Ako Kondo as Alice in ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’. The Australian Ballet, 2017. Photo: Daniel Boud

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Australian Ballet

5 December 2017, Capitol Theatre, Sydney

My spirits soared as the curtain went up on the opening act of Christopher Weeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at its Sydney opening night. There before us a picnic was taking place in an English architectural setting, which I believe represented the Deanery at Christ Church, Oxford, home of Alice Liddell who inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. We met Alice’s family and friends, who would later take on other guises when Alice went down the rabbit hole. And the work of Nicholas Wright, who wrote the scenario and added a love interest to the story—between Alice and Jack (in later acts the Knave of Hearts)—seemed to be setting us up for an interesting evening of ballet.

But after Alice disappeared down the rabbit hole the prospect of an evening of ballet disappeared with her. The most obvious feature of the work was not the dancing but the visual design and effects. True the visual features were spectacular and technically astonishing at times. I loved the tiny door that scuttled across the stage at times (see the featured image). Indeed it said more about the story than a lot of the other parts of the design—an example of ‘less is more’ perhaps? I also liked the Victorian scrapbook-style imagery that accompanied the flower waltz in Act II, except that there was too much else happening design-wise for it to be appreciated. Visual overload throughout I thought. When I go to the ballet, I prefer to see dancing rather than umpteen technical tricks and constantly changing visual ideas, as amazing as they may be.

But then the choreography, when it was given some prominence, wasn’t all that interesting. I guess I have never really been a fan of Wheeldon’s work, but this time I wondered how he envisages movement in relation to the human body. With a few exceptions, notably the very slinky caterpillar, I thought Wheeldon ignored the fact that the limbs are attached to the body. Spiky leg movements seemed to predominate and when the upper body did move it seemed expression-less. Choreographically the work felt very flat, innocuous and unexceptional.

All in all, however, the dancers performed nicely. With her charm and gorgeous ability to draw the audience into her world, Ako Kondo was well suited to the role of Alice. With some spectacular dancing, Ty King-Wall as Jack/the Knave of Hearts, was a joy to watch, and I enjoyed Adam Bull as Lewis Carroll/the White Rabbit, especially for the quirky, anxious character he gave to the White Rabbit. Bouquets too to Kevin Jackson as the tap dancing Mad Hatter and Steven Heathcote for a strong portrayal of Alice’s father/the King of Hearts.

Ty King-Wall as the Knave of Hearts in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. The Australian Ballet, 2017. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Ty King-Wall as the Knave of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Australian Ballet, 2017. Photo: © Daniel Boud

But I really disliked the odd changes that had been made to the character of the Queen of Hearts (Alice’s mother in Act I). All was fine when she was looking to chop heads off left, right and centre, which we know is her wont according to Lewis Carroll. But she was also written into the story as some kind of crazy ballerina who wanted to dance the Rose Adagio but couldn’t. To me the pathetically horrible take on the Rose Adagio showed a major lack of taste on the part of the creative team. Leave that kind of mucking around to the Trocks, when it is funny. I really don’t want to see it on the Australian Ballet, and I especially don’t want to see Amy Harris, who played the Queen of Hearts, lying on her stomach, head pointing upstage, legs spread-eagled to the side, and bottom lifted off the ground and pointed directly at the audience. All we needed was the noise. Hideous!

I am sure Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is already a terrific money-spinner for the Australian Ballet, and probably many (most) people thoroughly enjoyed themselves. But watching it made me wonder where ballet is heading. Give me something that is less vaudeville/burlesque/circus-like from our national ballet company.

Michelle Potter, 7 December 2017

Featured image: Ako Kondo as Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Australian Ballet, 2017. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Ako Kondo as Alice in ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’. The Australian Ballet, 2017. Photo: Daniel Boud

Katie Senior and Liz Lea in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

That extra ’some. Liz Lea & Katie Senior

3 December 2017, Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra

It took me a while to work out what the ‘some’ in this very brave and beautiful work meant. It premiered a few months ago as part of Escalate II, an Ausdance ACT mentoring program. I didn’t see it then but kept noticing that the ‘some’ of the title was occasionally written with an apostrophe before it, but at other times without. As one watches the work, however, which I finally had the pleasure of doing, it is perfectly obvious that the ‘some’ should indeed have an apostrophe before it. It stands for the last syllable of ‘chromosome’. The work is performed by Liz Lea and Katie Senior and, as a person with Down Syndrome, Katie Senior carries an extra chromosome in her genetic makeup.

