An arts retreat for 25 emerging Australian choreographers in 1999 not only exposed Lisa Fa’alafi and Leah Shelton to new styles and skills, it spawned a creative partnership spanning two decades.
“That’s where Lisa and I met and when she and Fez Fa’anana founded Polytoxic the following year, they invited me to join,” Leah recalls.
“We had a shared love of theatricality and we thought, let’s see what happens when we mash up our different skills and talents and work together.”
Lisa, of Samoan heritage, explains Polytoxic was founded to make spaces for people of colour and multicultural artists.
“When I graduated QUT and started performing, I didn’t feel like I’d fit into any of the mainstream theatre or arts companies,” Lisa says.
“We didn’t have anyone to look up to so thought, maybe we should make spaces ourselves.”
The two now work as co-artistic directors of the collective known for its hyper-visual, pop-inspired performance work and its ethos of diversity, collaboration and intersectionality.
They are both successful independent artists and Lisa says the freedom to experiment and work outside Polytoxic’s recognised aesthetic allows them to bring new ideas and partnerships to the company.
“This is an amazing place to make work and there’s a really strong sense of support and community in Brisbane that I think is quite unique to other arts communities,” Leah adds.
“That ethos of really celebrating our community and engaging artists who align with our values – First Nations artists, women, people of colour – is pretty important to us in the collaborations we do.”
While both Lisa and Leah have worked with Brisbane Festival in the past as performers and programmers, 2020 marks Polytoxic’s debut with Snapshot at Brisbane Powerhouse.
“Audiences seek out new experiences at Brisbane Festival they might not see at any other time of the year: independent work, something a little more challenging or avant-garde,” Leah says.