Nick Jachno in 'Falling on succession' from the ONCE season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo:© Stephen A'Court.

‘Once.’ New Zealand School of Dance

Te Whaea, Wellington, 8–16 September 2017
Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

This year is the 50th anniversary since the founding of New Zealand School of Dance (formerly National School of Ballet). It is an inspired idea to mark that by inviting 10 graduates from across the decades to choreograph solos for current students in the contemporary dance stream. The program, Once, is being performed for a season 8–16 September.

To open, all ten performers stand to frame the space, they depart into the shadows, and only the first performer is left. Between items the last dancer links with the next one, in a metaphorical handing on of a baton across the generations.

The rectangular stage space has side seating in four sections, which suits some of the dances well, but does pose a real challenge for lighting design. Sixteen floor level lights are used in the majority of pieces, which means that some lights will be shining straight into the audience’s eyes. Whenever strobe light (none of that here) or other light is shone into my eyes, my instinct is to close them—which is of course not a great way to review a dance performance. The program’s three little masterworks adopted different sources of light and the difference that made for me was exponential.

The program notes for a dance always interest me. I’m happy if there are none, and happy if there are some that help in some way to illuminate the choreographer’s thinking. Not so happy if there are notes but they don’t help at all as that’s usually a sign that the structure of the dance is less well shaped than might be. It’s an opportunity to communicate parallel to the dance, and should not be wasted, ahakoa iti, he pounamu.

Craig Bary made a strongly physical work for Nick Jachno, who gave a committed performance and it was good to be reminded of Craig’s own stellar dancing across the years. Sacha Copland, known for her quirky sense of humour and brilliant handling of props, had Ella Williams dancing with a bowl on her head to fabulous music by Lajko Felix and Boban Markovic. Eliza Sanders’ piece has a sleepwalking and muttering dancer, Holly Brogan, in a study of troubled introversion. Raewyn Hill switched off the footlights and put strong corridors of light around the edge into which stepped Toa Paranihi to dance a strong and beautiful celebration of himself, the moving body, light on skin, him, Raewyn, and us all.

Toa Paranihi in 'Solo for Toa.' ONCE Solo season, New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo: © Stephen A'Court
Georgia Van Gills in 'Wellness.' ONCE solo season, New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo: © Stephen A'Court

(left) Toa Paranihi in Solo for Toa (choreography Raewyn Hill) and (right) Georgia Van Gils in Wellness (choreography Emma Murray) from the Once solo season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photos: ©Stephen A’Court

Emma Murray has been working in Europe for some years now and the influence shows. Her piece, for Georgia Van Gils, sits within dance-theatre that follows theme and thought rather than display ‘beautiful’ movement for its own sake. It’s not an attractive or easy theme, to witness a young woman in desperate need of help, thinking of asking for it, but not actually asking in case we are not going to help her. It was a poignant piece, and had the best program notes of the night.

Taiaroa Royal knew well the strengths of his performer, Kent Giebel-Date, and made the dance accordingly—with his hallmark wit of engaging with the audience then inviting us to follow to an intimate place where the male body moving could speak without words. Light on human skin, my favourite thing. Mary Jane O’Reilly made Valhalla, for Jill Goh, strong presence of woman, flying pennants, boots and strop, stripping to prove it, suggesting the burlesque style she has recently focussed on. (This year is also the 40th anniversary of Limbs Dance Company, an enterprise that, thanks primarily MJ and Sue Paterson, brought such joy and fun into so many lives).

Kent Giebel-Date in 'Overdone'. New Zealand School of Dance, ONCE solo season 2017. Photo: © Stephen A'Court
Isabella Coluccio in 'Born under the same star' from the ONCE season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

(left) Kent Giebel-Date in Overdone (choreographer Taiaroa Royal) and (right) Isabella Coluccio in Born under the same star (choreographer Janessa Dufty) from the Once solo season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photos: ©Stephen A’Court

Janessa Dufty made a work for Isabella Coluccio that was at the same time strong and lyrical, and Lauren Langlois in the final slot set a dance for Christina Guieb that presented a woman in meditative involvement in her thoughts. It might have been better to place Daniel Belton’s well-styled work, XYZ, last, since his preoccupation with astral scale and energies lifts our focus up to astronomical places, where we find a perspective and proportion for all our endeavours—in scale as well as detail.

So, though this is not a contest, my three strong front runners were Raewyn Hill, Emma Murray and Taiaroa Royal. Well done all.

Jennifer Shennan, 11 September 2017

Featured image: Nick Jachno in Falling on succession (choreographer Craig Bary) from the Once solo season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo:© Stephen A’Court.

Nick Jachno in 'Falling on succession' from the ONCE season. New Zealand School of Dance, 2017. Photo:© Stephen A'Court.

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

Jean Stewart 1921-2017

Jean Stewart (1921–2017)

Jean Stewart, esteemed dance photographer, has died in Melbourne aged 95. Jean was a radiographer by profession but had studied photography at RMIT. Ballet was her passion and she created an amazing archive of photographs of Australian companies in the 1940s and 1950s, especially of the Borovansky Ballet and Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild. She also photographed Ballet Rambert during its momentous tour to Australia 1947–1949. Later she took casual shots of dancers in social rather than performance settings.

Her work is currently represented in various libraries and performing arts collections around Australia. Her material is of inestimable value to those who take an interest in our balletic heritage.

 

I first met Jean in 1996 when I was curating a National Library exhibition, Dance people, dance. I used a number of her photographs in that exhibition and since then have used her work in various of my publications, more recently in my biography of Dame Margaret Scott, Dame Maggie Scott. A life in dance. I greatly appreciated Jean’s generosity in giving permission for her work to be used.

Above is a random selection of her photographs. With the exception of the photograph of Gailene Stock and Gary Norman, all are from the collection of the National Library of Australia

Jean Stewart: Born Melbourne, 31 October 1921. Died Melbourne, 18 August 2017.

Gallery: (top row) Walter Gore in The Fugitive, Ballet Rambert, c. 1948; Martin Rubinstein in Le beau Danube, Borovansky Ballet, c. 1946; Eric Brown in The Sentimental Bloke, Ballet Guild, 1952. (middle row) Edouard Borovansky in Le Carnaval, Borovansky Ballet, c. 1944; Janet Karin and Ray Trickett in Voyageur, Ballet Guild, 1957; Gailene Stock and Gary Norman, Melbourne, 2012. (bottom row) Peggy Sager and Martin Rubinstein in Terra Australis, Borovansky Ballet, 1946; Laurel Martyn in Coppélia, Ballet Guild, 1952; Joyce Graeme in Peter and the Wolf, Ballet Rambert Australian tour, 1948.

Michelle Potter, 21 August 2017