(l-r) Julia Cotton, Patrick-Harding-Irmer, Elle Cahill and Ance Frankenhaueser in 'Quartet for David', 2016.

‘Dances for David’. National Portrait Gallery

15 October 2016. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

The National Portrait Gallery is currently showing a number of images from its performing arts collection—mainly images of dancers but also musicians and designers. Along with Jenny Sages’ wonderful image of Irina Baronova ‘passing on the torch’ to an unknown (seen from the back only) young dancer, there are images of Steven Heathcote, Graeme Murphy, Meryl Tankard, Russell Page, Stephen Page, Marilyn Rowe (not the Gallery’s best acquisition I have to say), Kenneth Rowell, Sidney Nolan, Peter Sculthorpe, and others. They are there to support a new acquisition, a photographic portrait of artistic director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister, by Peter Brew-Bevan.

National Portrait Gallery performing arts images

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. A selection of performing arts images on display, October 2016

Portrait of David McAllister by David Brew-Bevan, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Portrait of David McAllister by Peter Brew-Bevan, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

And as has been happening with a certain frequency recently, the National Portrait Gallery commissioned four dancers, Elle Cahill, Julia Cotton, Anca Frankenhaeuser, and Patrick Harding-Irmer, to present a short program of dances to celebrate the acquisition. There were four dances in all: Solo from steppingstone by Patrick Harding-Irmer, Duet for David by Julia Cotton and Elle Cahill, Ebba by Anca Frankenhaeuser, and Quartet for David by all four dancers. All dances had a certain technical simplicity to them, which is not to deny their appropriateness for the occasion.

Two of the pieces, those featuring Harding-Irmer, seemed to refer specifically to McAllister. The duet from Cotton and Cahill seemed to be more of a dedication to the art that McAllister has promoted throughout his career, while the connection that Frankenhaeuser’s quite beautiful but mysterious solo with a hanging garment had to McAllister wasn’t all that clear to me.

Harding-Irmer’s Solo was a work of poses. Some were quite a simple ballet positions—first position of the feet, fifth positions of the arms. for example. We all start our careers learning the basics. As the piece progressed the poses became more introspective but always searchingly so. And Harding-Irmer, impeccably dressed in suit and tie (although he did remove the coat at one stage), suggested that a dancer’s life moves more and more into a complexity of thought.

Patrick Harding-Irmer in Solo from steppingstones, National Portrait Gallery, 2016
Anca Frankenhaueser in Ebba, National Portrait Gallery, 2016

(left) Patrick Harding-Irmer in Solo from stepping stones; (right) Anca Frankenhaeuser in Ebba. Photos: Michelle Potter

Duet for David was the most balletic of the dances and in many respects it reminded me of the Jenny Sages portrait of Baronova ‘passing on the baton’. Cahill’s youth in relation to Cotton (and Harding-Irmer and Frankenhaeuser) was clear and, as Cahill and Cotton danced together, they seemed to change places in the performing space. There was a lovely entrance by Cahill followed by a quiet arrival from Cotton, who then seemed to take the dominant position. But as they circled each other, dancing simple but fluid and attractive steps in differing spatial patterns, Cahill came to the fore, as if representing the future of classical dance.

Julia Cotton and Elle Cahill in Duet for David, National Portrait Gallery, 2016

Julia Cotton and Elle Cahill in Duet for David, National Portrait Gallery, 2016. Photo: Michelle Potter

But if Duet for David was the most balletic in a technical sense, the closing piece, Quartet for David, was filled poses (again) that recalled the manner of McAllister in the classroom or rehearsal process, along with references to ballets with which McAllister might be identified. From Swan Lake, for example, we had a reference to the linked arms of the Four Little Swans and from The Sleeping Beauty there was a nod to the Rose Adagio. And the final moment saw Harding-Irmer taking the very pose McAllister takes in the Brew-Bevan portrait.

