Supercell: Festival of Contemporary Dance

Founded in 2015 by Kate Usher and Glyn Roberts, Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance is a celebration of people and place through vibrant and exquisite contemporary dance.  Two colleagues who were united by sarcasm and a dry dose of humour, a love for SBS docos and spending time commiserating about Brisbane’s humidity, Kate and Glyn’s professional relationship was cemented at the Atelier for Young Festival Managers in Gwangju, Korea in 2015.  A transformative experience which opened their minds to the incredibly valuable function and purpose of festivals, the lifelong learnings of the Atelier inspired them into action.

With the tropical backdrop of Brisbane as the setting for the newly founded festival and a vibrant Queensland dance sector supporting the endeavour, Supercell was launched in the midst of a sweltering summer - a collision of beauty, ferocity, spectacle and rejuvenation. 

Lisa spoke to Kate Usher about the third installation of Supercell, the cultivation of dance literacy, and the future of this incredible festival. Read the full interview below:

Kate Usher

This is the third SUPERCELL Festival - congratulations!  What inspired the choice of theme this year - The view from here: Dance in the Asia Pacific - and also your focus on strong female artists for the 2019 iteration?

Thank you, we are really proud of this edition. This year’s theme bubbled up from a myriad of conversations with audiences from Supercell in 2018, my peers and colleagues, and a deep desire to consider art and cultural experiences that reflect the lives and lived experiences of Australians. From this, it became clear that what was lacking on our stages was a diverse range of works.  


I believed this to be particularly felt in dance within Queensland. I mean, in the current political climate with the conversations around film and theatre incorporating inclusivity and diversity, it felt like a ‘thing’ that we needed to be doing. And not just ‘doing’ but actively investing in.


We chose to lead from this precept, and rather than selecting aesthetically acclaimed works from the known dance companies and slapping a ‘festival’ label on it, we’ve curated art that responds to the people it engages with.


The reality is, working in diverse and intersectional spaces takes a conscious effort and loads of consultation to ensure it’s done in an authentic and meaningful manner. This festival program is a step forward to us contributing to this work and being open to getting better at diversity in art and culture. I firmly believe that the best thing we can do as people of this world is to cultivate greater empathy, and we do this through ‘taking a walk in another’s shoes’.   


This year we encourage audiences to take a moment to view the world from the perspective of others, looking beyond what we know in Brisbane. The theme of this year’s festival is framed around the Asia-Pacific, one of our closest neighbours, who are making some of the most courageous and exquisite dance works today.


The female element actually came to fruition totally by accident (as a feminist I’m allowed to say that, right!?). Following our conversations with artists during the curation process, it became apparent very early on that feminism and the commentary on body politics was at the forefront of a lot of creative’s minds. We didn’t set out to intentionally forefront female strong works, but through the process of curating we built a program that reflects the social and cultural needs of people. Equality, safety, to feel heard and valued are present across the entire program.


It is very exciting to see a curated Festival of Contemporary Dance in Australia with such wide-ranging content.  What is the process for applying and is there a panel of peer experts deciding on the content?  Or… do you approach individuals and companies personally.

Supercell is indeed a curated platform lead by myself, but within this I do advocate for the decentralisation of decisions and active ownership of the content presented. This festival we have guest curators The Farm for our Participate Program and Dancenorth for Think Salons. Both companies are perfect fits to pull their unique voices into our program. The Farm are renown for their support of sector ecology and crazy physicality, and Kyle from Dancenorth is contemplative and considerate of themes from the world around him when making works.


Along with this our INDEX program is jointly curated by myself, our Program Manager and our Ambassadors.  Opportunities to consider other’s opinions and experiences of dance is really important to bring broader insights to a program.  


In addition to the performance aspect of Supercell, there are workshops for all levels of experience, participatory choreographic adventures and opportunities for dialogue including the THINK Salon.  This wide variety of engagement is extremely important for the longevity and development of dance practice in our country, what led you to shape the Festival in this way?  Was there inspiration from overseas models?

Demystifying contemporary dance and cultivating dance literacy, I believe, is essential in creating impact and engagement with the art form. Hand-in-hand with this is acknowledging that people engage with experiences differently. Not everyone wants to sit through a performance, some of us need to move to know, to engage in ideas to connect or to be quiet and contemplative to consider.


With this in mind, we aim to have a range of touch points to dance and the ideas that underpin the works of the program. Inspiration for the festival model came from a few places from previous work contexts, participation in festivals overseas, but ultimately finding the moments for artists and audiences to come together and interact.


Starting with your studies in dance and leading to a masters degree in arts management, you have had a wonderful and broad career in programming, admin and now leading Ausdance Queensland.  Do you have a few highlights to share from your career?  What is your proudest career moment?

Thank you. The best is yet to come I think and with that the proudest career moment to date is Supercell. It is only just starting to find its feet, and we’re beginning to understand its capacity to create something pretty amazing with Brisbane.  


I have read statements like “Supercell is primarily concerned with works that have strong thematic conceits of geo-political dialogue, the environment, gender & identify and First Nations Stories”  and  “Supercell is a celebration of people and place through vibrant and exquisite contemporary dance”. Would you unpack that reasoning for us a little?

Sure! These frameworks relate back to our core values of presenting work that reflect the lived experiences of our audiences and quality art experiences that engage deeply with the audiences of Brisbane.

Where do you think Supercell sits in marrying the community and the professional dance arenas and what are your thoughts on lifelong participation in dance?  Would you consider including dance elements within Supercell for the very young and also the older members of our society?

Supercell in its current form sits as a presentation of performance works. We have big plans and dreams to work within spaces of community arts and professional practices, by creating opportunities to blur the lines of these descriptors and create gatherings for dance and celebration.


Of course! As the festival grows, we do hope to present works that can speak directly to specific groups within our community. There is a suite of fantastic dance works that are made with and for these communities and we look forward to growing our organisation’s capacity to present works of this nature.




Favourite production you have ever seen?

Lawn by Splintergroup… now re-named and re-formed as The Farm!

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

I’d love to explore Egypt, Turkey and Jordan! If I get to lay down… somewhere with snow and no wifi.

Dream show to create?

I’d love to curate Montpellier Danse Festival.

Plays or musicals?

Musicals. Because jazz-hands - duh.


What’s next for you after this show?

A long-weekend away down at Burleigh with nothing but a towel, togs and that pile of books I keep putting off reading to write emails instead. Then probably a butt-load of grant applications as we prepare for Supercell 2020!

Supercell: Festival of Contemporary Dance opens March 30 2019. To see the wide range of works Supercell has to offer, and to book tickets, click here.

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