Meryl Tankard was born in Darwin , but moved frequently across the region as a child due to her father's air force career. She spent her early years in Penang (Malaysia), Melbourne and Newcastle, acquiring a taste for change and adventure which was to pattern her entire career.
In 1973 Tankard entered the Australian Ballet school and from there, the Australian Ballet Company in 1975. Her first choreography (in 1977), Birds Behind Bars, a humorous spoof on feminism, won her a prize which enabled her to take a trip to Europe to learn more about the thriving European dance scene.
From Ballet to Bausch...
Her life took a radical new direction when she encountered the work of German choreographer Pina Bausch. Following a gruelling three hour audition Pina immediately invited Meryl to join her Wuppertaler Tanztheater as a soloist, and for the next six years Meryl enjoyed a distinguished career as one of Bausch's leading performers. She created leading roles in landmark productions such as Cafe Muller, Kontakthof ,Walzer , Bandoneon, Arien, 1980 and Keuscheitslegende and danced in many other works as well. In 1983 she starred in the 50 minute film Sydney an der Wupper which was awarded a Gold film band at the Berlin Film Festival.
After many years, at the peak of her carreer, Tankard felt the need to create her own work. On a tour to the Adelaide Festival in Australia in 1982 Tankard's homesickness hit and in 1984 she left Bausch's company.
Return to Oz...
After leaving Bausch, Tankard returned to Australia to take up a range of projects. She freelanced for a few years, undertaking projects in Australia and Europe. During this time she created, what were to become signature pieces of distinctive choreography such as Two Feet , Echo Point and Traveling Light. She built up a relationship with Hermes Paris , creating many original events in Sydney involving dance and fashion . For the next four years Meryl was invited by Pina to perform as a guest for major tours including the company's premiere at BAM New York and LA Olympics Arts Festival, Hamburg , Sweden etc. She also guest starred with Lindsay Kemp's company in Italy and South America
A company in Canberra...
In 1989 Tankard founded her dance company in Canberra and created and produced VX18504, Nuti , Kikimora , Banshee, Court of Flora, Songs with Mara and Chants de Mariage I and II. The company toured to Japan, Italy, Indonesia and China. During this period, Tankard synthesized the range of influences from her early career to create a dance theatre style all her own. She has continued to build a repertoire of work with a thread of dynamic movement, strong emotional content, commitment to design and innovation in staging, which is all her own. Collaborating with photographer Regis Lansac she began developing original techniques using photographic and video projections and designed her own costumes and sets
From 1993-99 she became Artistic Director of Adelaide based Australian Dance Theatre, (ADT) and created an illustrious list of productions for this ground-breaking company and turned ADT into an International touring company. Works include Furioso, Aurora, O Let me Weep, Seulle, Rasa, Inuk and Possessed. ADT toured Europe, USA, Asia, and Australia and performed (as the first Australian company to be invited ) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (New York), Het Musik Theater (Amsterdam), Sadlers Wells (London), Aoyama Theater in Tokyo and Aarhus Music Theatre (Denmark). Inuk was awarded Best Production at the International Summer Festival in Hamburg. During this time Tankard also made The Deep End (1996) for The Australian Ballet and choreographedThe Blue Angel (1998) for Horipro Productions in Tokyo
Furioso is perhaps the signature work which best summarises Tankard's success. This is a complex production which uses aerial choreography to stunning effect and yet avoids gimmickery and short-cuts to pack a strong emotional punch.
Work on Screen...
Upon her return to Australia from Europe, Tankard starred in the Australian ABC TV series Dancing Daze, produced by Jan Chapman and directed in part by Jane Campion. She also starred, alongside Judy Conneli and Jo Kennedy, in Robyn Archer's Pack of Women which was translated to television. She was later the subject of the hour long documentary The Black Swan, directed by Michelle Mahrer and produced by Don Featherstone. This was awarded Best of Show at the Dance on Camera Festival in New York in 1995. Her Wild Swans and The Deep End for the Australian Ballet were both televised on the ABC TV and Meryl was the subject of an hour long documentary on the making of Wild Swans. In 2005, Meryl produced the choreography for Ana Kokinos' feature film The Book of Revelation.
