A dance to the music of design

Life is full of surprises.

In April 2013 an email was forwarded to me by Janne Ryan, the producer of Radio National’s By Design. It was from Tracks Dance Company in Darwin in Australia’s Top End and I had to read it several times to make sure I properly understood it. Tim Newth was creating a new show and wanted permission to use some of my Design Files which he had heard on By Design. My first thought was: how on earth can anyone dance to my words and my voice? His email said that he liked the way the pieces were about change and how items invented for one purpose were later used for different purposes. The show he was creating was for a dance troupe called The Grey Panthers, most of whom were women aged over 60. The show itself would be called Future Age.

Of course I said yes. I was thrilled, if not stunned that someone somewhere wanted to use the pieces in such a fresh way. That’s surely one of the joys of creating something new, how it plants seeds for someone else’s imagination. Dance was probably the last thing I expected but I remembered a Chinese astrologer telling me that my words should be performed. Well, I might have been thinking Hollywood rather than Darwin but it was equally intriguing. And flattering. And at least I wasn’t going to be dancing.

I didn’t hear anything for a while although I saw on the Tracks website that the show was being performed in June. I sent an email asking for more details and when I heard nothing, the thought came to me that perhaps they were going to use them ironically and maybe didn’t want to tell me. After all, I have an English accent and maybe my pieces might sound a little pompous. Might they create something that was gently poking fun at what I was saying – Colonial Britain, perhaps?

Needless to say, this was entirely of my own imagining and completely wrong. If anything it demonstrates the vulnerability you feel when you put your work out there. When my novel was published last year (about the same time that I was sent Tim’s email), I was crushed by a three star rating from a reader. While my rational mind knows that I cannot expect everyone to love my work, my emotional mind hopes that everyone does. I think it’s a common affliction for artists of all kinds.

At the beginning of this year I received an apologetic email from the co-creator of Future Age, David McMicken, saying how my original email to them had been overlooked but could they send me a DVD of the whole show? When it arrived, I put the disc in the player with a certain amount of trepidation. What on earth might they have done?

The show is divided into several sections, using a core troupe and several soloists. Each segment is quite different. The first segment was performed to my pieces and was performed inside the Aviation Institute at Darwin Airport – the later pieces were performed on an outdoor stage against a background of luxuriant palm trees.

The Design Files started:


I was amazed. Amazed that they had used four of the Files (four of my favourites, too). Amazed by the surreality of the piece. I smiled throughout and laughed in parts. There’s something about the combination of my voice, the backing track, the fluid movements, the radiant smiles and those gorgeous red dresses that almost lulls you into an altered state. It’s quite a subtle thing. It’s a bit trippy and I love it. I think those women are great. I could have the DVD on continuous loop all day.

I thought of my very first Design Files and how I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined that a dance company in Darwin would be performing to them, in an airport of all places. You’d never pick it, as they say in Australia.

I sent David McMicken my thanks – and again I thank him and Tim Newth for creating something from my words. But mostly I wanted to thank those wonderful women who danced. Creativity begets creativity and what a glorious process that is. It was a joy and a privilege to be part of that.


For more information on Tracks and The Grey Panthers: Tracks Dance Company




Categories: DesignTags: , , , , , , , , ,


  1. This is completely extraordinary! I am so glad you were able to show the footage, because it would be impossible to visualise. I can’t imagine myself putting together a dance show ever dreaming of linking it to radio broadcasts, let lone about about design. I think Mr Newth is a true visionary. As I continued to watch it, it almost became hypnotic. I particularly liked the rather louche music that accompanied the piece on the beanbag. I think it is completely wonderful. It shows the power of the word and, even more, the power of the creative soul.

    • I could not have put it better! And yes, I really couldn’t begin to describe it – you have to see it. Tim Newth and David McMicken are visionaries, as you say. It’s interesting to check out their other projects – enough of a reason to make a trip up to Darwin, perhaps.

  2. There’s something about your voice and the music that reminds me of West End Girls by The Pet Shop Boys. It’s very hypnotic and I love the name. Grey Panthers – it’s lovely!

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