Katie Senior in ‘Tha extra ‘some’, 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim

Katie Senior in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Lea is a wonderfully creative and theatrical director/choreographer and in That extra ‘some, along with movement of various kinds, she has brought together surprises, colour, props, audio, and footage to produce a portrait of Senior that ultimately is one of the most moving works of dance I have seen.

Lea and Senior begin the work sitting on chairs sharing a variety of gestures. They move on to watch film footage together, and they listen as Senior discusses her favourite things. The props we noticed on two small tables as we entered the space are gathered up by Lea and given to Senior to wear and hold—a gorgeous pink hat and a pink sculpture of a cockatoo among them—as Senior tells us what she loves, what is her favourite colour and the bird she likes best. And, what seem at the beginning of the show to be pink decorations tucked inside the neckline of the black outfits they both wear, turn out to be pink rubber gloves. Senior likes washing up!

Senior announces that she is learning Reggaeton, a kind of Latin American Hip Hop, and she and Lea dance together.

Liz Lea and Katie Senior in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Liz Lea and Katie Senior in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

More dancing and more conversation follow. The text of the conversation, which is played over the footage, is extraordinary. It is Senior’s own, hesitant voice and occasionally our expectations are shattered. A discussion of how Down Syndrome affects those who live with it is followed by sentences such as ‘I feel fabulous!’ As the work ends we watch Senior, dressed in beautiful clothes, strolling through a Canberra landscape. Feeling fabulous; looking fabulous.

This one-off performance at Belconnen Arts Centre was in celebration of the International Day of People with a Disability. But what Lea and Senior showed was that living with a disability does not remove a person’s humanity. No wonder we were reduced to tears at times during this very moving work.

Michelle Potter, 5 December 2017

Featured image: Katie Senior (left) and Liz Lea in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Katie Senior and Liz Lea in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

 

Eliza Sanders from the 'Enigma' series. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. November 2017

  • ACT Arts Awards 2017

The ACT Arts Awards for 2017, an initiative of the Canberra Critics’ Circle, were announced in Canberra on 27 November. The major award, ACT Artist of the Year, sponsored by the weekly newspaper City News, went to dancer, choreographer and director, Liz Lea. This award is the subject of a separate post at this link.

In the wider category, where awards go to ACT-based artists across the various performing arts genres, the visual arts and literature, two dance awards were given.

  • Photographer Lorna Sim was awarded ‘For her outstanding contribution to dance in the ACT through her photography of dance, and her 2017 exhibition of dance photographs Enigma.’ One of her remarkable images from Enigma is the featured image on this post.
  • Katie Senior and Liz Lea shared an award ‘For their moving and elegiac dance work That extra ‘some created in celebration of a remarkable friendship.’ For a review of this work follow this link.

Katie Senior at the ACT Arts Awards 2017

Katie Senior (foreground) at the ACT Arts Awards, 2017

  • David Vaughan (1924–2017)

I was saddened to hear of the death in October in New York of British-born dance archivist, historian and critic David Vaughan. I first met Vaughan in  the early 1990s when I was doing research for my doctoral thesis, which concerned Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and their collaborations with Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Vaughan was the generous archivist of the Cunningham Foundation. I met up with him several times after that and was proud to be a co-curator with him and Barbara Cohen-Stratyner of the exhibition INVENTION. Merce Cunningham and Collaborators at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York, in 2007.

David Vaughan’s writing has been widely published in a variety of formats, but the two works that stand out in my mind are his spendid work on the ballets of Frederick Ashton, originally published in 1977 and revised in 1999— Frederick Ashton and his ballets. Revised edition (London: Dance Books, 1999)—and his equally impressive Merce Cunningham. Fifty years (New York: Aperture, 1997), and its accompanying app.

