Backing the stars of tomorrow: The rise and rise of Shaun Parker
Shaun Parker and Company was named winner of the NSW Creative Achievement Award for Emerging Creative Talent in May.
The company’s director and founder, Shaun Parker, can still recall the day his mum found him singing songs from Play School.
“Look at you!” she said to a four-year-old Parker. “You’re singing words!”
While it might seem like such an unusual comment to come from a parent, it held special significance for Parker’s family; Parker had a serious stutter that prevented him from speaking clearly.
“I never stuttered while singing,” said Parker, reminiscing on his early years. Realising that music might help her son overcome his speech impediment; Bev Parker enrolled him into singing and acting lessons. And a star was born.
Last month Parker’s dance company Shaun Parker and Company received the Emerging Creative Talent Award at the 2015 NSW Creative Achievement Awards. The company was celebrated for being inventive, excellent, and for raising the global profile of NSW creative industries.
Arts NSW has backed Parker almost from the moment he became a professional choreographer, stemming as far back as a 2004 mentorship with internationally acclaimed choreographer and director Kate Champion, right through to the establishment of Shaun Parker and Company in 2010 and its subsequent programs.
How did a young boy from country Mildura end up in the world of professional dancing? Akin to a scene from the movie Billy Elliot, a dance teacher saw Parker copy his sister’s ballet moves perfectly – despite having had no formal dance training.
Despite enjoying his dance lessons at school, Parker opted to study a science degree at Melbourne’s Monash University and dancing took a back seat for a few years.
“I got into dancing again purely by accident,” Parker said. While studying for his Bachelor of Science, he discovered a dance society at the university. Soon he was dancing every night and rediscovered a strong passion for arts and music. “It was as though a light bulb had gone off in my head and I decided this was my calling.”
At just 22 years of age, Parker was hand-picked by renowned Australian choreographer, Meryl Tankard for her dance company which toured Europe and America. After 17 years of performing in iconic venues and prestigious shows, he decided to return home to Sydney to work as a choreographer.
In 2006, Arts NSW awarded Parker the Robert Helpmann Scholarship. The scholarship supported Parker to create his first show, This Show Is About People. The show won an Australian Dance Award in 2008.
Five years later, Parker set up Shaun Parker and Company at the Seymour Centre on the University Campus as part of the Arts Bunker program. The company has since performed at the iconic Sydney Opera House and arts festivals in Sydney and Melbourne.
“It’s an amazing experience and a career highlight to have my shows performed in the Opera House,” Parker said. “The funding has allowed me to focus on creating new dance shows and work with some of Australia’s best dancers at well known festivals and venues.”
Not only has Parker wowed local Australian audiences, but overseas critics have also given his performance rave reviews. Parker and his team of twenty musicians, dancers and singers have just returned from performing at the Movimentos Festival in Germany. The dance team will tour Malaysia, Luxembourg and Sweden later in 2015.
Parker is also passionate about introducing what he calls, “highly physical contemporary dance theatre” to young people in Western Sydney through The Yard, which is a self devised theatre piece performed by 20 Western Sydney migrant teenagers. The performance highlights the issue of bullying in schools and has been lauded by ABC Radio for its attention to emotional detail. Parker literally recruited the team from the schoolyard and he feels lucky to have made a difference to the teenagers’ lives.
“I saw the kids grow as performers and learn to work as a team and it was extremely rewarding,” he said. The Yard has been so successful in delivering its message to Australian youth across Western Sydney that Parker’s choreography and direction was awarded an Australian Dance Award for Most Outstanding Production in Youth or Community Dance in 2012.
In 2015, a new version of The Yard will be created and performed in Western Sydney schools investigating the challenging social themes of bullying, social exclusion, and school yard dynamics. A choreographic workshop will also be held at the end of every performance for audience members as well as a discussion surrounding themes such as anti-bullying and positive group behaviour.
Trolleys, Shaun Parker & Company, 2012. Photo: Irvin Lewis. Arts NSW funded Parker to attend the APAM arts market in Adelaide, which resulted in Parker being commissioned by the London Cultural Olympiad to create two new community outdoor works for the London Olympics in 2012. The first was Trolleys – a ballet involving 5 supermarket trolleys. Trolleys now has 3 casts in the UK that tour Europe, and an Australian cast that most recently performed in City of Sydney’s Art & About Festival. Trolleys won the Argus Angel Award for Best New Work at Brighton Festival in the UK in 2012.
Only the most discerning fan might have noticed that Parker’s work often combines his two fields of study – dance and science. Works like Am I, or XY and Little Black Swan to be developed later this year, examine issues like identity, masculinity and dwarfism in a scientific context.
“My work is very human,” said Parker. “When I create a dance, I want people to be moved and to feel and to think, and to become lost in the performance. I want to use art, dance and music to remind people of their humanness, to celebrate empathy and to inspire us to strive to become more than society’s limitations placed upon us.’’
To those wanting to follow in his footsteps, Parker said: “If you really love something, work extremely hard and do your craft with love. Only good things will come from it.”