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IF ONLY I COULD... multi-generational contemporary dance project

Director Angela Chaplin’s dance project has touched the lives of aged care residents with its exploration of dance, memory and ageing, and shows the remarkable ability of the arts to add value at any stage of our lives.


IF ONLY I COULD… is a dance project exploring the process of ageing and memories through contemporary and ballroom dances performed by emerging, established dance artists and elderly residents.

IF ONLY I COULD… engaged aged care residents in Brisbane and regional communities to participate in a creative development process where they collaborated with some of Queensland’s most exciting professional dancers.

Directed by Angela Chaplin and choreographed by Lizzie Vilmanis, the creative development involved 10 Queensland dancers and 10 residents from two Lutheran Services Aged Care Centres.

During the development, dancers collaborated with, residents to create a unique choreographic language that was available to all physical abilities and respond to the big lives of the elderly resident movements to cater for different abilities and sharing their skills to develop the piece.


When and where

IF ONLY I COULD... was presented at Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts (JWCoCA) in November 2018 to over 200 audiences members and at two Lutheran Nursing homes: Zion Aged Care (Nundah) and Tabeel Aged Care (Laidley).



Key stats

  • 1 new work continued its development
  • 10 paid Queensland artists
  • 10 dancers from Lutheran Nursing homes
  • 210 attendees


Arts Queensland investment

$65,260 support ($40,000 cash support/in kind venue and equipment support valued at $25,620) through the QASP – Arts Ignite –JWCoCA.

Arts Ignite – JWCoCA supports creative development projects of up to four weeks’ duration, and a further optional showing or short performance season, at the JWCoCA in Brisbane.  



  • The presentation at JWCoCA provided valuable feedback, confirming the direction of the project.
  • The partnership with Lutheran Services has continued with a commitment for ongoing support.
  • The project cast a mix of emerging and experienced dance artists with different processes and dance forms.
  • Classes at the aged care services engaged residents, developing their skills, fostering engagement and increasing wellbeing:

Some of the residents who have trouble communicating are speaking more, and in general people’s participation has increased and residents are more engaged and happier. - Clare Apelt, Lutheran Services Creative Programs Advisor, Quest Community News, 9 December 2018.

  • Following the JWCoCA performance, more residents have joined in the weekly dance sessions.
  •  IF ONLY I COULD... featured in Melbourne’s Dance Massive Open Studios program in March 2019.


Reflections and learnings

It is simply interesting to partner with a non arts organisation. We had to learn the language and expectations of both sides of the partnership. Whilst this was challenging it was also very rewarding.  

It’s so important to remember that the elderly are still living very big lives - Angela Chaplin



One of the participants said to me ‘I wasn’t allowed to dance when I was younger because it supposedly led to other things, but now I can’t do those other things I’m keen to dance'  - Clare Apelt

I deeply welcomed the inclusive / integrated nature of the performance. I have witnessed 'supported' performances in theatre in the past and enjoyed them too, for what they had to offer. However, to witness such an inclusive/ integrated dance performance - ie with older and younger; disabled and abled; inexperienced and professional performers working alongside each other made for a much more profoundly affecting theatre engagement. – Donna McDonald

Very moving, crying, honest, wonderful – Audience member

We just loved the production. It just shows the endless possibility of these wonderful performers. – Audience member


Tips for others

Working with people who are not physically independent and who may suffer from dementia presents all kinds of challenges when working in a physical art form. However, the rewards far outweighed the challenges.

Remember to problem solve together and not force outcomes on participants


What next?

The next stage of IF ONLY I COULD... is supported through QASP Arts Ignite – JWCoCA with investment of $63,780 (cash and in-kind) in 2019.

In 2020, Brisbane's Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) came on board as a partner to support workshops and a proposed performance season (which is on hold due to COVID-19). QPAC is also supporting the project's Teaching Artists to work with residents in Aged Care homes.


For further information

Dancing back the years newspaper article

If only I could video by Zaimon Vilmanis

A pdf version of this case study is available here.