HomePeopleSheer talent

Sheer talent

From shearing shed to Royal Opera House

Growing up on a farm between Penola and Robe, award-winning choreographer Lewis Major never envisioned becoming a dancer.
Lewis, who now works with Adelaide Hills dancers through his company Lewis Major Projects, grew up hunting, shooting, fishing, shearing sheep and playing football while attending Kangaroo Inn Area School – a small school 4kms away from the farm.
He said shearing was “in his blood” from the beginning, and became a fact of life on the farm.
“Growing up on the land it’s something that happens every year,” he says.
But it was the sense of space that living on a farm afforded him, which contributed to his move into dance in his teenage years.
“I think that sense of space, having a whole lot of room to run around in, was really important,” Lewis says.

Lewis Major.


In Year 12, Lewis took classes in both drama and dance at Scotch College, but was drawn to dance as it blended the sports world he had grown up with and the drama world he was delving into.
Starting dance in his last year of high school meant Lewis was behind everyone in his class, and had to put in much more work to make the grade.
“I was hooked, I was obsessed (with dance) … but I had a lot of catching up to do,” he says.
“I would skip school, I would skip maths class and go stretch in an empty classroom … I was flying blind until I met an amazing teacher.”

Lewis and his troupe performed everywhere from parking lots at Mt Barker, to the Royal Opera House in London

Ballet teacher Susan Taylor, who he described as one of the most “passionate” and “generous” people he had ever met, gave him extra classes to try and get him up to speed.
“She was tough but fair … old school,” Lewis says.
After graduating, Lewis spent two years dancing full-time at Terry Simpson Studios in Adelaide, before being accepted into the New Zealand School of Dance.
There he was introduced to a rigorous and unforgiving practice regime, which involved “very physical” training from 8am to 5pm, six days a week.
The competitive nature of a high level dance school meant he made very few friends, and at times was even criticised for becoming too close with a fellow dancer.
“I do remember being dragged in by my director in first year, and he said ‘oh I see you’re getting very close with John’, who was my best mate at the time,” he says.
“He said, ‘you shouldn’t get too many friends in this industry, because one day you’ll be going for a job and you’ll have to stab him in the back’.”
Lewis put his schooling on hold for a trip to Europe, where he landed a gig, filling in for an injured dancer at a festival in Vienna.
Performing at the festival was considerably more relaxed than dancing at school (“it was like chalk and cheese” he says).
After a month-long stint he returned to finish his schooling in NZ. But 45 minutes after he arrived, he walked out on the school.
“I was in a ballet exam and halfway through I got sent out because my socks weren’t ironed,” he says.
“After that I was done.”

Lewis Major in the Kanmantoo Pastoral Company Woolshed.


Heading to Amsterdam with $1000 in his pocket at the start of 2011, Lewis took up a job with dance company ARTED, which he found out about through friends he had made during his previous trip to Europe.
While living in a “squat” – an office space he paid a token amount of rent to live in with several other people to keep away squatters – he participated in a variety of dance productions, where he was introduced to the practice of “dance gaming”.
“It’s basically where the audience control the dancers on stage, and they can make them have interactions with each other … it’s very European,” he said.
Later that year he moved to the UK to work with Indian dancer Akasha Dedra and help him establish his own dance company with a focus on classical Indian dance.
“It was an absolute dream job at 22,” Lewis says.
But little could have prepared him for what came next.
“Kevin Spacey … he was the director of the Old Vic Theatre in London and he gave me a whole bunch of money to make a show,” he says. The stress from putting together the show landed Lewis in hospital. “I was spewing up blood … I must have got some sort of ulcer and the stress compounded it,” he says.

I have always wanted to commit to making work in the regions… now I’m doing it, and I absolutely love it.

Lewis Major


The stressful experience did not dissuade him from continuing his journey as a choreographer and in 2016 he founded Lewis Major Projects at Mt Barker.
Commitments to shows overseas meant he didn’t start organising local shows until 2020, but even then they were delayed because of Covid-19.
Working with Noni Vassos, director of local dance group Rockit Performing Arts, Lewis secured dance studios to practice in while the world was locked down.
As Covid restrictions began to lift, Lewis and his troupe performed everywhere from parking lots at Mt Barker, to the Royal Opera House in London.
“When I was growing up there weren’t (shows) going on in the regions, and I have always wanted to commit to making work in the regions,” he said.
“Now I’m doing it, and I absolutely love it.”
But while his life has changed dramatically from his early years on the farm, Lewis still makes sure he returns home from time to time, despite his busy schedule.
While he no longer holds the shears when he returns to the farm, he still helps herd sheep and sort wool during shearing season.
“I’ve made a pact with myself that every year
I spend at least a month on the farm doing
some manual labor,” he says.
“I think it’s really important to go back to
your roots.”

LATEST POSTS

Transcending words through dance

When contemporary dancer Rhianna Dunaiski is artfully expressing herself on stage it’s a feeling like no other. “If you ask any dancer why they love dancing,...

Driven by art generosity and love

David Dridan is one of the SA art world’s living treasures. His distinctive landscape paintings are almost entirely devoid of human influences and his great love...

Everyone loves a hero

There’s glorious gold in the Hills at the moment, the colour of many ash trees now almost gone, punctuated by vibrant crimsons and clarets lining...

QA – Nicole Black | Artist

Nicole is a Kangarilla-based artist who works across multiple mediums, with a continuous focus on the natural environment. Her work was recently selected to feature on...

Other stories

Editor’s note – Winter 2024

Welcome to the winter 2024 edition of the Hills Wanderer!Warm woollen jumpers, coats and gumboots – it's that time of year again!Over the past...

Fashion in the Hills

Photography | Daniele Cazzolato Stylists | Emily Fels & Tiffany Cazzolato Make-up | Tianna Faulkner Talent | Carly White & Nick Kennett If you're looking for the perfect...

Transcending words through dance

When contemporary dancer Rhianna Dunaiski is artfully expressing herself on stage it’s a feeling like no other. “If you ask any dancer why they love...

Driven by art generosity and love

David Dridan is one of the SA art world’s living treasures. His distinctive landscape paintings are almost entirely devoid of human influences and his great...

Winter’s Song

Enchanted by her half-lightand whispers of lingering nights.Here I stand, grounding,my feet upon her soil.Imagination courses throughmy roots, akin to the trees,delving deep, steadying...