Margot Fonteyn with Kelvin Coe and John Meehan in 'The Merry Widow', 1977. Photo Walter Stringer

Walter Stringer’s dance photography

In February 2000 I wrote an article for National Library of Australia News on the dance photography of Walter Stringer, who before he died donated his very extensive collection of images to the National Library of Australia in Canberra. In the light of the recent discussion about the dancer portrayed in photos of Swan Lake in my recent post about the 1958 Royal Ballet tour to Australia and New Zealand, I thought it might be worth making the Stringer article more readily available, and adding a little about some of the Royal Ballet images included in the Stringer collection.

Follow this link to the National Library of Australia News article. Please note there is an error in the caption for the Swan Lake image used in the article. It is not, of course, Anne Woolliams and corps de ballet in the image but corps de ballet in the Anne Woolliams production! This was an editorial mishap.

Unfortunately the Royal Ballet material is not fully digitised so most of it can only be viewed on site at the National Library. This non-digitised component includes an album of 43 photos relating to the 1958 tour. The album came with a list created by the photographer. What follows is a slightly expanded version of the list, although no changes have been made to Stringer’s identification of dancers or ballets.

Accession No. Captions
994/1 Les Patineurs, 1958, Susan Alexander and unidentified
994/2 Swan Lake, Act I, 1958, Elizabeth ?, Michael Boulton, Audrey Farris
994/3 Swan Lake, Act II, 1958, Lynn Seymour (Odette)
994/4 Swan Lake, Act II, 1958, Lynn Seymour (Odette)
994/5 Swan Lake, Act II, 1958, Lynn Seymour (Odette), David Blair (Siegfried)
994/6 Swan Lake, Act II, 1958, Lynn Seymour (Odette), David Blair (Siegfried)
994/7 Swan Lake, Act II, 1958, Lynn Seymour (Odette), David Blair (Siegfried)
994/8 Swan Lake, Act III, 1958, Lynn Seymour (Odile)
994/9 Swan Lake, Act III, 1958, Lynn Seymour (Odile), David Blair (Siegfried)
994/10 Swan Lake, Act III, 1958, Lynn Seymour (Odile), David Blair (Siegfried)
994/11 Les Sylphides, 1958, Valerie Taylor
994/12 Les Sylphides, 1958, Anne Heaton
994/13 Les Sylphides, 1958, Valerie Taylor
994/14 Les Sylphides, 1958, Anne Heaton
994/15 Les Sylphides, 1958, Anne Heaton
994/16 Coppélia, 1958, Robert Helpmann (Dr Coppélius), Rowena Jackson (Swanilda)
994/17 Coppélia, 1958, Robert Helpmann (Dr Coppélius), Rowena Jackson (Swanilda)
994/18 Coppélia, 1958, Valerie Taylor (Prayer)
994/19 Coppélia, 1958, Rowena Jackson (Swanilda), Philip Chatfield (?) (Franz)
994/20 Coppélia, 1958, Dance of the Hours
994/21 Coppélia, 1958 Rowena Jackson (Swanilda)
994/22 Coppélia, 1958 Rowena Jackson (Swanilda)
994/23 Hamlet, 1958, Robert Helpmann (Hamlet)
994/24 Hamlet, 1958, Robert Helpmann (Hamlet)
994/25 Hamlet, 1958, Robert Helpmann (Hamlet)
994/26 Hamlet, 1958
994/27 Hamlet, 1958, Robert Helpmann (Hamlet)
994/28 Pineapple Poll, 1958, Patricia Cox (Poll)
994/29 Pineapple Poll, 1958
994/30 Pineapple Poll, 1958, Patricia Cox (Poll)
994/31 Coppélia, 1958, Alan Alder
994/32 Coppélia, 1958
994/33 Coppélia, 1958, Philip Chatfield (Franz)
994/34 Coppélia, 1958, Susan Alexander (Swanilda)
994/35 Coppélia, 1958, Susan Alexander (Swanilda)
994/36 Coppélia, 1958, Susan Alexander (Swanilda)
994/37 Coppélia, 1958, Rowena Jackson (Swanilda)
994/38 Coppélia, 1958, Rowena Jackson (Swanilda), Philip Chatfield (Franz)
994/39 Coppélia, 1958, Robert Helpmann (Dr Coppélius), Rowena Jackson (Swanilda)
994/40 Coppélia, 1958, Rowena Jackson (Swanilda), Philip Chatfield (Franz)
994/41 Coppélia, 1958, Rowena Jackson (Swanilda), Philip Chatfield (Franz)
994/42 Unknown, Rowena Jackson, 1958
994/43 The Rake’s Progress, 1958, Anne Heaton


Michelle Potter, 15 January 2017

Featured image: Margot Fonteyn with Kelvin Coe and John Meehan in The Merry Widow. The Australian Ballet, 1977. As featured in my article ‘Walter Stringer’s dance photography’. National Library of Australia

Margot Fonteyn with Kelvin Coe and John Meehan in 'The Merry Widow', 1977. Photo Walter Stringer

de-valois-autograph-6

The Royal Ballet. Tour of Australia and New Zealand 1958–1959

With the Royal Ballet preparing for a tour to Brisbane later in 2017, I have been delving into various research materials available in Canberra and Sydney to put together some thoughts about the first tour by the Royal Ballet to Australia and New Zealand, which began in 1958.

The Royal Ballet made its first tour to Australasia in 1958−1959 performing in Australia in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane and in New Zealand in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. The promoters were J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd, who claimed in their introductory notes to programs for the tour that the visit represented ‘the crowning achievement in The Firm’s distinguished contribution to the presentation of Dance in this country.’ Records of the Williamson organisation indicate that there was some initial discussion about the dates and cities to be visited (and in what order), but the eventual schedule was:

11 September−8 November 1958:
10 November 1958−3 January 1959:
7 January−31 January 1959:
3 February−25 February 1959:
4 March−7 March 1959:
9 March−21 March 1959:
23 March−4 April 1959:
6 April−18 April 1959:
Sydney, Empire Theatre
Melbourne, Her Majesty’s Theatre
Adelaide, Theatre Royal
Brisbane, Her Majesty’s Theatre
Dunedin, His Majesty’s
Christchurch, Theatre Royal
Wellington, Grand Opera House
Auckland, His Majesty’s Theatre

 
The company was essentially the touring arm of the Royal Ballet, augmented at various stages by dancers from the main company, including Rowena Jackson, Svetlana Beriosova and Anya Linden; Philip Chatfield, Bryan Ashbridge and David Blair; and Robert Helpmann, who danced some featured roles, including in The Rake’s Progress, Hamlet, Façade and Coppélia. Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes joined the company in New Zealand.