Finale, Dances for David, National Portrait Gallery, 2016

Finale from Quartet for David, National Portrait Gallery, 2016. Back row (l-r) Julia Cotton, Patrick Harding-Irmer and Anca Frankenhaeuser; in front Elle Cahill. Photo: Michelle Potter

What was especially attractive about this show was the element of time that it encompassed—time past, time present, and time future all seemed to have a place. But I wish I knew more about Frankenhaeuser’s Ebba. For the first time in my experience with these Portrait Gallery shows there was a mini printed program, which listed the names of the works and the creatives behind them—a welcome initiative. I am dead against judging a work according to the artist’s intention, but I would have liked a bit more information. A search online didn’t help all that much.

Dance in Canberra is flourishing as a result of this kind of show. And it is refreshingly ‘underground’ in the sense that it doesn’t rely on the fads and puffery of popular mainstream organisations. Good, honest dance with something to say.

Michelle Potter, 17 October 2016

Featured image: (l-r) Julia Cotton, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Elle Cahill and Anca Frankenhaeuser in Quartet for David, 2016.

(l-r) Julia Cotton, Patrick-Harding-Irmer, Elle Cahill and Anca Frankenhaueser in 'Quartet for David', 2016.

‘Wiggle Room’. Alison Plevey & Solco Acro

29 September 2016, Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra

Wiggle Room? The name arouses curiosity. But on arriving at the Ralph Wilson my heart sank. ‘This is a standing show,’ we were told. I rather like sitting down to see a show. But, as it happened, the show was a stunner and, for ageing bodies like mine, there were stools for sitting on, when that was possible given the nature of the show.

Wiggle Room was part of a new program in the ACT, Ralph Indie, named for Ralph Wilson, who died in 1994 and who was both a former principal of Canberra High School and a producer of unconventional and thought-provoking theatre shows in Canberra. Wiggle Room was performed by dancer Alison Plevey, singer Ruth O’Brien, and Cher Albrect and Deb Cleland, two artists from the Canberra-based women’s aerial dance and circus arts group, Solco Acro. Like Wilson’s shows, Wiggle Room was also unconventional and thought-provoking.

The work was inspired by and named after an essay by Sara Ahmed and examined the politics of space. Who can occupy a certain space? Who must move aside to let another take up the space? And this explains the need for it to be a ‘standing show’. The entire space of Ralph Wilson Theatre was used by the performers and for those of us sitting on stools, and indeed those standing around the edges of the space, there was the need on occasions to move so that the performers could occupy the space we were inhabiting. No such thing as a designated aisle and seat number.

Some of the movement happened on swinging hoops, or with the performers twisting themselves around lengths of red cloth hanging from the ceiling. Some took place against the walls with the performers attached to a kind of harness. There were moments when bikes were driven at break-neck speed around the space. Even the usual seating in the Ralph Wilson Theatre had been folded back and this fold-back space used by the performers.

wiggle-room-5-photo-justin-ryan

The work was, however, more than simply about space. The notion of the politics of space came over loud and clear, on the one hand through spoken word and song, and on the other by the interpretations of the words by the performers. There were feminist references, references to workplace issues, and issues about personal space, for example.

But what made Wiggle Room a work to be reckoned with was the way in which these issues surrounding the politics of space were addressed in such an engaging and often hilarious way. It was so easy to recognise the situations presented to us, it was so easy and pleasurable to laugh at what was happening. And yet there was always the lingering knowledge of a political message.