Press conference, Libary for the Performing Arts, New York, 2007. Foreground Merce Cunningham, background (l-r) curators Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, David Vaughan, Michelle Potter

Press conference, Library for the Performing Arts, New York, 2007. Foreground Merce Cunningham, background (l-r) curators Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, David Vaughan, Michelle Potter

  • Degas from Scotland in London

Just recently I saw a small, but quite beautiful show called Drawn in colour. Degas from the Burrell at the National Gallery in London. The works by Degas came mostly from the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, although some items, designed to expand the exhibition, came from elsewhere. The items from the Burrell Collection have rarely travelled before, and most were new to me. I especially liked the one I have chosen as illustration, The green ballet skirt, for the gorgeous way Degas has painted the skirt being so carefully treated by the dancer before (I am assuming) she goes on stage.

The Degas paintings, drawings and sculptures on display in this show are part of an extensive collection of art works given to the city of Glasgow by a wealthy Glaswegian shipping merchant, Sir William Burrell. The exhibition runs from 20 September 2017 to 7 May 2018. More at this link.

Edgar Hilaire Germain Degas, The Green Dress, about 1896-1901

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, The Green Ballet Skirt (ca. 1896). Pastel on tracing paper, 45 x 37 cm. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow (35.242) © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

  • Press for November 2017

‘Moving towards inclusion.’ Preview of the dance component of the Detonate program at Belconnen Arts Centre. Panorama (The Canberra Times), 25 November 2017, pp. 10–11. Online version

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2017

  • Late addition (2 December 2017)

I have just received a link to the latest edition of the remarkable Dance Books catalogue and, rather than wait until my January dance diary, I am including it here as a late addition—a source of Christmas gifts? Follow this link

Featured image: Eliza Sanders from the Enigma series. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Eliza Sanders from the 'Enigma' series. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Liz Lea in a study for 'RED'. Photo: © Nino Tamburri

Liz Lea. ACT City News Artist of the Year 2017

Liz Lea, Canberra-based dancer, director, and choreographer, has been named ACT ’City News’ Artist of the Year for 2017. The decision was reached at a plenary session of the Canberra Critics’ Circle and announced at the ACT Arts Awards ceremony on 27 November. Lea’s citation read:

For her unwavering commitment to, and focus on making, directing and promoting dance in the ACT, in particular for the inclusiveness that characterises her work and for her charismatic leadership of the inaugural BOLD Festival in March 2017.

2017 has been an exceptional year for Lea, and what follows is a longer citation:

Over the past decade, Canberra-based dancer, choreographer and director, Liz Lea, has galvanised dance audiences in the ACT with her commitment to developing their expectations about what dance is, who can perform it and where it can happen. Her work is distinguished by its inclusiveness. She works with artist of all ages, of varying abilities, and of all ethnic groups and she makes sure she acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which her choreography is being performed.

In 2017 she made a major contribution to Canberra’s dance culture by presenting, without any external funding, the BOLD Festival, which took place in the ACT over three days in March. This venture offered an exceptionally varied program of lectures, demonstrations, films and performances. Participants and audience members represented a wide range of arts backgrounds and dance genres and came from across the country for this exceptional initiative. The festival took advantage of Canberra’s wealth of venues for presentation and performance, including the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, and Gorman & Ainslie Arts Centre.

Lea’s own performance and choreographic activities in 2017 have included her work That extra ‘some, performed as part of Escalate a mentoring program for ACT-based young people, of which Lea is a primary mentor. In That extra ‘some Lea worked with Down Syndrome dance artist Katie Senior, which required Lea to develop a new approach to choreography. In addition, in 2017 Lea performed in India Meets, a program that she initiated to bring to a close an Australian tour by acclaimed British-Indian dancer Seeta Patel. In yet another example of Lea’s commitment to developing an ACT dance culture, her India Meets program included dance performances from Canberra-based Indian practitioners. Lea has also presented small works around the city as part of various special events for 2017 including during Dance Week and Science Week. Throughout the year she has continued her ongoing interest in presenting dance as an aid to understanding scientific processes with the development of schools’ programs concerning coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2017 Lea was the recipient of an Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance. Her unwavering commitment to, and focus on making, directing and promoting dance has put the spotlight on the ACT and moved the Territory into a position where it can now claim to have a truly vibrant and unique dance culture.