Bryan Ashbridge, Royal Ballet postcard, 1958
Svetlana Beriosova, Royal Ballet postcard, 1958

Royal Ballet postcards, 1958–1959 Australasian tour: Bryan Ashbridge & Svetlana Beriosova

The company was led initially by Ninette de Valois. She arrived in Sydney on 22 August, ahead of the main contingent of dancers, who arrived on 1 September after what Lynn Seymour describes in her autobiography, Lynn, as a trip that took ‘three flying days, with desperate relief stops in Frankfurt, Rome, Cairo, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok and Singapore.’1 De Valois was accommodated in style at the Hotel Australia in Sydney—’should be booked into a nice room at the Australia with bath’ ordered the Williamson organisation.

In addition to de Valois, other administrative and artistic personnel included John Field, listed on the Australian programs as assistant director; and musical director John Lanchbery, who arrived on 30 August on board the P & O liner Stratheden, and who conducted local orchestras in each city. Ballet staff included Henry Legerton as ballet master, and Lorna Mossford as ballet mistress.

While much could be written about the tour, which, with some important exceptions, is most often given just one or two lines in books written and published in Britain, three aspects of the tour stood out as I was looking into the material available here: Lynn Seymour’s debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake; the writing of the Sydney-based critic and poet, Roland Robinson; and some black and white film footage shot in Melbourne in 1958.

Lynn Seymour in Swan Lake

Although Seymour says in her autobiography (and the story is repeated in Meredith Daneman’s biography of Margot Fonteyn), that her debut performance as Odette/Odile coincided with her 19th birthday, this can’t be so. Seymour gave her first performance in the full-length Swan Lake in Melbourne on 12 November 1958, but her birth-date is 9 March 1939. The debut was at a Wednesday matinee performance and Seymour was partnered by David Blair for this and for her second performance on 15 November, after which Seymour danced with Donald MacLeary.

De Valois, whose idea it was to have Seymour dance the full-length Swan Lake in Australia, left for home before the debut performance, leaving John Field in charge. Seymour’s biographer, Richard Austin, notes that Field took most of the rehearsals and that Seymour had some coaching from Rowena Jackson. As recorded in her autobiography, Seymour was also given encouragement at times by Helpmann and then in New Zealand by Fonteyn. In Lynn, Seymour also discusses some of the difficulties she faced in the first few performances, including managing the 32 fouettés in Act III, and Austin elaborates on the story. But by the time the company reached New Zealand reviews of Seymour and MacLeary were definitely positive. The reviewer for The Press (Christchurch), for example, was moved to write: ‘Lynn Seymour’s technique is remarkable for its gracefulness; and her poise enabled her to secure some wonderfully statuesque effects. In Donald MacLeary she had a wonderfully accomplished partner, whose every movement revealed his sense of style.’

The images below were taken in Melbourne in 1958. That Seymour is partnered by Blair in this collection of photos indicates that they must have been taken during Seymour’s first or second performance. They must surely be the earliest photos of Seymour in the full-length Swan Lake?

lynn-seymour-and-david-blair-swan-lake-act-ii-1
Lynn Seymour as Odile. The Royal Ballet, Melbourne 1958. Photo: Walter Stringer

 (left) Lynn Seymour and David Blair in Swan Lake Act II (detail);
(right) Lynn Seymour in Swan Lake Act III (detail).
The Royal Ballet, Melbourne 1958. Photos: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia (PIC Albums: 994)

Roland Robinson’s dance reviews

Roland Robinson (1912–1992) wrote dance reviews for The Sydney Morning Herald for ten years during the 1940s and 1950s, always signing his reviews with just his initials, R.R. He was a poet of distinction and also wrote extensively about Aboriginal myths and legends. In the 1940s he took ballet classes in Sydney with Hélène Kirsova, whom he called his ‘teacher and heroine’, and appeared in a number of productions by the Kirsova Ballet over a three year period. His reviews thus combine a deep knowledge and strong understanding of dance (and not just its technical features but its essential qualities as an art form) with an elegant use of language. His language embodied ‘the lyrical traditions of his native Ireland’ (he was born in County Clare), as one author wrote in an obituary for Robinson.

  • He was not impressed by Les Sylphides, and he would have known this ballet well from the Kirsova Ballet: ‘The presentation of “Les Sylphides” by the Royal Ballet … contained all the components of this ballet save the basic understanding and expression of this marriage of music, dancing, painting an poetry.’
  • He greatly admired Svetlana Beriosova and said of her first performance in Sydney in Swan Lake: ‘Never have I seen anything so beautiful as Svetlana Beriosova, as Odette-Odile, in Le Lac des Cygnes by the Royal Ballet at the Empire Theatre on Saturday night … Australia is honoured by such a ballerina. For the first time we saw the tragic beauty of the full story … Such was the unrivalled classical quality of this ballerina’s performance that one must, in all due homage, say of Beriosova “Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart”.’
  • He was at two minds about Helpmann in The Rake’s Progress: ‘Robert Helpmann is a master of mime and detailed gesture from the broad theatrical flourish to a stage dominating minute flick of the finger. He is not physically up to form in “The Rake,” but his inborn insight into the mental processes of character, and his faultless make-up compel one to sit up and take notice.’
  • He maintains that, at a reception, he had a discussion with de Valois about technique and expression and, in reviewing the opening performance of Swan Lake in Sydney, he expressed what must have been the essence of that discussion: ‘It is an indication of the native character of the English Royal Ballet that it should begin its first season in Australia with the prescribed, traditional form of the classical ballet “Swan Lake”. Each nation has its own particular character and temperament. If the characters of the Russian and French ballets are of nobility, elegance, and command, coupled with a daring virility and imagination, the American one of athletic daring and revolutionary character, then the character of the English ballet impresses as cold, conservative and unimaginative. The nature of this character was painfully evident throughout the Royal Ballet’s presentation of “Swan Lake” at the Empire Theatre last night. It must be stressed, however, that the dancers of this company have attained a mastery of technique which may not always be found in either the Russian or American schools. Artistically, of course, technique is only justified as a means to the expression of the imagination. The main criticism of the Royal Ballet is that it is disappointingly lacking in this essential imaginative creativeness.’

Robinson wrote what he thought, and there is much more to read from him in back copies of The Sydney Morning Herald. His writing on dance is as fascinating today as it must have been irritating to many in 1958.

