Anna Süheyla Harms, an Australian dancer based in Stuttgart, Germany, has become dance critics’ sweetheart over the past year. With her deep red mane of hair, long limbs, Turkish middle name and fluent German, not only is the German press mystified, it’s besotted. In a regional newspaper Anna has also been compared to a win in the lottery by her director, Eric Gauthier, and apparently, audiences feel the same.
Born in Adelaide and raised in Mt. Gambier, Anna started taking dance lessons locally at the Maryke Dance Academy at an early age before moving to Melbourne at fourteen to study full-time at the V.C.A. Secondary School. Unsure what to do after graduation, Anna pieced together an audition video which she sent to various ballet schools in Europe. “I didn’t feel ready for a company, so I searched for something to bridge the gap,” she says, and had no second thoughts accepting an offer in Switzerland.
Leaving her home behind, Anna continued and completed her dance training in Lausanne, Switerland, at the École-Atelier Rudra-Béjart from 2006 to 2008. During her time in Lausanne, Anna was immersed in the traditions of many cultures, as was the wish of director Maurice Béjart, studying as part of the course diverse disciplines such as classical voice, Commedia dell’Arte, Kendo, percussion as well as African, Cuban, Indian and Spanish dance techniques. She also had the opportunity to tour extensively with the school and gained experience dancing in the corps-de-ballet of the Béjart Ballet Lausanne. In 2008, Anna’s professional career began as part of the Ballett Chemnitz ensemble, a company based in the East German town near to the Czech border. “I got a great overall feel of what it’s like to work in a theatre, where actors singers, musicians and dancers all integrate and collaborate,” Anna recollects, speaking fondly of her time in the sleepy town.
In search of new challenges and horizons, Anna auditioned for Gauthier Dance and was subsequently offered a contract. Due to injuries in the company, Anna was even asked to begin working there six months earlier than planned, in March 2011, upon which she was immediately cast in soloist roles in several productions. Soon after her arrival and only ten days before the premiere of a new mixed program, the pas-de-deux Anna had been cast in still wasn’t choreographed. The choreographer, Mauro Bigonzetti, was unable to fly to Germany resulting in Anna and her partner being “flown to him in Reggio Emilia, in Italy,” Anna scoffs incredulously. She continues, “We stayed in his villa in the countryside, ate amazing food and worked a few hours a day on the piece. I would’ve stayed much longer than those five days if it weren’t for the show!”
Gauthier Dance, based in the Theaterhaus Stuttgart, Germany, was founded in 2007 by former Stuttgart Ballet dancer-cum-choreographer, Eric Gauthier. The company has found its niche, both in Germany and abroad, touring evening length works and mixed bill programs often created especially for the troupe of thirteen dancers. Due to the structures in which Gauthier Dance functions, as a resident company in an independent theatre, the company continues to be accessible and marketable on the one hand, yet has the freedom to experiment on the other. This, together with the much praised humour of the director, dancers and repertoire alike, have proven to be a winning combination.
Anna’s goal has always been to dance pieces from a range of choreographers, with a particular interest in being part of the creative process. In Stuttgart, Anna has graced the stage in works from Alejandro Cerrudo, Cayetano Soto, Hans van Manen, Jirí Bubenícek, Jiří Kilián, Mauro Bigonzetti and Stephan Thoss, to name a few. “It’s the perfect company for me,” she confides, and her recent success seems to reflect just that.
The Deutscher Theaterpreis DER FAUST (tr. German Theatre Prize THE FAUST) is a rather lengthy name for the most prestigious annual awards ceremony recognising excellence on German stages. Comparable to the Academy Awards in terms of the nomination and voting procedures, the unusual looking trophies are presented in eight categories. Following Gauthier Dance’s success in 2011, as the recipient of the Best Choreography gong for Christian Spuck’s Poppea//Poppea, the company found itself in November, 2013, once again in the spotlight. Anna was nominated for and won the Best Dancer award for her part in the production Future 6, a mixed bill consisting of six pieces by up-and-coming choreographers, four of which Anna danced. When asked on a German radio show how she feels about her recent accolade, Anna replied humbly, “It’s a confirmation that I’ve taken the right path and everything is going well.” Acknowledging the responsibility that comes with such a title, she concludes, “I only to keep on learning, bettering myself, and to continue mastering my craft.”
– LUKE AARON FORBES
Published in the June-July 2014 issue of Dance Australia magazine. See: http://www.danceaustralia.com.au/news/germany-s-sweetheart. Support dance journalism and subscribe at http://www.danceaustralia.com.au/toolbar/subscribe