‘Melbourne Cup’. A ballet by Rex Reid

As Australia gets ready for the running of the 155th Melbourne Cup today, the first Tuesday in November, I can’t help recalling the ballet Melbourne Cup that was part of the Australian Ballet’s inaugural season in November 1962. Choreographed by Rex Reid, designed by Ann Church, and with assorted 19th century music arranged by Harold Badger, it was, according to Reid in an oral history interview recorded by James Murdoch in 1986, a ‘pot boiler’. It was indeed a popular success, although not lauded by all critics.

Musitz_003

Suzanne Musitz as the Pink Bonnet Lady in Rex Reid’s Melbourne Cup, 1963. Photo: Walter Stringer

The idea for the ballet is usually attributed to Geoffrey Ingram, administrator of the Australian Ballet 1963–1965. Edward Pask writes it was ‘strung on a slender story by Geoffrey Ingram and Rex Reid set at the time of the original running of the now-famous horse race in 1860′. There is, however, a precedent for the ballet, which has largely been overlooked in general discussions of the Australian Ballet production.

In 1957 Maggie Scott was working with Zara Holt (later both were honoured with the title of Dame of the British Empire!) on a dance and fashion show, which was eventually given a one-off performance in the Toorak Village Theatre. Rex Reid, who was a colleague of Scott during her days with Ballet Rambert and the National Theatre Ballet, choreographed a horse racing vignette for the show and the dancers’ costumes were designed by Ann Church, who had also worked with the National. In it three horses, French, British and American, competed for the prize of a cup. Scott believes that this was the forerunner to the Australian Ballet’s production, and I discuss the production and its effects for the future of Australian dance in a little more detail in my biography of Dame Margaret.

Michelle Potter, 3 November 2015

 

James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in 'Island', 2014. Photo © Lorna Sim

James Batchelor. New choreographic perspectives

James Batchelor’s performance installation, Island, developed as part of a Housemate Residency at Melbourne’s Dancehouse and presented in Canberra in April 2014, has had some outstanding critical response. It received a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award in 2014, was lauded by two separate reviewers in the Dance Australia Critics’ Survey for 2014, and was shortlisted for a 2015 Australian Dance Award in the category Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance.

But it was also noticed by an academic, Professor Mike Coffin, from the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Sciences, who happened to be in Canberra during the season of Island and chanced to go along to a performance. Professor Coffin contacted Batchelor after the show and the ensuing conversation so impressed Coffin that he invited Batchelor to accompany a research voyage to the Southern Ocean.

Batchelor and visual artist Annalise Rees, who is undertaking a PhD at the Institute, will set sail with a team of international scientists in January 2016 on board the RV Investigator heading towards Heard and McDonald Islands. The scientific aim of the voyage, Batchelor says, is to produce three-dimensional, high-resolution maps of the seafloor surrounding the islands to reveal relationships between submarine volcanoes and biological activity in the Southern Ocean.

RV Investigator port view

RV Investigator, port view

Batchelor completed his degree at the Victorian College of the Arts only in 2012 and, for a choreographer in such an early stage of his career, this invitation is an astonishing event. He hopes to develop a new performance work based on the experience and says of his and Rees’ participation in the voyage:

Our roles as artists will be to document and analyse processes taking place on the voyage and to form a creative dialogue about ways research findings can be interpreted and communicated.

Batchelor’s work emerges from unusual and often highly intellectual thought processes. Island, for example, set out to investigate the role of structure in how we perceive and respond to the environment. He says his question as he prepares to undertake this new adventure is: Can the environment be constituted into another physical language?  He hopes that he and Rees can create a mapping system that utilises movement, sound and installation.

If Batchelor’s previous work is anything to go by, the performance work that will no doubt emerge as a result of the voyage is likely to be exceptionally accessible, notwithstanding its intellectual framework, and visually fascinating as well.

For more from this website on Batchelor’s works see this tag. See also my story about Batchelor published in The Canberra Times in April 2014.