Film footage of the Royal Ballet tour

Lasting around 25 minutes, a somewhat grainy, black and white film recording the visit by the Royal Ballet to Melbourne was shot in December 1958. It opens with a segment showing Anya Linden and David Blair sauntering through the gardens in Spring Street, not far from Her Majesty’s Theatre where the company was performing. There they weigh themselves (amid some mirth) on a large, coin-operated public weighing machine. They are then approached by a white-haired gentleman who shows them a book (Arnold Haskell’s In his true centre), which they examine. Then follow extracts from the company repertoire as performed in Melbourne, including excerpts from Swan Lake, Giselle, Veneziana, Pineapple Poll, Don Quixote (pas de deux), A Blue Rose, Façade, Les Patineurs and Coppélia. These dancing segments include a tantalising glimpse of Helpmann tottering across the stage in heeled shoes as Dr Coppélius, a wonderful hornpipe from Blair as Captain Belaye in Pineapple Poll, and an all too brief look at Seymour as Aurora in Coppélia, performing with beautiful fluidity in the arms, neck and upper body.

It is unclear who shot the film, but I wonder if it is perhaps Dr Joseph Ringland Anderson, Melbourne ophthalmologist whose films of the Ballets Russes visits to Australia, 1936−1940, are such a valuable addition to our knowledge of those companies? The Royal Ballet film has a number of backstage scenes, especially moments captured just before curtain up, which are similar to moments that appear frequently on the Ringland Anderson Ballets Russes films. And, as also occurred with the Ballet Russes films, much of the action is filmed from the wings. I wonder too if the white-haired gentleman in the Spring Street gardens with the copy of In his true centre is perhaps Dr Ringland Anderson, who would have been 64 at the time? Time may tell.

Michelle Potter, 4 January 2017

Featured image: Ninette de Valois, autograph and program image, Sydney 1958

de-valois-autograph-6

NOTE

  1. There is a discrepancy with the arrival date in some published sources. I have used the one given in the J.C. Williamson material held in the National Library (MS 5783), which states that 58 company members departed London on ’29 August from London Airport North on flight EM 552 arriving on 1 September by air.’ The date is supported in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald for 2 September 1958: ‘Fifty-eight members of the Royal Ballet arrived in Sydney by Qantas from London last night [1 September] to begin an eight month’s tour of Australia and New Zealand.’

The Royal Ballet will play Brisbane (as the only Australian venue) from 28 June to 9 July 2017 as part of Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s International Series. The repertoire consists of Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works and Christopher Wheeldon’s A Winter’s Tale. Details at qpac.

Update: the signed photograph of Seymour referred to in the discussion below has been posted at this link.

Ruth Osborne, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Ruth Osborne. Artistic director QL2 Dance

Ruth Osborne has been setting up and facilitating dance projects for the young people of Canberra since 1999. It was then that she was invited to come to Canberra from Perth to set up the Quantum Leap Youth Program for the Australian Choreographic Centre at Gorman House. Osborne had had an extraordinarily diverse dance career in Perth, involving teaching, directing and choreography across a range of institutions, including the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts and her own dance school, the Contemporary Dance Centre. In addition, in Perth Osborne was a founding board member and artistic director of STEPS Youth Dance Company for ten years.

As we sit in the beautifully green and cool courtyard of Gorman House, Osborne talks of her experience in Perth. ‘When I started working with young people in Perth, I could see the benefits of bringing them together from different places, not just from one dance school,’ she says. ‘It was about opening up minds; attracting boys into dance, and youth programs were a great way of doing that; and looking at who were our artists, and how young people might benefit from their input. The move to Canberra was an exciting prospect as it gave me the opportunity to work full-time with young people.’

Not surprisingly then, Quantum Leap quickly flourished as Canberra’s youth dance ensemble and Osborne’s vision for its development attracted financial support from the beginning. Ongoing funding, in particular from artsACT, meant that when the Choreographic Centre folded, after losing its funding in 2006, Osborne’s youth dance projects were able to continue. Over the next few years Quantum Leap, that initial undertaking, became just one strand in a larger endeavour. The Chaos initiative for younger dancers from eight onwards; Hot to Trot, a program giving young choreographers the chance to show their work; and special programs for boys became realities, as did other ventures as Quantum Leapers went on to tertiary dance study and then returned to give back to the organisation that had nurtured their early dance activities. Those programs for tertiary students included the On Course program, now ten years old, where emerging choreographers are mentored and are given opportunities to try out their ideas. A new organisational name, QL2 Dance, came into being to encompass the ever-growing range of youth activities Osborne was able to develop and offer to young people.

Chaos Project 2016. QL2 Dance. © Photo Lorna Sim

Chaos Project 2016. QL2 Dance. © Photo Lorna Sim

Over the almost two decades that Osborne has been mentoring young people in Canberra, she has received a number of awards for her work, including two Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards and an Australian Dance Award in 2012 for Services to Dance, an award that indicates the extent to which her career, both in Perth and Canberra, has been recognised by her peers.

Now Osborne has received exceptional acknowledgement, and significant financial support as well, to advance her commitment to supporting and mentoring young people through dance. In 2017 she will take up a Churchill Fellowship that will take her to the United Kingdom for around two months to explore a range of youth dance organisations from many points of view. What kinds of support do UK-based youth initiatives receive? What is their inherent nature, that is do they have an ongoing role, or do they work simply from project to project? What career trajectories have emerged as dancers from youth programs move into professional areas?

Osborne’s focus will largely be on the major British youth dance organisations, including the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland established by YDance (Scottish Youth Dance).  Osborne first saw this company, led by Anna Kenrick, in Glasgow in 2014 at the Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival. Connections were established between Osborne and Kenrick and the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland was able to secure funding to come to Canberra in April 2016. The outcome was a series of joint working sessions and, in line with Osborne’s wish to support the development not only of QL2 but of other youth companies in Australia, youth groups from various parts of Australia joined Canberra’s Quantum Leap dancers and their Scottish colleagues in an intensive physical and intellectual inquiry into the choreographic process.  The ten days of activity culminated in in a major public performance, Ten Thousand Miles, in which the Scottish group and the Quantum Leapers joined forces to take part in a co-production. It consisted of three new contemporary dance works and had a single, well-received showing at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.

