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Teaching Artist and independent producer Sandi Woo talks with us about her latest project The Quest. The venture came out of We All Dance, a statewide community project developed by QPAC and The Royal Ballet that was part of the 2017 QPAC International Series. During We All Dance, community groups from Brisbane to Cairns collaborated with one of the world’s greatest ballet companies to produce a series of short new dance works culminating in public performances.
Over the course of We All Dance, Woo saw creative practices exchanged, life-long friendships formed and inspiration ignited, and realised the potential for something else great to follow.
Enter The Quest, which Woo describes as “a work, a group of people, a creative process, a value system and a philosophy”. Its intention is to explore human connection through the real-life experiences of the participants.
Following creative development at QPAC in 2019, The Quest had its second instalment as a new improvised performance in May 2021, and sold out. Ensemble members told their stories in a narrative featuring interactive technology installations by Inkahoots, and a soundscape produced by one of Australia’s greatest beatboxers Tom Thum and musician Tnee Dyer.
The Quest. Photo by Jade Ellis Photography
The Quest ensemble included two participants from We All Dance – Jessie Morwood and Miramar Tokatli.
Morwood is a Forgotten Australian – one of more than 500,000 Australians who grew up in institutional care – and talks of her experience in We All Dance as “mind blowing”.
“To then be invited by Sandi to return for The Quest pilot project was such an honour. The way she weaves an eclectic assortment of people together through gentle guidance, encouragement, artistry and deep listening, and then enriches our lives even further with creative opportunities and bringing on board incredibly talented artists from very diverse spheres – it’s life changing,” Morwood says.
Jessie Morwood. Photo by Tnee Dyer.
Tokatli is an emerging artist and teacher in belly dancing and traditional Syrian dance, Dabke. She participated in We All Dance just two months after arriving in Australia, paving the way for her to meet new people – who she now considers friends – and forge new creative networks.
“As an artist [the experience] opened my eyes to different creative tactics and learning processes that I had never thought of. It helped me to step out of my comfort zone and try new ways of teaching and creating, which has had a great impact on my career development as a belly dancer and the way I will proceed in the future while teaching or creating new shows,” Tokatli says.
Miramar Tokatli in The Quest. Photo by Jade Ellis Photography
Both women speak of the broader life skills they gained from these public participation projects.
“We All Dance and The Quest have transformed how I think of myself and, I believe, how I show up in the world. I feel like a lowly caterpillar who, with the help of magic and fairies, has been gently guided through my transformation into a sparkly butterfly,” Morwood gushes.
The Quest ensemble. Photo by Jade Ellis Photography
As for what Woo has gained, it’s clear the flourishing of the ensemble has helped her evolve too; as a Teaching Artist, producer, mentor, and above all else, a human being. She has enthusiastically handed the mantle to the ensemble members, who she acknowledges hold the power of the story, and, some now have yearnings to develop work of their own.
“Now they are community artists; they have developed a sense of creative practice, they have a creative voice.
“[During We All Dance] taking the participants through Stage Door, walking through the Green Room, going past all the costumes – I still get goosebumps thinking about it. These community artists now have a different relationship with the building that is QPAC.
“QPAC understands that providing a range of behind the scenes opportunities for community artists in a public institution is part of demystifying the accessibility of mainstream arts organisations.”
The main takeaway, though, as Tokatli eloquently puts it is “keep creating, keep dancing and keep exploring”.
The Quest was supported by Australia Council for the Arts and the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. Other supporters include Australasian Dance Collective, Access Arts, Micah Projects, Australian Event Productions, Katie McGuire, Vacant Assembly, Keith Clark, Freddy Komp, Nasim Khosravi, Teegan Kranenburg and Team Mailer-Woo
We pay our respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors of this land, their spirits and their legacy. The foundations laid by these ancestors - our First Nations Peoples - gives strength, inspiration and courage to current and future generations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, towards creating a better Queensland. Queensland Government’s RAP Acknowledgment of Country