100-year-old Australian dancer still hears call of the stage

Eileen Kramer rehearses her latest work at a theatre in Sydney.—AFP

SYDNEY:
Starring in music videos at the age of 100, Eileen Kramer is probably the oldest working dancer and choreographer in Australia, if not the world — and the centenarian revels in her age.

“I don’t mind. I’m 100!,” she laughs from the Sydney rehearsal of a music video in which she is performing.” I’m liberated. I don’t have to be 35 all the time. Conversation with Kramer moves swiftly — from how she used to eavesdrop on philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in a Paris cafe, to modelling for famous artists, to Louis Armstrong teaching her to do the twist.

She puts her life’s unusual trajectory down to seeing, at the age of 24, a performance by Sydney’s Bodenwieser Ballet, run by Viennese immigrant Madame Gertrud Bodenwieser, who had fled to Australia via Colombia after escaping the Nazis.

Kramer tried out for the troupe and was accepted to classes. She recalls that after her first session she felt “free” — and within three years was a member of the company.

Although named the Bodenwieser Ballet, it is credited with being Australia’s first truly influential modern dance company, and despite her lack of classical training, Kramer found she had talent.

With her bright lipstick and a near-fluorescent orange dress she made herself, Kramer recounts touring Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India with the Bodenwieser troupe before setting up on her own.

“In Pakistan, somebody told me I could paint. Next thing I found myself in a pavilion… painting scenes of Paris. That wouldn’t happen now. But I was on the spot and I did it. I had two assistants. So I set to work and did it.”

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