Dancers of QL2 and the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland, Canberra 2016. Photo © Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 and the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland, Canberra 2016. Photo © Lorna Sim

Osborne is enthusiastic about reconnecting with YDance and its team of dancers and other personnel. ‘I was especially interested in the breadth of what YDance was doing and I would like to build the possibility of more exchanges, not just for dancers but also for emerging choreographers as well,’ she says. “The Churchill Fellowship will give me the opportunity to talk face to face with YDance and other such organisations and bring about closer ties with them.’

But why youth dance? What is it that attracts Osborne as she prepares to take up her Churchill Fellowship? Apart from what motivated her while in Perth, Osborne feels strongly about broadening the way young people experience dance.

‘Youth dance practice for me,’ Osborne says, ‘is about building the young artist and developing individuality. It is about discussion, research, writing, collaboration, cultural and gender differences and professional learning. What I hope to do is give young people more than training. I want to give them a broad outlook, I want to develop their own creativity and the ability to collaborate. I want them to be able to look at their activities from an intellectual point of view as well as from a physical one.’

In addition to exploring a range of ideas associated with youth dance companies, as part of her Churchill experience Osborne hopes to examine the nature and potential of an unusual English scheme for young people aged from 10 to 18 who show exceptional promise and a passion for dance. The Centres for Advanced Training, or CATs as they are known, were set up in 2004 and are a British government initiative. They offer students, who must audition, training in various dance styles and other related activities out of regular academic school hours. The scheme is a network of centres allowing young people to work together on national dance projects across the country, from London to Newcastle, Swindon to Ipswich. It is a model that has potential to be followed in Australia.

Osborne readily admits, of course, that not everyone who comes through a QL2 program is going to be a dancer. But she sees youth dance programs as preparation for life. Her Churchill Fellowship—and she acknowledges her gratitude that the Fellowship Committee chose to recognise youth dance—will be an opportunity not only to look at the development of emerging artists but also to focus on ways to expand her belief in ‘dance for life.’

‘Dance schools give young people a solid training. But I think there is also a space for youth programs that develop young people by bringing in outside mentors who can influence them, who can help them develop through the process of discussion, research, writing, collaboration, and professional theatrical learning. And to be able to stand up and talk about your work, to be part of a forum, to challenge yourself—these are skills for life.’

The young people of Canberra and surrounding areas will have much to look forward to when Osborne returns.

Michelle Potter, 21 December 2012.

This is a slightly expanded version of an article first published in The Canberra Times—Panorama, 17 December 2012, p. 14, as ‘In step with youth’. Online version at this link.

Featured image: Ruth Osborne, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Ruth Osborne, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

 

 

Valentina Blinova and Leon Woizikowsky in 'Le beau Danube', 1936 (detail)

Valentina Blinova. An unexpected find

Some charming writing about Valentina Blinova, during her engagement with the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet for the company’s Australasian tour of 1936–1937, unexpectedly came to light while I was researching a totally different topic. I came across two typewritten pages, which may have been misfiled by J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd. as I found them alongside material relating to the promotion by JCW of a Russian ballet tour of a much later date.* It is not clear who wrote the two short articles (Blinova and the JCW publicity team perhaps?), nor whether they were ever published. I have reproduced them below.

A day in the life of a dancing star

A typical day in the life of Valentina Blinova, one of the principal dancers of Colonel de Basil’s Monte Carlo Russian Ballet.

Up at 8.30 in the morning. A cold shower, gymnastics and physical exercises for twenty minutes. A cup of coffee with some toast for “breakfast.” Then a brisk walk to the theatre. Practice. Then rehearsal till quarter to one. Lunch comprising steak or other meat, salad, a sweet, no alcoholic drink, no smoking. Back to the theatre for rehearsal at 2.30 or 3 o’clock until 5.30 or 6. Home for a rest. A cup of tea. Then if she is dancing in the first ballet back at the theatre at 7 o’clock (no dinner). After the performance supper comprising meat, salad and perhaps a glass of Australian wine, which the principals of the Russian Ballet are very fond of. Then to bed.

This is Blinova’s daily routine, the only variation being Sunday which is spent in the open air—in the hills or the bush or on the beach.

And now you know why the members of the Russian Ballet have those slim figures.

How Christmas is spent
Valentina Blinova

Valentina Blinova was born in St Petersburg where she spent her girlhood—at Christmas time her thoughts go back to those days—a gorgeous Christmas tree loaded with candles, nuts, fruits, many sparkling things and presents for all. Christmas Day is regarded as a solemn occasion, not a time for feasting until the evening star is seen in the sky. The children wait longingly for the evening repast—a feast of good things, Then after the presents have been distributed they sit round the fire and seek to pierce the future when other Christmas days shall come. This fortune telling is carried out in a very quaint way. A large piece of wax is melted and thrown into a dish of water and, according to the shadows that are thrown or the shapes the wax takes, so each one interprets their future. But, as Blinova says, it has to be interpreted with a great deal of imagination!

Last Christmas was spent by Blinova in Hamburg, Germany, where she was a member of Leon Woizikowsky’s Company. Christmas was here spent similarly to Russia though the Germans have their own way of celebrating it, which, says Blinova, they do in a very serious way. “We had a Christmas tree,” said Blinova, “but there was the usual performance and when it was over we went to our rooms, where we had supper, and sat around the fire and talked of childhood days in Russia.”

“That was our last Christmas Day. As regards the next:—there will, of course, be no performance. We shall have a party amongst ourselves and, of course, we shall spend most of the day in the beautiful surf on the Sydney beaches.”

valentina-blinova-portrait
valentina-blinova-in-swan-lake

(left) Portrait of Valentina Blinova, Papers of Moya Beaver, National Library of Australia. (right) Valentina Blinova as Odette in Swan Lake, Bettine Brown Collection, National Library of AustraliaPhoto: Ivon Studios

Not a great deal of information is available about Blinova’s career, although Kathrine Sorley Walker tells us that she was not trained at the Imperial School in St Petersburg but was ‘the product of a course founded after the Revolution in an attempt to reform teaching methods.’ After her training she went to Germany with Vera Trefilova and Pierre Vladimirov, danced in Monte Carlo, established a partnership with Valentin Froman and came to Australia with de Basil’s company in 1936.

(The story of an apparently spectacular break up with Froman is recounted by Elisabeth Souvorova at this link in one of her letters from Australia.

Michelle Potter, 6 December 2016

Featured image: Valentina Blinova and Leon Woizikowsky in Le beau Danube, 1936, Bettine Brown Collection, National Library of Australia. Photo: Leicagraph Pty. Ltd., Melbourne. Inscribed: ‘Leon Woizikowsky 18.6.37, Maitre de Ballet’.