Perhaps my favourite moment came when the three performers found themselves together in the confined space of a slip-off mattress cover made from flimsy material—shades of Martha Graham’s Lamentation, without the 1930s seriousness. I have to admit to thinking  ‘Eat your heart out, Martha.’ This was so much more enjoyable.

wiggle-room-4-photo-justin-ryan

All in all a funny, strangely serious, and rather remarkable evening.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2016

All photos © Justin Ryan

Gabriel Comerford, Eliza Sanders and Dean Cross in 'Other Moments'. QL2, 2016. Photo Lorna Sim

‘Other Moments’. QL2 Dance

10 September 2016, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery continues to commission short dance works as public program events associated with its exhibitions. Other moments, made in response to a photographic exhibition, Tough and  tender, was given twelve performances on two successive weekends by dancers from QL2—Gabriel Comerford, Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders. The portraits on display in Tough and tender revealed young people, often in intimate settings or situations, tough on the outside (mostly) but often appearing to be quite vulnerable. The dance work set out to suggest moments before and after the single moment captured by a photograph.

The choreography, by Ruth Osborne (in collaboration with the dancers), and the performance itself captured a beautiful range of emotions, from tough to tender as was appropriate, but also sometimes amusing and often intense. With its range of solos, duets and trios, and its variety of costuming, it also highlighted different kinds of interpersonal connection.

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Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders in Other moments. QL2, 2016.

Gabriel Comerford in 'Other moments'. QL2, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim
Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders in 'Other moments'. QL2, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

Gabriel Comerford (left) and Eliza Sanders (right) in Other moments. QL2, 2016

As she did in Walking and Falling, a previous work for the National Portrait Gallery, Osborne showed her skill in working with a minimum of space and little in the way of design. A wooden bench and an array of costumes was all that she needed to make this compelling short work. And of course good dancing from three strong, versatile performers.

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Gabriel Comerford in Other Moments. QL2, 2016.

All photos: © Lorna Sim

Michelle Potter, 19 September 2016

Featured image: (left to right) Gabriel Comerford, Eliza Sanders and  Dean Cross in Other Moments. QL2, 2016.

Gabriel Comerford, Eliza Sanders and Dean Cross in 'Other Moments'. QL2, 2016. Photo Lorna Sim

Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

‘Strings attached’. Australian Dance Party

25 August 2016, Nishi Building, Canberra

Strings Attached, the debut show from Canberra’s new contemporary dance company, Australian Dance Party, is a knockout. The concept behind the show, devised by the ‘Party Leader’, dancer Alison Plevey, sounds simplistic: an investigation of the relationship between music and dance in a collaboration between four dancers and six musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. But as developed in performance it was totally engaging, illuminating and just plain exciting to watch.

The show began with the sounds of breathing, gentle at first but gathering volume as dancers and musicians met in the performing space before taking their positions to begin the show proper. ‘Before people spoke, we moved,’ the program states. ‘We moved to the innate rhythm of our hearts, our breath and the patterns of our lives.’ And so the dance and its musical accompaniment began, starting with some improvised movement and accompanying sound, moving on to a gentle piece with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully and a kind of slow and refined dance for all four dancers. The show continued its pathway through different musical and dancerly episodes—a lament, a tango, on to Jimi Hendrix with the dancers hooked up to iPods, and, finally, to an ‘Electronic Piece’ that became a riotous party/disco dance in which the audience was encouraged, and sometimes specifically invited to participate.

What was especially noticeable throughout was the absolute commitment of dancers and musicians. They were totally engaged with each other and with the sound and movement they were producing. Alison Plevey and Janine Proost both showed exceptionally fluid, high energy movement, Liz Lea was somewhat more restrained but added a way of engaging socially with the musicians that the others didn’t quite have—Lea always uses strong facial expression as a way of engaging. As for Gabriel Comerford, whose dancing I had never seen before, he knocked me for six with his movement that was on the one hand highly disciplined but on the other totally free.

The venue, a pop-up space in Canberra’s trendy Nishi building, was set up a little like a theatre restaurant with tables and chairs placed around a central performing area. Around the edge of the performance space the musicians sheltered under two white canopies of string sculpture crocheted by installation artist Victoria Lees.

Scene from 'Strings Attached', Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo Lorna Sim

Dancers and musicians in the final moments of Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Some particular highlights, personal favourites perhaps:

  • Alison Plevey and harpist Meriel Owen improvising in the early stages of the show. Amazing, especially in the second part where Owen had to follow Plevey’s rising and falling movements, which she did as if it were second nature.

