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
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.