A cre­ative cou­ple liv­ing in har­mony in Launce­s­ton

Dancer and chore­og­ra­pher Felic­ity Bott and ar­chi­tect Paul Wake­lam have cre­ated a pro­fes­sional and per­sonal har­mony that’s now cul­tur­ally en­rich­ing the north

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Up Front - WORDS DALE CAMPISI PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BRADY MICHAELS

Most cre­ative pro­fes­sion­als drawn to Tas­ma­nia head for Ho­bart and the south, but for new­com­ers Felic­ity Bott – a dancer and chore­og­ra­pher – and ar­chi­tect Paul Wake­lam, Launce­s­ton is their home base.

Truth­fully, it could have been any­where on the east coast of Aus­tralia. The West Aus­tralians had been look­ing to move east, and spent time search­ing for the right lo­ca­tion while at­tend­ing con­fer­ences in other parts of the coun­try. Af­ter a Mona mini-break they vis­ited the state’s dance com­pany Tas­dance in Launce­s­ton.

“We thought we’d take [former di­rec­tor] An­nie Greig out for lunch at a win­ery to cel­e­brate her re­cent Ser­vices to Dance award [from the Aus­tralian Dance Coun­cil],” says Paul. “We didn’t even know that An­nie had ten­dered her res­ig­na­tion un­til we were half­way through a tour of the stu­dio.”

Felic­ity landed the job as artis­tic di­rec­tor of Tas­dance in 2015, bring­ing with her a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence from two decades as a dancer, chore­og­ra­pher and artis­tic di­rec­tor. She men­tions her time at the helm of STEPS Youth Dance Com­pany and Buzz Dance Theatre in WA, but not the six Help­mann award nom­i­na­tions or her Aus­tralian Dance Award for dance ed­u­ca­tion.

Paul is sim­i­larly hum­ble about his achieve­ments. “I was the first in my fam­ily to go to univer­sity. It took me a while to fig­ure things out,” he says. He now leads A Work­shop, his own mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tice that pro­vides ar­chi­tec­tural ser­vices as well as a healthy dose of col­lab­o­ra­tive prac­tice.

As Felic­ity makes an­other pot of tea and Paul serves more of his home­made honey cake, we talk about how they met. Their eyes dart to each other and Felic­ity says, “Don’t men­tion the hot pants!”

Paul doesn’t, in­stead fo­cus­ing on the fa­mous but now de­mol­ished Burt Way artists’ flats in Perth, where they both moved in 1993. “We were liv­ing di­rectly above and be­low each other!”

The cou­ple be­gan dat­ing six months af­ter meet­ing. “I used to sneak him in to the shows I was work­ing on,” says Felic­ity. “The ’90s was an in­cred­i­ble time in Perth. Be­fore the boom there was a real fer­ment.”

In 1994 they be­gan their part­ner­ship ex­plor­ing con­tem­po­rary dance and its re­sponse to in­stal­la­tions, and ap­ply­ing achi­tec­tural think­ing to the con­text of dance. Most re­cently they worked to­gether on Tas­dance’s Hal­cyon – an epic, 14-hour dance in­stal­la­tion for Dark Mofo in 2016.

Their cur­rent home, perched high on the hill in West Launce­s­ton, is their se­cond in Launce­s­ton. “The first was a 1910s tim­ber house with a gar­den fac­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. It lacked any in­su­la­tion qual­i­ties so it was like liv­ing in a fridge,” says Paul.

The new dwelling is “a cool 1960s mod­ernist split plan: com­mu­nal space in the mid­dle with a bed­room wing to the south and con­ser­va­tory liv­ing to the north look­ing over Launce­s­ton city and the Ta­mar River,” says Paul. Out­side, a gran­ite rock­ery and pond sys­tem is shared be­tween neigh­bours.

The stu­dio is the hub of the cou­ple’s col­lab­o­ra­tions. Breeze block and tim­ber lengths are an in­stant shelv­ing so­lu­tion, which are filled with books, vinyl, ob­jets d’art and me­men­tos. Paul’s stu­dio is here, strewn with ar­chi­tec­tural draw­ings, as well as an is­land of sound-mix­ing decks. “We like an eclec­tic range of beats and styles from early 20th cen­tury to now,” says Paul.

It’s the sound­track to the cou­ple’s fu­ture plans. For Paul that in­cludes de­sign­ing a se­ries of eco-pods and huts around Launce­s­ton for a client. Felic­ity, mean­while, is busy repo­si­tion­ing the state’s dance com­pany to con­nect with Tas­ma­ni­ans. “As Tas­ma­nia’s cul­tural ap­petite for hy­brid artis­tic form grows, Tas­dance is ready.”

Clock­wise from top left, Felic­ity Bott and Paul Wake­lam at home with their son, Woolf; the sound-mix­ing is­land in Paul’s stu­dio; a read­ing nook in the stu­dio; a lego model of the Syd­ney Opera House; a mid-cen­tury-in­spired arm­chair is per­fectly po­si­tioned to take in the sun­light; and an art­work by the cou­ple’s daugh­ter, Dante.

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