Dancer Alison Plevey and harpist in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dancer Alison Plevey and harpist Meriel Owen in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

  • Gabriel Comerford in ‘March’ (‘Command and Conquer Red Alert Theme—Soviet March’), in which he got totally lost, trance-like, dancing to a stirring, politicised composition by James Hannigan. His long, black hair came loose from its topknot, and his movement was at times absolutely precise and powerful, but at others wildly erratic. Thrilling to watch.
  • A ‘conversation’ between dancer Liz Lea and trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky.
  • The musicians who played more than one instrument throughout, swapping seamlessly between them. And fascinating to look at (as well as to listen to) was Tim Wickham’s white ‘skeleton’ electric violin.

But in many respects it is unfair to single out individuals because everyone in this show gave so much of themselves to make this a standout evening of live music and dance.

I guess my one hope for this brave new venture is that the format of the debut show will not always be the format in the future. Plevey has a rare intelligence as a director and I hope she will find ways of occasionally presenting her work in different spaces, including in more mainstream performing arenas. The party line (as in its celebratory rather than political meaning) is fine for a start but I am hoping for something different as well.

Canberra has been without a professional dance company since Sue Healey left town in the 1990s. If Strings Attached is anything to go by we now have much to anticipate.

Michelle Potter, 27 August 2016.

Featured image: Dancer Gabriel Comerford and cellist Alex Voorhoeve in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

 

Liz Lea in 'The Incense'. Photo: Lara Platman

‘India Meets’. Various artists

20 August 2016, Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra

India Meets received just one performance, which is a shame because it offered a truly fascinating and diverse experience of Indian and Indian-inspired dance. And it was a sold-out performance.

The evening was the brainchild of Liz Lea, who took the opportunity to put the show together to bring to a close a visit to Australia by British Indian dancer, Seeta Patel. Patel’s training is in the Bharata Natyam technique, a style which Lea has also studied and has performed throughout her career, so the focus of the evening was strongly on this style of movement. The live component of the show, for example, began with a solo, Ashtapadi No. 19, beautifully performed by Canberra-based exponent of Bharata Natyam, Jenni White, who danced to a mesmerising voice and percussion accompaniment by Mahesh Radhakrishnan.

For those in Canberra, however, who remember Kuchipudi dancer Padma Menon whose work was an integral part of the Canberra dance scene in the 1990s, it was a more than pleasurable experience to see Shivashtakam, performed by local Kuchipudi dancers Vanaja Dasika and Suhasini Sumithra. Their exuberant performance was a delight and offered insight into another South Indian technique.

Lea herself performed two pieces. The first, The Incense, was based on a 1906 work by American dancer Ruth St Denis whose interest in spirituality led her to look to India for inspiration to nurture her choreographic and performance career. In The Incense the dancer enacts an incense burning ritual and Lea’s reinterpretation was strongly performed. She held the attention with some fine lyrical movement and arresting poses. The second of Lea’s solos, When Tagore met Einstein, was based on a discussion that took place between poet Rabindranath Tagore and scientist Albert Einstein in 1930. This work perhaps needs to be seen more than once for its full value to be realised. It was hard to follow the extraordinary complexities of the conversation, which was used as a voice-over, and at the same time to focus on the choreography and its performance. Both pieces represented Lea’s interest in historical conjunctions between the cultures of East and West and also demonstrated, in particular with When Tagore met Einstein, her interest in using classical techniques in a contemporary manner.

