When Meryl Tankard premiered Two Feetat Brisbane’s World Expo on Stage in 1988, she made a huge splash (literally, in the finale).

Two Feet, Meryl Tankard, Adelaide Festival Meryl Tankard in Two Feet. Photo © Régis Lansac

The extraordinary, demanding solo piece saw her flit between the tragic Russian prima ballerina Olga Spessivtzeva, whose career ended when she had a nervous breakdown, and a semi-autobiographical character called Mepsie. Interweaving the two stories, Tankard explored the obsessions that dancers struggle with as they strive to attain perfection.

Tankard subsequently performed the signature dance work – which included some text – in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. She also performed it in Tokyo. “Japan was amazing,” she says. “[I thought] how will we do that? I will have to translate or they won’t get it when I speak, but they didn’t [use surtitles], they just put a little bit about it in the program. I have never felt so exposed. I could feel everybody concentrating on me, but they laughed in places that I thought were funny, they got my humour even more than the Australians.”

“They would stay behind and ask questions, and they were so...