Valentina Blinova and Leon Woizikowsky in 'Le beau Danube',1936

* Source: Records of J. C. Williamson, National Library of Australia, MS 5783, Box 353

Leanne Stojmenov, Alexandre Riabko, Ako Kondo and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson in 'Nijinsky', the Australian Ballet 2016. Photo Jeff Busby

Happy returns

On Dancing’s reviews of John Neumeier’s extraordinary choreography, Nijinsky—both the recent Australian Ballet production, which I have not seen, and the link to that of 2012 for the Hamburg Ballet in Brisbane,* are welcome reminders of the Hamburg company’s stellar achievements.

Telling reference is made to the circular shapes incorporated into the set design, echoing paintings by Nijinsky—and lucky we are that one of his paintings is held in a private collection in Wellington, a tiny telescoping of ballet history.

Dimity Azoury. Alexandre Riabko, Francois-Eloi Lavignac and Leanne Stojmenov in 'Nijinsky'. The Australian Ballet, 2016. Photo: Jeff Busby

Dimity Azoury. Alexandre Riabko, Francois-Eloi Lavignac and Leanne Stojmenov in Nijinsky. The Australian Ballet, 2016. Photo: © Jeff Busby

I keep indelible memories of two trips to Hamburg, 2005 and 2015, where I saw in total ten of Neumeier’s full-length works. What astonishing programming in two short weeks, demonstrating the enduring worth of keeping repertoire extant, instead of allowing Rip Van Winkle to steal away with choreographed treasure never more to be seen in a lifetime, as happens in too many places.

Hamburg Ballet’s detailed website is further evidence of this artistic confidence, paying much respect to the casts listed at its premiere and in subsequent seasons, to the audiences’ interest in such things, and in the company’s future programming, which gives us the wherewithal to make fruitful travel plans.

Jiri Bubenicek created the lead role in the 2000 premiere cast of Nijinsky in Hamburg, and his twin brother Otto Bubenicek danced the Golden Slave and the Faun in that same season. After many years with Hamburg Ballet, the brothers, now collaborating and working on an international circuit, Jiri in choreography and Otto in design, will this month prepare a work on New Zealand School of Dance students for their graduation show in November. I look forward to viewing and reviewing it.

Australia’s Daniel Gaudiello proved a most gracious and convincing Albrecht in Royal New Zealand Ballet’s recent Giselle—and soon our Joseph Skelton crosses the Tasman in the other direction to guest as Albrecht in the Australian Ballet’s production.

RNZB will soon offer a studio season of new work by dancers aspiring to choreograph. Again this will be named for memory of dear Harry Haythorne.

Thus the ballet world continues to turn with little more than demi-plié degrees of separation between practitioners and their ephemeral heritage.  Words on dance websites help hold the gossamer together between seasons.

Jennifer Shennan, Wellington 12 October 2016

————————

*which I did get lucky to see, in their wonderful double billing with A Midsummer Night’s Dream—which in turn makes interesting contrast now with Liam Scarlett’s choreography in the co-production between Royal New Zealand Ballet and Queensland Ballet.  RNZB are performing it this week in Hong Kong at the Shakespeare festival there—then home for a brief Wellington season).

Featured image: Photo: Leanne Stojmenov, Alexandre Riabko, Ako Kondo and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson in Nijinsky, the Australian Ballet 2016. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Leanne Stojmenov, Alexandre Riabko, Ako Kondo and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson in 'Nijinsky', the Australian Ballet 2016. Photo Jeff Busby

Francesco Ventriglia, artistic director, Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A'’Court

Francesco Ventriglia. Royal New Zealand Ballet’s artistic director

My interview with Francesco Ventriglia, which I conducted in Wellington earlier in August, is now available on DanceTabs at this link.

Follow the tag link Royal New Zealand Ballet for more stories and reviews about the company, including posts from Wellington-based dance writer, Jennifer Shennan.

Michelle Potter, 24 August 2016

Featured image: Francesco Ventriglia, artistic director, Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A’’Court

Francesco Ventriglia, artistic director, Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: Stephen A'Court

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‘The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky’. Paul Cox’s ‘cinematic poem’.

The death earlier in June of film maker Paul Cox sent me in search of a DVD copy of his film The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky. The backstory is that Cox heard actor Paul Schofield on British radio reading from Nijinsky’s diaries (cahiers), which were first released in 1936 after having been rearranged and edited dramatically by Nijinsky’s wife, Romola.From that moment Cox was smitten and wanted to make a film based on the diaries. The making was a drawn-out experience (it took three years),2 but the film was eventually completed in 2001 and released in 2002. Cox has referred to it as a ‘cinematic poem’: it is certainly far from a documentary in the commonly understood meaning of the term.

Nijinsky began writing down his thoughts as a kind of diary on the morning of his last public performance, which he gave at the Suvretta Hotel in St Moritz on 19 January 1919. He wrote his last entry on 4 March that same year, the day he was to go to Zurich to see the psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler, who would decide that he was suffering from incurable schizophrenia and who would advise, among other things, that he be admitted to a sanatorium. There are three exercise books of writing and drawing, with the first two books containing sections of Nijinsky’s own form of dance notation. The fourth notebook contains several letters to family, friends and others. The three diary books are held by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The fourth book of letters is held in Paris by the Department of Music, Bibliothèque nationale.

I found Cox’s film (which I must admit I had never seen before) absolutely mesmerising. It is in many respects a collage of images that flash past us, some of which return hauntingly throughout the film. Sometimes they are photographs of Nijinsky in his well-known roles for the Ballets Russes, such as the image at the top if this post, which shows Nijinsky as Petrushka. Sometimes they are images from nature, with flowing water and birds, in particular a crane, appearing frequently. Cox also plays with light and shade and there are many fleeting, emotive moments where shadows flicker over walls, water, and natural features of the landscape. The images reflect Nijinsky’s words as they are written in the diaries and are spoken as a voice over by Derek Jacobi.

The film begins with a funeral procession, Nijinsky’s funeral. As the coffin and the mourning party move down a pathway we see ‘ghosts’ of Nijinsky hovering in the background and sometimes merging with the funeral procession. They are characters Nijinsky played in the ballets that made him the famous male dancer that he was—the Spirit of the Rose from Le spectre de la rose, the Golden Slave from Scheherazade, the Faune from L’Après-midi d’un faune, and so on. These characters appear, disappear and reappear throughout the film, slipping between the other images, always reminding us of Nijinsky’s remarkable dancing career.