Patel showed two solos. Patra Pravesham—Ananda Nartana Ganapatim, which concerned the elephant-headed god Ganesha, and which included a strong display of some of the technical aspects of Bharata Natyam; and Padam (Theruvil Vaaraano)—Raga Kamas, showing the expressionistic side of the style. Patel has a powerful sense of focus, meticulous attention to detail, and is an extraordinarily articulate dancer in the manner in which she moves through the choreography and the complex expressionistic language. Only the very best dancers, in whatever dance style they might espouse, have the ability to make their movement look as though it is completely at one with the body. Patel has it all and her performance was moving and utterly entrancing. She is an extraordinary dance artist.

Two short (very short) films were also part of the program. Both gave insight into Patel’s process and practice with one focusing on the work in which she has been engaged in Australia with contemporary choreographer Lina Limosani. For more on Patel’s Australian visit, including a link to the Limosani collaboration, see this link.

Michelle Potter, 22 August 2016

Featured image: Liz Lea in The Incense (detail), 2005. Photo: © Lara Platman

Seeta Patel in Australia

British Indian dancer, Seeta Patel, specialises in the Bharata Natyam style of classical Indian dance and she will be in Canberra in August to work on two projects. The first is a workshop with Canberra Dance Theatre’s GOLDS, the second a one-off performance at Belconnen Arts Centre. When I spoke to her, however, she was in Mt Gambier, South Australia, working with choreographer Lina Limosani on yet another project. Prior to that she spent time a week of intensive work in Sydney with Liz Lea.

Patel worked with Lea on refining her Bharata Natyam technique. Bharata Natyam was a major part of Lea’s practice for many years before she came to Australia but, since arriving in Canberra in 2009, Lea has had little opportunity to work on this aspect of her practice. She has instead concentrated on community dance, including the successful establishment of the GOLDS, and on other areas of her practice, including works made as a result of historical research, such as 120 Birds, which took the travels of Anna Pavlova as its starting point. Patel has re-energised her and brought her back to her Bharata Natyam practice.

‘With recent changes in my career,’ Lea says, ‘I have wanted to return to my own practice and to the Bharata Natyam style. The sessions with Seeta reawakened my deep love for the form, and my deep respect. It is so very difficult and challenging, mentally and physically. Working with Seeta was also quite an adventure. At the end of each day I could scarcely walk!’

Lea also acknowledges Patel’s strengths as a performer at the cutting edge of the growth and development of Bharata Natyam as a contemporary art form for today’s audiences. Patel has worked with several British contemporary dance companies, including DV8 and David Hughes Dance, which she says taught her to use her performance skills in a different way.

‘It is challenging to develop the ability to move across forms and to engage in cross-cultural work,’ Patel says. ‘It is a reminder not to reduce Bharata Natyam to something simplistic, but to find what is inherent in it.’

Patel’s work at Mt Gambier with choreographer Lina Limosani, who works in a contemporary style and who, in 2015, was awarded the Peggy van Praagh Choreographic Fellowship, highlights Patel’s interest in cross-cultural, cross-form work.  Her three week residency in Mt Gambier, supported by Country Arts South Australia, saw Patel not only conducting workshops but also working with Limosani and dramaturg Dagmara Gieysztor on a new contemporary work Not Today’s Yesterday.

Now Patel is working on ways to secure funding to bring Limosani and Gieysztor to England to complete the work they have started and have it tour globally.

For India Meets, the one-off performance at Belconnen Arts Centre on 20 August, Patel will perform a small solo drawing on elements of Bharata Natyam technique. It will be a ‘short work’, athough she suggests that her interest lies in the ‘long form with live music’. Her post-forum discussion may well draw out more on this topic. Lea will also perform, along with several other Canberra-based dance artists. Lea says her work will be informed by her intensive work with Patel but it will not be purely traditional Bharata Natyam.

‘I will be exploring,’ Lea says, ‘a conversation between Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore that took place in 1930. It relates to my ongoing exploration of previous relations between East and West, and my new enquiries into science and astronomy.’

For more information on India Meets follow this link. Tickets at eventbrite.

