Leigh Warren a lifetime of achievement

In This Article

Leigh Warren is honoured with an Australian Dance Award for Lifetime Achievement in recognition of his outstanding national and international contribution to dance as a performer, choreographer, teacher, director and mentor over four decades.

His impeccable technique and mesmeric performances as a dancer saw him perform with The Australian Ballet, Ballet Rambert, Nederlands Dans Theater, Nureyev and Friends and other international companies.

Leigh’s choreographic career spans over 30 years during which he has been acclaimed for his exceptional musicality and seamless, fluid, inventive works, covering a wide range of subject matter which he explores in depth. An inspiring teacher, Leigh crosses both classical and contemporary techniques, training dancers of exceptional quality, and is equally sought after as a mentor, influencing a generation of dancers and dance makers.

As Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre and then Leigh Warren Dance, Leigh has been lauded for the diversity of his repertoire, his master craftsmanship in staging and the creation of a significant body of Australian work exemplifying successful artistic collaborations. His collaborations with opera, music, film, theatre and with artists such as Philip Glass, Paul Cox and Mary Moore, have resulted in ground breaking productions.

Highly regarded by his peers Leigh has earned a reputation as a

...visionary Artistic Director...and a leading teacher of contemporary dance and contemporary ballet. His classes bear the mark of his extraordinary dance technique which he has been able to translate into sound pedagogical principles.

—Associate Professor Cheryl Stock (Dance) PhD Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology

About Leigh

At 11 years of age Leigh Warren was awarded a scholarship to the Australian Academy of Ballet. He received an Australian Ballet School Scholarship in 1969, graduated to The Australian Ballet and reached solo status within two years.

(l) With Alida Chase & Julliet Solley heading to The Australian Ballet reception in New York, 1971. (r) In The Australian Ballet's Raymonda, 1972 (Leigh is centre)

During his final year with the company, he was awarded the first Churchill Scholarship for the Performing Arts. Leigh did not pursue the scholarship immediately but spent two years (1972 – 74) with Ballet Rambert under the direction of Norman Morris. During this time he worked with many great international choreographers, including Glen Tetley, Lar Lubovitch, Christopher Bruce and Louis Falco.

In 1974 Leigh enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music in New York to complete his Churchill Scholarship. In 1976 he spent a season in Australia with the Dance Company of NSW and later that year returned to Ballet Rambert as a senior artist. He also presented an evening of his own choreographic work at the Riverside Studios in London. He went on to devise and co-ordinate Transatlantic Dance with Sara Sugihara in New York. This project anticipated the formation of London's Dance Umbrella, in which he choreographed and performed.

(l) Leigh and Sara Sugihara rehearsing with Ballet Rambert, 1975. (r) In Cruel Garden Ballet Rambert, 1976.

Jiri Kylian of Netherlands Dance Theatre (NDT) invited Leigh to join his company in 1979 and he remained there as a principal until 1984. During this time he was contemporary teacher for NDT2 and was constantly exploring his own exercise structures and choreographic ideas. On his return to Australia in 1986, Leigh taught as a senior lecturer at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Leigh was appointed Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) in 1987. In the six years of his leadership, ADT performed interstate and overseas, in regional South Australia and in two Adelaide Festivals. Leigh created numerous works during this period, many of which remain in the repertoire of Leigh Warren Dance. 

He was a member of the Dance Committee of the Australia Council from 1988 – 91 became Chairman of that committee in 1990 and represented dance on the Performing Arts Board until stepping down at the end of 1991.

In 1993 he formed Leigh Warren and Dancers (now Leigh Warren Dance) and in that year the company performed in Adelaide and toured to regional South Australia, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Holland and Singapore. Leigh also choreographed works for Tasdance, West Australian Ballet and Dancenorth and travelled to Singapore to recreate his work Transient Pleasures for Singapore Dance Theatre.

