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Evelyn Juers: a note on The Dancer

For several years I was working on a book about Europeans who explored Australia. At the same time I was tending a small archive about my friend, the dancer and choreographer Philippa Cullen, who once said that if she died young, I should write about her. She was twenty-five when she died, in 1975. While the explorers’ biographies involved conscientious research, information about Philippa was gathered more haphazardly. I’d meet people who knew her, discover things I’d forgotten, scribble notes on scraps of paper, clip newspaper articles about experimental art, dance, India, youth, death. And about the 1970s, which really did not seem that long ago.

In 2016 I attended the opening of an exhibition. With performances, photographs, video and sound, posters and programs, it commemorated her achievements. The white-haired crowd was huge and boisterous. And above all, it was the moving stories told by her family and friends, and the conversations which continued afterwards in cafés, phone calls, emails, and further meetings, that shone a light on the lively, intelligent, and complex young woman we all remembered. One of her colleagues described Philippa as a visionary, one of her friends said she had poetry, others recalled their delight or embarrassment, when she would unexpectedly start to dance in public, not like a prima donna, but in a subtle way that was mesmerising and made people and places – the street, the park, the train – part of her dance.

So I changed tack and momentum. I pushed the explorers aside, because it occurred to me that time and eye-witnesses would soon be dwindling, and it was more urgent to write something about – and for – Philippa Cullen.

— Evelyn Juers

Photo: Sally McInerney

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