Michelle Potter, 10 August 2016

Dance diary. July 2016

  • Focus on Canberra

A one-off show, India Meets, is scheduled to take place at Belconnen Arts Centre on 20 August. It will feature Seeta Patel and Liz Lea along with other local dancers trained in a variety of Indian dance styles. Patel is in Australia with British Council support and, in addition to working on India Meets with Lea, has a number of other engagements, which I hope to feature in a future post.

In other Canberra news, a new dance company, Australian Dance Party, is about to be launched. It is led by Alison Plevey, a 2009 graduate of WAAPA who has been teaching and performing in Canberra since her graduation. ‘Out of the political capital comes Australian Dance Party: Canberra’s newest dance and performance company,’ she says. For its debut production, ADP dancers will collaborate with six artists from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra on Strings Attached at the Nishi Playhouse (a pop-up theatre), New Acton, on 25–27 August.

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  • Dancer to watch: Seu Kim

Seu Kim graduated from the Australian Ballet School in 2015. A colleague sent me some online footage of him performing at Varna recently, where he was placed second. Watch it at this link. I love what shines through—honesty and passion in particular. And I love the lengthening of the neck and the emotion that radiates from that beautiful lift of the chest. Gorgeous.

Seu Kim at Varna, 2016

Kim identifies as Korean, although his family has lived in Japan for many years. He will join Royal Swedish Ballet as an apprentice dancer in August.

  • Oral history update

I had the pleasure in July or recording an oral history interview with Dr Elizabeth Dalman, founding director of Australian Dance Theatre and currently director of Mirramu Creative Arts Centre and Mirramu Dance Company. I first interviewed Dr Dalman for the National Library’s oral history program in 1994 so an update was definitely in order. Catalogue record at this link.

  • The Australian Ballet and CinemaLive

Dates are now available for the first three CinemaLive presentations of the Australian Ballet’s Fairytale Series, as mentioned in last month’s Dance diary. The Sleeping Beauty will screen on 8–9 October 2016, Cinderella on 12–13 November 2016, and Coppélia on 29–30 April 2017. Find a cinema near you at this link.

  • Press for July 2016

‘Triple treat shows off Bangarra’s finest.’ Preview of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s OUR land people storiesThe Canberra Times—Panorama, 23 July 2016, pp. 10–11. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2016

Featured image: Seeta Patel and Liz Lea, detail from the poster for India Meets

Dance diary. April 2016

  • 10,000 Miles: Quantum Leap and YDance

17 April 2016, the Q, Performing Arts Centre, Queanbeyan

In April Canberra’s youth dance company, Quantum Leap, and YDance, the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland based in Glasgow, joined forces for a once-only performance of a triple bill, 10,000 Miles. The performance was part of a wider program, ‘meetup’, involving youth dance companies from Melbourne and various parts of New South Wales, as well as Quantum Leap and YDance. For 10,000 Miles the three works on show were Act of Contact by Sara Black showcasing the Canberra dancers; Maelstrom by Anna Kenrick, artistic director of the Scottish company, which was performed by the Scottish dancers; and Landing Patterns, a piece choreographed jointly by Kenrick and Ruth Osborne, artistic director of Quantum Leap, featuring dancers from both companies.

Act of Contact, QL2, 2016 Photo: Lorna Sim

Sara Black’s Act of Contact. Quantum Leap, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Anna Kenrick's 'Maelstrom'. NYDCS, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

Anna Kenrick’s Maelstrom. YDance, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

It was an impressive show and a terrific piece of cultural contact. Apart from the strong dancing from both companies, I admired the lighting of Maelstrom, a very effective design of geometric patterns from Simon Gane.

  • Greg Horsman

In April I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Horsman, ballet master and director of artistic operations at Queensland Ballet, for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. The interview is open to all and has been catalogued as TRC 6774. Ongoing Federal Government cutbacks make it unlikely, however, that it will go online for a little while yet. But it can be accessed by contacting the oral history and folklore section of NLA. The NLA also holds a small but excellent collection of photographs of Horsman during his time with the Australian Ballet, taken by Don McMurdo.

