Dancers of QL2 in 'Not like the others', 2017. Photo Lorna Sim

‘Not like the others.’ QL2 Dance

13 October 2017, Theatre 3, Canberra

This year the annual Chaos Project from young Canberra dancers aged from 8 to 18 had the theme of difference. Alison Plevey, currently acting artistic director of QL2 Dance while Ruth Osborne is undertaking research overseas with a Churchill Fellowship, writes, ‘…it explores how we are the same, what makes us different, how do we feel about being different, do we feel pressure to do, think and look the same, and ultimately [Not like the others] celebrates the joy and power in difference.’ For young people, being able to be themselves and to feel comfortable in doing so, is critical and the dancers, whether they were 8 or 18, and whatever their level of emotional maturity, embraced the seven separate sections that made up Not like the others with gusto. Using dance as an educative tool is one of the great strengths of QL2 Dance

This year the three choreographers working on the show, Alison Plevey, Steve Gow and Jack Riley, made sure that in each section the theme was very clear. The younger group had a strong section, Square Peg, in which there was an exploration of how they saw themselves. ‘I was born in Canberra’ said one young dancer, and all those who identified in this way grouped themselves with her. Another dancer said ‘I can whistle through my teeth’ and the same thing happened, with appropriate accompaniment. And so on. It was a simple, but effective exploration of the theme, and was the work of Plevey.

I especially enjoyed the section by Steve Gow for an older group of dancers. Called ‘Virtual Identity’, it looked at social media as a way of conforming to expected notions about who we are: ‘Get the perfect picture’, ‘Write the perfect post’ and so on. Visually and choreographically Gow made an arresting statement about conformity and I admired the use of masks to get across the idea of conformity and the lighting (Kelly McGannon) of this section. Gow’s use of groups of dancers in constantly changing arrangements made this section simple but powerful.

Dancers of QL2 Dance in 'Virtual identity' from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Virtual identity’ from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Probably the most sophisticated section was Jack Riley’s ‘Allone’. It explored the idea of the power one person can have in society. Riley used probably the most senior of the dancers to examine this idea and made use of long wooden sticks as props to symbolise the roles one might have in society. I have admired Riley’s shorter works on previous occasions. In these situations, he has the ability to structure a work carefully and intelligently, and to use his widely varied movement experience to get his ideas across. ‘Allone’ was admirable and I suspect its relative brevity was to Riley’s benefit.

Dancers of QL2 Dance in 'Allone'. Photo Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Allone’ from Not like the others. Photo: © Lorna Sim

As ever, the closing sections of the QL2 show were expertly choreographed as a continuous part of the show. But the highlight of Not like the others was the strength of its message. Having a good idea for a show is one thing. But being able to put it across to an audience with the power that Plevey, her collaborators, and a bunch of young dancers did deserves much respect.

Michelle Potter, 14 October 2017

Featured image: Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Square peg’ from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 in 'Not like the others', 2017. Photo Lorna Sim

‘Reef UP!’ Liz Lea and dancers

7 October 2017,  Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

I’ll reverse the usual order of things here and put the verdict first. It comes from my young companion, Ollie, aged 8, who said as we left the Courtyard Studio, ‘It was just too good. I loved it and would like to see it again.’

Liz Lea’s Reef UP! is a show for children (although it’s fun for adults too) about the Great Barrier Reef and some of its inhabitants. It examines the effects that climate change, human intervention, and other problems of our era are having on this magnificent world heritage site. But while it is a didactic piece in so many ways and exhorts us to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’, it is just gorgeously presented with spectacular costumes, wigs and lighting; decorative props filling the performing space; and underwater footage playing continuously in the background. It is expertly performed by three dancers (Liz Lea, Liesel Zink and Michael Smith), who all are required to make a myriad of quick changes to become different reef creatures; and one imposing gentleman (Greg Barratt from Canberra’s GOLD company) as King Neptune.

Reef UP! is a little in the tradition of the now old-fashioned panto. The performers constantly invited audience involvement, and the children in the audience responded with gusto; and there was a lot of patter and some ad-libbing from the performers as well. But there were also enough contemporary references to make it relevant to young folk today. David Attenborough was referenced several times. His research provided some of the scientific data about various creatures, and about the Reef itself. There was a murmur through the audience whenever his name came up. Then there were references to Star Wars at times, including a fight using a light sabre against the Crown-of-thorns character.

