Background Image


Melissa Lanham traces the development of her dance work, Vincent, from a small RADF grant to national and international touring interest…

Twelve years ago when I first walked into the National Gallery in London and saw my first Vincent Van Gogh painting of sunflowers, I was transfixed. There is an energy and vibrancy to this man’s paintings. He was able to take the excruciating pain in his life, including frequent bouts of mental illness, and turn it into something of ecstatic beauty. I noticed the more unwell he became, the more vibrant his use of colour. 

But his paintings were just one part of his life. Vincent was also a prolific letter writer. In a few short years he wrote over 660 letters to his brother, Theo, which now gives us the rare opportunity to trace his life. It is this brotherly love that is the real story of Vincent Van Gogh and what my work is ultimately about. 

For 10 years I waited until the time was right, when I felt mature enough in my craft to choreograph this work. Two years ago I applied to the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) on the Sunshine Coast for a concept development grant to explore my idea. With these funds I brought together three professional dancers, along with eight emerging dancers keen to be mentored, and in the space of a week choreographed 40 minutes of work. The response to our small showing was resoundingly positive. 

Dancer on stage

Six months later I secured private sponsorship for the second stage development, bringing my dancers back together with lighting and set designers and a dramaturg. With a lack of dedicated rehearsal spaces at the coast, Lind Lane Theatre kindly offered me a place to choreograph and stage Vincent which was now an hour-long work. Critical feedback from other choreographers was an important part of this second stage development. 

Being an independent artist can be very isolating. Having a business partner and tour manager in Gosling Productions – someone who believed in my work – provided the extra support I needed. Working with organisations such as Creative Partnerships was also vital to securing private sponsorship to take the work to the next level.   

2015 was a big year. We listed Vincent with arTour and participated in pitching sessions, leading to a tour now being developed in Queensland for 2017. The National Touring Selector website showed interest in promoting our work and as a consequence we were able to build our first tour in 2015 to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, Newcastle and Melbourne. We expanded the project to include an education component called Counterworld, working with students from nine schools in the Sunshine Coast and Kingaroy. Towards the end of the year we secured our first major sponsorship, enabling us to book a theatre in Adelaide to complete the final development and refinement of the work, in the lead-up to the Fringe Festival.

After 12 year of waiting, then working relentlessly, Vincent finally premiered at the Adelaide Fringe, to rave reviews and a Fringe Weekly Award. The Festival served as a tremendous vehicle to premiere our new company and the work. We continued to receive great feedback from audiences at our subsequent shows in Newcastle and Melbourne. 

So what’s next for Vincent? We have interest from theatres across Australia which we are building into our touring schedule for 2017. We are writing a new education package. And we have just started seeking support to take Vincent overseas, with interest expressed from potential collaborators in Germany, France and Hong Kong. We were excited when the Van Gogh Federation in Amsterdam made contact with us not long after our second stage development of the work – a contact we are continuing to cultivate and hope will bear fruit soon. 

Vincent is now ready to go, but when I think back to that first RADF grant and how far we have come, I can confidently say the hard work has been worth every second!  If I had to sum up what I’ve learned about the key to success, it would be to never stop believing that you have a voice, and a worthy story to tell. You need people around you who believe in you and your work.  And finally, think outside the box –as Vincent  himself said, ‘Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it!’

Melissa LanhamMelissa has had a long and diverse career within the dance industry spanning 25 years both here and overseas. She began her professional career as a dancer in Sydney working for the likes of Kinetic Energy, Darc Swan and numerous commercial works such as Channel 7 and the Australian Opera.  She then moved into Independent work gaining her Graduate Diploma in Dance Therapy. Melissa moved to the U.K. and worked for the British Arts Council as a Dance Development Artist where she facilitated numerous large projects and worked with dance companies on their regional tours. She now resides on the Sunshine Coast as a freelance dance artist and runs her own company, LissaJane Dance, which has just had a very successful premiere season in Adelaide, Melbourne and Newcastle to rave reviews.






Image on AQ blog menu page: Vincent. Dancer: Chloe Lanham. Photo courtesy of Chris Herzfeld of Camlight Productions 

RADF 25 year logo


The Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) is a partnership between local government and Arts Queensland to support arts and cultural experiences across Queensland. To mark the  25th year of the fund, Arts Queensland will be publishing a number of posts highlighting activities and people supported by the program.