“You need thick skin in this role”


“I was a modern dancer with fair skin and red hair,” she says. “You weren’t going to find me at the beach. I would just fry!

His father was Tony Ansell, a legendary musician, who died at the age of 55 at the end of 2000. Extremely popular among his peers, he has performed with such luminaries as Don Burrows, the Daly Wilson Big Band and Galapagos Duck. He also co-wrote TV themes for shows such as Lateline, A great country and the ABC Nightly News.

Mooloolaba Banana Shrimp Taco Grilled on Esteban Fire.Credit:Dean Sewell

Her mother, Joanne, is a choreographer, dancer and dance teacher who still teaches 71 going on 50.

“I grew up in a home filled with the most amazing musicians like Kerrie Biddell and Su Cruickshank,” says Ansell. “There were film and television producers who would ask my dad to compose scores and my mom was there with all kinds of artists to choreograph shows. I was running from the recording studio downstairs to the dance studio upstairs with this amazing world around me. And then the dining table was often used for production meetings.

However, despite being surrounded by dancers, it took a little while for this particular gene to wake up in young Ansell.

As a six or seven year old coming home from school, there were ballet lessons at home, but all she wanted was to jump in the pool.

“Ballet seemed very difficult and exhausting to me,” she says. “I was a bit of a ratbag so I swam and said hello to all the kids taking their ballet lessons.”

Flame-grilled Fremantle octopus.

Flame-grilled Fremantle octopus.Credit:Dean Sewell

As she got a little older, she discovered a taste for the theater, which gave her the opportunity to “express herself” and decided to try dancing again. At this point, the discipline of the art form began to make sense.

“I suddenly fell in love with it,” she says. “I loved matching the movement to the music. I loved what it felt like. And suddenly I developed this discipline. Ballet requires artistry but also a physical perfection that you will never be able to achieve. Nothing can ever be perfect in dance, but you are constantly looking for that aesthetic. You keep wanting to perfect it – going back the next day and approaching it a different way to get that aesthetic in a better way than the day before.

Surprisingly, however, her parents weren’t too keen on their daughter following them into show business. Their ambitions for the young Olivia were oriented more towards traditional careers such as law or science.

“It was exciting for them because show business was something in my family that they always did,” says Ansell, whose great-grandfather was a circus conductor and his grandparents both. sides were musicians, opera singers, puppeteers and jugglers.

“For me, having a career in something other than show business was exotic to them.”

They even enrolled Ansell at Danebank, a private girls’ school in Hurstville, in an effort to get the stars out of her eyes. But true to form, it should not be denied.

“I got on the train and sailed straight past Hurstville and got off at Redfern,” she says. “I would have my dance tights, leotard and ripped t-shirt in my backpack, I was heading to Bodenwiesers [dance centre], take modern dance lessons all day, then put on your uniform and take the train home. ”

Eventually there was a “family reunion” and a tearful Ansell negotiated with her parents to study dance full time and complete her HSC by correspondence (even then she earned an ATAR of 93).

At 17, she moved to the United States to study, spending time at the legendary Alvin Ailey School in New York. She then studied dance at QUT in Brisbane.

However, one of the most important lessons she learned around this time was outside the classroom and came from Daddy Tony.

“There was this audition that I attended and I didn’t get it,” she says. “I came home upset and my dad got really tough on me. He said, “Rejection is an integral part of being in this industry. If you can’t take it, you have to get out ”. Suck it up, basically and grow a spine.

After a decade or more of dancing for a living, Ansell began to branch out. In particular, a gig working on a Glynn Nicholas sketch inspired her.

“He wrote, acted and produced,” she says. “I was like, ‘Wow! How does your brain compartmentalize so many roles? I started to write my own material and really enjoyed it. Then I was invited to organize a small independent festival and I started to like being on the other side, organizing and producing. Then I started getting a lot of phone calls.


The phone kept ringing and she eventually found herself running one of the country’s biggest and most prestigious art festivals.

Inevitably, with such a publicized position, there are a lot of critics – chair or otherwise – waiting to pass judgment on her judgment as director of the festival.

But the lesson of her father on hardening as well as the extraordinary discipline acquired by working as a professional dancer have equipped her well.

“You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have your own doubts and nerves, but you do need some thick skin in this role,” she says. “I have opening night nerves like everyone else, but I also enjoy programming for various demographic groups. I find such joy in seeing the public engage in the work. I have tried to make this year’s program as diverse as possible to reach as wide an audience as possible.

She also takes a long look at the individual reviews of works that she has programmed.

“It’s great to have a review and that opinion of the job, but I’ve seen times where one reviewer gave something two or three stars and another gave it five. I always encourage the public to form their own opinion and to give the work a chance.

“We’re also used to focusing on each job on each other – that job at that time. But I saw people whose work is so radical and out there and people didn’t know how to interpret them. Then, many years later, these works become retrospective – this artist experiments and travels. “

The pandemic in particular has forced Ansell to remain adaptable in its programming choices.


“If you read the pandemic literature, it’s entirely possible that I won’t see a festival without COVID during my tenure,” she says. “But we’re on the outside, we’re on the inside, we’re on the line… I really feel like we’re up for anything.”

She is also keenly aware that after two years of lockdown and uncertainty the public is looking for something to cheer themselves up.

“We want to be responsible for challenging our audience, but we really want to bring joy and ignite the imagination with works that inspire hope and a sense of the future. “


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