About Michelle

Based in Canberra, Australia, Michelle Potter is an independent dance writer, historian and curator with a doctorate in Art History and Dance History from the Australian National University. She became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2023 for her services to the performing arts.

Michelle with Governor-General David Hurley at the Order of Australia Investiture Ceremony, Canberra 2023. Photo: © Paul Knight

She is also the recipient of two Australian Dance Awards, Services to Dance in 2003 and Outstanding Achievement in Dance on Film in 2001, two Australian Cultural Studies Awards, a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award and an International Dance Day Award. In 2012 she was the recipient of a Scholars and Artists in Residence Fellowship at the National Film and Sound Archive.

Michelle Potter and Tara Morice at the 2001 Australian Dance Awards. Photo Richard Merchant
With Australian actor Tara Morice at the Australian Dance Awards, 2001. Photo: © Richard Merchant

Michelle was Esso Research Fellow in the Performing Arts at the National Library of Australia, 1988 to 1990 and between 1998 and 2001 managed the Keep Dancing Project at the National Film and Sound Archive. She was inaugural Curator of Dance at the National Library of Australia, 2002–2006, and Curator, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 2006–2008. Since returning to Australia she has worked in a freelance capacity.

As a dance writer her reviews and features were published regularly in Dance Australia between 1993 and 2001, and appeared in The Canberra Times between 1990 and 2006 and again between 2010 and 2020. Her work continues to be published as chapters in books and in magazines, newspapers and scholarly journals in Australia and around the world including in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and New Caledonia. Between 2013 and 2016 she wrote occasional reviews and stories for DanceTabs, thus continuing the writing she did between 2002 and 2005 for ballet.co.uk. Since 2023 she has begun writing the occasional dance review and article for Canberra’s City News.

Her most recent book is Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, published in September 2022 by FortySouth Publishing in Hobart, Tasmania. It follows her exploration of the work of Kristian Fredrikson, designer for dance, opera, theatre and film and television, in Kristian Fredrikson. Designer, published by Melbourne Books in July 2020; her biography of Dame Margaret Scott, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance, published in 2014 by Text Publishing, Melbourne; her biography of Meryl Tankard, Meryl Tankard: an original voice, self-published in 2012; and three books published by the National Library of Australia between 1991 and 2002 relating to material in the Library’s dance collection.

Her most recent major essay, ‘New narratives from old texts. Contemporary ballet in Australia’, appears as a chapter in The Oxford Handbook to Contemporary Ballet (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021).

As an oral historian Michelle has recorded over 160 interviews with personalities in the world of the arts, working for the National Library of Australia; the National Film and Sound Archive; the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; and the National Dance Archive of New Zealand.

As a curator she has been responsible for two major exhibitions—Dance people, dance (1997–1999), an award-winning, touring exhibition for the National Library of Australia, and INVENTION: Merce Cunningham and collaborators (2007), which she co-curated with David Vaughan and Barbara Cohen-Stratyner for the New York Public Library. She has also curated several smaller shows beginning with Australian Stages (1993) for the National Festival of Australian Theatre directed by Robyn Archer. While working at the National Film and Sound Archive between 1997 and 2001 she co-scripted, researched and directed three dance documentaries, The Ballets Russes in Australia, the award-winning Boro’s Ballet, and The Australian Ballet: Opening Act.

Press conference, Libary for the Performing Arts, New York, 2007. Foreground Merce Cunningham, background (l-r) curators Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, David Vaughan, Michelle Potter
Press conference, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York, June 2007. Merce Cunningham (foreground) and (l-r) curators Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, David Vaughan, Michelle Potter

In 2005 Michelle helped choose the winner of the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award and from 2015 to 2020 was part of the selection panel for the Australian Dance Awards. She gave the keynote address at the 2018 RAD Conference in Brisbane in January 2018; delivered the inaugural Russell Kerr Address in Wellington, New Zealand, in February 2018; and in July 2018 participated in the panel discussion Reflections on Marie Rambert at the Cecchetti Conference in Melbourne. In March 2019 she joined the present and other past curators of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Library for the Performing Arts, New York, in a forum to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Division.

2019 Dance Division staff
Present and past Dance Division staff, March 2019. Front row: curators (l-r) Madeleine Nichols, Michelle Potter, Jan Schmidt and Linda Murray

In September 2021 she moderated a discussion panel on the feature film, Firestarter. The story of Bangarra, for the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. Guests panelists for the discussion were associate artistic director (now artistic director) of Bangarra Dance Theatre, Frances Rings, and the film’s co-directors Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin.

For a more detailed biography, a list of publications, presentations given since 2006, and a list of oral history interviews see the following links: Biography. Publications. Oral histories. Presentations.

Cloudland Ballet from 'Jack and the beanstalk', Sydney, 1958. Photographer unknown
(far right) In ‘Cloudland Ballet’ from Jack and the Beanstalk, Sydney 1962. Photo: Phil Ward Studios
As Berthe in Giselle, with Annabel Reid as Giselle, National Capital Dancers, 1994. Photo: © Alan Chapple

Photo credits: Kay Shortt (1983); Irene Lorbergs (2000); Loui Seselja (2006)

Featured image: Michelle at home in Canberra, 2017