Artist Spotlight: Laura Boynes
Our story – Your Festival
Growing up in Canberra, Laura Boynes was a Meryl Tankard fan who started dancing around the age of 8.
Tankard was Canberra’s contemporary dance hero for a few short years – an internationally renowned choreographer briefly based in a city known more for politicians than performing artists. For Laura, her early exposure to the Meryl Tankard Company exemplified the mantra that, ‘you have to see it to be it’.
That see-to-be principle has been central to Laura’s career since she decided to be a professional dancer at the age of 12. She moved to Perth to study dance at the WA Academy of Performing Arts and graduated in 2007 with honours from WAAPA’s graduate Link Dance Company.
The move west also introduced Laura to an inspiring new world of artistic possibilities through Perth Festival. Initially, it was as an audience member, then as an artist on stage, a participant in several Festival Connect professional development programs, and now as the creator of her own world-premiere production in 2023.
Laura’s first Festival experience was in 2005, when Akram Kahn’s Ma led the dance program alongside WA’s Co.loaded, then she was cast as a dancer in the English National Opera’s 2015 co-presentation of Madama Butterfly with WA Opera.
In 2016, she appeared in PVI Collective’s Black Market in the streets of Subiaco, paired with her friend and fellow artist Julia Hales, whom she had met doing a project at disability arts organisation DADAA. That was the same year that the Festival – through new Artistic Director Wendy Martin – formalised its art sector and community engagement activities under the new Festival Connect banner.
In a Festival with empathy as its theme, the 2016 visiting artist-in-residence was disabled UK choreographer and dancer Claire Cunningham who led a week of Festival Connect workshops in partnership with DADAA. Laura was one of just 16 participants selected from around Australia.
“The Claire Cunningham workshop blew my mind,” Laura says. “It was phenomenal. Claire created a safe and open space for everyone, and it was disability-led, which at that time – even six or seven years ago – was a very new experience.” Leadership practices learnt then have stayed with her ever since.
You Know We Belong Together cr. Toni Wilkinson
Laura’s creative partnership with Julia Hales continued with the Finding Love short documentary film about love and Down syndrome. That inspired Perth Festival’s Wendy Martin to commission Julia Hales' play You Know We Belong Together for the 2018 Festival, with Laura as movement director and support artist. After sold-out seasons in 2018 and 2019, the Black Swan State Theatre Company production has recently toured to London, the Edinburgh Festival and Sydney Opera House.
Laura says that Perth Festival has been invaluable in her progression as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and director.
“The Festival is essentially our portal to the world. As a collective celebration of the arts, we can see incredible works and get the chance to collaborate and exchange ideas with international artists right here,” she says.
“Growing up in Canberra, we certainly had touring shows come through town, but we didn’t experience the scale or diversity of the work presented by Perth Festival.”
Two of the most inspiring Perth Festival shows she ever saw were Alain Platel’s Out of Context: For Pina, from Belgium’s Ballet Les Ballets C de la B in 2011 and The Great Tamer by Dimitris Papaioannou in 2019.
She loved them both for elements she likes to explore in her own work, which audiences can experience for themselves through the 2023 Perth Festival commission and world-premiere of her Equations of a Falling Body at the State Theatre Centre.
“I love the meeting of abstract, bizarre and warped perspectives, ideas appearing one way and then realising there is another way. Blending dance and theatre, object play, illusion and humour are elements I like to see.”
As her career has developed through the Festival, Laura has continued to appreciate the collegial ecosystem of support through the Connect program.
In 2017, she was one of 10 selected participants in the Festival Lab, an incubator for emerging arts practitioners. In 2023, she will become the third member of that class of 2017 to achieve a Festival commission and world-premiere, following Jay Emmanuel (Children of the Sea, 2021) and Mararo Wangai (Black Brass, 2021).
“We were fully immersed in the Festival experience. I think I saw almost everything in the program. I was totally exhausted – in a good way! It was a chance to understand programming and see how someone’s vision from concept to actuality can unfold. (Wendy Martin) had curated and sculpted the program to connect in intricate ways. That complexity was brilliant to witness.”
In 2022, she took part in the Festival’s Fuel program to challenge mid-career artists to devise and create work on a grander scale. “It was so special to be able to look at creations more specifically and selectively, to have critical discourse with artists in different fields from theatre, visual arts, production and sound to look at work through a different lens.
“The analysis was scary at times, especially if you are putting your own work out there! But it is a very important thing to do. To evolve as an artist and push the form, we really need to talk about work and pull it apart a bit.”
Laura now works nationally and internationally as an award-winning dancer, teacher, choreographer of multiple short and full-length works, and as movement director on operas, musicals and theatre works.
The Festival has helped local independent artists blossom by building skills, funding new works and promoting them to new audiences, she says. “Especially over the last few years, Western Australians have seen how much work is being produced here that is of international standard.”
“Local artists don’t get that opportunity often because of funding difficulties, competition and other limitations so we need Perth Festival programs to be able to dream and imagine how limitless we can be with our ideas.
“It is so important to find ways to support growth across the community. If you never get a chance to push the form and excel with your ideas, then we may as well give up.”
Equations of a Falling Body showed at Perth Festival Tue 21 – Sun 26 Feb 2023