Beau Dean Riley Smith (centre) as Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre 2017. Photo: Vishal Pandey

Australian Dance Awards 2018. The short list

The names of short listed nominees for the 2018 Australian Dance Awards have just been released. As usual the list shows the amazing variety of dance and dance practitioners we have in Australia, so it was not easy to decide which image to use as the featured one on this post. In the end I opted for an image by Vishal Pandey, a photographer who is relatively new on the Australian dance scene and who has been active in Canberra recently. It is of Beau Dean Riley Smith who is nominated for his role as Woollarawarre Bennelong in Bangarra’s work, Bennelong. Joining Smith on the short list for the award of Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer are Richard Causer, Nelson Earl and Kimball Wong. All gave spectacular performances in particular works in 2017 and any one of them could take out the award.

Here is a link to the media release, which gives the full short list. The recipient of the award for ‘Lifetime Achievement’ will be made public shortly before the awards ceremony. The ceremony for 2018 will be held in Brisbane at the Powerhouse on 8 September 2018. Tickets for the ceremony are available now. Follow this link. The booking link also contains all kinds of useful information about the event and the venue

Michelle Potter, 9 July 2018

Featured image: Beau Dean Riley Smith (centre) as Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre 2017. Photo: Vishal Pandey. With Smith are (left) Tara Robertson and (right) Kaine Sultan-BabijBeau Dean Riley Smith (centre) as Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre 2017. Photo: Vishal Pandey

Nigel Preston Boyes (1959-2018)

Nigel Preston Boyes (1959–2018)

Nigel Preston Boyes,  born Marton, 7 December 1959–died Wellington 2 July 2018
Office Manager, Royal New Zealand Ballet

by Jennifer Shennan

Nigel Boyes was a hugely competent arts administrator, as well as honorary archivist, for over ten years at the Royal New Zealand Ballet. He was the union spokesperson for the dancers, and their friend and mentor, member of a number of choirs, helpful colleague and cheerful friend to everyone he met. Nigel was diagnosed with lung cancer in late April. He stayed calm and stoic, and died (in Mary Potter Hospice, listening to Mozart) just two months later. The suddenness of that departure has left his family and friends reeling in shock, since Nigel never drew attention to himself but always acted in the role of supporter and listener, always in the service of others, always with a sense of fair play. The funeral at Old St Pauls on Friday 6 July drew many from far and wide to ‘farewell a beloved brother’ (that’s the title of an early composition by J S Bach) and was testament to the esteem held for this quiet, unassuming man claimed by so many people as best friend, or at least the most decent person they ever met.

Nigel’s departure has left questions hanging …   ‘Who on earth do we go to now? What’s so & so’s mobile number? Why won’t these computer attachments open? What restaurant is open on a Monday evening? Can you do an extra tour of RNZB Wardrobe for some youngsters between scheduled bookings? Can you find extra passes for the Dress Rehearsal for these folk who are out of work and down on their luck? Can you order in more copies of RNZB at Sixty and, the next time he’s in, get Jon Trimmer to sign them before you pack merchandise for the tour? Could you design the program for the Russell Kerr lecture? How will we fund the refreshments? Is that injured dancer recovering from surgery? Can you find a photo of the 1983 production of Ashley Killar’s No Exit? Who is teaching class tomorrow?’ All the small questions which make the biggest difference. Nigel always said yes to every request, knew the answers to the questions, or made it his business to find out who did.

Nigel, born in 1959, was the third of four sons of Phil and Sybil Boyes. Phil, an accountant, was Rangitikei County Clerk at Marton.  Nigel attended Marton primary and intermediate schools. Secondary schooling was at Rathkeale College in Masterton where, inspired by music mistress Faye Norman, he joined in a wide range of music activities—in the choir, and as principal pianist with the college orchestra. Later Nigel sang in several choirs—New Zealand Opera Chorus, Orpheus Choir, and most recently Inspirare, chamber music ensemble. Mark Stamper, director of Inspirare, sent a message …

I first met Nigel at his audition for Inspirare. He had a wonderful smile, bounce in his step, and a spirit that captivated me. We talked for almost an hour. This spirit and joy continued throughout every rehearsal, coffees at the St. James Mojo, and all other times with Nigel. The world was a more loving, joyful, and helpful place when he was here.

