Head of Cultural Leadership Cheryl Stock talks of her life-long passion and love of Vietnam

26 March 2018

Each month we will be catching up with a different Head of Department at NIDA, to show you the artist behind the creative leader.

Photo: Cheryl Stock dances in Hi-Kyo

Everything that NIDA’s Head of Cultural Leadership and Director of Graduate Studies, A/Professor Cheryl Stock, has ever done in the performing arts stems from a lifelong love affair with dance.

Cheryl has been a professional dancer, choreographer and artistic director, as well as a researcher, writer, lecturer and Head of Dance at QUT. She also holds the country of Vietnam almost as close to her heart as dance, and this year plans to return for a very special reason.

‘This year I plan to celebrate the 30th anniversary of my introducing contemporary dance into Vietnam and working with Vietnamese artists and dancers, with whom I went on to have a long-term engagement’ said Cheryl. ‘The plan is to re-mount some work of mine as a celebration of the 30 years.’

‘I went there in 1988 at a time when Vietnamese artists were hungry for something new, having never seen contemporary dance. They’d seen contemporary ballet that’d been imported from other countries, but they’d never seen what we call contemporary dance here’.

Cheryl was awarded two gold medals from the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture for her long engagement with Vietnam: one for services to culture and one for services to women in Vietnam.

Almost three decades later in 2014, Cheryl would go on to be awarded one of Australia’s highest honours, an AM in the Australia Day Honours for: 'Significant services to the performing arts'.

Cheryl’s love of dance began as a child. She started taking ballet lessons at the age of five, and these were the seeds that would eventually blossom into a lifelong pursuit of dance and career in the performing arts. It was during her academic studies that she was captured by contemporary dance and started toward a different destination.

‘I was taking classes with the Australian Dance Theatre while I was studying a degree in Languages at Flinders University. After I finished, they asked me to tour with them and I joined, but to do so I had to give up a doctoral scholarship – much to my parents’ dismay!

‘We toured through Asia and that’s when I discovered my love for the area. It wasn’t until around 20 years later that I came back and did my doctorate in a completely different subject – intercultural dance in Vietnam.’

During those twenty years, Cheryl trained across the globe, several times in New York, at the Martha Graham School and with Merce Cunningham at his Westbeth studio – to name a few – while continuing to ply her trade as a professional dancer and choreographer. She split her time between international projects and those closer to home, and of course, Asia.

‘It was exciting, because I’d chase down the best and go and try and study with them and I’d learn on the job. I was fortunate to receive travel grants from the Australia Council,’ said Cheryl.

Of the many works that Cheryl performed in her extensive career, one of her favourites came early on: Hi-Kyo (Japanese for Flying Mirrors), which was filmed and televised by the ABC.

‘It was a duet which the Adelaide Festival commissioned from Australian Dance Theatre. The performance used ropes, and was choreographed by Jaap Flier who at the time was the director of Netherlands Dance Theatre. It was so difficult – I had rope burns, and it was very painful, but it was absolutely transformative and people loved it.

I was also immensely proud because I wore the costume of my favourite dancer in Netherlands Dance Theatre, Marian Sarstädt and I said to myself “please make this give me the magic I need for this role”. And it must have given precisely that because after that I was awarded travel grants, I was cast in many diverse roles, and received good reviews. That single season helped establish my dance career.’

Nowadays Cheryl’s commitments revolve around the Master of Fine Arts (Cultural Leadership) course at NIDA. And in terms of the people she most admires as Cultural Leaders, they include: ‘Wesley Enoch and Stephen Page,’ she said. ‘They’re very different people but they’re both consummate artists in their own right, and they have a very broad range of skills and this is what a cultural leader needs. They are important advocates for the arts, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and I love that they support artists at all levels and encourage new work and development.’

And her advice for budding Cultural Leaders.

‘As young cultural leaders, be yourself… remember that humility is a strength. We all talk about courage and resilience, but if we’re not humble, we don’t hear and if we don’t hear, we don’t learn.’

For more information about studying a Master of Fine Arts (Culture Leadership), visit https://www.nida.edu.au/courses/graduate/cultural-leadership