Anita dances to her own tune
German-born Anita Donaldson has spent her life chasing new challenges. Her latest venture involves pulling up roots and heading to the other side of the world.
Anita Donaldson treads lightly, as befitting an exponent of dance. But her footprint has still left an indelible mark across three continents.
Since leaving Australia's shores in 2002 for new creative ventures, the former Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts at the University of Adelaide has thrived on successive challenges.
In the space of five years, Dr Donaldson has established five Masters degrees at London's prestigious Laban dance conservatoire, been decorated with the Order of Australia Medal and criss-crossed the world to head up the academic dance stream at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA).
Lumen caught up with Dr Donaldson in Hong Kong as she prepared to deliver the University's offshore graduation address to 42 students at the Hotel Intercontinental in April.
Eight months into her appointment as Head of Academic Studies and Co-ordinator of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Dance at the HKAPA, Dr Donaldson reflected on her journey half way across the world.
"I had been working in London for four-and-a-half years, leading new Masters degrees at Laban, and I was invited to Hong Kong to be an external member of a validation panel for the Academy's new MFA.
"The visit left a really positive impression on me and two months later when the position was advertised for someone to lead the academic stream, I thought 'why not?' It's been a wonderful move so far and I'm loving every minute of it."
As with her position at Laban, the UK's leading contemporary dance conservatoire, she is breaking new ground.
The experience of establishing new Masters degrees at Laban-in Choreography, Dance Performance, Scenography, European Dance-Theatre Practice and Dance Science (the last two a world first)-is proving invaluable in her Hong Kong role.
"I am responsible for not only heading up the MFA in Dance at the Academy, but also overseeing the academic program across the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
"The course framework was set before I arrived, but there are still some major challenges ahead."
Dr Donaldson is keen to build the HKAPA's academic content, while negotiating a complex language and cultural maze.
"We have students who speak a mix of Cantonese and Mandarin (Putonghua), all studying an English-based program so that presents some challenges in itself," she said.
The School of Dance has three streams in its program-ballet, contemporary dance and Chinese dance. Students gain experience in all three but specialise in one area.
The outcome can be gratifying, especially for those who find work on the international stage.
"Several of our young male dancers have been offered contracts with overseas dance companies, including the Royal Swedish Ballet, Ballet Gran Canaria in Spain and Ballet du Rhin in France."
The move to Asia has been accomplished with little disruption, despite 9600 kilometres separating Dr Donaldson from her teacher partner in London.
But pulling up roots has never been a problem for this accomplished dancer, teacher and researcher.
Born to Latvian parents in a refugee camp in Germany, Dr Donaldson and her family migrated to Adelaide in 1949, when she was two years old.
Her initial plans to become a physical education teacher were redirected when she realised that movement, not sport, motivated her. While completing a teaching degree, as well as an Arts and Physical Education degree in Adelaide,
Dr Donaldson was introduced to creative dance.
"I wanted to pursue the work of dance pioneer theorist and scholar Rudolf Laban (1879-1958), an extraordinary man who contributed enormously to the understanding of dance as an art form," Dr Donaldson said.
Several stints at Laban reinforced her interest in the Hungarian dancer's teachings. In 1978-79 Dr Donaldson completed a Diploma in Education specialising in movement and dance at the London dance academy. Between 1985 and 1993 she travelled intermittently between London and Adelaide, completing the first pure PhD in Dance in Australia.
In 1986, Dr Donaldson was appointed Head of the Dance Department at the then South Australian College of Advanced Education for a three-year stint. Two years after the SACAE city campus merged with the University of Adelaide, Dr Donaldson took up the position as the Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts in 1993, which involved overseeing music, dance and drama before the last two departments were dissolved in 1996.
The new millennium saw her back in London, heading up the Research & Graduate Studies program at Laban from 2002 to 2006.
In 2003 she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for her services to the performing arts.■
STORY CANDY GIBSON