Lea is currently working on a new solo show, RED, scheduled for showing in 2018.

Michelle Potter, 27 November 2017

Featured image: Liz Lea in a study for RED. Photo: © Nino Tamburri

Liz Lea in a study for 'RED'. Photo: © Nino Tamburri

Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae in 'The Illustrated Farewell'. The Royal Ballet, 2017. © The Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

The Illustrated Farewell, The Wind, Untouchable. The Royal Ballet

6 November 2017, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Two new works and one revival made up the Royal Ballet’s most recent triple bill. The opener, Twyla Tharp’s The Illustrated ‘Farewell’ should perhaps be described as new-ish rather than new, since it also drew on material Tharp had made way back in 1973 in a work called As time goes by. Tharp’s work was by far the most attractive item, in a choreographic sense, on the program.

Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae made spectacular, separate entrances, covering the stage with expansive grands jetés and bringing their trademark joyous approach to their dancing. Such a pleasure to see them. They then proceeded to dance the first two parts of Joseph Haydn’s 45th (so-called  ‘Farewell’) symphony, scarcely stopping throughout the two movements to catch their breath. They were perfectly matched as partners, executing Tharp’s twisting, turning, demanding movements and making the most of her playful approach at times. A swirl of ballroom steps and even a high-five appeared amongst the more classical moves. It was a virtuoso performance.

Lamb and McRae were a hard act to follow but Mayara Magri held the stage In a solo before the music for the third movement began. Hers was a remarkable display of dancing that showed off both Tharp’s expansive yet intricate choreography and Magri’s strong technical skills. Then, as the music began, Magri was joined by a corps of dancers, who seemed to appear from nowhere. Both this third movement and the fourth were filled with intricate groupings of dancers sometimes dancing in unison but mostly working separately from each other so the overall patterning looked scattered.

Mayara Magri in The Illustrated Farewell. The Royal Ballet, 2017. © ROH. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Mayara Magri in The Illustrated ‘Farewell’. © 2017 ROH. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

The work finished beautifully with Lamb and McRae appearing unexpectedly upstage on a raised black platform against a black background. They kneeled in a kind of homage and then disappeared into the black, while below Joseph Sissens, in white trunks and long-sleeved white shirt, melted to the ground in a poignant farewell.

Arthur Pita’s work The Wind, danced to a commissioned score by Frank Moon, followed as the middle piece. Based on a story by Dorothy Scarborough written in 1925, which was subsequently made into a silent movie, the ballet follows events in the life of a young woman from Virginia, Letty Mason, who arrives in Texas in the 1880s and is tormented in mind, body and soul by the wind and the bleakness of the landscape. The story is complex and includes, on an obvious narrative level, marriage, rape, and eventual revenge by Mason. But The Wind suffers from Pita’s condensing of the story and his efforts to include a dimension beyond the obvious. To achieve this latter he introduces two characters, Cynthia (Wild Woman) danced by Elizabeth McGorian, and Mawarra (the Lost) danced by Edward Watson, who appear to represent Mason’s mental state.

In all this Pita leaves little time for including much dancing. In the role of Letty Mason, Natalia Osipova makes a sterling attempt to develop the role but she is given far too little dancing in which to do it. And so it is with the other leading characters—Thiago Soares as the cowpuncher Lige Hightower, who marries Mason; and Thomas Whitehead as Wirt Roddy, a cattle buyer who rapes her.

Thomas Whitehead as Wirt Roddy & Natalia Osipova as Letty Mason in The Wind. © 2017 ROH. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Then there were those three large wind machines that took up a lot of the performance space and blew air across the stage throughout the ballet. I thought they were obtrusive and promoted the idea of the relentless quality of the wind rather too pointedly. Nor am I sure that we needed to see so much wind being generated by the machines. Having Osipova struggling at one stage to keep her wedding veil from either escaping or engulfing her was a little too much.

There was, however, something fascinating about The Wind. Despite the lack of dancing given to some of the Royal Ballet’s strongest artists, there was something powerful about the way Pita had distilled the story. There was a starkness to the work, although perhaps this came more from Jeremy Herbert’s minimal set (apart from the overpowering presence of the wind machines), and a strong lighting design by Adam Silverman, as much as anything else. It reminded me a little of Agnes de Mille’s work, especially her Fall River Legend, and I suspect that The Wind could be revised to have a similar impact as Fall River Legend.