After completing a BA at Massey University in Palmerston North, Nigel then worked for his brother Paul in his landscape and design company in Rotorua from 1991–1995. Designer Landscapes held contracts at Rainbow Springs for a number of years, and Nigel  maintained an interest in gardening throughout his life. Nigel worked in the United States in the mid-90s, for a time as Marketing Assistant to the Director of Listings at the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco. He had a lively interest in travel, visited Greece, cruised on the Rhine, and visited Boston and New York regularly to keep up with friends there.  He adored visiting Mexico and, on regular dates here with a friend over a margarita, would keep alive the spark of his intention to holiday there again.

Meantime Nigel drove almost every weekend to visit his ageing mother in Wanganui. He would mow the lawns and trim the hedges of the family home in Marton and be back in Wellington in time for choir practice. At a garden working-bee at Jon and Jacqui Trimmer’s home in  Paekakariki, Nigel was first up the ladder with secateurs and the last one to down tools. He hated leaving any task unfinished.

Being gay was important to Nigel and he was a supportive friend to many. He was outraged whenever he learned of discrimination or injustice, and worked with courage, discreetly but tirelessly, to put things right. He was a peacemaker and has left the world a better place. We are just all very sorry that he has left it. Nigel is survived by his mother Sybil, his three brothers Michael, Paul, Simon and their families.

Discussions are under way to establish an award in Nigel’s name to encourage music studies among dancers.

Sources: Simon Boyes, Terry Sheat

Jennifer Shennan, 8 July 2018

Featured image: Nigel Preston Boyes (1959-2018)

Nigel Preston Boyes (1959-2018)

Verve. The Australian Ballet

29 June 2018, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

The Australian Ballet’s latest triple bill, Verve, once again raises the fascinating question of what is contemporary ballet? And once again the three works on the program, one each from Stephen Baynes, Tim Harbour, and Alice Topp are examples of how varied answers to that question can be.

Constant Variants from Baynes was first made in 2007 although this is the first time I have seen it. It opened the program. It is impeccably constructed and is so at one with the music, Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, that it is like seeing as well as hearing the sound. It gives us lyrical movement and sculptural poses. There are moments of playfulness and moments of wonderful unison from the dancers—a male trio stands out in particular. Michael Pearce’s set of partial picture frames, variously coloured, glow beautifully under Jon Buswell’s lighting. Constant Variants is calming, beautiful and recognisably classical.

Andrew Killian, Ako Kondo, and Brett Simon in 'Constant Variants'. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Andrew Killian, Ako Kondo, and Brett Simon in Constant Variants. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

The evening closed with Harbour’s Filigree and Shadow, first seen in 2015. I felt uneasy in 2015 and still do. Choreographically it is detailed in the extreme and the dancers capture that detail beautifully. But they constantly move sharply, cutting the air with their limbs, and I longed for a bit of curve to break up the razor-edged look. Aggression and anger predominate. But what makes me especially uneasy is that Filigree and Shadow doesn’t lead anywhere. I can’t see a structure, just a constant coming and going. For me that doesn’t work.

Scene from 'Filigree and Shadow'. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Scene from Filigree and Shadow. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Placed in the middle of the program was Topp’s latest creation, Aurum, danced to four separate works by Ludovico Einaudi. And it was astonishing. There is a choreographer’s explanation for the inspiration behind the work, which is the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold or metallic lacquer. But to tell the truth Aurum exists without an intellectual explanation. It is completely visceral. It is about us and how we connect and we are just carried along by its emotional power.

Its surging choreography is compelling (althought there were a few moments when I felt I was watching a phrase or two from a work by Jiri Kylian). But I loved the gorgeous, swooping lifts, the stretched and elongated bodies, and the often precarious balances. A particularly moving pas de deux between Adam Bull and Coco Mathieson stood out.

