Glad Wrap Dance + Rat Trap Dance + Ironing Board Dances

By Mark Ross

I recall my school term report cards often had a familiar summary statement at the bottom. Mark is a pleasant student and shows potential, however he is easily distracted and needs to apply himself.


In 1975 I enrolled to study Built Environment at QIT. My first year was a brilliant revelation. Three years later I graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science degree.


After a year working in architectural offices including a small practice of recent graduates call Design Access Group (DAG) I knew I had to really apply himself if I wanted to fulfil my potential as an architect. So I didn’t. Instead I was led by my distractions.


In 1979 I lived in Petrie Terrace in a house that was a regular pitstop for a host of people via the gregarious Lindy Morrison (resident). Geoffrey Rush, Robert Forster, Gary Warner, John Willsteed, Geoffrey Titley, Tim Gruchy, Max Horner, Kevin Hayes, the girls from Xero and too many others to mention. The people, ideas and energy there would be a major shaper for my future.


During this time I screen printed a few posters at UQ’s Activities Centre which was available to everyone. Terry Murphy was prolific and produced beautifully crafted posters for Triple Z Joint Efforts and bands like Jo-Jo Zep and the Falcons. John Willsteed and Gary Warner broke the rules with posters for XTC and other bands. My posters were for various UQ events and bands including the launch of Lee Remick by the Go-Betweens (with Geoffrey Titley).

Anthony Patterson and Mark Ross for publicity photograph. Photographer David Richards.
Anthony Patterson and Mark Ross for publicity photograph. Photographer David Richards.
David Clarke and Mark Ross in Ironing Board Dance No 6. Photographer Michael Richards.
David Clarke and Mark Ross in Ironing Board Dance No 6. Photographer Michael Richards.

In 1980 I followed friends to Sydney and became absorbed in great theatre, dance, art and performance. After a year I returned to Brisbane and successfully auditioned to study dance full time at Kelvin Grove CAE and earn a Diploma in Performing Arts. At dance school I met and worked with the tireless Janice Claxton. Together we also choreographed and performed small works around town. Janice would go on to become an established international contemporary dancer and teacher.


In 1983, La Boîte Theatre provided the platform for many activities. Teaching movement workshops at La Boîte Youth Theatre. Set design and choreography for main-house productions. Performances in La Bamba late on Friday nights.

Cantilevered Ballet Poster. - La Bamba Poster - designed by Malcolm Enright.
Andrew Lazzarini and David Clarke in Alight from the Histrionics project. Photographer David Richards.
University of Queensland poster promoting Sexuality Week by Mark Ross.

My performance pieces emerged from a domestic base – Glad Wrap Dance, Rat Trap Dance and Ironing Board Dances. The first ironing board dance was a short solo piece with three ironing boards that attached to the back and feet to devise a new form of locomotion. Out of the La Boîte community, came other projects. Performing and choreography at Cement Box, set and graphic design for Street Arts as well as working with Belltower, a fashion label started by John Boundy and Chrissy Feld.


There were a number of emerging fashion designers in Brisbane. Belltower, Anna Bourke, Jewel Palace and Maria Cleary joined forces to stage fashion events at city nightclubs as well as a large scale fashion event for Warana Festival in King George Square. One memorable event, The Ultra Violet Night of the Sophisticated Boom Boom staged at La Bamba became an indulgent display of fashion, performance and live music.


A small performing group evolved out of La Boîte Youth Theatre movement workshops that included Anthony Patterson and David Clarke and joined by Tim Gruchy. This was the genesis for ensemble Ironing Board Dances. These pieces were performed in public places for events such as QUT O week. The larger scale pieces, performed at La Bamba, had full theatre technical support.


The opening of the new Queensland Performing Arts Centre in 1985 brought new commissions. The design of the community parade for the opening ceremony conceived by Silver Harris and developed with Russell Lake, Adam Boyd, Maria Cleary and Maria Fillipow. The design of the set, props and costumes (with Despina Macris from Jewel Palace) for Boisterous Oysters, a specially commissioned indigenous theatre project for young people, directed by Aku Kadogo.


Ironing Board Dances were well received in Brisbane and it was time to take the show further afield.


Through a series of movement and lighting workshops at Belltower and our Roma Street studio we had developed another piece that drew on Tim’s skills in electronic music and multi-visual projections. We called this Brave New Works. This piece completed our repertoire. In 1985 we performed at Perspecta in Sydney and in 1986 a two week season at the Adelaide Festival Fringe. Reviews were positive (with the exception of the ballet critics).


Also in 1986, I received an Australia Council grant to research and present alternative ways of staging performance pieces using light projection. Titled Histrionics, the project culminated in a 2 night performance in an Evans Deakin shipyard shed at Kangaroo Point. The same group of ironing board dancers contributed to the project along with other performers including Andrew Lazzarini, Joanne Byrne and Kim Wilson.


By now Brisbane was preparing for Expo 88, offering many opportunities to artists, performers, designers and makers in Brisbane.


Building on Expo projects, Despina Macris and I started a small design practice, Dotdash. Now a well established and specialised practice it still benefits from the early years of distractions.

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