The three 'Ghost Figures' from 'Ghost Dances'. Queensland Ballet, 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

‘RAW’. A triple bill from Queensland Ballet

17 March 2017, Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

One of the most refreshing aspects of Queensland Ballet’s current vision is contained in its repertoire. If Li Cunxin can’t always give us a live musical accompaniment, as was the case with the RAW program, he will always present us, especially in a triple bill, with a program that is provocative or filled with choreography that demands attention in some way.

RAW began with Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land, a work made in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of World War I. It was created on English National Ballet and my review of ENB’s production is at this link. The work was very nicely staged on Queensland Ballet by Yohei Sasaki, ENB’s repetiteur. It is a beautifully conceived, designed, lit, and choreographed work, and all the best qualities I recall from my previous experience had transferred well to Queensland Ballet.

This time, with the benefit of having seen the work already, I particularly noticed the group sections from both men and women. I was especially admiring of the swirling, breathtaking lifts, often with airborne elements, during a pas de six between three of the women and their partners; the subsequent pas de deux each of the pairs then executed; and the subtle and moving way the women parted from their men at the end of each pas de deux.

Victor Estevez and Mia Heathcote in 'No Man's Land'. Queensland Ballet, 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

Victor Estevez and Mia Heathcote in a pas de deux from No Man’s Land. Queensland Ballet, 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

There was also more emotion than I remembered from the previous occasion in the way the women sat, at times, on the raised area of the set as the men engaged in war activities on the lower space. It was the remarkable Mia Heathcote who drew my attention to this quietly dramatic aspect of the work. There she sat, scrunched over, feeling the pain throughout her body, and making me feel the pain as well.

If No Man’s Land opened the program with a flourish, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances closed it with equal strength. It probably has extra resonance for those of a certain age who recall the once ubiquitous sound of the haunting music of the Andes, and Chile in particular, played by Inti-Illimani. Ghost Dances, made by Bruce originally in 1981, is set to this music. But this is not to detract from the work’s inherent political message concerning the effects of political coups on the population of the country involved, specifically in this case the 1973 coup d’état in which Augusto Pinochet came to power in Chile.

Sophie Zoricic and Liam Geck in Ghost Dances. Queensland Ballet, 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

Bruce’s choreography is somewhat eccentric, although it fits the music beautifully. And, to their credit, the dancers of Queensland Ballet managed with aplomb the tilts and bends of the body and sometimes the head and neck, the upturned feet, and the ever-flowing movement. The three ghost figures wove their way, insidiously, into the popular dancing. Their presence was powerful and meaningful and the exit of the ‘common folk’ at the end, leaving the ghost figures alone on stage, was stark but expected.

In between these two moving and powerful works was Greg Horsman’s Glass Concerto, which Horsman has been working on in stages over a number of years. There were some outstanding technical fireworks, especially in the third movement with very fast chaîné turns from all involved, and some spectacular jumps as well. But the opening movement reminded me rather too much of Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room as the dancers disappeared into upstage fog, and I longed for more fluidity in the choreography.

Yanela Pinera in 'Glass Concerto. Queensland Ballet, 2017. Photo: David Kelly

Yanela Piñera in Glass Concerto. Queensland Ballet, 2017. Photo: © David Kelly

Michelle Potter, 18 March 2017

Featured image: The three ‘Ghost Figures’ from Ghost Dances, Queensland Ballet. Photo: © David Kelly

Anca Frankenhaeuser in 'Toccata', BOLD Festival. National Portrait Gallery, 2017

BOLD dances. National Portrait Gallery

10 March 2017, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Canberra’s first BOLD Festival, a varied program of dance events over the period 8–12 March 2017, offered a wide-ranging series of activities. Those activities included performances in a variety of styles, as well as talks and discussions on a variety of topics. Dancers showed a range of skill sets and artists came from across the country. The Festival culminated with a performance, To boldly go…, featuring, again, a wide variety of artists.

For me, however, the surprise highlight was a selection of dances performed at the National Portrait Gallery on 10 March. I guess I am constantly fascinated by what dance looks like in the space of Gordon Darling Hall, which is really the entrance lobby for the Portrait Gallery. I love watching how choreographers make their work fit into this space.

