As we fold in and out of ourselves, others and the space, we experience time and space and an eternal becoming. It is in the vertiginous thrill of the dance that we know about risk, desire, dissolving and continuous integration.

Alice Cummins | Dance Artist

Alice is a dance artist, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner and internationally qualified somatic movement educator & therapist (ISMETA). Based in Melbourne, she is a master teacher who offers independent workshops throughout Australia.

Alice’s performance career has given her the privilege of working with many wonderful artists across different artforms. She has collaborated with musicians, writers, visual artists and filmmakers. Her solo work has been performed at PICA (Perth Institute of Performing Arts); Performance Space, Sydney; and Dancehouse, Melbourne. Alice has a twenty-year history of creating improvisational performances and has a commitment and love of this compositional form.

Alice’s work is influenced by Body-Mind Centering®, new dance practices and feminist philosophy. She has a Master of Arts (by research) from Victoria University and has been researching different modes and realizations of the body and performance over many years, often outside of institutions and the traditional places for the transference of performance knowledge. Alice has taught in university departments of: dance, theatre, visual art and the built environment in Australia and the United States.


My story

I was born in Perth to a bohemian mother and dentist father. My mother had a lifelong interest in dance, theatre and music. In 1947 she saw Ted Shawn dance, one of the great pioneers of Modern Dance. He established the annual dance festival at Jacob’s Pillow, where I have seen Meredith Monk, Mark Morris, Merce Cunningham, Min Tanaka and Cecil Taylor. Ted Shawn came to Australia through the invitation of Ida Beeby who was director of Patch Theatre in Perth. My father excelled in athletics and taught me from a young age to value different cultures through their food and belief systems. He saw Pavlova dance at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth. In my family the body was celebrated for its strength, beauty and aesthetic. Growing up in the Western Australian climate and environment encourages a physical life. I loved swimming in the ocean and camping under the stars. I began learning ballet when I was 7 years old from Madame Kira Bousloff. She was a dancer with Colonel de Basil’s Russian Ballet. The company was touring Australia at the outbreak of WWII and along with other dancers in the company, she chose to remain in Australia, eventually opening a ballet school in Perth in the early 1950’s. Kira Bousloff also founded the West Australian Ballet Company, creating many ballets with the composer James Penberthy. 

Her teaching continues to influence my life as a dance artist. Kira studied in Paris with the great Russian Ballerina Olga Preobrajenska, from the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg. Preobajenska escaped to Paris during the Russian Revolution. Each class with Kira was made up as she went, developing a lifetime skill in picking up material quickly and setting the ground for my interest in improvisation. Kira’s accent, cigarette smoking and mannerisms being absorbed along with technique and repertoire, contributing to a life-long desire for an aesthetic life. The environment she created stimulated the discovery of ideas, movement and life. Her choreography had a commitment to place and local culture. She made work about the particular landscape of Western Australia, collaborating with local musicians and artists to realize her choreography. Studying with Kira exposed me to other cultures and countries. As well as Kira my teachers were Gundi Sobkowiak from Vienna and Kiril Vassilkovsky, born in Riga to Russian parents. They were both dance artists who had arrived in Australia after WWII and brought a wealth of experience and more than a whiff of other worlds. All of my teachers imbued me with the sense of what it might be to be an artist and live a creative life. The Studio was a place of different realities and the tram and later bus journey to ballet class each Saturday was my first experience of an independent moving life. I filled my little body, learning the pleasure of precise physical exertion, the discipline of working with others and experiencing the rare transcendent moments when a difficult sequence is mastered. My imagination was stimulated and my intellect enlivened. The studio was a place inhabited by strong women and my emergent feminine was modelled on these women as much as my familial line. At sixteen I became the youngest member of Robert Pomie’s company and performed in a season of work at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth. I also performed with the WA Ballet Company in the Festival of Perth, 1967. Between 1965 – 68 I worked as a professional dancer in the Playhouse Theatre Company’s yearly Pantomime and as a member of the Old Time Music Hall Company in Perth and Fremantle. These experiences taught me about the rigour of performing and the professional attitude needed to do this every night for months. I continued studying and performing until the birth of my three children in the 1970’s.