Michelle Potter, 24 October 2015

Featured image: James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in Island, Canberra 2014. Photo: © Lorna Sim

James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in 'Island', 2014. Photo © Lorna Sim

‘Carmen Sweet’. Expressions Dance Company

Natalie’s Weir’s Carmen Sweet already has an enviable performance history. It began as a commission from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to provide a dance work to Rodion Shchedrin’s 1967 score, Carmen Suite, which was to be performed as part of the QSO’s 2012 season. Weir says she was especially interested in taking on the commission because she would have to consider making something to suit an audience that was not specifically a dance one.

‘Our audiences have been growing,’ Weir says, ‘but at Expressions we are still working hard to make our repertoire accessible and to grow an even stronger audience base.’

Carmen Sweet‘s success with QSO audiences was such that  Weir decided to develop her work a little further and to present it as a piece for her Expressions Dance Company.

Since then Carmen Sweet has toured to the Noosa Long Weekend Festival and
 Singapore Dance Theatre’s Ballet Under the Stars event in 2013, and has had seasons in Brisbane and across regional Queensland. Now Weir’s dancers are embarking on a ten week tour to seventeen different venues across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. And Canberra audiences just have to slip over the border to Queanbeyan to catch it.

Natalie Weir's 'Carmen Sweet' with dancers of Expressions Dance Company. Photo Dylan Evans
Jack Ziesing, Elise May, Riannon McLean, Samantha Mitchell in Natalie Weir's 'Carmen Sweet'. Photo Dylan Evans

 

Dancers of Expressions Dance Company in Carmen Sweet. Photos: Dylan Evans

‘I made it especially for touring,’ Weir says. ‘We had such success when we toured R & J. It was accessible in that it told a story and yet it was still a contemporary dance work. It provided audiences with a link between classical ballet and some of the more abstract contemporary works being seen in Australia at the moment. Carmen Sweet falls into a similar category.’

The work is made for six dancers. Although Weir essentially remains true to the Carmen story as we know it from the opera, in Carmen Sweet we see Carmen in three different guises, at three different eras in her life: the matriarchal, knowledgeable Carmen, danced by Elise May;  the unattainable Carmen danced by Michelle Barnett; and the young, flirtatious Carmen from Rebecca Hall. Jack Ziesing dances the soldier, Don José, who falls in love with Carmen; Benjamin Chapman plays Escamillo, the matador who steals Carmen’s heart; and Daryl Brandwood is the Fortune Teller who warns Carmen of her death.

There is also what Weir refers to as ‘a community section’. Ten young dancers from each region will be selected to join the cast as the entourage of Escamillo. In a tongue-in-cheek reference to a popular television show each of these dancers will carry a single rose.

‘It’s a bit of a romp,’ says Weir, although others have described Carmen Sweet as a tale of love, lust and revenge. But we can be sure of exciting and dramatic choreography—Weir is renowned for it; an unusual and thought-provoking take on a well-known story—again a characteristic feature of Weir’s work; and some fabulous design from Bill Haycock, a long-time collaborator with Weir. It is the last chance, too, to see Daryl Brandwood, who will be retiring from Expressions at the end of this season.

For performance details follow this link.

Michelle Potter 29 September 2015

An Australasian affair …

There was one empty seat in the front row at the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s inaugural Harry Haythorne choreographic awards last weekend…odd since a good view in a studio setting is always at a premium and the house was otherwise full to overflowing. Perhaps Harry was playing ‘the angel at the table’—occupying that seat to keep a keen eye on proceedings, pleased to see that his encouragement of emerging choreographers is being remembered, and that today’s young dancers who never met him can nevertheless tell what kind of initiative he brought to his term as artistic director here, 1981–1992. Let’s cheat Death awhile.

Harry Haythorne

A small group of Harry’s colleagues and friends had met to plan these awards, the idea and koha for which grew from the spirited party held in his memory back in January, in tandem with the festive gathering in Melbourne. It’s interesting to ponder on the New Zealand and Australian inter-twinings in our company over decades. Harry for starters, himself Australian through and through, yet we think of him as a New Zealander emeritus. Australian Mark Keyworth as company manager, navigated with him.

