Making a new work on 20 dancers from two different companies in just two weeks is a daunting prospect for any choreographer. Add in the fact that not everyone in the cast speaks the same language, and it’s bound to trigger a fight-or-flight response.

Such was the situation choreographer Stephanie Lake recently found herself in when she spent a fortnight in Beijing working with a mixed ensemble of Chinese and Australian dancers, most of whom she had never seen dance. “Honestly, I was quite trepidatious going into it,” recalls Lake. “I didn’t arrive with any fixed choreography, which was really scary. I really didn’t know what the dancers were capable of or what they were interested in.”

Stephanie Lake’s Auto Cannibal. Photo © Jade Ellis

The project – a double bill called Matrix, featuring works by Lake and Chinese choreographer Ma Bo – is the latest collaboration between Brisbane’s Expressions Dance Company and a consortium of Chinese contemporary dance groups. Established in 2015, the cultural exchange program has proven fruitful for both sides, leading to this most significant and immersive exchange to date.

While...