In 2010 Meryl graduated from the Australian Film Television and Radio School, after spending a full-time year studying film directing. During this time she made two short films "Mad", a 9mins documentary on writer/poet Sandy Jeffs, a writer/poet, who has suffered from schizophrenia for the last thirty years. Sandy has managed, through her writing, to turn her madness into her salvation. "Mad" uses Sandy's poems, turned into beautiful, haunting songs with music composed by Elena Kat-Chernin."Mad" won Best Music Award at the Bondi Short Film Festival 2010 and was screened at WOW Film Festival Sydney
Meryl's film "Moth" (13.30min) stars Sophie Lowe and Madeleine Madden. Moth is the story of three young women's determination to be free, and is inspired by the stories from many reform schools in Australia in the 60's and 70's, and the brutal methods used to discipline the girls. Moth has been screened in Film Festivals in Cannes, St Tropez, Toulouse, Dungog, St Kilda, Cockatoo Island, Prague, Poland and toured nationally with WOW film festival Meryl has just completed Michelle's Story, a 30mins documentary portrait on dancer Michelle Ryan.It will be screened in 2015
After six busy years at ADT, Tankard embarked upon commissions from some of the world's most dynamic dance companies. Works include Bolero (1999) for the Lyon Opera Ballet; Merryland (2001) for Netherlands Dance Theatre 3; @North. (2004) for Berlin Ballet Komische Oper and Petrushka (2004) for Netherlands Dance Theatre 1. In 2003 she created Wild Swans ( a full-length ballet) for the Australian Ballet, with a new score by Elena Kats-Chernin. In 2007 the Sydney Opera House commissioned Meryl to create 'Kaidan' for the Sydney Festival. She collaborated with one of Australia's most exciting percussion groups 'Taikoz' .Based on an Japanese folk legend it tells the story of the soul of a woman embodied in a mirror and uses Regis Lansac's sumptuous projections In 2009 Meryl created 'Inuk2" for Sydney Dance Company and a new version of VX18504 for The Australian Theatre for Young People
Opera, musicals and commissions...
Tankard conceived, directed and choreographed Deep Sea Dreaming for the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games 2000.
She choreographed Ocean Dance for His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his Tribute Concert at the Sydney Opera House.
In 2001 Tiffany and Co. New York commissioned Tankard to create Living Oceans to coincide with The Pearl Exhibition at the Museum of Natural History in New York and the Field Museum in Chicago.
The Tiffany commission developed into Pearl for the Sydney Opera House thirtieth birthday celebrations.
In 2001 her choreography for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Musical The Beautiful Game (2000) won a nomination for a Laurence Olivier Award.
Tankard created the choreography for Disney's Tarzan on Broadway in 2006. Tankard has worked with the Australian Opera, choreographing Britten's Death in Venice and Gluck's Orphee and Eurydice. (which won the Age award for Best Collaboration )
2019 Meryl created two new full length productions for the Adelaide Festival, Two Feet, a solo work for the amazing Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova, and Zizanie, for Restless Dance Theatre. Two Feet was the first festival prodcution to sell out !
In 2018 Meryl remounted her acclaimed work Furioso for the Royal Ballet of Flanders.
Michelle's Story, a 30 mins documentary film on dancer Michelle Ryan. Michelle danced for 10 years in Meryl's companies. Unfortunately in 2000 she was suddenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Michelle's Story was commissioned by Adelaide Film Festival 2015 and ABC TV .It was broadcast nationally twice in 2016. The Oracle, Meryl's interpretation of The Rite of Spring, for one extraordinary male dancer, Paul White. The Oracle won Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Male Dancer at the 2010 Australian Dance Awards and has toured to Brisbane Festival, Montpellier Dance Festival, Lyon's Maison de la Danse, Holland Dance Festival and Steps Festival Switzerland and a six week tour of USA.
Awards and Accolades...
2016 Meryl received the prestigious Jim Bettison and Helen James Award.
Michelle's Story received the Audience Award at Adelaide Film Festival 2015, Screen South Australia Award for Best Documentary, Best Short Film, Best Music and Aust Dance Award for Best Film.
The Oracle received Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Male Dancer at 2010 Australian Dance Awards.
2004 Tankard was awarded a two year Creative Fellowship Grant from Australia Council
2003 Tankard was awarded the Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Arts.
2002 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian Dance Awards.
In 2001 she was nominated for a Olivier Award in London and received a Helpmann Award for costume design (with Dan Potra) for the Olympic Ceremony.
Tankard was named Canberran of the Year in 1992. In 1993, she was the recipient of the Sydney Myer Music Award for Individual Achievement.
Meryl is currently working on a screenplay for a feature film .