Promising young choreographer Loughlan Prior won both the panel’s and the people’s award, with the striking imagery of his work, Eve, set to song and spoken poetry. Loughlan was born in Melbourne though did later training in New Zealand.

'Eve' by Louhglan Prior

William Fitzgerald and Laura Saxon Jones in Eve by Loughlan Prior, 2015. Photo: © Evan Li

On present membership, over one third of the RNZB dancers are from Australia, and/or trained there, so more threads are in the weave. Cast a thought back to the middle decades of the 20th century, when the Borovansky Ballet’s regular tours were so welcome here. It was their 1952 tour that brought dancer Poul Gnatt, who looked around, hunched that New Zealand might like a ballet company, returned to found one the following year—and the rest is history.

Peggy van Praagh was involved in staging several productions for New Zealand Ballet in early years here, not least Tudor’s Judgment of Paris. She and Russell Kerr arranged for dancer exchanges between Australian and New Zealand companies, and also masterminded two landmark fortnight-long residential courses of dance appreciation at University of Armidale in NSW. Both schemes should have continued ever since. I still treasure my notebooks from things we saw and heard there in 1967 and 1969—from van Praagh, Algeranoff, Beth Dean, Marilyn Jones, Garth Welch, Karl Welander, Keith Bain, Eric Westbrook—films of Martha Graham and of Jose Limon—good things that last, seeding an awareness of dance for a lifetime.

Many here have wished that we might have seen more of Graeme Murphy’s choreography in New Zealand over the years. There was his searingly memorable Orpheus, commissioned by Harry for the Stravinsky Celebration season in 1982. Sydney Dance Company brought the greatly admired Some Rooms to the first Arts Festival here, and Shining followed soon after that. Then Matz Skoog in 1997 brought Murphy’s quietly powerful The Protecting Veil, a work that suited our company particularly well…but we could have done and seen so much more of his remarkable oeuvre. Harry brought Jonathan Taylor’s impressive Hamlet, and ‘Tis Goodly Sport—suiting our company so well. Kristian Fredrikson, local boy made good, began his training here in Wellington, and continued to design and dress so many memorable productions on both sides of the Tasman, adding to the ties that bind. RNZB have also toured a number of seasons in Australia over the years.

But with the brand new ballet from Liam Scarlett, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pioneering as a co-production with Queensland Ballet, there’s an inspired possibility of further exchanges within the choreographic repertoire, with rich benefits for those two companies and their audiences on both sides of the Tasman. Directors Li Cunxin in Queensland and Francesco Ventriglia in Wellington will no doubt be already thinking ahead. They could be onto a winner here. I’m just going to see one more performance of this scintillating faerie ballet shortly, and will then write about it. It’s quite on the cards that many who were so enchanted by the premiere season here will want to travel to Queensland next year to catch it on the rebound. Nothing wrong with falling in love again. I’m sure Harry would agree.

 Jennifer Shennan, 15 September 2015

Featured image: Harry Haythorne as Father Winter in Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1991. Photographer not known

The New Zealand Dance Company and New Zealand Army Band, 'Rotunda'. Photo: John McDermott

‘Rotunda’. The New Zealand Dance Company and New Zealand Army Band

In many a park in New Zealand … the same in Australia I’m sure … sits an octagonal band rotunda … shades of Vauxhall Gardens and the public pleasures of outdoor music played by local brass bands or other ensembles. These days children play in a rotunda, not much good for hide’n’seek since the sides are open, but its roof will shelter you if there’s a sudden downpour on your picnic.

Mostly rotundas are quiet sentinels to an earlier era of music-making. In peacetime, well and good, but, in wartime, brass bands are readily associated with the many concerts and farewells involved when the armed forces are on the move. Drum roll. Slow March. The Last Post. You know it well.