Since forming LWD Leigh has choreographed many new works, presented numerous Adelaide seasons and toured the company all over Australia and regional SA. The company has presented his work at The Turning World Festival in London, Jakarta and Bandung in Indonesia, the Seoul International Dance Festival in Korea and Dance Exhibition 2004 in Tokyo.

In 1996 Leigh joined with the renowned Japanese choreographer Yoji Hanawa, to create and dance in a work which premiered at the Hakushu Art Camp in Japan and in 1998 he once again joined Yoji Hanawa in Japan to perform at the Hakushu Art Camp and in Tokyo.

LWD received the inaugural Adelaide Critics' Circle award in 1997 for 'Outstanding Achievement by a Group' for Shimmer, part of Leigh's highly acclaimed Quiver program which toured widely in Australia. 

In the company's acclaimed Masterpieces of the 20th Century program, showcased in Adelaide in 1999, Leigh presented three works by internationally renowned choreographers Antony Tudor, Glen Tetley and Jiří Kylián, who had all had a profound influence on his own career. This program toured to other Australian capital cities in 2000.

ABC TV has filmed a number of Leigh's works: Lure (1994), Shimmer and Tehillium (1999) and in 2000 Leigh was the choreographic adviser for Spectre de la Rose in Paul Cox's film The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky

LWD was awarded three Australian Dance Awards in 1999: Outstanding Performance by a Company, Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for Shimmer and Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer (for Delia Silvan in Silent Cries) In 2001 The company received the Group Award in the national Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards.

Jonathan Mills, Director of the 2001 Melbourne Festival, commissioned Leigh to produce a work in collaboration with William Forsythe, Director of Frankfurt Ballet. The resulting work Quick Brown Fox premiered at the festival and won three Green Room Awards.

Leigh rehearsing Satyagraha with members of State Opera SA. Photo Courtesy State Opera SA.

In 2002 Leigh directed his first opera Akhnaten, a co-production between State Opera of South Australia and LWD, which was featured in the 2003 Melbourne Festival. In 2004 he directed another in Philip Glass’s portrait trilogy of operas, Einstein on the Beach Parts 3 & 4, for which Leigh received the Adelaide Critics’ Circle Individual Award for his direction and choreography. He followed these successes with Einstein on the Beach Parts 1 & 2 and Satyagraha in 2006 and 2007 respectively, to complete the Philip Glass trilogy. 

(l) Einstein on the Beach Parts 3 & 4, 2004. Photo: Darren Seiler (r) Csaba Buday and Rachael Jensen in Quiver, 1999. Poster image

In 2005 he won another Adelaide Critics’ Circle Award, this time for innovation for Petroglyphs—Signs of Life, choreographed with Gina Rings. Pursuing another of his strong interests, Japanese culture, Leigh premiered Wanderlust in Japan in 2006. Wanderlust is a co-production with Japanese director/choreographer Uno Man and features artists from both Japan and Australia; it was presented in Australia in 2007. In that year Leigh was presented with the Ruby Award for “sustained contribution by an individual.”

2008 saw Leigh premiere two new works: Seven and Impulse. Seven was declared winner of the 'Best Dance Award' at the 2008 Adelaide Fringe. Impulse, paired with the critically acclaimed Shimmer, featured a sold-out premiere season in Adelaide and was presented at the Holland Dance Festival in The Hague in November 2009.

Leigh has been an adviser to the Australian Choreographic Centre in Canberra and a member of the Re-Accreditation Committee for the BA Dance course at the Adelaide Institute of Technology.  He served for two terms as a Board member of the Adelaide Festival of Arts from 2003 – 2008. He has been a guest teacher for dance companies around the world. 

Leigh has commissioned numerous new musical compositions and worked with a diverse range of organisations from the Maritime Museum to Flinders Medical Centre.  He has had two residencies at Flinders Medical Centre, where he investigated diversional therapy.  He also delivered the 2007 Blandford lecture at FMC. 