  • Robert Helpmann: forthcoming talk

Dance Week 2016 will be in full swing when this post goes live. I will be giving a talk at the National Film and Sound Archive as part of the ACT festivities. Called ‘Helpmann uncovered’ it will look at the research I have been doing over the past year or so on certain little known aspects of Helpmann’s activities. Further details at this link.

Robert Helpmann,1965. Photo: Walter Stringer

Robert Helpmann, 1965. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia

  • William Yang

During April I went to see William Yang’s Blood Links, a solo show in which Yang, well-known photographer, delivered a monologue, accompanied by projections showing his extended family, in a moving search to understand his Chinese-Australian identity. While his dance photographs did not appear in this show (understandably), I was reminded of the work he did with Jim Sharman for the Adelaide Festival in 1982 when he photographed Pina Bausch. I recall with pleasure the small exhibition of this work that was displayed as part of Sydney’s now defunct festival, Spring Dance, in 2011. I also found a YouTube link in which Yang discusses his work with Bausch and that beautiful exhibition.

  • Press for April

‘Dance work challenges the senses.’ Review of FACES by James Batchelor and collaborators. The Canberra Times, 9 April 2016, p. ARTS 17. Online version.

‘Prickly attitude.’Preview of Sydney Dance Company’s CounterMove season. The Canberra Times—Panorama, 30 April 2016, pp. 8–9. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2016

Featured image: Greg Horsman, Ballet Master and Director of Artistic Operations Queensland Ballet

‘Great Sport!’. Liz Lea and collaborators

7 April 2016 (World Health Day), National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Canberra’s GOLDS (joined briefly on this occasion by two Dance for Parkinsons groups) have once again surprised me. Great Sport! was a site specific production that took place in various parts of the National Museum of Australia, including outdoors in the Garden of Australian Dreams. The production was a celebration of movement and sporting history but, given that the show had its first performance on World Health Day, and given that the program also included a segment by the two Dance for Parkinsons groups, Great Sport! was also a program that focused on healthy living through movement.

The production began with ‘Annette’, a celebration of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman. Choreographed by Liz Lea, joint artistic director of the GOLDS, it was full of glitz and glamour, as was befitting of the subject given that Kellerman was not just a swimmer but an advocate for female issues and a star of Hollywood in the early twentieth century. We saw spangly costumes, 1900/1920s-style cozzies, lots of feathers, fans and froth, and some gorgeous, fun-filled choreography that suited these dancers so well.

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Great Sport! Scene from ‘Annette’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016.

‘Annette’, which was accompanied in part by an original musical composition/poem by Chrissie Shaw, made wonderful use of the Museum’s surrounding spaces—a pool; swirling, curving pathways; an ancient tree trunk; and soaring architecture.

A piece by Gerard van Dyck called  ‘First and Last’ also looked good outdoors, especially against a huge, curved metal wall covered in shadows. ‘First and Last’ used the men of the GOLDS and focused on the practising of sporting activities in a non-competitive environment. The theme suited the company beautifully and the men performed with their usual commitment. There is nothing to prove. Just dance!

Great Sport! Scene from 'First and Last' , Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

Great Sport! Scene from ‘First and Last’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

We the audience moved from indoors to outdoors, from outdoors to indoors, taking our lead from Lea as compere for the event. One indoor piece, ‘I used to run marathons’, was particularly moving. Choreographed by Philip Piggin and Jane Ingall (also co-directors of the GOLDS) using people living with Parkinson’s Disease, it was performed to the well-known theme from Chariots of Fire. It took place on a circle of chairs and within the space formed by those chairs, and the circular theme was picked up by the choreography and reflected the Olympic symbol of five connecting rings. While the music had something to do with the feeling of transcendence I got, that each of the dancers had such a different capacity for movement, but that each was completely immersed, was also part of that feeling.