2015 is the year commemorating Word War I and the scar on the Anzac nation that the Gallipoli landing represents, 25 April 1915. It’s also 70 years since the end of World War II, 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War, one minute since the latest slaughter somewhere in the name of power, wealth or religion … and so it goes … every year marking some anniversary of the human propensity to conflict, to fight, rather than, as Shakespeare pithily put it … ‘to dance out the answer’.

Thoinot Arbeau’s dance manual, Orchesographie from France, 1589, offers a fascinating glimpse of martial arts overlapping with dance practices of the time, and remains accessible today in a Dover edition, with an appendix of Laban notation. Another important book on the topic, Keeping Together in Time, by William H. McNeill has rightly been described as a tour de force of imagination and scholarship.

There are several classics of what one might call ‘war dances’ choreographed in the 20th century—the indelible masterpiece by Kurt Jooss, The Green Table, Jiri Kylian’s extraordinary Soldiers’ Mass (which will be restaged by the Royal New Zealand Ballet mid-2015), and Jose Limon’s heartfelt Missa Brevis to Kodaly’s mass. Each of them contains witness to war that translates into a prayer for peace. Nijinsky, in his last performance, ‘danced the war’ and we all know what happened to him after that.

The New Zealand Dance Company has joined forces with the New Zealand Army Band, in the production of Rotunda, a full-length work which has recently toured New Zealand, had earlier been performed in Europe, and will shortly tour to Australia. The Army Band plays a range of New Zealand compositions and the incorporation of its players into the heart of the staged work is memorable. The result is impressive, highly unusual, spectacular, powerful and poignant by turns.

'Rotunda'. The New Zealand Dance Company (1). Photo: Caroline Bindon

Rotunda. The New Zealand Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Caroline Bindon

For the cast of four male and four female dancers, the choreographic focus is on the young … boys playing shoot-outs with twigs from the apple tree, bang bang you’re dead, but not too much later they are on a battlefield, shooting and being shot with real guns now. One of them stays down, bang bang you’re dead alright. But your mate can’t believe that, so lifts you and carries you to dance. It is a painfully exquisite duo that would bring you back to life, but if course, it can’t.

Another duo between a young woman in a poppy-red dress, full of all the reasons youth have to live, dances with her dazed, glazed shell-shocked young man but he cannot be persuaded to thaw from the horrors of what he has seen. ‘Incurably insane’ is what the medical records called them. [Trudi Schoop, dancer and cabaret artist in Switzerland during World War II, turned after the war to a career in dance therapy, stating that she would thereafter work with catatonic schizophrenics, who were just that, whereas the men who had manufactured the war were the criminally insane].

'Rotunda.' The New Zealand Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Caroline Bindon

Rotunda. The New Zealand Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Caroline Bindon

In choreographing a commemoration of ‘the’ war (as in ‘The War to End All Wars’), one wishes neither to celebrate triumphs (they are few) nor record casualties (they are many), but rather to remember, lest we forget.

The stage set and lighting of the performance are inspired. A white silk banner flies high and swoops low, caught and tossed in the updraught of a circle of fans placed on the stage. A dancer engages with it before it is swept away and up. Image of a soul, a spirit, a person, gone. But not forgotten.

'Rotunda', the New Zealand Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Celia Walmsley

Rotunda. The New Zealand Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Celia Walmsley

Jennifer Shennan, Wellington, April 2015

Australian schedule for Rotunda:

  • Adelaide: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre. Friday 1 May, 7.30pm; Saturday 2 May, 2pm & 7.30pm
  • Melbourne: The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne. Thursday 7 May, 8pm; Friday 8 May, 8pm;  Saturday 9 May, 2pm & 8pm
  • Parramatta: Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. Wednesday 13 May, 8pm; Thursday 14 May, 8pm; Friday 15 May, 8pm; Saturday 16 May, 2pm & 8pm
  • Geelong: The Playhouse Theatre, Geelong Performing Arts Centre. Thursday 21 May, 8pm; Friday 22 May, 8pm; Saturday 23 May, 1pm