Choreographically the show was uncomplicated but fast-moving and performed to a grab bag of songs and symphonies—from pop to Beethoven. While all the performers carried out their many roles with aplomb and true professionalism, I couldn’t help but admire Liesel Zink in particular. Pure joy in moving coursed through her body. Such a pleasure to watch.

Lea, once again, has surpassed expectations and given young people a new way of looking at a topic through dance. After Canberra, Reef UP!, Lea’s third educational show with a scientific bent, is touring schools in regional Queensland with an Engaging Science Grant from the Queensland Government.

Michelle Potter, 8 October 2017

Featured image: Cast of Reef UP!, Canberra 2017. (l-r) Liesel Zink, Liz Lea, Michael Smith, Greg Barratt. Photo: © David Turbayne

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr' Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

‘Gudirr, Gudirr.’ Dalisa Pigram

30 September 2017, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

Gudirr, Gudirr is a solo show, a dance format that we don’t see all that often. A solo show needs a strong performer for a start—someone who single-handedly can hold the audience’s attention for an hour or so. Dalisa Pigram did exactly that in Gudirr, Gudirr. But just as importantly, a solo show needs a powerful idea behind it, and a coherent structure in which the idea can develop. Gudirr, Gudirr had both the message and the structure.

Gudirr, Gudirr is a production by the Broome-based company Marrugeku, of which Pigram is co-artistic director along with Rachael Swain. The focus of the work is a small bird, called Guwayi in the Yawuru language of the Broome area, and using the bird as a pivot for her work was suggested to Pigram by a relative, traditional lawman and cultural adviser to Marrugeku, Senator Patrick Dodson. Senator Dodson is Pigram’s great uncle—her mother’s mother’s brother in the Yawuru kinship system. He explains:

The Guwayi bird flies very low across the intertidal area to warn people out on the reef that the tide is coming in. It warns people that it is time to move because the tide brings danger. It is a warning to take heed of, and not to ignore the signs. The Guwayi bird does not tell lies. I told this story to Dalisa because the story of the Guwayi bird can be used to reflect on the social challenges that Indigenous people face today. The warning sign from the Guwayi bird can go one of two ways. We are either going to drown because we are not reading the signs of our disempowerment, or we will hear the warnings and we will take steps.

Pigram believes strongly that the young people of the Broome community must read the signs and take those steps.

The work begins with words scrolling down a screen at the back of the performing space. The words were written by A. O Neville, so-called ‘Chief Protector of Aborigines’ in Western Australia from 1915 for several decades after that. The words are nothing short of confronting with their reference to ‘quadroons’ and ‘h/c’ people. But, while I was expecting the show to continue to be confronting, ultimately it was moving, powerful and totally absorbing.

In a series of disparate scenes, some accompanied by projections of the faces of people from Broome, or footage of young people engaged in a bit of a street fight, Pigram worked through her frustrations at the difficulties she believes Indigenous people face. These scenes, including the section in which pretty much every word Pigram spoke started with ‘f’, were sometimes hilarious. How quickly can the meaning and impact of a word be changed when used over and over? Great theatre!

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr'. Photo

Dalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Terry Murphy and Helen Fletcher-Kennedy

Choreographically, Pigram drew upon the variety of dance styles that have been part of her cultural heritage. In the opening moments her movement derived from silat, a Malaysian form of martial arts that Pigram learnt from a relative. At other times, Pigram’s Indigenous heritage was clear in movements that were quite grounded and recalled women’s dances where the body is bent slightly forward and the feet move with slow, tightly held walking steps.

But for me the most interesting sections were those when Pigram made use of the suspended fishing net that was part of the set/props. She has spoken of it having multiple functions, from entangling her to giving her freedom. She used it early in the piece in a joyous manner when she swung backwards and forwards and recalled with pleasure the times she spent out on the water fishing with her father. But at other times she looked as though she was indeed tangled in it, trying to escape.

I loved this show. So many emotions were expressed and felt and, while the difficult moments, such as those when Pigram dwelt on youth suicide, were indeed confronting, I felt that the anger was mine not Pigram’s. She was bent of presenting herself as a woman of mixed heritage making an effort to understand and deal with the situation in which she found herself. That we could all have the courage to confront the issues that confound us!