The performances began in the afternoon and, as has been the custom at the National Portrait Gallery, there were three short sessions of a program that consisted of two works. Each short session began with Kym King’s Time, danced by Judy Leech and Rosemary Simons, and concluded with a solo by Katrina Rank, My Body is an Etching 2. Neither was choreographically complex but both had emphasis on small details, which were a pleasure to watch in the intimate space available. I especially enjoyed Rank’s solo, which concerned the notion that a dancer’s body is marked by the individual movements that, across time, have affected that body in some way. As Rank remarked in her program notes, those marks consist of ‘intersecting grooves, gouges, grazes and feather like marks’. To add a visible emphasis to her thoughts, Rank had added a subtle yet clear representation of those etched marks onto parts of her body—down her legs, along her arms and extending up the side of her neck.

Katrina Rank in My Body is an Etching 2. BOLD Festival, 2017. National Portrait Gallery

An early evening session was a set of five works. Tammi Gissell reprised a section from Magnificus, magnificus, a work concerning the red-tailed black cockatoo and choreographed by Gissell herself with directorial input from Liz Lea. Gissell is a strong dancer and her performances are always remarkably emotion-filled. The background to Magnificus, magnifcus, which was made in 2013, is discussed at this link.

In an earlier session at the National Film and Sound Archive that morning, Gissell had talked about the fact that she had been advised by her grandmother not to mess with the black cockatoo and, as she turned her back on the audience, not only did the strip of red in her costume remind us of the black cockatoo’s flaming red tail, but her tensed hands reminded us of the warning. Then, as she stalked off I thought what a wonderful Carabosse she would make!

Tammi Gissell in an excerpt from 'Magnificus, magnificus'. Canberra, 2017
Tammi Gissell in an excerpt from 'Magnificus, magnificus'. Canberra, 2017

Tammi Gissell in an extract from Magnificus, magnificus. BOLD Festival, 2017. National Portrait Gallery

The Magnificus, magnificus extract was preceded by Plastic Time, a work choreographed by Peng Hsiao-yin, artistic director of the Taiwanese dance company Danceology, and danced by Peng and three of her performers. It was amusing to watch the dancers producing, time and time again, plastic bags and other such items from surprising places—and sometimes using them in surprising ways. One dancer looked as though he was using a long strip of plastic as dental floss, for example. But at the same time, Plastic Time made a pertinent political statement about the pollution of our environment.

Then followed three short pieces from Anca Frankenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer. I especially enjoyed Viola Duet in which Frankenhaeuser and Harding-Irmer danced together and yet stayed apart. Their connection with each other, achieved through eye contact, glances towards each other, and changing facial expressions, was remarkable and exceptionally moving.

Anca Frankenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer in Viola Duet. BOLD Festival, 2017. National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery showing was a personal favourite. I am sure others would have their own favourites from BOLD, which was the brainchild of independent artist, Liz Lea. I am amazed at what was accomplished over those five days, given that NO external funding was forthcoming for the Festival.

Michelle Potter, 17 March 2017

Featured image: Anca Frankenhaeuser in Toccata. BOLD Festival, 2017. National Portrait Gallery

Anca Frankenhaeuser in 'Toccata', BOLD Festival. National Portrait Gallery, 2017

All photos: Michelle Potter

Dance diary. February 2017

  • Australian Dance Party

Canberra’s Australian Dance Party has announced some upcoming events/performances for 2017.

Shake it will take place on 18 March in the courtyard of the National Film and Sound Archive as part of the Art Not Apart Festival. It will feature, in addition to Party dancers, a mixologist and a DJ.
Autonomous will be played out in a carpark in Canberra’s CBD as part of the You Are Here Festival and will investigate ‘laziness, disposability and pollution of our cities’.
Mine! scheduled for August (depending on funding). A site-specific work set in a Canberra warehouse with a great line-up of dancers. Richard Cilli, Olivia Fyfe and Jack Riley will join Alison Plevey for this show.

Check out ADP’s promo with a message from Alison Plevey and brief scenes from Strings Attached at this vimeo link.