Publications mentioned in the text:

  • Arbeau, Thoinot. Orchesographie, edited by Julia Sutton, translated by Mary Stewart Evans (Dover: New York, 1967)
  • McNeill, William H. Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995)

Featured image: The New  Zealand Dance Company and New Zealand Army Band, promotional shot for Rotunda. Photo: John McDermott

Chitrasena Dance Company

When the Chitrasena Dance Company first came to Australia it was 1963. I was still a student dancer and living in Sydney. The company performed at the Elizabethan Theatre, Newtown. It hadn’t yet burnt down (that happened in 1980), and in fact I remember the startling rake on that theatre’s stage. I had never performed on a raked stage when I danced there in some Ballet Australia performances. It was somewhat confronting stepping onto that stage for the first time, especially as no one had thought to tell me in advance.

The 1960s and 1970s were heady times in Sydney and elsewhere for visits from so-called ‘ethnic’ dance companies. Along with the Sri Lankans, the Georgians came, the Mexicans (I remember in particular the Yaqui Indian Deer Dance), the Spaniards (I saw a jota for the first time) and the Mekeo dancers from Papua New Guinea. Then some time later, when I started working in various capacities at the National Library in Canberra, I discovered the photographic collection of Walter Stringer. In fact I had the pleasure of helping the Library acquire that material. He, being a Melbourne resident, had photographed most of the folkloric companies I had seen in Sydney during their visits to his home city.

It has always been a pleasure to see those companies again when, or if, they have returned to Australia. So it was with the Chitrasena company when they made their 2015 visit. Below are two of Walter Stringer’s images from the 1963 visit.

Chitrasena musicians, 1963 Australian tour. Photo Walter Stringer
Chitrasena dancer, 1963 Australian tour. Photo Walter Stringer

Here is the link to my review of the company’s performance in Canberra in January, written for The Canberra Times.

Michelle Potter, 17 January 2015

‘The Eternal Lovers’. A ballet by Paul Grinwis

In its Treasures Gallery, the National Library of Australia currently has one display case devoted to a production by the Borovanksy Ballet, Les Amants eternels (The Eternal Lovers). When I looked a few days ago the display contained the notated score (Laban) for the ballet, the work of Meg Abbie Denton; a Borovansky Ballet program giving details of performers and creative personnel; a double page spread from The Australian Women’s Weekly published in the issue of 12 March 1952; and on the wall above the display case a costume design by William Constable for the character of Romeo in the ballet, and a drawing in pastel and charcoal on velvet paper by Enid Dickson of Paul Grinwis as Romeo. The Constable design is to be removed shortly (for preservation reasons) and will be replaced by photographs. The rest of the material will remain for a few more months.

'Eternal Lovers' display case, National Library of Australia, 2015

The Eternal Lovers was created by Grinwis, a dancer with the Borovansky Ballet in the 1950s. It received its world premiere in Melbourne in December 1951 and remained in the Borovansky Ballet repertoire until 1960. As Alan Brissenden has recorded in his and Keith Glennon’s Australia Dances:

Paul Grinwis conceived this ballet as a continuation of the story of two lovers, called for the sake of convenience Romeo and Juliet, when they awake in after-life. Its focal point is a struggle between the spirits of Love and Death, Love being finally victorious.*

At the premiere, Grinwis danced the role of Romeo, Kathleen Gorham that of Juliet, with Bruce Morrow taking the part of the Spirit of Death and Helene Ffrance the Spirit of Love. The ballet was danced to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

Sadly, the National Library no longer has a dance curator. It has an extensive and wide-ranging dance collection, built up as a result, firstly, of the Esso Performing Arts and Oral History Archive Project (1988–1991); then Keep Dancing! a collaborative venture with the Australia Council, Ausdance and the National Film and Sound Archive (1997–2001); and between 2002 and early 2013 as a result of having an in-house dance curator. So it is good to see that at least a small gesture is being made to give a very tiny part of the material some visibility. The current display reveals, again in a very small way, the kinds of areas in which the dance material is held—art works, ephemera, notated scores, popular magazines are present, and photographic material is coming. The captions refer to interviews, although there is no sound capture from the interviews.