Becoming a parent:

I had 3 children in my early 20’s and for nearly 10 years my dancing paused. However, with the birth of my first child I began to teach. By the time my second and third child was born I was living between Perth and the south-west of Western Australia before settling in Roleystone with my young family. The next few years were spent parenting and learning to garden. I didn’t dance again until my third child was four years old. Then I resumed class once a week and choreographed, danced and performed in local theatre productions. This pause in my career introduced other dimensions to my life. I learnt to observe, cook, compose a garden of 1.5 acres, and create a home. My second son was born with disabilities and this began a life journey in understanding Developmental Movement and brain patterning, contributing to my curiosity about the bodymind and the meaning of health in our culture. His journey became my journey and it is to my son John that I owe the debt of living with difference … how to do this and remain creative. Each of my children deepened my experience of life and challenged my perceptions of what it is to live a creative life and to live in the present moment.


The 1980’s:

In 1981 I resumed my studies as one of the inaugural intake of students at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). Reyes de Lara and Jean Tally were initially my teachers and later my colleagues. Lucette Aldous and Noelle Shader were my Classical Ballet teachers. I graduated in 1983, and in the same year began performing with the now professional WA Ballet Company, under the artistic direction of Barry Moreland. Over the next twelve years I was a regular guest artist creating roles in Moreland’s Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella. A highlight was performing Lady Capulet opposite Alan Alder’s Lord Capulet in Romeo and Juliet. I also performed the role of the mother in Giselle under the direction of Dame Beryl Grey in her production for the company. In 1984 I became an original member of Still Moves Dance Laboratory under the artistic direction of Reyes de Lara. Still Moves was a post-modern dance company committed to collaborative dance-making and New Dance practices. Performing and creating post-modern dance works with Still Moves, at the same time as performing with the WA Ballet Company, was an exciting and slippery combination that continues to inform me as an artist. As a member of Still Moves (1984-1989), I performed, made work, taught in different contexts within the community and began to develop my own practice and pedagogical approach. In 1985, after intensive workshops in Melbourne with Lisa Nelson, Dana Reitz and Steve Paxton, improvisation and its inherent practices and philosophies began to influence my dance practice. As co-editor of Contact Quarterly dance magazine, Lisa Nelson introduced me to the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. I felt an attraction to Bonnie's approach and a desire to study Body-Mind Centering® with her. In 1985 I also began teaching at WAAPA, where I introduced Contact Improvisation to theatre students. I continued teaching at WAAPA in both the dance and theatre departments until 1999. In 1987, at the invitation of new music composer, Kenneth Gaburo, I made my first trip to the Unites States. I spent 4 weeks working with composer and visual artist, Catherine Schieve who now lives and works in Australia.


The thinking body:

The shift from classical to post-modern dance aligned with my engagement in feminism, politics and social change. I was separating myself from the idealized, romantic ballet dancer for the more ‘real’ contemporary dancer/woman – strong body, bare feet, performing the everyday. I wanted to realize change in the world through how the body was performed and perceived. I was also outraged at how women’s bodies have been appropriated by phallocentricism. My dancing needed to relate to my life as single parent and artist. Post-modern dance practices and philosophies satisfied my curiosity about the moving body and provided inspiration for my inquiring mind. I was hooked. The initial antagonism between classical and post-modern has been resolved by acknowledging their lineage to each other and realizing how they inform and influence my dance practice. As an improviser this has become a place of interest and inquiry rather than censorship – I delight in the intersecting histories that emerge in my dancing body. Contact Improvisation and New Dance practices began a dialogue within me that continues today. They established the basis for my current research into improvisation and performance making. The questions and inquiries surrounding and emerging from these practices have opened conversations regarding contemporary life. My interest and research has given me wonderful opportunities to work with great artists like Nancy Stark-Smith, Julyen Hamilton, Lisa Nelson and Steve Paxton. These artists continue to influence my approach to living a creative life.


1990’s:

In 1990, I opened a studio in Northbridge, Perth with Tony Osborne, a performance collaborator and my life partner at the time. For the next ten years I created performances, and developed my teaching style and pedagogy. I taught Contact Improvisation, Improvisation & Performance, Alignment & Locomotion and Body-Mind Centering®. My workshops were open to people from diverse backgrounds and arts practices and this community continues to the present, with people who have worked with me for twenty years. I have become a mentor to a generation of Australian dance and performing artists.


