Adam Wheeler is Artistic Associate with Tasmanian based dance company Stompin', as well as Artistic Director of the 2ndToe Dance Collective - a contemporary dance company based in Melbourne. 2ndToe seeks to "provide young and emerging artists the opportunity to make dance work with professional artists," and opens tonight with their latest production, Something Blew.

Adam Wheeler spoke with Australian Stage's Paul Andrew.

2ndToe Dance Collective
You started your dance career with Stompin. Tell us about that and how 2ndToe began?
Yes, that’s true. Since I began dancing at the age of eighteen with Stompin, a youth dance company in Tasmania, I have been interested in choreography ever since.

A group of us formed a little group called Phulcrum and made a piece called I Don't Do Mornings, a work about nightlife and living 5-9 instead of 9-5, which in hindsight is quite funny because as an eighteen year old kid living in Tasmania I had no idea what it meant to party all night. Nevertheless we put on a season to a sellout audience and sparked an interest in making and producing my own work.

When I arrived in Melbourne in 2002 to study at the VCA I had a job that allowed me to run a dance program at St Michael's Grammar, St Kilda. This opportunity helped me to continue my investigation into making dance work and also a growing passion for working with young people. Youth have so much energy and fantastic raw ideas!  

This program developed and after four years it was becoming time for me to move on but I wanted to hand it over to someone I could trust. I had recently met a group of hot young first year dancers from the VCA at a bar who showed a real flare for dancing, art and a good time so I said ‘Heya, come and make some work with me’.

Together the five of us made two works at St Michael's before moving on. Around this time I had been playing with a few different ensembles, developing ideas and toying with the name 2ndToe Dance Collective but nothing really was taking off until the idea of doing a birthday show for my 26th meant the five us began to make one ourselves. We presented a night of solos and duets about things I always wanted at a birthday party. We put the show on at The Laundry, North Fitzroy and had dancers in superhero costumes, jumping out of cakes, fighting in jumping castles, dressed up as giant pin the tail on the donkeys and a whole bunch of cheeky and awkward party scenarios. The show was a huge success and 2ndToe Dance Collective was born.

Where do you feel that your collective fits into the contemporary dance milieu?
We are still very young have only began to create our label and identity but my vision for the Collective is to be at the forefront of contemporary dance practice for young and emerging artists. A platform where emerging dancers, designers, technicians, managers can make work and be showcased and to kick start their careers.

Describe your passion?
Someone asked me recently what it was I loved about being a dancer or director and I said quite quickly the people I get to work with. As we have just finished our last week of rehearsal before bumping into the theatre, although sometimes bloody hard, watching a group of a dozen artists battle it out all for the same purpose of making shit hot dance work is very exciting for me. Sometimes I feel more like a facilitator then a director and know that the skills they are learning now are going to truly help them develop to be important contemporary artists in Australia. All members of 2ndToe Dance Collective have a strong voice and are very talented artists. I love watching people get passionate about expressing themselves.

Who do you count as mentors, heroes in dance?
My prime hero would my first Artistic Director, Jerril Retcher. Jerril was the one who planted the idea of becoming a professional dancer in my head and said, 'Adam if you really want this, we will get you into a ballet class, off to the VCA and to Chunky Move in no time.' At the first opening night for Chunky Move she sent me flowers with a card saying, 'I told you so!'

Gideon Obarzanek is another. Gideon’s ability to continually challenge how we view dance, be part of dance and connect with dance has changed the Australian landscape of contemporary dance and being part of the company and seeing his work has inspired me since the beginning.

Other mentors in my life are Becky Hilton, Brett Daffy, Luke George and my first ballet teacher Maryann Peacock.

Currently I really love Hofesh Shechter's work but really truly, I get a lot of inspiration from all the young dancers I get to work with.

Tell me something about the 2ndToe collective members?
Frankie Snowdon, Tyler Hawkins, Ben Hancock and Madeleine Krenek are the original four dancers that began the collective with me and work as Artistic Associates. James Andrews, Rebecca Jensen and Emily Ranford are all new to the collective and bring fresh and unique ideas to the collective. And Jorjin Vreisendorp from Amsterdam too. We like to call Jorjin our ghost member as she is very busy working with some great companies but remains very connected to the collective.  

Tell me about some of the work these individual members have performed recently with the major companies, like Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine?
Jorjin is currently touring Mortal Engine with Chunky Move. Bec and Maddy or working with Jo Lloyd at the moment on a new work and Ben is collaborating with Sue Healy. Tyler and Jorjin performed with Chunky Move on So You Think You Can Dance earlier this year and I myself have been fortunate to have worked with Chunky Move for over the last five years, touring around the country and the U.S. It is very important to me that the collective provides opportunities for these dancers to be showcased and get work.

Tell me about the 2ndToe vision?
My vision for the collective is to have two main streams. The 2ndToe Collective, comprising of the hottest young and emerging talent to be coming out of the tertiary institutions who are working with the hottest young and emerging designers out there.

 Secondly the youth collective which is at the forefront of youth development, creating the next generation of contemporary dance artists. 

We want to make work that is really about who, how and what we are seeing the world today.  Having an honest, raw opinion and presenting this is the format of dance. For example, Something Blew is our new show and it examines the modern relationship from our view as twenty somethings. Other projects in the development are works about the modern family. What we share is a deep connection and ability to solely open out to each other to find real emotion to inspire dance work. 

And your five year plan?
Wow. five year plan, ok. Other than the holiday home and Harley, to be running a centre for youth dance which includes 2ndToe Dance Collective as its ‘centerpiece’ making works annually by a range of different choreographers and tours internationally. The centre offers full time training courses, the youth collective company and courses for teachers and practitioners to further their own personal development in dance training.

2ndToe is based at Theatre Works in St Kilda?
Yes. I have lived in Melbourne for a decade now and the whole time in St Kilda. I love the St Kilda community, bars, cafes and artists. A majority of the collective also live in St Kilda and we want to make work at home. Theatre Works is a great little theatre with an amazing history that has been very supportive of each of us. We want to inject a fresh breath of contemporary art into an already rich community of talented artists. Something Blew is part of the Selected Works program that Theatre Works offers. Theatre Works is seeing more and more dance on their stage and I am happy we are one part of the diverse and exciting work that is presented there.

Something Blew by 2ndToe Dance Collective is now playing at TheatreWorks, St Kilda. Until November 6, 2010. Further details»

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