Double lifeBy Katie Booth | Jul 02, 12 10:35 AM
Larissa Behrendt is chairwoman of Bangarra Dance Theatre and a lawyer fighting for indigenous rights. She was NSW Australian of the Year in 2011; a true modern day superwoman.
Many of our modern day superwomen lead a double life. Larissa Behrendt is no different. By day, she is a professor of law at University of Technology, Sydney. When she’s not busy with that, she is chairwoman of Bangarra Dance Theatre and board member of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Larissa is one woman with a whole lot on her plate.
In addition to her roles with Bangarra and MCA, Larissa is heavily involved in the arts in other ways: her book Achieving Social Justice: Indigenous Rights and Australia’s Future was published in 2003, while her novel Home won her the 2002 David Unaipon Award and a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
A double life
You might think that the professor/writer/board member would find juggling her disparate interests challenging. But the Eualeyai-Kamillaroi woman who was born in Cooma, NSW, says her interests in the arts and law seem to be the perfect combination.
“There’s a whole range of ways in which the end goal of having a healthy, vibrant community and culture are complemented by work in legal and cultural practices. Some things are much more easily achieved through creative arts than they are through the law,” says Larissa.
She is director of research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney which works well with her position as chair of Bangarra. With a particular interest in Indigenous issues, Larissa’s work in both areas contributes to the creation of strong and vibrant Indigenous communities, she says.
Larissa’s interest in the arts began at a very early age. As a child, she attended ballet classes. “I still walk around on my toes because I wanted to be a ballerina,” she says. She also finds time to paint and write: “Some people say to me ‘How do you make the time to?’” she says. ” I say ‘I love it.’ If it was tax law, I certainly wouldn’t be spending as much time on it. Her juggling act was tricky around the time she decided to step down as director at Sydney Writers’ Festival. “When I took on the chair role at Bangarra, I had to come off other commitments,” she says. “I knew stepping up to chair is a much bigger role than being a board member, and I definitely didn’t take it lightly.”
Challenges as chair
Appointed chair of Bangarra in December 2010, Larissa has had a long association with the company. She has been involved with it in some form or another since her teens. “It is the only Indigenous company that falls under the major performing arts group,” Larissa says. “To have watched it grow from when it was just starting out to what it is now, it’s been a real privilege.” Like every superwoman, Larissa has faced obstacles in her role as chair, not least stepping into the role as chair just as the global financial crisis hit. One of her key concerns for the company is making sure that the quality of work produced is not sacrificed by the demand to expand the company of 14. “We can’t do it all,” Larissa says.
But she says the proudest moment she experiences is seeing the performances that Bangarra produces. “It’s an amazing thing to know that you’ve helped because you’ve done the governance, and you’ve raised the funds,” she says.
Larissa says this feeling is only brought about by the hard work of all who are involved with Bangarra. Her passion for the arts, in addition to her work with the University of Technology, Sydney, is evident as she ponders: “Creative arts is my life and I think I’d be a bit poorer if I didn’t have it there.”
This was first published in the Winter issue of Latte. Want to receive Latte magazine? Become a Premium member of Business Chicks