Adam Bull and Coco Mathieson in 'Aurum'. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo:Scene from 'Filigree and Shadow'. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Adam Bull and Coco Mathieson in Aurum. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

And of course there was that amazing group section, the third of the ‘movements’. It completely engulfed the audience as it pounded its way to a conclusion when the audience broke out into an uproar of pleasure and excitement (and it wasn’t even opening night). Then there was the final section, another pas de deux this time between Kevin Jackson and Leanne Stojmenov, which played with shadows and was thrillingly lit by Jon Buswell. It seemed to resolve all the emotional drama that had gone before it.

It is hard to remember another work that has had such an instant impact in Australia, except perhaps Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. Let’s hope Aurum gets another showing soon.

Michelle Potter, 1 July 2018

Featured image: Kevin Jackson and Leanne Stojmenov in Aurum. The Australian Ballet 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Dance diary. June 2018

  • Walter Bourke Award

The Australian Ballet recently announced that corps de ballet dancer Mason Lovegrove (pictured above) had received the Walter Bourke Award. The prize, which was established in 2005, is named for former Australian Ballet dancer Walter Bourke, and is not awarded annually but on merit. It is to be used specifically to fund a dancer’s professional development on the world stage. Lovegrove plans to use his award to spend time with Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Berlin’s Staatsballett. Meet Mason Lovegrove via the Australian Ballet’s site.

  • On the trail of Ruth St Denis

Liz Lea’s documentary On the trail of Ruth St Denis will have its premiere screening in Canberra on 20 July at the National Film and Sound Archive’s Arc Cinema. A sneak preview that I had recently reveals a fascinating glimpse of ‘Ruthie’ as she was known, along with a just-as-fascinating glimpse of Lea and her work. Lea will also perform live as part of the event. She will dance The Cobras, a work created by Ruth St Denis in 1906 and as yet never seen in Australia.

Liz Lea in The Cobras. Photo: Talal Al-Muhanna

Ruth St. Denis in The Cobras, Jerome Robbins Dance Division. The New York Public Library Digital Collections, 1906.

On the trail of Ruth St Denis was filmed in India in Agra, Amritsar, Kanpur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, New Delhi and Varanasi, as well as in Scotland, England and Kuwait. Further details of the documentary are at this link, while further details of the NFSA screening are at this link.

Liz Lea during the filming of On the trail of Ruth St Denis 

  • Merce Cunningham Contemporary Dance Residency

In August the National Gallery of Australia will open an exhibition, American Masters, with works drawn from the Gallery’s extensive collection of American art from the 1940s to the 1980s. It was a time in the United States when Merce Cunningham, and his collaborators across art forms, were experimenting with new ways of making dance and, as an adjunct to the exhibition, and with support from the Embassy of the United States of America, the Gallery is hosting a two-week residency for three independent contemporary dance artists (yet to be appointed). The program will be led by former Cunningham dancer Jamie Scott who will remount a range of Cunningham solos, duets and trios on these dancers. A number of public performances will be staged at the end of the residency period. More later.

  • Press for June 2018

‘Exploring rhythms of nature.’ Review of Australian Dance Theatre’s The beginning of nature. The Canberra Times, 18 June 2018, p. 20. Online version.

‘Dancers following their dream.’ Feature on National Capital Ballet School dancers. The Canberra Times, ‘Private Capital’ 25 June 2018, p. 12. Online version

(L-r) Abigail Davidson, Ky Trotter and Soraya Sullivan.

(l-r) Abigail Davidson, Ky Trotter and Soraya Sullivan of the National Capital Ballet School, Canberra

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2018

Featured image: Mason Lovegrove. Photo: Lynette Wills

Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in 'The Beginning of Nature', 2018. Photo: Chris Herzfield

The Beginning of Nature. Australian Dance Theatre

14 June 2018, Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre

Below is a slightly expanded version (with different images) of my review of Australian Dance Theatre’s The Beginning of Nature. The Canberra Times review is available online at this link. In addition, I was lucky enough to be contacted by the composer, Brendan Woithe, after my review appeared. In the ensuing correspondence he explained in some depth how the score could often sound as if it were a powerful electronic soundscape when on stage there were just four string players performing on two violins, a viola and a cello, along with two singers.