Michelle Potter, 4 October 2017

Featured image: Dalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr' Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

Amy Harris and Adam Bull in 'The Merry Widow'. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridle

Dance diary. September 2017

  • The Australian Ballet in 2018

Details of the Australian Ballet’s 2018 season were revealed in September and this year Canberra audiences can anticipate a program from the national company. The Merry Widow, which David McAllister has called ‘a fantastically well-constructed soufflé’, was created for the Australian Ballet in 1975 as the first full-length production commissioned by the company. It will open at the Canberra Theatre Centre on 25 May and run until 30 May. Based on the operetta of the same name, it has choreography by Ronald Hynd, a scenario by Robert Helpmann (in 1975 artistic director of the Australian Ballet), and music by Franz Lehar. It will also have seasons in Sydney and Melbourne.

But beyond soufflés, and for those who like their ballet to have more intellectual input, an interesting program is scheduled for Melbourne and Sydney. Called Murphy, it honours the contribution Graeme Murphy has made to the Australian Ballet, which he joined from the Australian Ballet School in 1968. Programming is not yet complete, apparently, but we know that the main item on the program will be the return of Murphy’s Firebird, which he created for the Australian Ballet in 2009.

Lana Jones in Graeme Murphy's 'Firebird'. The Australian Ballet, 2009. Photo: © Alex MakeyevLana Jones in Graeme Murphy’s Firebird. The Australian Ballet, 2009. Photo: © Alex Makeyev

Here is a quote from Murphy from a story I wrote for The Weekend Australian in February 2009:

I want to give the audience the magic that they believe Firebird is. It will be a rich and opulent experience for them. Besides, the score is completely dictative of the narrative, which makes it hard to stray from the story. Firebird is imbued with Diaghilev’s thumbprint.
I am keeping all the elements of the work, the symbols of good and evil for example, but I will be focusing in a slightly different way. It will be a little like the world of winter opening up to let in the spring.

As for the rest of the season: Maina Gielgud’s production of Giselle will return for a season in Melbourne, while Sydney will have a return season of Alexei Ratmansky’s wonderful Cinderella; there is a new production of Spartacus in the pipeline, which will be seen in Melbourne and Sydney; Melbourne will have an exclusive season of a triple bill called Verve with works by Stephen Baynes, Tim Harbour and Alice Topp; and Adelaide will see The Sleeping Beauty.

For dates and further information see the Australian Ballet’s website at this link.

  • Jennifer Irwin. Frocks, Tales and Tea

Jennifer Irwin, costume designer par excellence and recipient of the 2017 Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance, will be the special guest at an event hosted by ‘UsefulBox’ on 14 October at the Boronia tea rooms in the Sydney suburb of Mosman. Irwin will talk about her creative process and what inspired her as an artist. Further information at this link.

  • Andrée Grau (1954–2017)

The death has occurred, unexpectedly in France, of Andrée Grau, well-known dance anthropologist, and long-standing staff member of the University of Roehampton. Grau’s achievements, which include work in Australia, appear on the Roehampton website at this link.

  • Press for September 2017

‘Great flair shown in austere setting.’ Review of Circa’s Landscape with monsters. The Canberra Times, 8 September 2017, p. 31. Online version.

Seppe Van Looveren and Timothy Fyffe in 'Landscape With Monsters', 2017. Photo: © Vishal PandeySeppe Van Looveren and Timothy Fyffe in Landscape With Monsters, 2017. Photo: © Vishal Pandey

‘Untangling the truth.’ Preview of Gudirr, Gudirr, Dalisa Pigram and Marrugeku. The Canberra Times, 16 September 2017, Panorama p. 16. Online version.

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr'. Photo Simon SchluterDalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Simon Schluter

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2017

Featured image: Amy Harris and Adam Bull in The Merry Widow. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridler.

Amy Harris and Adam Bull in 'The Merry Widow'. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridle

Xenia Borovansky & Tamara Tchinarova Finch

My recent tribute to Tamara Tchinarova Finch brought to light a letter Tchinarova wrote to Xenia Borovansky in 1980 in which she discussed, amongst other things, her thoughts on Xenia Borovansky’s contribution to the growth of ballet in Australia. With permission from the various stakeholders, I am publishing the letter in this post.