Since 1988 Leigh has had a connection with National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) in the form of mentorships.  Many of these young Indigenous performers have gone on to join Bangarra Dance Theatre and Deon Hastie, after being the only Indigenous performer in a mainstream company for 10 years has been appointed the artistic director of Kurruru Youth Performing Arts.

Presenter's tribute to Leigh

Anthony Steel AM will present Leigh with his Award at the Sydney Opera House, 9 November 2014.

Anthony has been a leader in international arts management as well as a trusted friend and colleague of Leigh's for many years. Anthony was a founder and artistic director of countless performing arts festivals including five Adelaide Festivals and three Sydney Festivals. He was the inaugural Chair of the Australia Council’s Performing Arts Board and served nearly 10 years on the board of Leigh Warren Dance.

I have followed Leigh’s progress ever since he founded his own company in 1993. For a decade I sat on his board and was a bit of a mentor to him after the death of Don Dunstan, who used regularly to provide him with wise counsel. So I feel I know quite a bit about what makes him tick. It was my good fortune during those years to chat with him often about future plans and it was always a signal pleasure for me when his work reached such stages as the Edinburgh, Brisbane and Melbourne festivals and the theatres of Europe and America.

Like many I have above all been impressed by his fruitful and varied collaborations with artists of different disciplines, whether it be in the musical sphere—for example, pianist Simon Tedeschi, the Australian String Quartet or Indigenous singers from Ernabella. Always considering himself just one member of a team, at most primus inter pares, it is this supremely cooperative process that has led him, inexorably one might say, to a quite recent and most exciting development in his career.

The turning point came in 2002 when Leigh and his company started what became a five-year journey to mount a scaled down production—with the composer’s blessing—of Philip Glass’s three portrait operas. The emphasis was on dance, an approach that makes complete sense when you consider that Lucinda Childs was one of the three progenitors of 'Einstein on the Beach' in its original incarnation.

It was a terrific artistic achievement, only to be dwarfed this year by the State Opera of South Australia’s remounting of the trilogy, but this time the full caboodle, with the same production team headed by Leigh as director.  His staging was a triumph. The performances, marking the first time the trilogy had been performed anywhere in the world as a cycle—exactly as Glass had always envisaged it being played—were electrifying. This project was the culmination of Leigh’s career thus far.

He was suddenly showing to the world a depth of invention way beyond even his most felicitous choreographic successes. In between the two Glass trilogy productions he directed Astor Piazolla’s tango opera 'Maria de Buenos Aires' with equal imagination. A whole new world has therefore opened up for him and this lifetime achievement award looks as if it will be about the future as much as the past. I believe that in the next little bit he will be transforming a screenplay into a physical theatre piece in a very prestigious context.

For Leigh Warren his work has never been about fashion, let alone autocracy, and we can now more than ever be supremely confident that his legacy will endure for a long time to come.

—Anthony Steel AM

In April 2014, LWD announced that Daniel Jaber will take over the reigns from Leigh as the company’s resident choreographer in 2014, and artistic director from 2015. In addition to establishing himself in the last decade as one the nation’s most breathtaking dancers performing in Australian Dance Theatre’s most celebrated works, Daniel has received critical acclaim for his recent work and fresh provocative aesthetic as a choreographer.

Leigh is thrilled with the appointment:

I’m proud to say that since we began Leigh Warren Dance we have constantly evolved, entertained and challenged our audience so I see the appointment of Daniel as an extension of LWD’s vision and another exciting part of the journey for our audience.

And so begins a new era of Leigh Warren Dance!

Leigh will remain with LWD as a mentor to Daniel and company board member. He will continue his independent director/choreographer work outside the company.


Excerpt from Not According to Plan 2013 OzAsia Festival

Excerpt from Breathe, WOMADelaide 2011

Excerpt from Meridian, part of the Frame and Circle season that premiered at the 2010 Adelaide Festival

Excerpt from Pari Passu...touch, Adelaide Festival Centrre May 2012 

Excerpt from Seven, winner of the 2008 Adelaide Fringe Award for Best Dance