Close your eyes and picture a dancer. Chances are images of tulle, ballet barres, pastel leg warmers and young women with severely slicked buns are pirouetting through your mind. While plenty of the dancers trotting through the linoleum-lined corridors of Sydney Dance Company’s Walsh Bay home fit that bill, the 2023 Indance program introduces a much more diverse cast of characters to the stage.
The 2023 edition of Indance – an opportunity for the independent dance sector to have works presented by the Sydney Dance Company over two weekends in August – features pieces by four independent Australian artists. Western Australian choreographer and dance artist Rachel Arianne Ogle presents her Helpmann Award-nominated piece Precipice; director, choreographer and former Bangarra dancer Jasmin Sheppard presents The Complication of Lyrebirds; Kimberley Parkin’s recently formed dance company Parkin Projects performs her debut full-length work Cry Baby; and Sydney’s own Ryuichi Fujimura brings Here Now (Double Bill) to the stage.
Fujimura is a 58-year-old former-diplomat-turned-dance-artist. He’s definitely not what you imagined when you pictured a dancer, but what he lacks in tulle he makes up for with what’s surely one of the most unexpected backstories in the local industry.
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Fujimura sat down with Broadsheet to talk about the changing face of Sydney Dance Company, challenging expectations and finding your true passion later in life.
You joined the Japanese foreign service in your early twenties, and now in your late fifties you’re a dancer and choreographer. How did you get from the world of diplomacy to dance?
In the late ’80s I was finishing uni and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I had no aspirations or anything. When I was in the final year of uni, I saw a recruitment poster for the Japanese foreign ministry … [The foreign service] had this scheme to send 60 junior diplomats all over the world so we could study the language and other subjects. I was sent to Australia in 1991. I was studying at Melbourne uni and I saw a poster for a lunchtime dance class. Looking back, my whole life path was largely dictated by that poster.
I had never danced before, but by the time I’d finished the first class I was hooked. I went back to the dance class religiously while in Melbourne. At the beginning of 1983 I was sent to my first posting [in Malaysia]. While I was there, I had no access to dance and I missed it so much. I stayed in Borneo for three years and then I left the foreign ministry. In 1996 I came back to Australia – and back to dance.
And how did the performance element evolve?
I’ve been living in Sydney since 1996. Even though I’ve been dancing that whole time, the performance part didn’t come easily because I was already in my thirties. And so I thought, “Maybe I can be a dancer in my next life.” So I just continued taking dance classes, mostly at Sydney Dance [Company]. But then, gradually, I went into the performance world, and I had my first paid gig at the age of 39. [After that] I built up my very, very modest, humble career as a performer, [and] for the last five or six years I’ve had the opportunity to travel with my solo performances … My first tour was in 2017 to Finland. That’s become my new aspiration: I just want to travel more and tour with my own work.
What do you say to people who think dance is a young person’s game?
It’s true [that dance is dominated by young people], but now I can benefit from being old and male cause there aren’t many of us. But dance is for everybody. I’ve been assisting a friend with a 55-plus dance class. I think it’s great that older people are trying dance. I say, “Just keep dancing, because once you lose the momentum it’s easy to slide into becoming a couch potato.”
Final question: your past work has drawn on concepts from dance movies like Fame, Flashdance and Footloose. What’s the best dance movie of all time?
Indance concludes on Saturday August 26. Head here for tickets.