Cadi McCarthy pushes Catapult Dance into national spotlight

Dedicated: It’s so important to stay fresh and alive with your ideas," Catapult director Cadi McCarthy says. Picture: Ashley de Prazer
Dedicated: It’s so important to stay fresh and alive with your ideas," Catapult director Cadi McCarthy says. Picture: Ashley de Prazer

Award-winning contemporary dancer and choreographer Cadi McCarthy has built an illustrious career on the world stage that has spanned two decades. Having travelled through Europe, the US, Canada and Asia as both dancer and director, McCarthy  brought her knowledge and international networks to Newcastle six years ago.

Since moving to Newcastle with her son and partner in 2012, McCarthy has been quietly and determinedly changing the landscape of the local creative industry. The first of its kind in Newcastle, Catapult Dance Choreographic Hub spawned from her passion for youth education and professional development in contemporary dance.

Alongside an award-winning youth program, The Flipside Project, McCarthy’s most influential venture has undoubtedly been the development of a unique artist-in-residence program. Established in 2015, Propel has been inviting some of Australia’s top contemporary dancers and international choreographers to Newcastle for a series of three-week-long, fully funded, collaborative residencies with multidisciplinary Novocastrian artists.

The selected local artists have come from a diverse range of disciplines, including textile designers, multi-media artists, film-makers and musicians. The results are truly experimental but of an incredibly high calibre.  

The idea to facilitate a multidisciplinary residencies program came from McCarthy’s frustrations with her creative practice. When working as the artistic director of Buzz Dance Theatre in Western Australia, McCarthy was creating three major works a year. After her fourth year, she began to notice her movements had become formulaic. It was during this time that she first recognised the need for continued professional development, particularly for mid-career artists.

“It’s so important to stay fresh and alive with your ideas,” she says. “I wanted to create an environment where dancers could play and find a new creative path ... Other art forms spur you in new directions and conversations.”  

To her knowledge, Catapult is the only organisation in Australia to host collaborative residencies that pairs dancers with artists from different disciplines.  

Having developed much of her career through connections in the industry, McCarthy is working to foster the same web of connection between local artists in Newcastle and the wider international arts community.

“That’s why I really love this Propel program, because you never know where a relationship will take you” she says. “The relationships that have already been built are so strong that I believe they’ll last the artists’ lifetime.”

Propel has already created fundamental changes to the trajectory of many local practitioners. Musician and performer Zackari Watt has since been working in Sydney with world-renowned physical theatre company Legs On The Wall, and composer James Hazel has been invited to the 2018 International Video Dance Festival of Burgundy.

Still growing: Cadi McCarthy. Picture: Simone De Peak

Still growing: Cadi McCarthy. Picture: Simone De Peak

“I feel like I’ve got two roles as an artist now in my 40s. One of them is myself as a creative artist ... But, more importantly, is my role as a facilitator for younger artists and to provide opportunities” McCarthy says.

This year she will visit choreographic centres in Sweden and UK as a recipient of the CREATE NSW Regional Arts Fellowship. She is looking to build upon Catapult by better understanding their infrastructure, programming, and funding models, and investigate exchange programs.  

Ultimately, McCarthy is striving to develop a culture that enables professional dancers to remain and work within our city.

“Dancers need a place in the community as professionals,” she says. “We give so much attention to training young people to get into these amazing schools, but where does the professional go after all that training?”

Dancers need a place in the community as professionals.

Cadi McCarthy

She is resolute about the importance of government funding for the arts, as a means to support a national artistic output that is relevant.

“Art shifts the lines. If you look through history, art has always been at the forefront of change. Artists are an extremely valuable part of the societal fabric and they need to be supported,” she says.

Spurred on by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tenacious energy, a professional dance company is now within her sights.

“Newcastle is a big enough town. If you think about Europe, there are smaller towns [that have professional companies]. You don’t have to be Sydney, Melbourne or Perth to have a professional dance company.”

It’s clear that McCarthy’s biggest influence on Newcastle is still to come.