The Australian Ballet

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Introducing Stephanie Lake

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Photo Roy VanDerVegt

Multi-award-winning contemporary choreographer Stephanie Lake has been captivating audiences worldwide with her unique style and artistic vision. The Australian Ballet is delighted to welcome Stephanie as our Resident Choreographer from 2024 where she will continue to bring her ground-breaking work to audiences across the country.

The worldwide sensation began her journey into dance later than most, at first taking up ice-skating in her birthplace of Canada. Stephanie and her family moved to Tasmania when she was eight years old, and it would be several more years before the “constantly moving” teenager took up dance lessons.

“Most dancers start really young, when they’re three or four. Considering I started properly when I was in my mid-teens, it meant I was absolutely on the back foot, but almost immediately it became my favourite thing to do.”

Stephanie discovered contemporary dance while at Tasdance (Tasmania’s flagship dance company) where she says, “it quickly became an obsession,” and in 1993 she joined Launceston’s youth dance company, Stompin, founded the previous year by Jerril Rechter.

She was later accepted into the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) by the “skin of my teeth” and in her second year began to immerse herself in the thriving Melbourne contemporary dance scene. While she continued her studies at VCA, Lake began connecting with other choreographers like Lucy Guerin, Phillip Adams and Gideon Obarzanek, with whom she would later work.

In tandem, Lake was producing and putting on independent performances at Melbourne Fringe Festival, organising groups of friends, finding spaces and creating her own work.

“We just had so much energy. That’s what I say to young people, you’re never going to have as much energy as you do in your 20s. Go, go, go! This is absolutely the time to experiment and take chances.”

“I’m really glad that was my start and I feel like I still have that energy. With my company’s work it still feels like it’s a group of friends getting together and putting on a show.”

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Stephanie Lake
Photo Paul Malek

This fearless nature has proved crucial to Lake’s career. From creating underground shows in Melbourne’s grass-roots dance scene to premiering works globally, it seems nothing phases the artist.

“I do seem to get myself in situations where I’m scared often but I find those are also the most rewarding experiences. I think I’ve learned over time that if you put yourself in situations where you’re a little bit uncomfortable or frightened they can be the ones that give you the richest rewards. It doesn’t mean it’s always gone great, but as the years have passed, I’ve become more comfortable with that discomfort.”

One such uncomfortable situation was Lake’s first ballet class at VCA. “It (ballet) didn’t come easily for me. I felt behind, I felt inadequate. I felt like there was this kind of secret code of coordination that I just didn’t get.”

Despite this, Lake found the line and form of ballet instantly appealing, and it consistently features in her work. “I have nothing but respect for ballet dancers, but I also love the invitation to disrupt that and introduce some recklessness into the body, some rebelliousness. When I’m making any dance work, I’m most interested in those contrasts between wildness and total order and precision.”

“There’s always been a ballet aesthetic in my choreography that I then disrupt or take somewhere else. Those structures and those lines from ballet must have gone into my brain and body somewhere along the way because it comes out in my choreography.”

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Photo Sam Roberts

After almost failing ballet in the third year of her degree to choreographing for Australia’s national ballet company, Lake has come a long way since her university days. Her piece for The Australian Ballet On Tour is called Circle Electric, and, as with all her work, is highly collaborative with the artists involved. There are six dancers from The Australian Ballet in the piece alongside a team of designers, composers and musicians Lake has carefully chosen to bring her vision to life. One of the creatives in Lake’s team is her partner, composer Robin Fox, who has scored most of her works.

“Robin’s music is very inspiring to me, the score he’s developed for this work is really exciting and probably quite different to what ballet audiences are used to hearing.”

Bouncing ideas off each other, Fox and Lake work in a unique way. “He’s got a really original brain, I can just give him a few words and then the sound world starts to mushroom.”

Fox will then create a number of what Lake calls “sketches” before whittling them down to five or so and sculpting the details.

“I like music that’s got a bit of drive. I love rhythm and detail. I want it to be interesting and quirky and for the audience to wonder how did they make that sound?“

“I like to make work that has some kind of emotional resonance for the audience. I want them to see something, connect with something, to have an association in their own lives.” — Stephanie Lake
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Samara Merrick and Sara Andrlon, Circle Electric (Lake) 2023
Photo Peter Foster

Lake tends to approach her work with an open mind, letting the piece evolve in the studio. Starting with simplicity means the complexity and depth can be added over time. “I start with the seed, but it really starts to grow when I’m in the studio collaborating with the dancers, and by the time it’s in front of an audience, it’s born.”

Circle Electric is an exploration into both the fleeting and the lasting moments in relationships. The dynamics of how we interact and impact each other’s lives in positive and negative ways. Visually, Lake is working towards an immersive experience for the audience, a way of looking into the piece rather than at it. One of the reasons Lake has been so successful is her poetic storytelling, her way of creating narrative structure in the abstract. There is a deeper drive to create something more substantial, memorable and engaging.

“I like to make work that has some kind of emotional resonance for the audience. I want them to see something, connect with something, to have an association in their own lives.”

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Samara Merrick and Maxim Zenin
Photo Simon Eeles

When asked about what she is most looking forward to in working with The Australian Ballet, it’s clear that Lake can’t wait to get in the studio with the dancers.

“I am so excited to work with the dancers. I’ve seen them for many years of course, but I’m really excited about what they’ve been doing recently.”

Touring at home is a unique opportunity for Lake and she’s thrilled to be presenting her work across the country to new audiences with The Australian Ballet.

“For someone who’s come up as an independent choreographer, it’s so wonderful to be supported by such a respected company like The Australian Ballet. Creatively, I love new challenges and I’m really excited to work with the dancers.”

A ballerina stands silhouetted en pointe holding a barre, arm extended in arabesque to the sky against a blue background.

Études / Circle Electric

  • Sydney / Warrang 3 - 18 May 2024
  • Melbourne / Naarm 2 - 9 October 2024