It appears, if I understand Woithe correctly, that the sound produced by the string players is manipulated in real time by a computer system, built and pre-programmed by Woithe so that no human intervention is required. The sound produced in this way is combined with the vocals and a small amount of pre-recorded backing at times to produce what we hear during the performance.

As I suggested in my review, the remarkable sound that emerged from this process varied in what it suggested and, as such, made an inestimable, collaborative contribution to the overall work.

The Beginning of Nature. Australian Dance Theatre. Choreographer: Garry Stewart. Composer: Brendan Woithe. Lighting: Damien Cooper. Costumes: Davis Browne. Indigenous consultant: Jack Buckskin. The Canberra Theatre. June 14 and 15

Garry Stewart has been artistic director of the Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre for almost two decades now. During that time, he has built up a reputation for choreography that pushes the human body in directions that at times look almost impossible. He often also works with ideas that stretch the imagination to its limits. The Beginning of Nature, his latest work, is no different.

Thematically the work examines rhythms in nature. Sometimes this happens in a gentle way. Stewart’s nine dancers create undulating patterns with their arms, or swirling movements with their hands, or they use their bodies in mesmerising swaying movements. At other times those rhythms are more violent and the dancers throw themselves into moves that are wild and free. Sometimes animal or bird actions are evoked as bodies swarm as one, or tidal patterns emerge as the dancers course across the stage together. There are connections of all kinds, including a moment where two dancers are locked together at the mouth. Some spectacular moves are performed with a dancer balancing on a single part of the body—the head or the hand for example. Other movements find the dancers springing suddenly from a prone position on the floor into the air. There they seem to pause momentarily, execute a cabriole while parallel to the floor, and then return to a prone position. It’s like a sudden explosion from a volcano.

Chris Mills, Harrison Elliot, Zoe Dunwoodie. Kimball Wong, Matte Roffe, David James McCarthy in 'The Beginning of Nature', 2018. Photo: ©

(from front) Chris Mills, Harrison Elliot, Zoe Dunwoodie. Kimball Wong, Matte Roffe in The Beginning of Nature, 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy

Thomas Fonua in 'The Beginning of Nature', Australian Dance Theatre 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy

Thomas Fonua in The Beginning of Nature, Australian Dance Theatre, 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy

I also felt there was an atavistic element to the work. The dancers wear their hair in somewhat unkempt styles and, where the hair (or wig) is long, they fling it from side to side as they move. They are also completely involved facially and bodily in expressing the rudimentary forces that are at the heart of the work.

Musically the work is transfixing. A score by Brendan Woithe evokes the sounds of a huge range of natural forces from rain and wind to more gentle aspects of the world and its seasons. It is played onstage by string players from the Zephyr Quartet, with two other actors speaking and singing in the Kaurna language of the Adelaide Hills. A consultant, Jack Buckskin, and his team are responsible for the powerful Indigenous aspect of the work, which highlights a language that had all but disappeared until work began to restore it from a kind of phonetic dictionary assembled by German missionaries. Costumes by Davis Browne are a greenish blue, although the colour changes with the lighting. They are quite simple in design and cut, and can be added to (and subtracted from). Sometimes the dancers appear to be wearing a toga-style dress, while at other times costume is reduced to just a pair of trunks. Lighting by Damien Cooper, with its occasional hazy effects contrasting with patches of brightness and an emphasis on green highlights, is another spectacular feature of a work that is, all in all, a remarkable collaborative endeavour.

Many adjectives come to mind to describe the overall effect of The Beginning of Nature. It is poetic, elemental, ritualistic, and even operatic in the intense theatricality that pervades it. But more than anything The Beginning of Nature is absolutely compelling and engrossing to watch. It simply takes over and sweeps us along. And how beautiful it looks on the stage of the Canberra Theatre with its wide proscenium, giving what Stewart himself referred to as a ‘panoramic feel.’ The panorama of nature is before us.

Michelle Potter, 17 June 2018

Featured image: Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in The Beginning of Nature, 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy

Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in 'The Beginning of Nature', 2018. Photo: Chris Herzfield