The dance collection at the National Library is incredibly rich, crosses eras and dance styles, and is supported by extensive material from other art forms and by organisational records, all held by the Library across its many formats. I can but hope that more material will be displayed, and even that eventually someone will take the trouble to add to out-dated records—at the very least a few dates of death need to be added to Trove records.

As an aside, in 2005 I had the pleasure of visiting Grinwis and his beauitful, ever-vibrant wife, Christiane Hubert, also a dancer with the Borovansky Ballet for a few years from 1954. I had hoped to record an oral history interview with Grinwis, but at the time he was not amenable to the idea. Another occasion never arose and Grinwis died about a year later in 2006. Hubert, I believe, moved back to Paris but I am not sure if she is still alive.

With Paul Grinwis and Christiane Hubert, Gent, January 2005

With Paul Grinwis and Christiane Hubert in their apartment in Ghent, Belgium, January 2005. Photo: Willem Vandekerckhove

 Michelle Potter, 10 January 2015

* Alan Brissenden and Keith Glennon, Australia Dances. Creating Australian Dance 1945–1965 (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2010), p. 20

Colonel de Basil: further news

At various times over the past year or two I have had some correspondence with Valery Voskresensky in Minsk and have posted a few items relating to Mr Voskresensky’s activities in his search for information about his grandfather, known to most as Colonel Wassily de Basil (various spellings are current). Just recently Mr Voskresensky contacted me again to pass on an article he had written. It contains, in particular, some interesting material relating to de Basil’s military background before his arrival in Paris in 1919, which seems to clarify the question of whether or not de Basil did have the military background claimed for him.

Here is a link to the article. It is entitled The Return of the Legend: The Ballet Russe of Colonel de Basil. I am told it has been published in Russia and Mexico and is being translated for publication in Japan.

See the tag Colonel de Basil for earlier posts.

Michelle Potter, 23 December 2014

Dimity Azoury receives 2014 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award. Photo: Jess Bialek

Dimity Azoury. 2014 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award

Dimity Azoury, currently a coryphée with the Australian Ballet, remembers her grandmother with great fondness. She was a ballet student in Wellington, New Zealand, and even went on as an extra when the Ballets Russes companies visited New Zealand in the late 1930s. But, Azoury tells me, her grandmother’s parents thought that ballet was not an appropriate career for a young lady, which was not an uncommon attitude at the time. So her grandmother gave up her ambitions, married and moved to Australia.

‘I often used to look at a photo of her wearing a long, Romantic tutu,’ Azoury recalls, ‘and I think it was from her that my love of ballet came.’

Azoury’s career as a ballet dancer, a career now (happily) considered a worthy course to take in life, moved another step forward just recently when he received the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, worth the substantial amount of $20,000. Her win was announced on stage at the Sydney Opera House at the final rehearsal for Sir Peter Wright’s Nutcracker.

‘I was in a state of shock when my name was called,’ Azoury says. ‘I was shaking and found it really hard to hold on to the flowers I was given. Then, when the curtain came down, all the dancers hugged me and were so supportive. This is one of the lovely things about working in the Australian Ballet. Everyone is so generous.’

Azoury was trained first in Queanbeyan and then in Canberra at the Kim Harvey School of Dance. She was twice rejected for the Australian Ballet School but, encouraged by her parents and by Harvey, she auditioned again and was accepted in the 2005 intake. She spent three years at the school and was taken into the Australian Ballet in 2008.

‘My aspirations are all with the Australian Ballet. I love the company and feel totally involved. And now I feel I am getting opportunities.’