Another indoor section, Grand Finale, was choreographed by Martin del Amo. It was gorgeously costumed (based on a concept by del Amo) with the women garbed in long evening dresses, all different. Program notes stated that these women were ‘engaged in a mysterious game, collectively celebrating diverse individuality, on their own terms.’ And it was certainly mysterious as the ten or so women moved amongst each other, forming and reforming various patterns. As seems typical (to me anyway) of del Amo’s work, Grand Finale operates at a level that is somewhat obscure or arcane and, while I often find this aspect of del Amo’s work frustrating, that Grand Finale was meant to be mysterious, or obscure, or arcane, was made absolutely clear by the dancers. They moved through the choreography with distant looks on their faces and with no acknowledgement of each other.

But the pièce de resistance was Kate Denborough’s ‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives’ (a quote from Jane Austen). It was a spectacular and unexpected end to the program and showed the exceptional theatricality that is at the heart of Denborough’s work.

This final piece began with the women of the GOLDS dressed in scarlet dressing gowns and sporting bright red wigs. They began the piece in what initially appeared to be a narrow and quite dark cul-de-sac off the main outdoor area of the Museum. But at the end of this space was a set of double doors and, after performing together for a few moments, the dancers moved towards this door, opened it, and let in a flood of light and a water view (Lake Burley Griffin). They proceeded to open red umbrellas, and then to my surprise undid the dressing gowns to reveal a red swimming costume underneath. They then tripped the light fantastic to the water’s edge, sat down and dabbled their toes in the water, and we watched as a woman with red wig and red gown, paddled a red canoe past them. The play of light and shadow, water and land, and so many other things was breathtakingly beautiful. The canoe became a journey of life. Amazing.

Great Sport! Scene from 'None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives'. Photo: Michelle Potter

Great Sport! Scene from ‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

Great Sport!, with its beautiful opening ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ choreographed by Tammi Gissell, was a remarkable event and continues the focus of Liz Lea on working in unusual spaces and, in particular, on using the Canberra environment and its cultural institutions as a venue, and as a backdrop to her work. But apart from the bouquets that are due to Lea for her persistent focus on Canberra as a place where dance happens, one of the most interesting aspects of Great Sport! was the way in which the choreographers, all very different in their approaches and choreographic style, were able to maintain and make visible those differences while working with a community group in which movement skills are understandably quite varied. In addition, the GOLDS get better and better in their very individual manner and responded with gusto on this occasion to the work of choreographers with the professionalism to be able to draw out the very best from a community group. The courage and commitment of the GOLDS knows no bounds, and nor does the power and understanding of the choreographers involved.

Michelle Potter, 10 August 2016

James Batchelor. Dancing in the Antarctic

As I mentioned late last year, James Batchelor had an unexpected response to performances in Canberra of his work Island. He was offered a chance to be part of an international research expedition to Antarctica. Batchelor left last month, January 2016, on the RV Investigator and now news has arrived from the Southern Ocean on the progress of the expedition. Each day Batchelor has been dancing, writing and drawing in various parts of the ship.

In a recent media release Batchelor says:

‘This is an incredible opportunity to be experimental and competely redefine how and where my dancing takes place. It is overlapping the practices of arts and science in a unique way. Being part of this expedition is challenging: it is a complete immersion in a foreign world, where new systems of navigation and communication are constantly being constructed and deconstructed.’

Also aboard the RV Investigator is visual artist Annalise Rees, currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Tasmania. Rees and Batchelor will collaborate on a new work, set to premiere in 2017, based on their experiences and knowledge gained as part of the expedition.

James Batchelor on the RV Investigator 1

Photos courtesy of the University of Tasmania

And for Canberra audiences in particular, Batchelor’s work FACES, seen as a work in progress in Canberra late in 2014, will have a showing as a finished work in the Courtyard Studio at the Canberra Theatre Centre, 7–10 April 2016.

Michelle Potter, 9 February 2016