Dancer: A Biography for Philippa Cullen by Evelyn Juers
The dancer, Philippa Cullen, died tragically in India at the age of 25. Evelyn Juers’ biography of this complex young woman runs to 550 pages. You may think, do Cullen’s life and achievements justify the length? I think probably yes, and Juers, a friend of Cullen’s, does her life justice.
In her short life Cullen fit in a lot. At the age of eight she became a pupil of the Bodenwieser Dance Studio in Sydney. At Sydney University she studied Arts with the goal of becoming a teacher of dance as well as a dancer. She was interested in dance as a creative process, particularly how dance could generate its own music. This led to an interest in electronic music and the theremin, an electronic instrument that generates sound through movement. These early fascinations would later see her using pressure sensitive floors that would generate music from the dancer’s movements.
Cullen also dove into personal relationships that affirmed her creative pursuits. She had a longstanding affair with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen as well as Stockhausen’s wife’s lover; she pursued numerous personal relationships with fellow creatives, often conducting multiple relationships at the same time. On a visit to India, she visited the utopian community of Auroville and fell in love again. She was determined to go back, but on her return, her lover was no longer interested. She fell seriously ill and, within a short time, died.
Cullen kept extensive diaries and Juers has interviewed many of her surviving friends and contemporaries and used these to create a unique biography of a unique woman. One can only imagine what Philippa Cullen might have achieved had her life not been cut so short.