She is looking forward to the company’s production of Maina Gielgud’s Giselle, a highlight of the 2015 season, and has enjoyed rehearsing under Gielgud’s direction. Gielgud, Azoury says, knows exactly what she wants and so it is easy to find a clear focus in rehearsals. It has also been especially exciting for her to have the opportunity to try the role of Myrthe, Queen of the Wilis. There are also rumours that her much-loved deerhound, Gunther, may have a walk-on part in Act I. ‘I guess he’ll have to audition,’ she muses.

In addition to regular company repertoire, since joining the company Azoury has also performed in every one of the annual Bodytorque programs, in which her fellow dancers try their hand at choreography.

‘Bodytorque feels like a collaboration. There is no pressure on the dancers and I love being able to help my friends bring their vision to the stage.’

Dimity Azoury in Vivienne Wong's 'Touch Transfer', Bodytorque Muses, 2011. Photo: Jess Bialek

Dimity Azoury in Vivienne Wong’s Touch Transfer, Bodytorque Muses, 2011. Photo: Jess Bialek

The year long journey as a Telstra nominee has proven to be an exciting one for Azoury. She looks back with particular pleasure on making the video each of the six nominees created as part of the year’s work.

‘We were given a lot of freedom. We were each given a colour and an element to work with —my colour was blue and my element paint. While the camera angles were set, at one stage I was given the opportunity to show how many ways I could make the paint move. It was a wonderful experience for me and a way of celebrating the Telstra sponsorship of the Australian Ballet.’

Azoury recently married Australian Ballet senior artist Rudy Hawkes. Her no-strings-attached Telstra award will most likely be spent on renovations to their house in North Melbourne.

Michelle Potter, 6 December 2014

Featured image: Dimity Azoury (centre) receives the 2014 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award. Photo: Jess Bialek

 

 

Jon Trimmer as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in 'A Servant of Two Masters'

Harry Haythorne. A tribute from Jennifer Shennan

In September 2013 Anne Rowse and I flew to Melbourne for the Arts Festival…mainly in pursuit of Fabulous Beast, with Keegan-Dolan’s astonishing double-bill of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. We relished equally the chance to catch up with dear Harry, knowing he would say yes to the suggestion of a performance, an exhibition, a forum, with coffee dates, dinners and suppers tucked in everywhere. We knew he would have seen half the Festival already, and would offer us incisive and helpful opinions on what was what. Good times coming.

Tor and Jan Gnatt, bless them, met us at the airport. We were all so excited to connect so soon after the launch of Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty that the Gnatt boys forgot where in the airport they had parked their car. We had lots of conversation catch-up while they hunted every floor of the car park for the elusive vehicle. (Their father, Poul, would have remembered the rego plates of the vehicles he had parked next to, and been mortified by this scenario.)

We found an el cheapo hotel, and fell into welcoming Melbourne as though we had always lived there.

Harry had already seen Fabulous Beast, and had a number of reservations about it. He nonetheless joined us for the forum, and had the grace to acknowledge afterwards that the incisively brilliant mind and wit of Keegan-Dolan helped him to retrospectively re-evaluate the choreography.

Harry instructed us which exhibitions to visit, and suggested a local dance group’s performance, preceded by a meal with his friend Robin Haig (they had worked together in 1940s in London…a typical Harry trait…ever loyal to his many friends and colleagues). The meal was great fun but the performance, which entailed the slow lighting of many candles, then their being equally slowly extinguished, then equally slowly re-lit, we found suffocatingly pretentious. (In all his years in New Zealand Harry always attended everything, and was supportive in principle of all dance endeavour, but was occasionally heard to mutter upon leaving ‘Well, the best thing about it is that they’re doing it.’ After leaving this particular evening he muttered, ‘Well, the worst thing about it is that they’re doing it).’

But as we rode the tram back into Melbourne central, an extraordinary event took place. A young Aboriginal woman, striking in appearance, but in a state of very great distress, was remonstrating up and down the tram carriage with all the world about many things. Not drunk, but totally out of control, in a wrath of emotion and heartbreak, pain, confusion and grief that was moving, even terrifying, to witness. No one knew how to help. Harry quietly started speaking a commentary to us, tracing various chapters of Australia’s colonial history, engaging us to listen, and to thus avoid making eye contact with the woman pacing the tram, as any such eye contact can become a trigger to further volatility. There was such an informed sympathy, empathy even, in Harry’s words…no judgment, no reproof. His calm, informed, sad summarising of history, at the same time offering us a degree of protection from a potentially explosive situation, was much as I imagine Thomas Keneally might have behaved.

Bi-cultural issues and opportunities within dance were part of Harry’s long-term thinking. During his time at Royal New Zealand Ballet (‘the happiest years of my life’ he was often heard to say), he commissioned Tell Me A Tale from Gray Veredon, with design by Kristian Fredrikson, to music by New Zealand composer Matthew Fisher. In that talisman piece, with leading roles created by Jon Trimmer and Kerry-Anne Gilberd, was an encounter between Maori and Pakeha, a haka within the ballet given extraordinarily powerful expression by Warren Douglas. No more telling moment has occurred in the company’s entire repertoire history, and it is a great loss that the work has not been retained.

Warren was also spectacular as the hilarious Cook in the Veredon/Fredrikson Servant of Two Masters, with Jon Trimmer as Pantalone and Harry as Dr Lombardi, tottering about wearing a twelve foot long striped scarf that threatened to trip him and everybody else on stage all evening. A fine film of this ballet is held in the New Zealand Film Archive, and is well worth the three hours it lasts. (We subsequently lost Warren to AIDS and many hearts were broken).

Harry took his title of Artistic Director Emeritus very seriously. He wrote to Ethan Stiefel upon his appointment, wishing him well, highlighting the related arts in New Zealand as a context for choices of ballet repertoire, and encouraging an awareness of Maori issues. Despite clearly failing health, Harry was still taking an interest in the news of the appointment of Francesco Ventriglia in late 2014. He asked us to send reports on any indications or statements of artistic vision as they appeared. This company was Harry’s baby, and he loved it as parents love their children.

Harry’s own term as artistic director, from 1981 to 1993 with business manager Mark Keyworth, was a resilient team effort and there has probably never been a stronger partnership between artistic and business directors in the company’s history. What those two achieved on the miniscule resources of the day was breathtaking. Harry also maintained a very close relationship with the New Zealand School of Dance under the direction of Anne Rowse. They shared so much knowledge and awareness of repertoire in the wider dance world that the students were fortunate beneficiaries of that rapport, also the strongest partnership in the history of both institutions.

The chapter Harry wrote for the book, Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty, recounts many highlights of his term. It was an inspired early move to celebrate in 1983 the company’s 30th anniversary with a Gala season, inviting each previous director to select a choreography. We had No Exit from Ashley Killar (this was Harry’s choice, and a pearler) and Bournonville from Poul Gnatt. Perhaps the abiding achievement of this project was Harry’s diplomacy in welcoming Poul back to his adopted country after various chapters of less than happy history since his departure in 1963.

In 1986, Harry’s production of Swan Lake, again in tandem with Fredrikson, was a theatrical tour de force. He always remained very sad it was not retained in the company’s repertoire. Harry was a youngster in vaudeville performance. His formal schooling had turned into supervised backstage correspondence while on tour, but his bright brain and fabulous memory ensured a lifelong passion for learning across many disciplines. Harry’s close rapport with Graeme Murphy saw him in several cameo roles … as Court Photographer in that astonishing Swan Lake, a charming friend of Clara in the inspired Nutcracker, only upstaged by his tap dancing on roller skates in Tivoli (and was certainly worth my trip across the Tasman to check it out).

In an adult education course I will teach in Wellington early in 2015, one of the sessions will be dedicated to a survey of Harry Haythorne’s term as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet …’the happiest years of my life’. Well, you said it Harry.

Jennifer Shennan, Wellington, December 2014

Featured image: Jon Trimmer (left) as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in A Servant of Two Masters, 1989. Photo: Martin Stewart, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. PACOLL-8050-36-04