Tamara Tchinarova in costume for the Mazurka in Coppelia with Xenia Borovansky before curtain up, Borovansky Ballet, ca. 1946. Photo Jean StewartXenia Borovansky and Tamara Tchinarova on stage before a performance of Coppélia by the Borovansky Ballet, ca. 1946. National Library of Australia, Papers of Tamara Tchinarova Finch, MS 9733. Photo: Jean Stewart

It is an interesting letter from many points of view and was written just before the tribute to Borovansky, which I am assuming means the program that Marilyn Jones devised during her brief term as artistic director of the Australian Ballet in 1980. It was a triple bill and consisted of Pineapple Poll, Schéhérazade and Graduation Ball, with Les Sylphides being substituted in place of Graduation Ball in Adelaide and Perth.*

Gary Norman and Sheree da Costa in Scheherazade. The Australian Ballet 1980. Photo Walter Stringer
Gary Norman and Sheree da Costa in Schéhérazade. The Australian Ballet, 1980. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia

It also mentions the lecture tour by Tchinarova and Irina Baronova, which apparently had been discussed (but initially dismissed) long before it actually occurred in 1994.

*Details of the program are on AusStage at this link.

Michelle Potter, 29 September 2017

Portrait of Tamara Tchinarova, 1941. Photo Fred Breen

Tamara Tchinarova Finch (1919–2017)

I was saddened to learn of the death of Tamara Tchinarova Finch on 31 August 2017 in Spain at the age of 98. Her story is told in her autobiography Dancing into the unknown and this post is simply a short, belated tribute to her, which includes details of a rather amazing occurrence with which I was fortunate enough to be involved.

Tchinarova’s Australian connections include performances with the Ballets Russes companies during their Australasian tours in the 1930s; with the Kirsova Ballet in the early 1940s; and with the Borovansky Ballet in the mid-1940s. She was also briefly engaged to Australian press photographer, Fred Breen, who took the photographic portrait of her that I have used as the featured image for this post. Breen joined the Air Force during World War II but was killed in 1942. In 1943 Tchinarova married actor Peter Finch in Sydney and a few years later moved to London with him, but they divorced in 1959. She continued, however, to use his name for the rest of her life, although in most cases in this post I have opted to use Tchinarova only.

In later life, Tchinarova came to Australia in 1994 as a guest of the Australian Ballet. Along with her colleague from the Ballets Russes, Irina Baronova, Tchinarova gave a series of lectures in various places and, during the Canberra leg of that visit, I was able to record a short oral history with her for the National Library. Here is a two minute excerpt from that interview in which Tchinarova talks about Hélène Kirsova. The complete interview and transcript is available online at this link.*

I met Tchinarova again, and her daughter Anita, in New Orleans at a Ballets Russes conference/reunion in 2000 but in 2004 a remarkable event occurred. I was dance curator at the National Library at the time and in that capacity I received an enquiry from Moscow via the now defunct website, Australia Dancing. The enquiry culminated in the discovery that Tchinarova had a half-brother and a second family in Moscow. The story is told in the November 2004 issue of National Library of Australia News, available via this link. Tchinarova met her half-brother in Spain in 2006 and in her autobiography she talks about that meeting. Below is a brief extract from her discussion of the meeting:

I am now 87. On a sunny day here in Spain last week, my half brother Alexander and I met for the first time. He is 77 and came from Moscow with his daughter Ludmila, to meet the sister he had for 60 years been searching for … This stranger, Alexander, had all the qualities I love in a man—intelligent, articulate, interested in everything … How wonderful that we were able to meet towards the end of our lives. One has to wonder about Fate.**

Tamara Tchinarova Finch was a beautiful, intelligent, caring woman. It was such a privilege to have had a hand in that meeting. Vale Tamara.

Tamara Tchinarova Finch: Born Bessarabia, Romania, 18 July 1919. Died Marbella, Spain, 31 August 2017.

Michelle Potter, 26 September 2017

*The transcript was never corrected. It contains a number of spelling errors.

**Tamara Tchinarova Finch, Dancing into the unknown. My life in the Ballets Russes and beyond (Alton, Hampshire: Dance Books, 2007) pp. 207–208.

Featured image: Portrait of Tamara Tchinarova, Sydney 1942. Photo: Fred Breen. National Library of Australia, Papers of Tamara Finch, MS 9733.

Scene from 'Great Sport!' Canberra 2016. Photo © Lorna Sim

Australian Dance Awards 2017

24 September 2017. The Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

The winners of the 2017 Australian Dance Awards were announced in a ceremony in Melbourne on 24 September. The Playhouse at the Victorian Arts Centre was packed for what turned out to be an occasion with strong emotional and political overtones. The evening was hosted by cabaret star Sarah Ward and dancer Benjamin Hancock, both of whom brought a somewhat outrageous element to the evening. (To be absolutely honest, I can never understand why hosts of such events have to behave as if the show belongs to them). The politics came in the form of references by several of the presenters to the current same-sex marriage campaign.

