’ve always made it a focus to stop off in the regions, especially where I’m from,” Major said.
“Originally we wanted to have community members in the show but it became a bit of a health and safety nightmare with COVID,” he said.
Embedding his dance company in the Blue Lake city following the festival debut, Major said it had allowed the performers to get a sense for the community and what it wanted to see.
“I do keep saying that we will have Paris again but until then, we have Mount Gambier.
“We were able to premiere at Adelaide Festival, which is the biggest arts festival in the world at the moment, so it’s pretty fun that we were doing that a few weeks ago and now we are here in the regions.”
As for Saturday night’s dual performances, Major said audiences could expect two very different pieces.
“At the premiere we had some people like the first but not the second and vice versa,” Major said, adding it was a healthy response to contemporary dance.
Unfolding melds fluid dance with shifting 3D projection animation by creative coder Fausto Brusamolino and a score by James Brown to create an immersive journey that invites the audience to think about the concept of duality.
S/WORDS then follows a slap-dash tribe of performers coming to terms with the failures of a system that they once believed in: an apocalyptic, absurd vision of a collapsing world where language is no longer used to build trust and solidarity, but to destroy and divide.
The production has already garnered interest from the iconic Sydney Opera House and now New Zealand promoters, reflecting Major’s reputation built up over many years.
Yet despite all of his success, it is the audience that remains a core focus for Major, who always strives to make art accessible to all.
This goal manifested at the recent Fringe Mount Gambier festival with a drive-in dance performance, a world-first concept that leant into retro nostalgia and placed art in a unique format.
“Art is supposed to be for people,” Major said.
“The drive-in is an interesting concept and you can put anything in the drive-in – opera, musical theatre, dance, live music.
“I’m open to hear from people with ideas because we know how to do it now.”
Major’s double bill S/WORDS and Unfolding will be performed at Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre on April 10 from 7pm.
Visit www.countryarts.org.au or the theatre box office for tickets.