Creativity exists in many realms, speaking to individuals in different ways and stirring their artistic spirit. While Anna Kaszuba dreamed of becoming a dancer as child, she didn’t discover her potential for creative expression until she sidelined formal ballet training in favour of contemporary dance classes. Now a member of Ireland’s Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Anna is grateful to have fulfilled her long-held dreams and to have found herself in a place where she can simply enjoy the unbridled joy of dance. She’s recently been travelling the globe with Fabulous Beast performing The Rite of Spring/Petrushka, which will appear at Brisbane Festival from September 25–29.
A powerful art form that makes spirits soar, dance infects the footloose with the unbridled joy of expressive movement. Anna Kaszuba first stepped into the dance studio at just four years of age to take her first ballet lesson and, like many young girls who dream of growing up to become ballet dancers, she quickly caught the dancing bug.
Anna’s love for dancing persisted into her teenage years, but it wasn’t until she started to pursue contemporary dancing over ballet in her final year of high school that her creative spirit began to stir. While many feel the burn of self-consciousness when they surrender to the beat of a drum, Anna feels completely at ease, allowing her body to express things she could never convey using words. “With contemporary, it’s the freedom,” she says of her love for the art form. “I’m not a big talker, I am a physical being and that’s how I also like to express myself.”
Following her instincts that were telling her to chase dance as a career, Anna packed her bags at the age of 19 and left her hometown of Wolverhampton in the West Midlands of England to take up classes at London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS). While Anna enjoyed a childhood filled with dance and days spent painting alongside her grandfather, she laughs as she explains that her hometown is not a place that nurtures the arts. “It’s not the most alive of cities,” she says. “To find art or anything you really have to look for it – there’s no big arts scene. You kind of have to plug at it on your own and then move away.”
After moving away herself, Anna began to work harder than ever at her dream. Her training at LCDS was intense, often starting in the early hours of the morning and stretching through the day until she finally dragged her tired limbs from the studio late at night. Even now as a professional dancer touring the world, Anna still wonders how she managed to push her body to its limits each day, but then she recalls a drive to succeed that burned deep within, filling her with optimism at times when she physically had nothing left.
It was while she was in the midst of this gruelling training that Anna attended a workshop with Michael Keegan-Dolan – creative director of lauded contemporary dance company Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre – and her dancing dreams gained a sense of direction. “It was a bit of a fluke, really, because I had a friend who couldn’t go and she said that I should do this workshop,” she explains of the swift interception of fate. “I didn’t really know about Michael’s company then and I had never done a workshop like it before. It was challenging but it opened something up for me, and a way of working that I hadn’t been used to. From then on I was just knocking at his door.”
She did an apprenticeship at Scottish Dance Theatre after graduating, but was soon thrust into a world of freelance dancing – something she says you can never really prepare for. “You just have to go through it,” she explains “It’s hard in between trying to find work. You don’t have auditions to go to, so you have to go to workshops and it doesn’t come to you on a plate.“
Success finally came for Anna when she joined Fabulous Beast for its recent production of Rian – a celebration of traditional Irish dance that she counts as a career highlight. To prepare for Rian, a troupe of dancers and musicians were holed up in an old Irish farm for five weeks. Without any mobile signal, the dancers were free to improvise for hours, simply allowing their bodies to respond to live music. “We would go for hours and hours without realising the time and how much we were dancing,” Anna recalls fondly. “It just transports you and takes you somewhere else. When I look back at that, it was just a ridiculously special creative experience I went through.”
Her involvement as a dancer with Fabulous Beast has continued in its latest production, The Rite of Spring/Petrushka, in which Anna has a central role. The dance is a modern interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet and orchestral works The Rite of Spring and Petrushka that combines strong choreography and theatrical elements to create a show filled with tension and intrigue.
Never one to sit still, Anna also teamed up with fellow dancers Aoife McAtamney and Juan Corres Benito last year to start DISH Dance – an organisation founded upon the idea of sharing the roles of choreographer and performer. “Even though three of us founded it in Dublin, there’s a whole load of dancers who are involved across the world, who we have trained with or who we have met through projects,” Anna explains. “So it’s like a pool of dancers basically who can collaborate and work with each other and try out ideas.”
As a dance company that was created to challenge conventions, DISH allows Anna the flexibility to partake in other projects. It has been momentarily placed on hold while she tours the globe with Fabulous Beast, but plans for the future of DISH are always simmering in the back of her mind. Most recently, she has been considering the viability of re-establishing the company at a new base in Berlin.
For the moment at least, Anna is content exploring her creativity under Michael’s guidance at Fabulous Beast, satisfied that she never stopped chasing her dream of dancing with the company. “My greatest achievement is where I’ve got to at this point, and I am just looking forward to going beyond this point even more,” she says.
Her advice to aspiring dancers is to try a variety of dance styles and to explore as many options as possible. But most of all, Anna encourages humility. “Don’t have too much pride,” she says. “Keep it open and try things that you may not think are your direction.”
Heeding her own advice and remaining humble as a dancer, Anna has discovered just how rich the rewards of an onstage career can be. She doesn’t view dance as a self-indulgent career driven by audience adoration, but rather a means of sharing inspiration with others in the same way she was inspired by dance as a child. “If I can stir something in someone in the audience in some way whether it’s enjoyment or whatever, when I think about it like that I think it’s actually not so selfish,” she says.
After finding her own bliss, Anna has learned the importance of staying true to oneself. “The only thing you can do in life is to find out what this world means to you and follow it, because what makes someone else happy isn’t necessarily going to make you happy. So don’t be afraid to be different.”