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Artist profile: Shelley Lasica

Photo Courtesy of Kate Ballis

Artist profile: Shelley Lasica

Written by: 
Fiona Gruber

For many dancers, ageing means a move from performing into teaching and choreography, yet Shelley Lasica, one of the country’s most individual and influential performers for thirty years, has no intention of stepping off the stage; from her earliest years she has also taught, mentored and created work for herself and others.

“Others have different trajectories but it’s never been one or the other for me,” she says.

The Melbourne–based performer likes to get close to her audience; The Design Plot, an ongoing work which explores how spaces work and are experienced (the conceptual artist, Callum Morton, is listed as “scenography consultant”) has been performed in several intimate locations; these include Melbourne’s al fresco M Pavilion; RMIT’s Design Hub and hip Collingwood Japanese café Mina-No-Ie.

“We danced there during the lunch service, “ explains Lasica, of her performance with six collaborators; “we played with the idea of going for a set time and we didn’t demand that they looked at us”.

Wasn’t that rather confrontational? I want to know, imagining eating sushi with all that carry-on.

This is the whole point, as it turns out.

“From the early 1990s we’ve been exploring how you perform very close to people and engage them without it being confrontational for them,” she explains.

“We recently did a piece with twenty performers.”

These interactions marble many of her works, including Solos for Other People which looks at how choreography is transmitted to dancers and how it encompasses and implicates the audience.

It was originally performed in 2015 at the Carlton Baths Basketball Gymnasium. The unusual location has historical dance resonances, she says. In 1976 she saw renowned American dancer Merce Cunningham perform in a basketball gym at the Adelaide Festival.

Lasica’s dance back ground is not conventional but could hardly be bettered for a performer who has played an influential role in shaping the discourse between art, architectural space and bodily movement.

Her mother, Margaret Lasica, founded the Modern Dance Ensemble in Melbourne in 1967 and her lawyer father, Bill Lasica, was influential in the foundation and oversight of several major art institutions including the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Bundanon Trust.

“I was exposed to dance, art and music from an early age,” she says. Guests from overseas would often stay, sharing their views and worldly perspective with the aspiring dancer.

She made works while studying art history at the University of Melbourne; and uni was the beginning of her collaborations, with writers, artists, composers and designers.

Behind all her explorations is a fascination with navigation and orientation, how we learn about the spatial through kinaesthetics, or tactile learning.

Lasica says one of the advantages of maturity is that she can think through complex ideas and processes a lot faster than when she was young. And, she’s as curious about new ideas and experiences as when she was starting out.

So what’s her advice to young dancers and choreographers today?

“Go and see as much as you can, try and establish a sustained practice and keep an open mind.”