The evening closed with Hofesh Shechter’s Untouchable, a work concerning ‘moving with the herd’ first seen in 2015. There was a lot of militaristic moving around in groups with the occasional breakout by a few dancers to form separate groups. Occasionally I had the feeling that the movement was referencing a folk idiom. The best part was probably the atmospheric lighting by Lee Curran.

Artists of the Royal Ballet in 'Untouchable'. 2017 © Photo: Tristram Kenton

Artists of the Royal Ballet in Untouchable. © 2017 ROH Photo: Tristram Kenton

Michelle Potter, 10 November 2017

Featured image: Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae in The Illustrated ‘Farewell’. The Royal Ballet, 2017. © The Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae in 'The Illustrated Farewell'. The Royal Ballet, 2017. © The Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

Shadow Aspect program

Shadow Aspect. Ballet Cymru

5 November 2017, Lilian Baylis Studio, London

There was much that was abrupt in Tim Podesta’s Shadow Aspect, which featured guest artist Mara Galeazzi and dancers of the Welsh company, Ballet Cymru. The lighting came on and off abruptly, for example, and the music changed abruptly from loud and powerful to more gentle when the music was punctuated by a singing voice. Moreover, the choreography was not what one might called softly fluid—it too often had a sharp edge, an abruptness, and sometimes a static quality to it.

Having said that there was a lot to challenge the eye in Podesta’s choreography. I enjoyed the lifts where bodies were thrown across and around each other, the unusual gestures of the hands and arms, and the feeling that at times bodies were collapsing in on themselves. It reminded me a little of William Forsythe’s comments that he was interested in researching what the body can do, although the outcome in Podesta’s case was quite unlike Forsythe. Podesta rarely pushed the body off its central (classical) axis, as Forsythe was prone to do, hence the static feeling I got. Nevertheless, the dancers of Ballet Cymru executed Podesta’s challenging moves with strength and determination.

Podesta has explained in various places what was behind the work, and why it had the title Shadow Aspect. He quotes Carl Jung who said: ‘To know yourself, you must accept your dark side. To deal with others’ dark sides, you must also know your dark side.’

The shadow of the title is the dark side and elsewhere Podesta says that the work has a definite narrative and suggests that the narrative is quite clear, although open to interpretation. I didn’t have time to work out what the narrative was. The choreography was so busy being different that it was enough to take it in without worrying about a narrative. Less focus on being different would perhaps have made the narrative, whatever it was, clearer. Perhaps a dramaturg would be in order?

As for Mara Galeazzi, I have admired her dancing since I first saw her in Winter Dreams with the Royal Ballet in 2010, and I was highly impressed with her performance as Clarissa in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works in its 2017 staging. But, while she danced with her usual technical skill the choreography as set for her in Shadow Aspect, how I longed to see her in a work in which the choreography had more warmth to it.

Michelle Potter, 6 November 2017

Featured image: Program for Shadow Aspect

Shadow Aspect program

Final scene, Le baiser de la fee, Birmingham Royal Ballet, 2017

Arcadia, Le baiser de la fée, Still life at the Penguin Café. Birmingham Royal Ballet

4 November 2017, Sadler’s Wells, London

This triple bill from Birmingham Royal Ballet began with Arcadia, a new work from company dancer Ruth Brill, continued with Michael Corder’s take on Le baiser de la fée, and concluded with David Bintley’s Still life at the Penguin Café, a work whose title has intrigued me for years, although this was my first opportunity to see it.

Arcadia told a story about the god Pan, half human, half animal, and his relations with those who share his world, both his fellow supernatural beings and his human subjects. The work opened beautifully thanks to atmospheric lighting by Peter Teigen, which shrouded a semi-crouching Pan in a mysterious haze. There was some nice, if not world-shattering choreography, especially for Pan who was danced by Brandon Lawrence. He leaped and bounded, and stretched his body as he swept his arms in all directions. But had I not read the program notes I would never have guessed that we were meant to be watching Pan in two moods, frustrated at first and then at peace with himself after the intervention of Selene, goddess of the moon. Perhaps the music, a composition by John Harle originally for violin, piano and soprano saxophone and specially orchestrated for this ballet, was partly the problem. While it was jazzy and made great listening, there didn’t seem to be enough variation in musical mood for Pan’s change of mood to be felt. But it was not helped by the fact that choreographically and dramaturgically that mood change didn’t happen. The dancers just danced on as if nothing had happened.