  • BOLD Festival

Plans for the BOLD Festival, which I mentioned in the January diary, are moving ahead speedily. I will be giving a talk on the Saturday (11 March) entitled ‘The Search for Identity. Australian Dance in the 1950s’. I have especially enjoyed where my research has taken me on this one.

I discovered a little more about the composer Camille Gheysens, who wrote music for several of Gertrud Bodenwieser’s works, including Central Australian Suite and Aboriginal Spear Dance, footage of which, danced by Keith Bain, will be shown during my talk. Investigating material relating to Gheysens led me to artist Byram Mansell who designed a record cover (amongst many other items) for some of Gheysens’ compositions. I am still trying to unravel various threads relating to Aboriginal Spear Dance, but in many respects my talk is a forerunner to another session on 11 March, which will feature a 1951 documentary about Rex Reid’s Corroboree and Ella, a film about Ella Havelka.

I will also be discussing briefly Wakooka, a ballet choreographed by Valrene Tweedie for the Elizabethan Opera Ballet Company in 1957. This section of the talk will include an audio extract from an oral history interview recorded with Tweedie in 2004. In the extract she explains how, with the help of John Antill who wrote the score, she came to call the ballet Wakooka. In looking for a portrait of Tweedie from around the time she made Wakooka to include in my presentation, I came across one I had not encountered before, which she has dated on the back of the print as ‘1952-ish’. She was 28 or 29.

Portrait of Valrene Tweedie ca. 1952. Photographer unknown

Portrait of Valrene Tweedie ca. 1952. Photographer unknown

Here is a link to the Saturday BOLD events at the National Film and Sound Archive. And here is a link to a promo video showing some of the amazingly varied dance that can be seen during BOLD.

  • Australian Dance Awards 2017

Just announced: the 2017 Australian Dance Awards will be held on 24 September 2017 at Arts Centre Melbourne. Save the date.

Michelle Potter, 28 February 2017

Featured image: Scene from Strings Attached. Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Mayu Tanigaito and Daniel Gaudiello in 'Carmen'. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

‘Carmen’. Royal New Zealand Ballet

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

16 & 18 February 2017, Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch (opening of national tour)

The first work on this program, l’Arlésienne, is over 40 years old, and the second, Carmen, is pushing 70 years. Both are dramatic one-act ballets by leading French choreographer, Roland Petit, hitherto only known by reputation here in New Zealand, or through film of his work, which often starred the stunning dancer, Zizi Jeanmaire, his wife.

Francesco Ventriglia, RNZB’s artistic director, was influenced by Petit in his own early career and he has judged well how much these works would suit our company. Unlike ballet’s classics, Swan Lake and the like, which can be staged in new settings (much as we are familiar with Shakespeare in modern dress), these works by Petit are not in the public domain, and need to be re-staged with impeccable care by the trustees of his repertoire.

A number of our dancers find scope for their talents, with personality, stage presence, comoedic gifts and individual character (more than in your average/larger ballet company, where the perfect symmetry of the many is aspired to). We saw talent in spades among the different casts in Christchurch.

In l’Arlésienne, a young man on the eve of marriage to a beguiling young woman is suddenly struck with confusion, and haunted by the vision of ‘the girl from Arles’, whom we never meet, save through the reflection of his eyes. Shaun James Kelly played the lead role with an astonishing portrayal of the onset of his mental disarray. The role of the bride was most poignantly danced by Madeleine Graham. and the corps of villagers dance a compelling semi-ritualised support to the unfolding drama. This then is in no way the frivolous cabaret number I had been expecting to act as curtain-raiser for the main work, Carmen. It is a tight and strong classic work that mesmerises the audience towards the inevitability of its conclusion, and Kelly’s performance will be long remembered.

Shaun James Kelly and Madeleine Graham in L'Arlésienne. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: ©Stephen A'Court

Shaun James Kelly and Madeleine Graham in l’Arlésienne. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2017. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

The opening cast of Carmen had guest artist Natalya Kusch in the title role, her excellent technique and poetic style proving most attractive, and with Joseph Skelton dancing beautifully as Don José, initially unsuspecting but growing into all the heartbreak of the role. Kirby Selchow as the Bandit Woman lit up the stage, and the cameo comic role of the Toreador was hysterically sent up by Paul Mathews. But it was Mayu Tanigaito, in the following cast, who absolutely nailed the role of Carmen as the minx, the coquette, the sexy wild and headstrong woman who will not be tamed, by any man, at any price. Tanigaito is an astonishing performer in any role, one of the RNZB’s strongest dancers. Daniel Gaudiello was a strong and convincing Don José, and Kohei Iwamoto a striking Chief Bandit.