Between 1990-1999 I collaborated with writers, visual artists, new music composers and film-makers creating a body of work with solo and collaborative performances at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) under the direction of Sarah Miller; Subiaco Theatre Centre; as well as Launceston and The Performance Space, Sydney. (see Danceography)


The social, political and racial questioning that was infusing Australian culture during the 80’s and early 90’s was reflected in the arts. A period of innovation, risk and collaboration was encouraged. In 1992 Ric McCracken, the trade union arts officer and myself initiated a Dance in Working Life project, funded by the Australia Council and West Australian Department for the Arts. The project involved setting up and teaching workshops in the workplace for the Public Sector Union. Photographer Chris Ha, visual artist Wendy Herrington and writer Christine Owen documented the work. The Community Arts Board of the Australia Council commissioned a report, and this was later published in Australia and the United States. (see Danceography).


From 1995-98, as a recipient of an Independent Study Grant from the Australia Council, I studied Body-Mind Centering® with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen in the United States. This study infused my dance making practice and led to an evening of solo works – Broadcast Dancing at PICA in 1996. Meeting and studying with artists from Europe and the United States was invigorating. Whilst I felt increasingly marginalised with my work in Perth I made deeper connections globally that sustained me. Body-Mind Centering® continues to be a major influence in my research and practice as a dance artist and somatic practitioner.


Sydney and new beginnings:

At the end of 1999 I moved to Sydney to explore further horizons.  Whilst cultivating a community around my regular weekly BMC and Performance classes, I extended my teaching practice in new directions through the interest of somatic psychotherapists, yoga practitioners and Pilates teachers. I also returned to Perth several times a year to teach intensive workshops.

During the five years I lived in Sydney my colleagues were Nikki Heywood, Victoria Spence, Sue-Ellen Kohler and Kimberley McIntyre. These mature performance artists all supported me creating a new life. As mid-career artists we were making changes to accommodate children, relationships and the necessity to earn a living. Our performance training had taken us into other fields of endeavour. I also performed solo work at Dancehouse, Melbourne and The Performance Space, Sydney. These women continue to inspire and enrich my life. 


Melbourne:

In 2005 I moved to Melbourne where I completed a Master of Arts by research at Victoria University in 2008. The Masters comprised a performance and thesis: hear her breathe: a rhapsody of gravity, space and the body.

In 2009 I was visiting Professor of Dance at Denison University, Ohio. Along with my teaching duties I involved myself with the Theatre department and performed alongside two of my colleagues in Samuel Beckett’s Come and Go. At the University I had the privilege of working with cellist and vocalist Bob Een, who had been a collaborator with Meredith Monk. Before returning home I had a wonderful experience co-creating a solo work, with Rose-Anne Spradlin in New York City. Rose-Anne had been one of my BMC teachers and was a recent Guggenheim recipient. Together we developed a work alicec, which I performed at her studio in West Broadway.

In Melbourne I have enjoyed a rich, playful and erudite practice with Al Wunder, the grandfather of improvisation in Australia. I first studied with Al in the early 1990’s and it has been a delight to renew my collaboration and friendship with him since living in Victoria. We performed our Silent Movies: a man and a woman on a monthly basis. In 2009 I collaborated with musician/composer Anita Hustas in: Where Our Edges Meet, part of the Earobics Project at Dancehouse. We have continued creating improvised performances for La Mama Musica and for Dancehouse’s 20th Anniversary, pursuing our interest in dance, utterance and double bass. In 2011 I began working with Brenda Downing – a feminist research scholar. As part of her PhD I directed her in a co-devised solo performance work, aperture. Brenda and I published a paper that engages with our creative process  (see Danceography). Through my Professional Development Program I am now mentoring several women doing post-graduate studies that involve embodiment, writing and performance making.
Over the last decade I have been teaching regular workshops at Dancehouse and Cecil Street Studio as well as BMC workshops throughout Australia, creating a diverse community of people interested in somatic movement and my approach to performance and improvisation.


The next decade:

It is thrilling to have a studio and retreat at Riddells Creek for moving research. The studio and surrounds are a place of beauty, intimacy and potential. People come from all over Australia to study and pursue their interest in somatic learning. The studio has made it possible to offer a residential Professional Development Program, enabling small groups of people to study BMC in-depth with me over the summer months. The process has provided the opportunity for profound somatic discoveries and rich professional exchanges. I hope people will come from all over the world to dance, make work, write and dream.

During January and March 2012-15, the first residential Professional Development Program took place at Riddells Creek Studio. A new program begins in January 2016.

There has been an Annual Retreat in October-November since 2011.