The dancing components, like the characters who hover around the funeral procession, are interspersed seemingly randomly between the flow of non-dancing imagery. David McAllister and Vicki Attard appear as the two characters in Le Spectre de la rose, while dancers from Leigh Warren and Dancers take on most of the other dancing roles. I admired Aidan Kane Munn’s ‘War Dance’, which he choreographed as a tormented, quivering solo and danced blank-faced. This was the item Nijinsky chose to dance at Suvretta House: ‘Now I will dance you the war … the war which you did not prevent.’ It is described by Joan Acocella (following Romola Nijinsky’s description) as ‘a violent solo, presumably improvised’ and analysed by Ramsay Burt in relation to Nijinsky’s thoughts on war and peace.I also especially admired Csaba Buday’s performance as the Faune in a version of L’Après-midi d’un faune choreographed by Alida Chase and set outdoors in a clearing surrounded by trees and bushes. There was an animal-like awareness to Munn’s reactions as the Nymphs passed by, and his closing scene with the veil was gentle yet blatantly sexual.

There is a kind of narrative component to anchor the imagery and dancing. We meet Romola and her parents and the various doctors who examined Nijinsky, for example. But we never hear them speak, although their body language and facial expressions give us clues as to how the story and their thoughts about Nijinsky are unfolding. Their presence forces us to face the reality that is behind the film.

DVD cover

The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is a truly beautiful, painterly film. Like John Neumeier’s Nijinsky, which Hamburg Ballet performed in Australia in 2012, it is absolutely compelling and arouses so many thoughts about the nature of Nijinsky—the man and the dancer. But, in contrast to the Neumeier work, the Cox film is almost serene in its overall mood, despite some confronting and bloody images relating to Nijinsky’s vegetarianism, and the challenging words and ideas spoken forcefully by Jacobi. That I find the mood serene is is not to suggest, however, that Cox has not presented the drama and the confusion of thought that permeated Nijinsky’s life. It is just felt in a different manner. The film and the dance work complement each other in a very unusual way and, having at last seen the film, I look forward immensely to seeing the Neumeier work again when it is performed by the Australian Ballet later this year.

Michelle Potter, 25 June 2016

Featured image: Vaslav Nijinsky as Petrushka. Photographer and source unknown

1. Joan Acocella, in her introduction to the unexpurgated edition of the diaries, published in English in 1999 as The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, explains in detail how Romola altered the diaries in that first publishing endeavour of 1936. In particular Acocella notes that around 40% of the contents of the diaries was omitted. Acocella’s introduction is, as is all her writing, lucid and informed: Joan Acocella (ed.), The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1999).

2. Philip Tyndall describes the development of the film saying that Cox ‘did much of the cinematography himself in addition to the writing, directing, co-producing and editing.’ Philip Tyndall, ‘The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky. The culmination of a career.’ In Sense of Cinema. Issue 20, May 2002. Accessed 25 June 2016.

3. Ramsay Burt, ‘Alone in the world. Reflections on solos from 1919 by Vaslav Nijinsky and Mary Wigman’. In On Stage Alone. Soloists and the modern dance canon, eds Claudia Gitelman and Barbara Palfy (Gainesville FL: University of Florida Press, 2012).

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‘Tutu’. The National Library of Australia Magazine, June 2016

One of the unfortunate consequences of the Federal Government’s so-called ‘efficiency dividends’, which have been forced on our cultural institutions over more years than I care to count, has been the demise of the National Library of Australia’s quarterly print publication, The National Library of Australia Magazine. The current issue, June 2016, is the last that will be printed. The magazine began in 1990 as a monthly publication with the title National Library of Australia News. Its intention, as explained by current Director-General, Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, was ‘to raise awareness of the diversity and strength of the Library’s collections’. One of the Library’s great strengths has been its exceptional collection of dance materials and, while I am more than sad that the publication is closing up shop, I am also pleased and honoured to have an article in the final issue. It is the 35th dance-related article I have written for the magazine.

My article for this final issue is called simply ‘Tutu’ and on the front cover it is mentioned with the words ‘Triumph of the Tutu’. Those who are aware of my dance writing may know that I have published on this topic before, always with a different slant to suit different publications. This time the article uses some wonderful illustrations drawn from the Library’s Pictures Collections and draws on the words of designer Hugh Colman from an oral history interview recorded for the Library in 2012. The full article with the inclusion of the front and back cover is at this link. And what a great cover it is too!

The full list of my articles for the National Library’s magazine is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 10 June 2016

Featured image: Walter Stringer, Dancers of the Australian Ballet in Swan Lake, 1977 (detail)

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The Royal Danish Ballet, 3rd Bournonville Festival [2005]

My recent visit to Copenhagen, and the amazing production of John Neumeier’s Romeo and Juliet I saw there, sent me searching for something I wrote in 2005 for ballet.co in the UK (now DanceTabs). It was published in the ballet.co magazine in August 2005 as Royal Danish Ballet, 3rd Bournonville Fesitval, some personal thoughts.

As my ballet.co articles are not presently available online due to a server change, and also because I only recently found the text of the Bournonville article, which I thought was lost, I am re-publishing it below. Sadly, I do not have access to the images that accompanied the article, but I am including a wonderful photo of Erik Bruhn from an Australian production, which I mention in the text.

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I suspect there aren’t many choreographers whose 200th birthday is marked by a display of fireworks. But as we spilled out onto the square in front of the beautiful old Royal Theatre in Copenhagen on the final night of the 3rd Bournonville Festival, fireworks cascaded from the clear night sky. The square was packed with onlookers and the Danish royal family stood on the theatre balcony to watch. August Bournonville, ballet master, choreographer and theorist, whose work lives on in the repertoire of the Royal Danish Ballet, would probably have been surprised. He is recorded as saying that he thought his work would quickly be forgotten after his death. It hasn’t, as nine days in Copenhagen between 3–11 June 2005 made clear.

Performances of nine different Bournonville works, plus a gala performance, gave a wonderful insight into the rich heritage that the Danes enjoy as inheritors of the Bournonville legacy. And pretty much every museum in Copenhagen, along with the famous Tivoli Gardens, had embraced the Bournonville festivities in some way and exhibitions and other events added context to the danced performances. To the large contingent of Danish and international press, the Royal Danish Ballet School also opened its classrooms, and the main company was more than generous with company classes to watch, receptions every night, a bulging press pack, and a host of guided tours—all to give us the best possible understanding of the nature of the Bournonville legacy.