On the other hand, I thought Corder’s Baiser de la fée, danced to the Stravinsky score and based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The ice maiden, was beautifully structured so the story unfolded clearly and strongly, even given the complexities of the storyline. True, it was quite classical in format—it even had a form of grand pas de deux in the second scene when the Young Man (Lachlan Monaghan), whose fate was sealed when he was kissed as a baby by the Fairy (Jenna Roberts), dances with the bride as she prepares for the nuptials. For some that grand pas might make the work a little old-fashioned, but I loved the clarity of the piece and the way it moved inexorably to the finale when the Fairy claims the Young Man. And the designs by John F. Macfarlane were stunning in their decorative elements and in their use of colour to heighten both mood and the nature of the various characters.

I was fascinated by Still life at the Penguin Café. It dates back to 1988 but its theme of issues surrounding endangered species is still as valid as it was back then. Is there still life for some species who today teeter on the brink of extinction, or are they still life as we understand a still life painting? However we may interpret that title (and there is room for both), Still life at the Penguin Café is a remarkable series of sketches, each one referring to a different species at risk, mostly hilarious on the surface, and always delightfully costumed (design by Hayden Griffin). I guess while the issue of endangered species is not to be mocked, there is room, as Bintley has done, to bring it to our attention in a light-hearted, episodic way. Full marks to the dancers who grabbed the opportunity to display their skills with special mention to Edivaldo Souza da Silva as the Southern Cape Zebra, not to mention those delightful penguin waiters.

I am a big fan of triple bill programs. But it is rare to get a triple bill where every work delivers what media releases tell us it will be like. This program wasn’t an example of such rarity but there was a lot to enjoy.

Michelle Potter, 5 November 2017

Featured image: Finale to Le baiser de la fée, Birmingham Royal Ballet. Photo: © Bill Cooper

Final scene, Le baiser de la fee, Birmingham Royal Ballet, 2017

'The Beginning Of Nature.' Australian Dance Theatre. Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

Dance diary. October 2017

  • Coming to Canberra in 2018

In October the Canberra Theatre Centre released its ‘Collected Works 2018’. Canberra dance audiences will have the pleasure of seeing Australian Dance Theatre’s The Beginning of Nature, which will open its Australian mainstage season in Canberra on 14 June 2018.

Canberra Theatre Centre’s program also includes a season of AB [Intra] from Sydney Dance Company and Dark Emu from Bangarra Dance Theatre and, as part of the Canberra Theatre’s Indie program, Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson will perform Cockfight. 

Bangarra Dance Theatre. Study for 'Dark Emu'. Photo: Daniel Boud

Bangarra Dance Theatre. Study for Dark Emu. Photo: © Daniel Boud

  • Eileen Kramer making a splash

The irrepressible Eileen Kramer was in Canberra recently. She made a fleeting visit to have a chat with Ken Wyatt, Minister for Aged Care, about funding for a project she is planning for her 103rd birthday in November. Kramer will perform A Buddha’s wife, a work inspired by her visit to India in the 1960s. It will be part of a project (The Now Project) featuring 10 dancers and co-produced by choreographer/film-maker Sue Healey. Read about the project and listen to Kramer and Healey speak briefly about it on the crowd funding page that has been set up to help realise the project.

  • Fellowships, funding news, and further accolades

It was a thrill to see that Australian Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Garry Stewart, is the recipient of a 2017 Churchill Fellowship. Stewart will investigate choreographic centres in various parts of the world including in India, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

Garry Stewart rehearsing 'Monument' 2013. Photo Lynette Wills

Garry Stewart in rehearsal. Photo: © Lynette Wills

Then, artsACT has announced its funding recipients for 2018 and, unlike last year’s very disappointing round, dance gets some strong recognition. Alison Plevey’s Australian Dance Party has been funded to produce a new work Energeia, Canberra Dance Theatre has received funding to create a new piece for its 40th anniversary, Liz Lea has funding also to create a new work, and Emma Strapps has been funded for creative development of a work called Flight/less.