The first half of the program suffered from what I can only describe as ‘technical issues’ in which the digital display of images and credit lines for nominees, and the eventual winner in each category (not to mention the life dates and images in the ‘In Memoriam’ section), didn’t fit properly on the screen. This was not a good look at all and resulted in confusion in some cases when the winner’s name was not given correctly by the presenter. I had to wonder whether there had been a tech rehearsal or not! Fortunately, the problem was fixed during the interval but it didn’t make up for the poor standard of production in the first half. The printed program was, however, beautifully designed and produced.

Nevertheless, for dance in the ACT, the outstanding news was that Liz Lea took out the award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance. She received the award for Great Sport!, a site specific work that Lea directed in collaboration with Canberra Dance Theatre, the National Museum of Australia, Dance for Parkinson’s ACT, and seven different choreographers—Lea herself, Martin del Amo, Kate Denborough, Tammi Gissell, Jane Ingall, Philip Piggin and Gerard van Dyck. This was a richly deserved award that recognised Lea’s significant effort to collaborate across the community spectrum, to seek out skilled choreographers from within the ACT and elsewhere, and to make dance that is inclusive. As it happens, however, Lea was one who suffered as a result of the ‘technical issues’. Her name was not called out as the recipient of the award!

Here is a link to my review of Great Sport! following its opening performance in celebration of World Health Day 2016.

Congratulations to Lea and all those who received an award. Here is the complete list of awardees.

  • Lifetime Achievement: Helen Herbertson
  • Services to Dance: Jennifer Irwin
  • Services to Dance Education: Kim Walker
  • Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance: Liz Lea and collaborators for Great Sport!
  • Outstanding Achievement in Youth Dance: Catapult Dance (The Flipside Project) for In Search of the Lost Things
  • Outstanding Achievement in Choreography: Lucy Guerin for The Dark Chorus
  • Outstanding Performance by a Company: Bangarra Dance Theatre for OUR Land People Stories
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer: Ako Kondo (Australian Ballet) for Coppélia
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer: Benjamin Hancock (Lucy Guerin Inc) for The Dark Chorus
  • Outstanding Performance in Commercial Dance or Musical Theatre: Jack Chambers (Stage Entertainment & Chichester Festival) for Singin’ in the Rain
  • Outstanding Achievement in Dance on Film or New Media: Tara and Pippa Samaya (The Samaya Wives) for The Knowledge Between Us.

In addition, Noel Tovey was inducted into the Hall of Fame and, in an emotion-filled acceptance speech, acknowledged those who had influenced his career, going right back to Jean Alexander and Xenia Borovansky. The Ausdance Peggy van Praagh Choreographic Fellowship, an award worth $10,000, went to Kristina Chan.

*****************

Apart from Liz Lea’s award, and its significance for the growth of dance in the ACT, from a very personal perspective, I was thrilled with the following:

    • Australian Ballet principal dancer Ako Kondo took out the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer for her performance as Swanilda in Coppélia. While an ADA in this category refers in particular to a performance in a particular year, not for a body of work, I have watched Kondo perform in many productions over the past few years and I could not help but think back to those many and varied times when I have had the pleasure of watching her onstage. Her technique is spectacular and in certain roles, including that of Swanilda, she just sparkles.See my previous comments at this tag.

Ako Kondoin 'Coppelia' Act II, 2016. Photo: Kate LongleyAko Kondo in Coppélia Act II, the Australian Ballet 2016. Photo: © Kate Longley

    • Jennifer Irwin walked away with the award for Services to Dance. Irwin has been designing costumes for major dance companies since she began working with Sydney Dance Company in the 1980s. Apart from Sydney Dance Company under Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, Irwin has had significant commissions from Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Australian Ballet. In her acceptance speech, Irwin acknowledged Graeme Murphy and Stephen Page for the influence they have had on her career. In addition, Irwin designed costumes for Dirty Dancing, the musical that had its first performances in 2004 in Australia. It featured well-known Australian dancer Joseph Brown, and the show went on to have popular seasons around the world. Irwin also designed parts of the 2000 Sydney Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. See this tag for further comments on various of Irwin’s designs.

