Aged 100, Australian dancer still hears call of the stage

Aged 100, Australian dancer still hears call of the stage

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.

"It wasn't wild, untrammelled movement; there was a definite technique to do. It just suited me."

Kramer credits the languid movements learned at Bodenwieser and her own love of expressive gestures with enabling her to continue her dancing career for so long.

Other contemporaries have suffered more physical problems, she said.

"The other members of the Bodenwieser Ballet mostly have something wrong with their bones. I haven't got anything wrong because I didn't do all that... hitting the ground when you come down. So I think that's why I haven't got false hips or knees."

Kramer says she still works on her ballet exercises, admittedly from the comfort of her bed most mornings.

"But I do get up and do plies and things. Some of the foot exercises in classical ballet are very, very good for strengthening your feet. And I need it now because I can only see with one eye so my balance is affected."

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.

"I was always interested in India and when we toured there I got a taste for India, I suppose," she says, explaining how she took up residence in the country's top hotels as their dancer or artist.

"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."

In Europe she earned money as an artist's model, something she had done in Sydney for Australian painter Norman Lindsay, often for France's noted cubist Andre Lhote and his school.

"He came into the classroom the first day and said, 'Ah, a genius, a beautiful model'. And when he showed me the painting, it was all cubes," she laughed.

She recalls an occasion in France's Dieppe when she was waiting to travel to America as her partner Baruch Shadmi played roulette in the casino.

"So I went into the ballroom to amuse myself and Louis Armstrong and his group were there," she said.

"And I was the only person in the ballroom and I was trying to do the twist. I didn't get it. So he showed me."

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