I have to admit, however, to feeling a little Bournonvilled-out by the end of nine days. Quite honestly some of the Bournonville repertoire probably should be put out to pasture, or perhaps not paraded so publicly. In particular Far from Denmark, a work which describes how Danish naval marines hosted a party on board their ship to repay hospitality they had received while in Buenos Aires, sits uneasily (to put it mildly) in the context of the twenty-first century when it is not ‘done’ to stereotype others according to ethnic and racial characteristics. Gone are the days when people can black-up as Creoles and move a little like performers in a Black and White Minstrel show, or perform a ‘Red Indian’ dance as if at a pow-wow, without it looking embarrassingly out of place. Curiously, we can still go to an art gallery and look at paintings depicting events and aspects of life in ways that are now considered out of place. But put this kind of thing into dance, onto living, breathing twenty-first century human bodies, and it becomes inappropriate and, what’s more, laughable.

But there is, of course, so much about the Bournonville repertoire that is not like this. Two Festival performances of the best known of Bournonville’s still-extant creations, La Sylphide, would alone have been worth the trip from the other side of the world. In Australia La Sylphide is well-known to us, having been first staged here for the Australian Ballet in 1984 by Erik Bruhn, who then also danced the role of Madge in some performances. It has been restaged several times, most recently early in 2005.

Erik Bruhn as Madge in 'La sylphide', the Australian Ballet, 1985. Photo: Walter Stringer
Erik Bruhn as Madge in La Sylphide. The Australian Ballet, 1984. Photo: Walter Stringer Collection, National Library of Australia

So to see another staging, especially in Copenhagen by the Danes, was a much-awaited treat. Two casts, the first, led by Gudrun Bojesen and Thomas Lund, the second by Caroline Cavallo and Mads Blangstrup offered very different experiences. Thomas Lund is a breathtaking Bournonville technician, buoyantly soaring through jumps, beats and turns with apparent ease. And as James he alternated between bewilderment at what was happening to him and a passionate involvement with his Slyph. Bojesen, on the other hand, seemed not so involved, and not so easily able to connect with Lund as he was with her. With the second cast the roles were reversed, with Cavallo entering the role in a way that Blangstrup did not, despite his prodigious technique.

But perhaps most interesting of all with this Danish La Sylphide for me was the fact that the role of Madge, in both shows, was danced by a woman: Jette Buchwald in one cast, Lis Jeppesen in another. When the role is taken by a man it seems too easy for it to degenerate into pantomime and become sillier and sillier—certainly this has become the case with the Australian Ballet’s production where Madge seems to be less and less part of the Romantic duality of La Sylphide as time goes on. There was nothing silly or in the mould of pantomime from Buchwald or Jeppesen, just a quiet strength that allowed the story to move forward without unwanted distraction.

The presence of Buchwald and Jeppesen, who also appeared in senior roles in other performances during the Festival, was a reminder of the European custom of keeping older dancers on to perform character roles, and usually to teach as well. The other side of this custom was also noticeable in La Sylphide, although perhaps more so in Napoli. Bournonville choreographed for the children of the Royal Danish Ballet School as well as his company dancers, old and young. Almost any current dancer in the Royal Danish Ballet will regale you with stories of being ‘on the bridge’ as a child in the last act of Napoli to watch the onstage festivities as the two young lovers, Gennaro and Teresina, celebrate with their friends. It is so satisfying to see dance and its performance being shared across generations in this way

A conversation during the Festival with Royal Danish Ballet principal, Andrew Bowman, however, drew out a rather more political or perhaps nationalistic side of dancing Bournonville. Bowman was born in New Zealand where he received his early dance training from his mother. He completed his formal ballet training at the Australian Ballet School and was instantly noticeable when he joined the Australian Ballet. His attention to his partner was always visible, and still is, as was and is the huge pleasure he takes from being onstage. He joined the Royal Danish Ballet in 1996 and he still relishes telling the story of how he asked for a job after drinking tequila shots with Danish dancer and teacher Johnny Eliason in Brisbane, Australia, during one of Eliason’s coaching stints for the Australian Ballet. Now Bowman could easily pass for a Danish dancer so accomplished and at ease is he with the Bournonville technique. But during the interview Bowman reminds me, without bitterness I should add, that he will probably never dance the coveted role of James in La Sylphide. These leading Bournonville roles, with one or two notable exceptions— Lloyd Riggins being one, are reserved exclusively for Danes.

Beyond the performances one major, gorgeous-to-look-at, exhibition, called Tulle and Tricot: Costumes for the Bournonville Ballets, which was curated by Viben Bech of the National Museum of Denmark where it was on show, generated some philosophical questions. For example, how do you make an exhibition of dance costumes and related material come to life in the manner in which dance is alive? Can such a show ever capture the feeling of the live performance? Many costume exhibitions don’t even come close to being theatrical but Tulle and Tricot was a wonderful exhibition that engaged the viewer in so many ways. Costumes were hung so that they swayed gently in the breeze. Video footage showed them in motion in the ballets for which they were made. The space was lit beautifully. The captions were inviting. It was a real coup and deserves many bouquets.

And back to the Danish royal family: as an Australian I was of course fascinated when Crown Princess Mary, though now officially a Dane but always to us an Australian from Tasmania our ‘Apple Isle’, accompanied her mother-in-law, Queen Margrethe II to two performances at this Festival. The Queen herself attended every show and some of the receptions. She even received the press on one occasion. I couldn’t help but think how lucky the Danes are to have such prominent artistic leadership.

I look back on this Danish experience with much pleasure.

Michelle Potter, 14 August 2005

Gary Harris. Man of the theatre

On my recent visit to Brisbane to catch a performance of Greg Horsman’s Sleeping Beauty by Queensland Ballet, I was especially taken by the designs of Gary Harris. In particular, I loved his sets with their sweeping sense of space, which is clearly evident in the image below from the Queensland Ballet season.

Yanela Pinere as Aurora 'The Sleeping Beauty', Queensland ballet, 2015. Photo: David Kelly

 Yanela Piñera as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Queensland Ballet, 2015. Photo: © David Kelly

I recall talking to Harris, over ten years ago now, while he was artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet and I recently came across the text of the article based on that interview. I wrote it for ballet.co in the UK, where it was published online in May 2003. As my ballet.co articles are not presently available online due to a server change, and also because I only recently found the text of the ballet.co article, which I thought was lost, I am re-publishing it below.

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‘Oh he’s wearing a shirt with Mambo written all over it today,’ the theatre usher tells me as I wait in the foyer of the Princess Theatre in Launceston, Tasmania. Gary Harris, artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet, is running late (or has forgotten our appointment?). He arrives, Mambo clothes and all, full of apologies. It’s the final day of performances for the sixteen dancers of Royal New Zealand Ballet who are on tour to Tasmania for the biennial festival, Ten Days on the Island. It’s just a short season, four performances in three days—3–5 April 2003. The rest of the company, another sixteen dancers, is touring back home in New Zealand. We find time for our interview over a meal between the late afternoon matinee and the evening show.

London-born Harris, a warm and engaging man, first visited New Zealand in 1996 as guest teacher for Royal New Zealand Ballet and kept returning over the next few years. In 2001 he was appointed artistic director of  the company and is full of enthusiasm for his job and his dancers.

‘I loved the honesty I found amongst the New Zealand dancers,’ he explains. ‘They are so versatile too. They work beautifully with what they’ve got and respond to the space they’re in. I want the company to keep that honesty and to have a real understanding of the rules of classical ballet and of correctness of presentation.’

Watching his dancers in the repertoire they have brought to Tasmania—a mixed bill comprising four works—there is certainly a distinctive quality to the way they move. Dancing on the tiny stage of the Princess Theatre is not an enviable task. There’s not much space to fling oneself around and Harris’ staging of Paquita Variations, the opening work on the program, perhaps suffers most. The formal quality of its choreography, which Harris based on that of Petipa for the original Paquita of 1846, really needs a bigger stage to do it justice. But the delicious freedom that the dancers have in the upper body makes up for the feeling that things are a bit cramped. The sense of the body moving through rather than in space is also quite noticeable, as is the turn-out of the feet and legs. There is real teaching going on behind the scenes of this company.

‘I really like teaching,’ Harris says. ‘And I love getting together with the dancers for the process of rehearsing. The New Zealand dancers here are very responsive and I love getting an energetic atmosphere going.’

In addition to showing the classical strengths of the Royal New Zealand dancers, Paquita Variations shows up Harris’s talents as a designer. The costumes are his design, with the women’s tutus inspired, he says, by a Degas sculpture of which he is very fond. The softness of the skirts is beguiling. A blouse-like top and a corset-like bodice, which fits closely from the top of the rib cage to the hips, completes what is a beautifully old-fashioned costume. Harris says he loved to draw as a child and also mentions that his father made him a play theatre, complete with working lights. So his wide-ranging involvement in all aspects of getting a show on stage is something he accepts as a perfectly normal part of an artistic director’s life.

Harris’s international connections are clearly evident in the company’s repertoire, although he is quick to mention that nurturing New Zealand artists is part of his plan. Nevertheless in Launceston, along with Paquita Variations, the company danced two works by Mark Baldwin, Melting Moments and FrENZy, and one by Javier de Frutos, Milagros.

The de Frutos piece, a commissioned work and de Frutos’ first for Royal New Zealand Ballet is the surprise package. Milagros takes its name from the Spanish word used to describe both miracles and votive offerings, and the work is danced to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring recorded on a piano roll. Played on a pianola the music sounds distorted and lacks the orchestral colour that the ear expects. But the drama is still there, the rhythms are still frenetic and the new and unexpected sound sets the scene for a work that is far from ordinary. Both the men and women wear long white skirts that swirl and swing with the motion of the dancers. On top both sexes wear flimsy, white, straight-cut shirts with long, loose sleeves. On the back of each shirt, quite hard to see but definitely there, is a number. The costumes, designed by de Frutos, give a clue to the piece. There is uniformity yet diversity. There is calmness and purity yet an eddy within.

Dancers of Royal New Zealand ballet in 'Milagros'. Photo: Bill Cooper

Dancers of Royal New Zealand Ballet in Milagros. Photo: © Bill Cooper

Choreographically de Frutos juxtaposes highly sculpted sequences—long lines of dancers, clear circular formations for example—with phrases that appear to be wildly individualistic. This dualism is accompanied by other sets of opposites. Some movements flow expressively, others look quite stilted. At times the dancers react with restraint to their colleagues; at other times they appear to be absolutely fired with passion. The light changes back and forth from a stark white to a soft gold. The work also has a few unusual phrases of movement that keep occurring and remain in the memory afterwards. There is a limping step. There is another where the dancers thrust the chest out, fling the head and one arm back and move purposefully forward by transferring the weight on and off one heel. And another where a woman in a deep plié in second position with hands on hips propels herself in a circle, again using the heels to give the momentum. Sometimes dancers make their exit by walking on their knees as if doing penance. It’s absolutely mesmersing choreography.

Milagros on the one hand discomposes the viewer. It never answers the questions that it seems to present. It suggests both vodoo activities as well as organised religion. But it is also an incredibly satisfying piece that speaks to the viewer on an intuitive level. There is something inevitable about the way it unfolds and something fulfilling about its unexpectedness.

The two Baldwin pieces look a little tame by comparison. While Melting Moments is a lyrical and seamless duet, a serious piece, first made for New Zealand’s Limbs Dance Company in 1980, its vocabulary seems dated, almost contrived, by comparison with the de Frutos work. FrENZy on the other hand is great fun. Danced to a selection of top of the pops songs from the band Split Enz, it was first performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2001. It has a contemporary edge that recalls, without appropriating, the vocabulary of William Forsythe. There’s lots of movement that’s upside down, off centre, racy. There’s lots of glamour, lots that’s out there and in your face. It’s a real crowd pleaser. How often does a contemporary ballet have an audience whistling and shouting with enjoyment at the end? Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room has that effect and so does Baldwin’s FrENZy.

Royal New Zealand Ballet has lots to offer, not the least of which is its own, unique repertoire. Its dancers are unpretentious, technically capable and move with a real freedom. It’s history is fascinating too. The company is fifty years old this year having been founded in 1953 by Poul Gnatt who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and was a principal with the Royal Danish Ballet. Gnatt is also fondly remembered in Australia as a principal with the Borovansky Ballet and as a teacher in the 1960s at the Australian Ballet School.

Christopher Hampson’s Romeo and Juliet is Royal New Zealand Ballet’s next work. It opens in Wellington on 6 June 2003. And the company has been invited to appear at Sadler’s Wells next year. Plans for a five week tour include visits to Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Next year Adrian Burnett, a New Zealander by birth who is currently a senior artist with the Australian Ballet, will be making a work for the company. And Harris mutters about wanting a Nutcracker in there somewhere. He wants a repertoire that is solid but that also challenges and educates and he’s well on the way to having it.

Michelle Potter, 4 November 2015
(originally published in the May 2003 edition of ballet.co magazine)