Wearing costumes designed by Jennifer Irwin: (left) Amy Harris and Lana Jones in The narrative of nothing. The Australian Ballet, 2012. Photo: © Jeff Busby; (right) Kaine Sultan Babij in a study for Sheoak. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

  • Bangarra Dance Theatre received the coveted award of Outstanding Performance by a Company for OUR land people stories. This triple bill was a truly stunning example of the way in which Bangarra produces work in which dance meets theatre, meets art, meets music. It showcased the choreography of three dancers from within the ranks of the company—Jasmin Sheppard, Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith—with the addition of a work from artistic director Stephen Page. It demonstrated Bangarra’s interest in bringing a wide range of Indigenous issues to the stage. Politics, kinship, and art all played a major role in the production and, as always, the show was splendidly staged and thrilling to watch.Daniel Riley accepted the award on behalf of Bangarra and acknowledged David Page, who died in 2016 and to whom the production of OUR land people stories was dedicated.Here is a link to my review of OUR land people stories.

Bangarra Dance Theatre in 'Nyapanyapa' from 'OUR land people stories,' 2016. Photo by Jhuny Boy BorjaBangarra Dance Theatre in ‘Nyapanyapa’ from OUR land people stories, 2016. Photo: © Jhuny Boy Borja

And finally, the performances that accompanied the announcements were extraordinarily varied. I have to say I enjoyed most of all the lively Hopak Kalyna by the Lehenda Ukrainian Dance Company. The dancers smiled at us! It was a shame, though, that the Australian Ballet’s contribution, the pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty danced by Amber Scott and Ty King-Wall, somehow looked out of place amid all the cabaret, hip hop, sexually-oriented material, angst and other dance elements. It made me wonder why I love ballet as much as I do. Perhaps there needs to be a change somewhere along the line. Perhaps a more contemporary piece from the Australian Ballet, or a bit more ballet in the program?

Michelle Potter, 24 September 2017

Featured image: Scene from ‘Annette’ in Great Sport! featuring dancers from the GOLDS, Canberra’s company of senior dancers. Photo © Lorna Sim, 2016

Scene from 'Great Sport!' Canberra 2016. Photo © Lorna Sim

 

Jack Riley and Alexander Hunter. Study for 'Fuse'

‘Fuse.’ Jack Riley & Alexander Hunter

7 September 2017, Ralph Wilson Theatre, Canberra. A Ralph Indie 2017 project

Jack Riley, a former Canberra Quantum Leaper, is a very competent dancer with exceptional fluidity in his every move. We saw a little of that ability in Fuse, the opening show in Canberra’s Ralph Indie 2017 program, especially in the early stages. Riley was wheeled into the performing space lying face down on a goods trolley. He was covered in bubble wrap and the trolley was being pushed by his co-performer, cellist Alexander Hunter, who was mysteriously wearing a heavy metal mask that made him look a little like Ned Kelly in black. Hunter moved away and, still masked, began making sounds on his cello. As he did, Riley revealed himself from under the bubble wrap and began dancing. This was the best moment of the show.

As things progressed, however, I became somewhat confused. Nothing seemed to link up to anything else. I’m not sure what Riley’s purpose was in moving the several metal cylinders, which were also revealed to be on the trolley, onto an expanse of fabric. Some cylinders were balanced on top of others, yet others went solo, and later Riley pulled the fabric forward without upsetting the cylinders. Nor am I sure what the purpose of the moveable staircase was, which was pushed forward from the depths of the upstage blackness. Nor the full-length mirror that was placed at the top of the staircase. And so on. What did it all mean? Dance doesn’t have to ‘mean’ anything in the end, but when so many disparate objects are part of the performance one can only wonder whether there is some kind of narrative going on. If there was it was not obvious, nor was it even slightly suggested, at least not to my mind.

In the end, and after reading through the handout, I discovered in notes from the two artists involved, Riley and Hunter, that the work ‘address[ed] the objects we found in the space when we arrived.’ Found objects? Dada dance? This was a far cry from Marcel Duchamp. Other parts of the notes were equally frustrating ‘Without any preconceived ideas of content or structure we both worked intuitively throughout the process …’ To me there was no coherent structure. Not every choreographer comes to the creative process with a structure firmly in his or her head. But most, the best ones anyway, end up giving the finished work some coherence. It doesn’t have to be a preconceived notion, but a structure brings sections together, even if or when some content is not entirely obvious, and even if the overall concept is a little ‘ambiguous’—another word from the handout.

