Shirley McKechnie

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.

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Publications

Choreographic cognition: researching dance 1999–2008

An overview of the three linked choreographic cognition research projects Unspoken Knowledges (1999 – 2001), which looked at expanding industry productivity and value through strategic research into choreographic practice, Conceiving Connections (2002 – 2004), which looked at increasing industry viability through analysis of audience response to dance and Intention and Serendipity (2005 – 2008), which investigated improvisation, symbolism and memory in creating Australian contemporary dance.

Conceiving connections—further choreographic research

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?

Articles

Dancers and communities: the power of dance to enter individual lives in significant ways

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.'

Dame Peggy: memories of a life in dance

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.

Movement as metaphor: the construction of meaning in the choreographic art

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.

From grandes changements to grand narratives

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?

Moving mind: the cognitive psychology of contemporary dance

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.