Shirley McKechnie OAM has a career in dance that spans five decades, all ‘firsts’ in terms of achievement—founder of one of the first contemporary dance school in Victoria in the 1950s; founder of one of the earliest contemporary dance touring companies as director, choreographer and performer (Australian Contemporary Dance Theatre 1963 – 73); founder of the first tertiary dance degree course (Rusden Campus, 1975); a driving force behind the Armidale choreographic seminars (1974 – 76) and a founder of the Australian Association for Dance Education (Ausdance, 1977). She was a member of the Council of the Victorian College of the Arts (1974 – 88); assisted with the founding of the first dance education company (Tasdance, 1981); the founding chairperson of the Tertiary Dance Council of Australia (1985–86); interviewer and researcher for the National Library of Australia (1980s–90s); guest artist, The Australian Ballet (Nutcracker, 1992); National President, Ausdance (1992 – 94); founder of Green Mill Dance Project (1993 – 97); first Australian Research Council grant for choreographic research (Unspoken Knowledges, 1998–2000); Professor of Dance (VCA, 1998); elected as Honorary Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities (1998). Shirley is an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the VCA/University of Melbourne and continues as a consultant and a leading advocate for dance in Australia.
The Conceiving Connections project investigated how audiences respond to highly evolved dance-works. What elements encourage audiences to respond to dance works with insight, pleasure and understanding? How do previous knowledge, experience, and information about new works affect audience responses? What can we discover about the relationship between cognitive, aesthetic, emotional and kinaesthetic responses to particular dance works?
Shirely McKechnie tells us why this collection of writing about community dance is so valuable: 'They speak of the human need to give expression to deeply felt connections and unique situations; but they also ask questions. Whose dances? What is their purpose? Can everyone participate? They convey the diversity of the dance experience and a reassurance of its power to enter individual lives in significant ways.'
Julie Dyson has been the National Director of Ausdance since the Australia Council for the Arts began funding the organisation in 1985. Shirley McKechnie pays tribute to this influential leader.
Historians of the future will be able to tell us much about the founding and ongoing evolution of The Australian Ballet. There is however another story to be told: one that survives in the recollections and feelings of those who were part of its making.
This brief paper gives an excellent explanation of the enormous legacy that Dame Peggy van Praagh left to the Australian dance world.
Researcher, teacher and artist Shirley McKechnie had a close relationship with the legendary Peggy. In this short paper, she talks about Paggy's traits, personality and legacy.
Overview of the Niche Series, a body of work created by choreographer Sue Healey during 2002 – 2003. It demonstrates how one choreographer meets the challenges posed by new technologies and conflicting demands.
The manipulation of elements in time for the purpose of creating works of art is common to practitioners in both music and dance. This paper discusses the creation of a contemporary dance work and the ways in which the abstraction of images in modes other than verbal language can present challenges for audiences. In music these issues are not usually clouded by notions of representation as they are in dance. The author discusses the manipulation of abstract qualities in music and dance, presents images on screen and asks “What can dances communicate”. Several important themes arise from the documentation in video and daily journals of a three-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council. The most encompassing of these are the ever-changing dynamic relationships that exist between the choreographer, the dancers, and the ideas and actions which are generated by their interchange. Communication in this context occurs in many modes and is central to the creation of the original work discussed in this case study.
Professor Shirley McKechnie (Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne) talks about the disparities that divide and exclude relationships between artists and communities in daily dance experience in her keynote address. What connects the disciplines?; how do we articulate the relationships between dance practices, the audiences we hope to engage, and the supporters that we hope to influence?
In seminal investigations, researchers from the Victorian College of the Arts and the Universities of Melbourne and Western Sydney collaborated with dance artists and scholars to explore the nature of thinking in the embodiment of kinaesthetic, cognitive, emotional and aesthetic perceptions.
Professor Shirley McKechnie OAM presented the inaugural Dame Peggy van Praagh Memorial Address soon after the first anniversary of Dame Peggy's death in Melbourne on 15 January 1990. She was the first a long line of dance artists and scholars who have, and will continue to, pay tribute to Peggy van Praagh in this way.
In this very short article, Shirley McKechnie pays homage to Michelle Heaven's imagination and creativity shown clearly in her new work Disagreeable Object.
The production, performance and perception of music has been studied in detail by cognitive psychologists. Music has been recognized as a window into cognition. The status of dance, however, is less clear. The authors propose that contemporary dance too affords insight into human cognition and can be powerfully communicative.