Ralph Indie is a wonderful initiative by Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. It gives support to (mostly) emerging artists to experiment with new ideas. Last year’s Ralph Indie dance program was Wiggle Room. It was exceptional. I wish I could feel more positive about Fuse. Let’s hope we get something more satisfying and better thought through for the dance component of Ralph Indie 2018.

Michelle Potter, 8 September 2017

Featured image: Jack Riley and Alexander Hunter. Study for ‘Fuse’. Photo: Andrew Sikorski

Jack Riley and Alexander Hunter. Study for 'Fuse'

2017 weave hustle and halt. Australian Dance Party

‘weave, hustle and halt.’ Australian Dance Party

2 September 2017, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery has done it again—commissioned a short, totally captivating dance piece in conjunction with one of its current exhibitions. This time the company involved was the Australian Dance Party, led by Alison Plevey. She gathered together a great mix of young (and not so young) dancers to present an outdoor work on the gently sloping walkway leading to the gallery entrance. The dancers were accompanied by two musicians guesting from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Tim Wickham and Alex Voorhoeve, who at times sheltered in an alcove on the side of the building but who, at others, strolled around the dancers and were incorporated into the choreography.

The inspiration behind weave, hustle and halt was Dempsey’s People: A folio of British street portraits 1824–1844, a show of miniature portraits in watercolour by British artist John Dempsey of those who plied their wares, or who engaged in other activities, in the streets of London and elsewhere in Britain in the nineteenth century. Plevey has not tried to replicate the portraits in any way but has set out, successfully indeed, to give the audience a feel for the way people might interact with others on the streets today, or at any time really. Yes, there was weaving of bodies, a bit of hustling and some halting as people stopped to observe others.

2017 'weave, hustle and halt' Australian Dance Party

'weave, hustle and halt', 2017. Australian Dance Party

The sound score was an exciting accompaniment with the major part being played on an electric violin and an electric cello. But along with this part of the score there were various street sounds—including the sound of cars in the street and the noise of car horns. In addition the score began with the sound of Big Ben chiming, a beautifully evocative sound and a link back to the original portraits.

Alex Voohoeve, 'weave, hustle and halt'. Australian Dance Party. Photo: Michelle Potter
Tim Wickhmam, 'weave, hustle and halt'. Australian Dance Party. Photo: Michelle Potter

Plevey goes from strength to strength with her innovative ideas and her commitment to using Canberra as a backdrop for her work. Her performers did her proud and we can only continue to thank the National Portrait Gallery for coming to the party and bringing us such an enticing presentation.

Michelle Potter, 3 September 2017

Featured image: A moment from weave, hustle and halt, Australian Dance Party, 2017

2017 weave hustle and halt. Australian Dance Party

All photos: Michelle Potter

Dancers of Australian Dance Party in. 'Weave hustle and halt', 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dance diary. August 2017

  • Weave, hustle and halt

Alison Plevey’s Australian Dance Party has a commission from the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra to create a work in conjunction with the Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of British street portraits from the early 19th century, drawn by John Dempsey. The portraits are beautiful miniatures of working class people in a variety of situations. Plevey’s work, called weave, hustle and halt, is on show at the National Portrait Gallery on Saturdays 2 & 9 September at various times and will reflect the activity, characters and rhythms of the modern-day streetscape. The short work will have a sound score and ‘live busking’ by two musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Tim Wickham and Alex Voorhoeve. I look forward to seeing how Plevey can capture the inherent, down-to-earth beauty of these portraits.

Bathing Lady by John Dempse

Bathing Lady by John Dempsey

  • Oral history updates

Most of the interviews I have conducted recently for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program have been with people working in various areas of the visual arts. This month, however, I had the pleasure of recording interviews with Mary Li from Queensland Ballet, and of course an outstanding dancer and coach in many situations prior to Queensland Ballet, and with Shaun Parker, director of Shaun Parker & Company. Records should appear shortly on the NLA catalogue.

  • Press for August

‘A leap of faith.’ Preview story for Blue Love, Shaun Parker & Company. The Canberra Times, 5 August 2017, p. 11. Online version. See also this link.

‘Torment laid bare in gripping work.’ Review of Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre. The Canberra Times, 7 August 2017, p. 18. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2017

Featured image: Dancers of Australian Dance Party in weave, hustle and halt, 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dancers of Australian Dance Party in. 'Weave hustle and halt', 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim