Dance diary. March 2016 … from foreign lands*

  • In Copenhagen

Edgar Degas, Little fourteen year old dancer (detail)

Edgar Degas’ beautiful sculpture of the little fourteen year old dancer, gorgeously displayed in Copenhagen’s gallery, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and seen above in head and shoulders detail.

Little mermaid web

The Little Mermaid who sits on a rock on the edge of Copenhagen’s harbour. The inspiration for the sculpture was dancer Ellen Price who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and danced with the Royal Danish Ballet from 1895 to 1913. Price appeared in 1909 as the Mermaid in Hans Beck’s ballet based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. For more see this article by Judith Mackrell with embedded archival footage.

  • In Dublin

Harry Clarke stained glass

‘Nelly dancing’, stained glass panel by Harry Clarke representing a scene from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley. ‘She came towards him dancing, moving the folds of the veil so that they unfolded as she danced.’ A tiny gem from the 1920s in the Hugh Lane Gallery.  For more see this link.

  • In Cork

I was interested to find in a bookshop in Cork a biography of Alicia Markova, which I had not previously come across: Tina Sutton, The Making of Markova. Diaghilev’s Baby Ballerina to Groundbreaking Icon (New York: Pegasus Books, 2013). The author is a journalist without a dance background (and admits in the preface that she ‘knew nothing about Markova’ before she began her project), so there are some explanatory passages and slabs of text that those with some dance knowledge may find a little irritating, or unnecessary. Some frustrating repetition too and overuse of adjectives such as ‘brilliant’ and ‘famous’. Sutton has, however, drawn on previously unpublished source material from Markova’s personal collection, including her journals, which makes for interesting reading. The Markova collection, which appears to be extensive, is held in Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Massachusetts.

  • In London

The laughing audience detail

The Laughing Audience (detail) in William Hogarth’s house in Hammersmith. Hogarth used this 1733 etching as a subscription ticket when he jointly advertised his large engraving Southwark Fair with the series The Rake’s Progress.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2016

* With apologies (or really in homage) to Alexei Ratmansky whose charming ballet From foreign lands made such an impression on me a few years ago.

Dance diary. October 2015

  • The return of Ochres

Bangarra Dance Theatre has a special program coming up at the end of November—a brief revival of Ochres at Carriageworks in Sydney beginning on 27 November.

Tara Gower in a study for 'Ochres'. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Tara Gower in study for Ochres. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Ochres was one of Bangarra’s earliest works and is still regarded as a milestone in the company’s history. Co-choreographed by Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong, it was first performed in Sydney in 1994. In 1995 it came to Canberra as part of the National Festival of Australian Theatre, the brainchild of Robyn Archer and for a few years one of the highlights of the theatre scene in Canberra. Anyone who was lucky enough to see Ochres back then in its first years will never, I am sure, forget Djakapurra Munyarryun smearing his body with yellow ochre as the work began.

Looking back through my archive, I discovered a review I had written for Muse, a monthly arts magazine produced in Canberra and initially edited by Helen Musa (Muse—like the Festival—is now, sadly, defunct). Re-reading the review I found I had speculated in 1995 on how Bangarra would develop in future years, especially in regard to the growth of a recognisable Bangarra style and vocabulary. Well that has certainly happened and it will be interesting to look back on Ochres as an early work in which Page and Walong were testing ways of doing just that—setting Bangarra on a journey to discover a contemporary, indigenous dance style.

Further details at this link.

  • Hannah O’Neill

One of my favourite French dance sites, Danses avec la plume, recently posted some news about Hannah O’Neill and the up-and-coming competitive examinations for promotion within the Paris Opera Ballet. Female dancers will face the jury on 3 November. O’Neill’s name has been suggested on a number of occasions for promotion into one of two positions as principal dancer. One author suggests O’Neill is an Etoile in the making and the future of the company! (Une promotion d’Hannah O’Neill me plairait beaucoup aussi. C’est une danseuse brillante, une future Étoile, elle est l’avenir de la troupe.)

The word is too that Benjamin Millepied, now directing Paris Opera Ballet, would have liked to have dispensed with this ingrained competitive system of promotion, but the dancers voted that it remain.

See this link for what is currently ‘trending’ regarding the promotions, and follow this this link to see an image of O’Neill (taken by Isabelle Aubert) with Pierre Lacotte after a performance of Lacotte’s production of Paquita.

  • All the things: QL2 Dance

As an annual event on its performance calendar, QL2 Dance produces a short program of dance for its young and less experienced dancers, aged from 8 to 17. This year the program, All the Things, included choreography by Ruth Osborne, Jamie Winbank, Alison Plevey and Joshua Lowe with perhaps the most interesting moments coming from Plevey’s ‘girly’ piece about shopping, ‘Material Matters’, and Joshua Lowe’s male-oriented ‘I Need’ about ‘needing’ technological devices in one’s life. It was an entertaining, if somewhat sexist juxtaposition of ideas in these two pieces, which had been strategically placed side by side in the program.

Scene from 'All the Things'. QL2 Dance, 2015. Photo: Lorna Sim

Scene from All the Things. QL2 Dance, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But the great thing about this annual event is the experience it gives these young dancers. James Batchelor (independent), Daniel Riley (Bangarra Dance Theatre) and Sam Young-Wright (Sydney Dance Company) are just three current professionals who had early dance experiences with Quantum Leap.

  • New book from photographer Lois Greenfield

One of the most pleasurable experiences I had while working in New York between 2006 and 2008 was visiting the studio of dance photographer Lois Greenfield. I was there to buy a collection of her images for the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. She is about to launch a new book. See this link for details.

  • Press for October

‘Lording it in high-tech high jinks.’ Review of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance: Dangerous GamesThe Canberra Times, 9 October 2015, ‘Times 2’ pp. 6–7. Online version.

‘Sizzling and simply sensational.’ Review of Natalie Weir’s Carmen Sweet for Expressions Dance Company. The Canberra Times, 13 October 2015, ‘Times 2’ p. 6. Online version.

‘Dancing our way next year.’ Preview of dance in Canberra in 2016. The Canberra Times, 26 October 2015, ‘Times  2’ p. 6. Online version.

‘Listless on the Lake.’ Review of Swan Lake by the Russian National Ballet Theatre. The Canberra Times, 31 October 2015, ARTS, p. 20. Online version .

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2015

‘Inheriting dance.’ An invitation from Pina’

I have had an ongoing interest in archiving dance for almost three decades, fuelled in particular by curatorships at the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Library of Australia in Canberra, and the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. They were three quite different experiences, especially in relation to the kinds of format on which dance is, or might be, recorded and how these formats are, or might be, preserved; and also in relation to the strength of focus on dance (or lack of it) I encountered at each of these institutions. The book Inheriting dance: an invitation from Pina, published by the Pina Bausch Foundation, was a chance to be reminded of the problems that face us if we want dance to be preserved for future generations. And of the pleasures encountered when positive steps are taken.

Pina Bausch died in 2009 and left a diverse range of materials in different formats as a legacy of her career. The chapter ‘Wild gardens. Archiving as translating’ lists them for us and the authors of this chapter (Gabriele Klein and Marc Wagenbach) remark:

Archiving was part of her choreographic process, an essential element of her work. It was an attempt to retain the momentary and the transient, to be able to remember, in order then to once again create an artistic present.

The Pina Bausch Foundation was set up shortly after Bausch’s death in order to carry on her heritage and find a way to archive her material so that it might remain a creative force in the future. Various archiving processes are discussed: the model of the so-called ‘static repository’; the ‘living archive’, that is one that is more open and collaborative; the idea of an archive being a ‘future workshop’; and other ideologies relating to interdisciplinary approaches and digitisation strategies.

The book gives some interesting examples of how the current Bausch archive has been used to bring certain Bausch works to the stage. I have to admit, however, to being most fascinated by a chapter by Royd Climenhaga relating to the reception of Bausch’s works in America. The juxtaposition he sets up between German and American dance traditions, and his discussion of efforts to incorporate Bausch’s vision into his own teaching and other experiences in America, make thought-provoking reading.

On the subject of archiving dance, my experience has been that most dance collections fall, for a whole variety of reasons, including financial and time-related ones, into the category of ‘static repositories’. But they certainly don’t have to be ‘arcane models of scholarship and institutionalized academic projects’, although personally I like using them for academic purposes, and feel lucky that I can. Not enough academically-inclined folk realise that dance is a worthwhile area of study. But static repositories can also be used as ‘living archives’. And here I am thinking of some performances created by Liz Lea, artistic director of Canberra Dance Theatre using cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional resources from Canberra’s collecting institutions including the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Gallery of Australia. Lea, I am sure, is not the only choreographer using dance resources from static repositories to create work, although I realise that this is a little different from recreating the work of a particular choreographer now no longer alive, as is the aim of the Pina Bausch Foundation.

Publicity shot for '120 Birds', 2011

Liz Lea in 120 Birds, a work drawing on resources from the National Library of Australia

I guess I am arguing for the role of all models of dance archives to be treasured and developed. In that context, this is a book worth reading by anyone who is interested in how dance will be perceived, created and recreated in the future, as it is, of course, for anyone interested in how one organisation is undertaking a particular project.

  • Marc Wagenbach and Pina Bausch Foundation (eds), Inheriting dance: an invitation from Pina  ([Transcript]: Bielenfeld, 2014). Paperback, 1992 pp., illustrated
    ISBN 978-3-8376-2785-5

This book is distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Footprint Books and is available through bookshops or direct from Footprint.

See also the website (still partially under construction I think) of the Pina Bausch Foundation at this link.

Michelle Potter, 22 March 2015

Featured image: Book cover, Inheriting dance. An invitation from Pina.

'Inheriting dance' cover image

‘Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo’. Victoria Tennant

Victoria Tennant is the elder daughter of Cecil Tennant and Irina Baronova, the latter so well-known in Australia where she first charmed audiences with her dancing in 1938 with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet, and where she also spent her last years in a beautiful house at Byron Bay, New South Wales. Victoria Tennant, of course, knew Baronova in quite a different role from her legion of Australian fans: ‘Our mother was devoted to us,’ she writes, ‘and not exactly like anyone else’s mum. No one else’s mum did pirouettes in the butcher’s.’ This observation perhaps encapsulates the tenor of this book: it is a very intimate memento built around a personal collection of letters, photographs and other archival materials.

What is especially attractive about this book is its extensive use of photographs, which have been drawn largely from Baronova’s own collection. Many have never been published previously. Some are glamorous shots from Baronova’s Hollywood years. Others are informal shots of family and friends. Yet others are lesser known shots and early images from ballets in which Baronova starred.

Images from Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo by Victoria Tennant: clockwise from top left, Baronova in the movie Florian, 1940; driving with friends from San Diego to Los Angeles, 1936; in costume for Le Spectre de la rose, 1932; in costume for Thamar, 1935.

The book also has a special quality because much of the text consists of quotes from letters, an oral history made for the New York Public Library’s Dance Division, and recorded conversations made by Baronova at various times, although, unfortunately, it is not always clear which source is being used. But the informal voice of Baronova is strong. Anyone who met her, however briefly, or saw her speak in public, or teach or coach, will recognise that the words are hers and will be charmed all over again. These sections are differentiated from the linking text, written by Tennant, by the use of a differently coloured font.

There are some beautifully insightful moments when Baronova talks about working with various choreographers in different ballets. I was especially taken by her comments on Les Sylphides.

Nobody realizes that in Les Sylphides the whole thing is a dialogue between the Sylphides and the invisible creatures of the forest. It’s a whispering talk. All the gestures are listening, questioning, whispering back. It’s a conversation, and the Sylphides turn in the direction of the voice they hear and run to it. If you don’t know that, there are no reasons for doing anything, it’s just empty and boring. The whole ballet should be acting and reacting. To do it any other way is not fair to Fokine.

The chapter on Baronova’s time in Australia, 1938–1939, is short. But much has been written now about that time in Australia’s ballet history (although the last word has not yet been said I am sure) and the book is balanced in its coverage of the many strands of Baronova’s life. From a reference point of view it is good to have a list of Baronova’s repertoire from 1931 to 1946, although it is a shame that her film roles are not included as well.

Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo has been beautifully designed and produced and, with its strong focus on imagery, makes a wonderful companion to Baronova’s autobiography.

Irina Baronova/ Victoria Tennant cover Victoria Tennant, Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014)
Hardback, 244 pp. ISBN 978 0 226 16716 9 RRP USD55.00/£38.50.

Michelle Potter, 1 November 2014

‘Dame Maggie Scott. A life in dance’

I am pleased to note that my biography of Dame Margaret Scott, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance, is now available from Australian book shops and from the publisher, Text Publishing, Melbourne. It is also available as an e-book from the usual suppliers. Further details and a link to e-distributors are available on the Text page. Read the back story as published in The Canberra Times at this link.

Dame Maggie Scott coverMany thanks to all those who have supported me in this venture.

Michelle Potter, 22 October 2014

THE LAUNCH: Australian Ballet studios, 10 November 2014

David McAllister launches 'Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance'
Maggie Scott and Graeme Murphy at the launch of 'Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance'

Above: (l–r) David McAllister, Maggie Scott and Graeme Murphy speaking at the launch of Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance. Below: Book signing at the launch

Book signing 'Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance'

  • Read another account of the launch (and opinions on other matters) on Shane Wombat’s post of 12 November 2014. The lady in the wheelchair in Mr (or is it Ms?) Wombat’s book signing photograph is Lucy Henty, Maggie’s much admired secretary and bursar in the early days of the Australian Ballet School.

MEDIA:

    • Listen to an interview with Maggie Scott recorded by Jon Faine on his Conversation Hour for Radio 774 ABC Melbourne at this link. Maggie’s voice begins at 23:22 mins. This is a particularly interesting interview for its engagement not just between Maggie and Jon Faine, but also between Maggie and Faine’s co-host, oncologist Dr Ranjana Srivastava, and his other guest on the program, former President of the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia, Jim Beggs.
    • Listen to an interview with Maggie Scott recorded by Philip Adams for ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live at this link.
    • For those who read French, listen to an interview with Penny Hueston, Senior Editor, Text Publishing, for SBS Radio at this link.
    • Read the mention of the launch of the book by David McAllister at this link.
    • The Australian Women’s Weekly, December issue, suggests the book would make an ideal Christmas present.AWW publicity
  • Listen to an interview with Maggie Scott, accompanied by a selection of music, on the program Music Makers with Mairi Nicolson on ABC Classic FM. Please note that this interview is available online for one month only. It was broadcast on 13 December 2014. Here is the link.
  • Read an interview with Dame Maggie Scott by Amanda Dunn published in The Age in Spectrum and The Canberra Times in Panorama on 20 December 2014. Online at this link.

REVIEWS and COMMENTS

  • ‘Impeccably researched … a fascinating biography of a major luminary.’ Sydney Arts Guide, 29 November 2014.
  • ‘A fascinating, multi-faceted read, not the least for [a] great insight into Australia during the 1940s.’ The Examiner (Launceston), 13 December 2014.
  • ‘…a fitting tribute to an outstanding woman of influence.’ The culture concept, 19 December 2014.
  • ‘…[among] the best memoirs of 2014 … gorgeous archival photography.’ The New Daily, 23 December 2014.
  • ‘There are peaks and troughs to the Life, with Michelle Potter truly excelling in the political lobbying involved in the setting up of the Australian Ballet…’ Limelight, February 2015.
  • ‘… a most welcome and important record of a remarkable woman … a substantial book, and a valuable addition to our dance history.’ Dance Australia, February/March 2015.

Dance diary. December 2013

  • The Johnston Collection, Melbourne

I was surprised to be contacted earlier this month by the curator of the Johnston Collection, Melbourne. David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, will be a guest curator there in the first part of 2014 and will be adding some Australian Ballet costumes to the rooms of Fairhall, the house in which the collection of antiques amassed by dealer William Robert Johnston is displayed. I will be presenting a lecture at Fairhall in June—From bedroom to kitchen and beyond: women of the ballet. More later.

  • Fantasy Modern: Andrew Montana

Over the holiday break I enjoyed reading Andrew Montana’s biography of Loudon Sainthill, Fantasy modern: Loudon Sainthill’s theatre of art and life, published in November 2013 by NewSouth Books. There are a few irritating typos and errors (Alicia Markova wasn’t married to Colonel de Basil—at least not as far as I know!) and some odd references in the notes. But, as ever, Montana has researched his topic very thoroughly and, while it is essentially a book written by an art historian, it gives a fascinating glimpse of the cultural background in which Sainthill and his partner Harry Tatlock Miller operated. That background of course includes Sainthill’s commissions for Nina Verchinina during the Ballets Russes Australian tours, as well as his work as a designer for Hélène Kirsova, and his activities during the Ballet Rambert Australasian tour of 1947–1949. In addition it was Harry Tatlock Miller who was responsible (in conjunction with the British Council) for bringing the exhibition Art for Theatre and Ballet to Australia. There is some interesting information too about the 1940s documentary Spotlight on Australian Ballet. So Fantasy Modern is interesting reading for dance fans as well as historians of theatre design.
Fantasy Modern cover

  • Bodenwieser news

I was pleased to hear recently from Barbara Cuckson that Sydney-born Bodenwieser dancer, Eileen Kramer, had returned to her city of birth. Not only that, she has reached the grand old age of 99. She is seen below on her 99th birthday wearing a Bodenwieser costume, which she designed all those years ago. Eileen recorded an oral history interview for the National Library in 2003. It is available for online listening at this link.

Eileen Kramer

  •  Site news

In December I am always interested to know what tags have been accessed most frequently over the preceding year. Here is the list of the 10 most popular tags for 2013:

Hannah O’Neill; Ty King-Wall; The Australian Ballet; Ballets Russes; Paris Opera Ballet; Olga Spessivtseva; Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet; Leanne Stojmenov; Athol Willoughby; Meryl Tankard.

Visitors to the site may also be interested in what is probably the last comment for 2013. I am attaching a link to comments on a book review I wrote in January 2012. The comment queried whether the author of At the Sign of the Harlequin’s Bat, Isabelle Stoughton, is still alive. As you can read, she is.

  • Past and future grace

And finally I couldn’t help but notice a sentence in a roundup of events for 2013 by Fairfax journalist Neil McMahon. Writing of Australian political happenings over the past year he said: ‘The policy pirouettes on both sides were en pointe, but graceless’. I’m not holding my breath for a graceful political scene in 2014. The dance scene might be better odds!
Happy New Year banner

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2013

‘The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60’. Jennifer Shennan & Anne Rowse

This handsomely produced book celebrates sixty years of performances by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. I say handsomely produced because its square-ish format is aesthetically pleasing and easy to hold in one’s hand, its illustrations are well reproduced and there are plenty of them both in black and white and colour, its paper is smooth and glossy and lovely to touch, and the layout of text and image leaves plenty of white space on the page so nothing looks jammed up.

Edited by Jennifer Shennan and Anne Rowse and published by Victoria University Press, The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60 brings together a collection of articles, letters, reminiscences and poems covering the company’s fortunes from 1953 when it was set up by Danish dancer Poul Gnatt to its present manifestation under the direction of American artist Ethan Stiefel.
RNZB book cover web

The first section consists of contributions from each of the company’s artistic directors, where they are still living. Poul Gnatt and Bryan Ashbridge, who are no longer alive, are represented with writing from Jennifer Shennan and Dorothea Ashbridge respectively. Then follows a collection of reminiscences and thoughts from a whole variety of people who work or have worked with the company—dancers, choreographers, board members, wardrobe staff and others closely connected with the company’s activities.

With this kind of arrangement of material, where there are at least fifty different contributors, some writing is bound to stand out and some is bound to be less interesting, less well written. The unevenness in the quality of the writing is perhaps the book’s shortcoming. But this is tempered by some vibrant writing and some fascinating stories that bring to life both the highs and lows of the company’s chequered history.

What struck me as I was reading the section on artistic directors was how much is revealed of a person’s approach to life and work through his or her writing. Harry Haythorne’s essay, for example, reveals the depth of thought that went into, and that continues to inform his work. Haythorne directed the company from 1981−1992. From this perspective I also enjoyed the essay by Garry Harris, artistic director from 2001−2010. It reminded me of the times I interviewed him and the friendliness of the man that I encountered on those occasions. I also enjoyed Shennan’s essay about founding director Poul Gnatt, filled as it is with information about Gnatt’s early life in Denmark.

From the reminiscences, I loved reading about Eric Languet, dancer with the company from 1988−1998 and for a few years resident choreographer, in his essay ‘I would like to come home one day’. Although he has some Australian connections, his and my paths have never crossed. He writes with admirable honesty about his time in New Zealand and one of my favourite images in the book is from Alice, which he choreographed in 1997. And reading Douglas Wright’s account of performing the leading role in Petrouchka is, quite simply, a rare privilege. It is unusual to hear in some depth from artists about their approach to a role and their thoughts as they prepare for and then perform it. Wright’s essay is followed by a poem, ‘Herd’ written by Wright and beginning with the delicious line ‘a herd of cows does not need a choreographer’. Readers may be surprised at how the poem ends too!

One typo in the book makes me wince somewhat. In Una Kai’s essay (Kai was director from 1973−1975), which is interesting for a whole variety of reasons, Lew Christensen’s name is wrongly spelt. Typos are the bane of all our lives but it is not the best when personal names don’t get the attention they deserve.

Unlike other recent publications in a similar vein, and despite any shortcomings I might find in it, The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60 makes a useful contribution to the history of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Its editors, contributors and publisher deserve to be congratulated for avoiding making it into some kind of media driven, ultimately barren publication.

Jennifer Shennan and Anne Rowse (eds), The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60,  (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2013) Hardback, 350 pp., illustrated
ISBN 978086473891
RRP NZD 60.00

Michelle Potter, 29 August 2013

‘Living Treasure. Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon’: John Ellison Davies

Living Treasure is a brief memoir: brief but appealing in its thoughtful discussion of the early directorial careers of Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon. Author John Ellison Davies, former critic for the now defunct newspapers Nation Review and The National Times, focuses on the last years of the 1970s and remarks it was a time ‘when most of their adventure lay ahead of them’.

But prior to his discussion of the works of the late 1970s, Davies reproduces the press release issued in mid-2006 when Murphy and Vernon resigned from Sydney Dance Company. He comments: ‘It was a bombshell of pride, anger, and hope for the future’, and for us it is more than salutary to reread that press release almost seven years later. Especially striking is that Murphy and Vernon mention their ‘sadness’ as they watch dance entering what they call ‘a less dynamic phase’.

Davies goes on to give an abbreviated account of the careers of Murphy and Vernon immediately before they took up the reins of the Dance Company of N.S.W, which just a short time later became Sydney Dance Company. He concludes by publishing three of his reviews written between 1978 and 1979. One concerns Poppy, another Rumours and the third the 1979 Signature Season.

Graeme Murphy as Jean Cocteau, 1980. Photos Walter Stringer Graeme Murphy as Jean Cocteau in Poppy, 1980. Sydney Dance Company. Photos: Walter Stringer. Courtesy National Library of Australia

For those of us who were lucky enough (and are old enough) to have seen the earliest Murphy/Vernon productions it is a treat to read such graphic, analytically absorbing accounts of them from Davies’ pen. And the reviews are well chosen, not only because they refer to significant works by Murphy but because they show us Murphy’s ability to work with diverse subject matter—the themes of Poppy and Rumours, for example, are worlds apart. For those who didn’t see these early shows, Davies makes it easy to visualise what they were like.

Janet Vernon as Mme Cocteau, 1980. Photo Walter StringerJanet Vernon as Mme Cocteau in Poppy, 1980. Sydney Dance Company. Photo: Walter Stringer. Courtesy National Library of Australia

The publication is unillustrated (I’m sure for very good reasons associated with the difficulties of self-publishing) so I have reproduced a few images from Poppy, taken from a 1980 production, in this post and have attempted to choose images that illustrate some of Davies’ descriptive passages. His analysis of Murphy’s treatment of Cocteau and his opium addiction is especially interesting.

As an aside, an oral history interview recorded with Murphy by Hazel de Berg in 1981 expands upon the years covered in Living Treasure, and on Rumours and Poppy in particular. An edited version of this interview was published in 1994 in the first issue of the journal Brolga: an Australian journal about dance. This article is not available in the online version of Brolga but it is worth hunting out in libraries that subscribed to the journal in print form. The introduction to the edited interview is at this link.

Living Treasure was published by Amazon in 2012 as an e-book for Kindle. I believe it can also be downloaded onto other devices. It’s well worth it, despite the brevity of the publication. It is food for thought too on the issue brought up in the 2006 press release of dance being less dynamic (and indeed by extension the issue of dance writing in a world where newspapers seem to have less and less substantial comment, especially about the arts, and fewer and fewer informed writers, especially about dance).

 

Michelle Potter, 28 February 2013

Tankard bannerHOW TO ORDER

‘It brought back so many memories’—Jill Sykes
This book is also available through the National Library of Australia’s bookshop and to library clients through James Bennett Library Services

‘Tatiana Leskova: a ballerina at large’. Suzana Braga

Suzana Braga’s biography of Tatiana Leskova was first published in Brazilian Portuguese as Uma bailarina solta no mundo in 2005. It went into a second edition and in late 2012 was translated into English by Donald Scrimgeour with the title Tatiana Leskova: a ballerina at large. A translation augured well for Leskova’s English-speaking admirers, and for those who were more than aware of her background as a Ballets Russes dancer in the 1940s. It is, however, an unsatisfying book from many points of view.

Leskova cover and portrait Book cover and portrait of Tatiana Leskova in Brazil, 1942

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the book from my point of view is that Braga doesn’t seem to have decided on a method of telling the story. She knows the Leskova story well having being connected with her subject as a student and then as a professional dancer, and much of the book is quite intimate in approach. But at times Braga stands back and is a distant narrator with expressions like ‘So let us move on …’, or she refers to Leskova in a kind of anonymous way as ‘the young dancer’ or ‘the ballerina’. And she never really decides whether to call the subject of her biography Tatiana, Tatiana Leskova or Leskova and changes constantly between these three names and her selection of anonymous expressions. Other names get an annoying initial rather than a full first name—A. Calder, for example, who from the context I assume is the American artist/sculptor Alexander Calder. Why not pay him the courtesy of a proper identification? And too many infelicitous English phrases keep popping up at the hands of the translator: ‘[he] landed up falling in love with her’; ‘She had made her international bed and could perfectly well have lied down in it’. It all becomes a little irritating.

Looking beyond these irritations, the book probably needs to be read as a piece of oral history in written form. It is based on an extensive interview program and covers Leskova’s life from its earliest stages to the present. There are many quotes from Leskova herself and many reveal her feisty spirit:

I am a perfectionist, always thinking I can do better. I am demanding and have therefore been much criticised and even feared but I don’t do things out of malice but rather because I want, even demand, that they be better.

And on Leskova’s feisty spirit, I met her in the 1990s in New York when she kindly lent me a videorecording of her staging of Les Presages for the Dutch National Ballet. She asked me, when I had finished with it, to pass it on to the Dance Division of the New York Public Library, which I did. But several months later I received a strongly worded message from her questioning why I hadn’t passed the recording on as she had asked. Well it transpired that the recording had been sitting on someone’s desk in the Library and Leskova had not been acknowledged (nor had I). It all sorted itself out and everyone was apologetic but in retrospect her message was a clear example of her strong-willed approach to life and dance.

Many familiar names crop up through the book including those of dancers who performed with the Ballets Russes in Australia and then found themselves in South America in the 1940s—Anna Volkova and Igor Schwezoff in particular have important roles in the story. The discussion is, however, more often than not personal rather than relating to professional careers. Marcia Haydée also makes a guest appearance in a chapter entitled ‘With Marcia Haydée, a Certain Unease’ in which some difficulties that grew from a remark made by Leskova are discussed. And there are interesting thoughts about Nureyev, Massine and a host of other personalities from Leskova’s life.

I found the chapter on Leskova’s restaging of Les Presages and Choreartium, entitled ‘Doors Open’, the most interesting section of the book. It contains selected reviews of various of Leskova’s restagings and I particularly enjoyed Jack Anderson’s comment: ‘Choreartium is a vast mural in motion that makes much recent choreography look puny’. Food for thought I think. The chapter is, however, somewhat uncritical. Everything was a huge success! I didn’t see Leskova’s Presages mounted for the Australian Ballet in 2008, but Leskova told me that she was unhappy in Australia, for a number of reasons. So I would welcome comments on that staging from those who saw it.

Leskova is a larger than life personality and this book reveals the woman behind that personality. I wish, however, that the book had a stronger authorial voice.

Suzana Braga, Tatiana Leskova: a ballerina at large, trans. Donald E Scrimgeour (London: Quartet Books Ltd, 2012)
Paperback, 312 pp. ISBN 978 0 7043 7276 4
RRP £18.00. Available through online sites.

Michelle Potter, 16 February 2013

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‘It brought back so many memories’—Jill Sykes
This book is available to library clients through James Bennett Library Services

The Merce app

David Vaughan’s Merce Cunningham. Fifty Years was published in New York by Aperture in 1997. It was described on the title page as a ‘chronicle and commentary’, which it is, containing as it does a chronological account of Cunningham’s career from its beginnings until 1994. In 2012, Aperture and the Cunningham Dance Foundation released an updated version of the book for iPad. The app contains the material in the original book and continues Vaughan’s chronicle and commentary in the same kind of format. It takes the reader from 1994 until Cunningham’s death in 2009 and on a little further until the end of the Legacy Tour in 2011.

Screenshot from 'Merce Cunningham: 65 years'Screenshot from Merce Cunningham: 65 years (Aperture and Cunningham Dance Foundation, 2012). Designer Didier Garcia, Developer Larson Associates

But of course as an app Merce Cunningham: 65 years is able to offer a range of enticing audio-visual items. They include extracts from a number of Cunningham dances, including some black and white archival material and some extracts from documentaries; excerpts from a series of filmed interviews with Cunningham conducted by David Vaughan; excerpts from a filmed series called Mondays with Merce, in which Cunningham recalls anecdotes and events from the past; and something I really enjoyed, Cunningham reading his seminal essay of 1952, Space, time and dance.

Sadly, but for good reasons no doubt, the moving image excerpts are all too brief. One of the most interesting items, however, is an excerpt, only recently discovered, from Martha Graham’s 1940 work Every soul is a circus featuring Cunningham, Graham and Eric Hawkins. Cunningham, then not much more than twenty, enters and dances a short solo. He jumps and prances, changes direction suddenly, sinks to the floor. He is as light as a feather and moves like quicksilver. It’s a remarkable view of Cunningham the young dancer.

The photographs in this app are breathtaking. I was especially moved by some of the more recent ones, with which I am not so familiar. What they do

'Nearly Ninety', 2009. Photo © Stephanie BergerNearly Ninety, 2009. Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House, 16 April 2009. From Merce Cunningham: 65 years (Aperture and Cunningham Dance Foundation, 2012). Photo © Stephanie Berger

is show fabulously trained, articulate bodies. Reading Cunningham’s essays reproduced in this app, listening to him in interviews and reading his thoughts throughout, all his beliefs about dancing are there to see on the bodies of his dancers. Similarly, looking at the short extracts of film footage, the same understanding of how the body positions itself and moves in time and space is absolutely apparent. Look, for example, at Cédric Andrieux in an extract from Suite for five or Holley Farmer in Loose time.

There are also some fabulous photographs from the Beacon Events series, taken during residencies at Dia: Beacon, a gallery space in Beacon a small city not far from Manhattan where Cunningham choreographed a series of site-specific events responding to the art on display.

'Beacon Events', 2007−2009. Photo © Stephanie BergerBeacon Events, 2007-2009. Dia Art Foundation, Beacon, NY. From Merce Cunningham: 65 years (Aperture and Cunningham Dance Foundation, 2012). Photo © Stephanie Berger

In addition, this app has a wonderful bibliography (expanded from the original book); a list of works; an extensive gallery of images; a small gallery of Cunningham’s drawings; another small gallery of pages from his journals; and several of Cunningham’s essays of which the 1994 How to cook a macrobiotic meal in a hotel room is an absolute delight. The app is also a remarkable record of how Cunningham never stopped investigating the new, and never stopped collaborating with others who also worked to discover new ways of making art, right up until the end.

I had some minor issues when I first starting using this app with navigation, which sometimes is a right to left swipe and sometimes an upwards movement. But that was soon over and the navigation is quite logical given that the app is quite large. The audio-visual material is embedded in the app so once downloaded no active internet connection is required. Merce Cunningham: 65 years is a remarkable initiative. It is available through the iTunes store, is available for iPad only and is worth every cent of the $15 or so that it costs.

All images reproduced with permission and courtesy of Aperture.

Michelle Potter, 13 January 2013

Tankard bannerHOW TO ORDER

‘It brought back so many memories’—Jill Sykes
This book is available to library clients through James Bennett Library Services