Mayu Tanigaito in 'Carmen'. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Shaun James Kelly in 'l'Arlesienne'. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: Stephen A’Court

(l–r) Mayu Tanigaito in Carmen; Shaun James Kelly in l’Arlésienne. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2017. Photos: © Stephen A’Court

So, a number of highlights among the members of each cast. My advice is to see them both—but do refrain from the patronising and disruptive outbursts of applause that pepper throughout performances, and drive me to distraction. The dancers know when they’ve done a good multiple pirouette or barrel turn, but this is not the circus. Let them get on with developing the drama or poetry within the work, and please save your applause to the end.

Jennifer Shennan, 24 February 2017

Featured image: Mayu Tanigaito and Daniel Gaudiello in Carmen. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2017. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Mayu Tanigaito and Daniel Gaudiello in 'Carmen'. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Regina Advento in 'Masurca Fogo'. Tanztheater Wupertal Pina Bausch. Photo: Laszlo Szito

‘Masurca Fogo’. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

12 February 2017, Sadler’s Wells, London

It has been a while since I last saw Tanztheater Wuppertal live, so it was with some interest that I bought a ticket for Masurca Fogo (Fiery Mazurka). What struck me, pretty much instantly as the show began, was that there might be a lot of dancing in Masurca Fogo. And in fact there was. It seemed as though every one of the twenty dancers in the cast had a dancing solo, and every one of them performed strongly and skilfully. This, I felt, was a company of dancers, which isn’t always a conclusion one might draw when watching some other works by Bausch.

What was interesting, however, was the sameness that permeated the solos—lots of emphasis on fluid arms and upper body for example. I couldn’t help wondering what the inspiration for the choreography was. Did Bausch, since Masurca Fogo premiered in 1998 when Bausch was still well and truly alive, set tasks for the dancers (a regular part of her choreographic process) from which the movement evolved? Did it involve questions that required focus on the upper body? Whatever was the process involved, it generated, along with the excellent execution of the movement, some rather repetitive moments.

Other dancing moments included a scene where the whole cast crammed into a makeshift beach hut for a dancing party. I also enjoyed the lines of dancers snaking their way across the stage on a couple of occasions, even if this kind of line formation is not uncommon in works by Bausch.

Regina Advento and Pablo Aran Gimeno in 'Masurca Fogo'. Photo: Jochen Viehoff

Regina Advento and Pablo Aran Gimeno in Masurca Fogo. Photo: Jochen Viehoff

But of course Masurca Fogo also contained all those elements we have come to expect from a work by Bausch—personal stories recounted with all kinds of action, surprising happenings, non-sequiturs, water on stage, women in high heels, men in suits, cross-dressing, and so on. Then there were the animals—in Masurca Fogo we had a live chicken picking at pieces of water melon, and a walrus (not real) lumbering its way across the stage.

But what was the essence of the work? Made as a result of a research period in Portugal and presented at Expo 98 as the fifth work in the World Cities series, it was very ‘beachy’ in its approach. Swimsuits, sunshine and a summery feel were predominant, but love and desire were at the heart of it all. There were various sexual allusions throughout the piece, including in the closing moments when we saw footage of flowers unfolding as the dancers lay on the rocky hillside that made up the set. It reminded me of Georgia O’Keefe to tell the truth.

I prefer Bausch in her darker moods. She has more to say then that is worth contemplating. But it was good to see the dancers dancing.

Ensemble, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in 'Masurca Fogo'. Photo: Zerrin Aydin Herwegh

Ensemble, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Masurca Fogo. Photo: Zerrin Aydin Herwegh

Michelle Potter, 14 February 2017

Featured image: Regina Advento in Masurca Fogo. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Photo: Laszlo Szito

Regina Advento in 'Masurca Fogo'. Tanztheater Wupertal Pina Bausch. Photo: Laszlo Szito