Also in the ACT, Ruth Osborne has been short-listed as the potential ACT Australian of the Year for 2018. Osborne is artistic director of QL2 Dance and has made a major contribution to youth dance in the ACT. She was a 2016 recipient of a Churchill Fellowship and has recently returned from studying youth dance in various countries around the world.

Ruth Osborne, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Ruth Osborne prior to taking up her Churchill Fellowship. Photo: © 2017 Lorna Sim

Then, from Queensland Ballet comes news of some welcome promotions. Lucy Green and Camilo Ramos are now principal artists, and Mia Heathcote has been promoted to soloist.

  • Jean Stewart (1921–2017)

For a much fuller account of the life and work of Jean Stewart than I was able to give see Blazenka Brysha’s story at this link, as well as an interesting comment from her about one of Stewart’s photos of Martin Rubinstein.

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2017

Featured image: The Beginning Of Nature, Australian Dance Theatre. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

'The Beginning Of Nature.' Australian Dance Theatre. Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

Restraint(s)

Restraint(s). Ken Unsworth & Australian Dance Artists

28 October 2017, Ken Unsworth Studios, Alexandria (Sydney)

I am a long-term admirer of Ken Unsworth’s sculpture, especially his various suspended stones sculptures. I have often wondered what it would be like to give those stones a push to see what motion would ensue. Well, Restraint(s), a work that should probably be described as performance art, put my mind at ease to a certain extent. Unsworth clearly enjoys making sculpture and installations that move, or can be moved. No doubt the suspended stones would move too, although I don’t think I’ll be trying it out any time soon!

Unsworth has worked with the four dancers of Australian Dance Artists—Susan Barling, Anca Frankenhaeuser, Patrick Harding-Irmer and Ross Philip, and their associate Norman Hall—over several years, most recently using his Alexandria studios as a performing space. Restraint(s) showcased several Unsworth objects that, as the title of the work suggests, put various restraints on the dancers, although the dancers never looked restrained. They simply used each sculpture/installation in an exploratory manner—how can the body move within or around a moving three-dimensional item or items. In the opening section they pushed the very pushable boundaries of a kind of boxing ring made up of stretch ropes. This was, for me anyway, the least interesting of the several sections that made up the evening.

Susan Barling and Anca Frankenhaeuser in 'Restraint(s)', 2017. Photo: © Mike Buick

Susan Barling and Anca Frankenhaeuser in Restraint(s), 2017. Photo: © Mike Buick

Much more interesting was an early section performed by Susan Barling and Anca Frankenhaeuser in which they engaged with a very large golden ring (a bit like a circus cyr wheel), which changed colour at various times. The wheel was slowly lowered from an exposed part of the ceiling that revealed a machine-for-lowering-and-manipulating-rings-and-other-things. The ring was at times in mid-air, parallel to the floor, but at other times was manipulated from the hole in the ceiling so that it stood on edge, vertical to the floor. Barling and Frankenhaeuser wore simple, long-ish dresses that had a hoop inserted into the circular hemline, thus mirroring Unsworth’s ring. They moved around, alongside, inside and over the ring, depending on how it was positioned. Towards the end they flung their skirts up so that the ring in the hemline framed their faces. A very interesting variation on a cyr wheel performance.

I also enjoyed a surprising section involving two sliding floor boards that moved in opposite directions across the width of the performing space. Initially they simply seemed like regular floor boards but, as Barling and Frankenhaeuser began to pose on them, the boards began to move. The dancers’ poses became varied—sometimes they stood, other times they reclined as they took a ride back and forth across the space. Ross Philip joined them and began to pose with them, over them, and around them. This became an exercise in maintaining one’s balance and keeping within one’s space.

Then towards the end there was a somewhat mysterious section that involved Patrick Harding-Irmer and three white (plaster?), human-sized dummies. Harding-Irmer, dressed in black trunks and black caftan with hood, and carrying a long black stick, danced around the dummies, occasionally moving them to another position in the space, sometimes pushing and balancing them with his stick, and occasionally mirroring their various static poses.  This section segued seamlessly into the finale when a large structure, consisting of a circular platform holding four tall glass panels, with a peacock etched on each one, was pushed into the space and connected to that hole in the ceiling. The glass panels divided the structure into quarters and as it spun around, Harding-Irmer was joined by the other three dancers, also dressed in black, and the company dashed in and out of the spinning spaces.

Susan Barling and Ross Philip in 'Restraint(s)', 2017. Photo: © Mike Buick

Susan Barling and Ross Philip in Restraint(s), 2017. Photo: © Mike Buick

I guess what I really enjoyed about this show was its coherent concept and the versatility with which the concept was presented. I definitely found some sections more interesting to watch than others. The one that had the most inventive and polished movement came from Barling and Philip who worked like aerial artists in a forest of hanging ropes. But every section had been thought through carefully. The use of colour, the costume design, the music (original score by Kate Moore) all focussed on the concept. And there was an innate and refreshing simplicity in how the evening was strung together. Initially I thought it might be a little like the experimental performance art that people like Rauschenberg, Cunningham, Cage (and others) were making in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. And in many respects it was, except that it was not quite so wacky. There was coherence amid the eccentricity. Well done!

Michelle Potter, 30 October 2017

Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in 'Seamless'. Australian Dance Party, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

‘Seamless.’ Australian Dance Party

21 October 2017, Haig Park, Canberra. Floriade Fringe

This year Floriade, Canberra’s annual floral display in celebration of the arrival of Spring, got an addition—Floriade Fringe. Spread over three days, 19–21 October, it was, like all Fringe Festivals, a mixed bag of offerings across a range of alternative endeavours in the arts, and in assorted other areas. But it also had an artist (or rather artists) in residence—Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party. Australian Dance Party at this stage in its development is still a pickup company with dancers changing from work to work. On this occasion, the company consisted of Plevey, Jack Riley and Eliza Sanders. The specially commissioned work was Seamless and it took a look at the fashion industry.

We have come to see Plevey’s work as an unapologetic comment on those aspects of society and politics that she feels strongly about. Seamless began by taking a look at models and their behaviour, and the stage that was set up in Haig Park was T-shaped in the manner of a catwalk. The dancers wore an amazing assortment of clothing, from grunge to glamour (not to mention underwear). Bouquets to Nina Gbor and Charne Esterhuizen for their contribution here. Plevey was a standout in this section as she strutted down the catwalk, mocking the distinctive walk models use.

Alison Plevey in 'Seamless'. Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Alison Plevey in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But I also enjoyed the slightly supercilious attitude each of the dancers presented as they posed in various ways. Plevey also made a comment on the shape and size of models, and the attention their thinness has attracted recently. She pushed and poked her body and watched it in shadow-form on the back screen as she tried to make herself look as thin as possible.

But the work moved on to comment on other aspects of the fashion industry. Against the background of footage of sewing machines relentlessly and repetitively sewing seams, the three dancers, dressed in white, unadorned pants and tops, danced out a similarly repetitive and relentless series of moves. This section, which seemed overly long (although perhaps with the right intent), I assume was a comment on factories churning out fast fashion. There were other sections, however, that left me a little lost. I wasn’t really sure about the wrapping of Riley in a diaphanous purple cloth, although it was interesting to watch.

Jack Riley (centre) with Eliza Sanders and Alison Plevey in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Towards the end the three dancers ‘engaged’ with an assortment of clothing, dressing themselves with as much as they could fit on and swapping items with each other. This was fun to watch too and I guess had to do with recycling clothing—an op shop experience gone wild.

While I felt not all the sections were clearly articulated, Seamless was an interesting, outdoor, evening event and was wonderfully danced by all three performers. I continue to be surprised at what Plevey and her dancers get up to, and think we in Canberra are lucky to have Australian Dance Party performing as much as they do with so little mainstream funding support. Plevey just picks up opportunities, wherever they may be, and runs with them

Michelle Potter, 23 October 2017

Featured image: (l–r) Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in 'Seamless'. Australian Dance Party, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim