Chrissa Keramidas as Clara the Elder in 'Nutcracker. The story of Clara.' The Australian Ballet, 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

More thoughts on ‘Nutcracker. The Story of Clara’

I have to admit to disliking intensely the dumbing down of Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker. The story of Clara with the ridiculous description of it as ‘The Gum-Nutcracker.’ The work might have strong Australian resonances, but it is much more than a story about early developments in Australian ballet. The so-called ‘affectionate dubbing’ of it with reference to the fruit of the eucalyptus tree makes the work sound pathetic. Below are a few published comments that suggest that we should grow up and resist the temptation to trivialise.

Speaking of the slight nature of, and problematic issues surrounding the more traditional productions of Nutcracker (going right back to 1892), Professor Rodney Stenning Edgecombe writes:

When foundations are sandy, it’s better to re-lay them in concrete. And that is indeed what the brilliant Graeme Murphy has done in his version of the ballet, which, having subtitled The Story of Clara, he conceives it, as Bournonville did his ballets, as ‘frames around the biographical and travel pictures which constitute [an] actual theatre life’.

He then proceeds to analyse the ballet, its story, its choreography, its music, and its place within the history of ballet (not necessarily Australian ballet), in the most erudite terms, making reference to, and using quotations from some of the great names of world scholarship—August Bournonville, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Marcel Proust, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Patrick White, and others. Speaking about the Snowflakes scene, for example, he writes:

The snowflakes’ wild pirouettes with upflung arms … show how inventively Murphy can work within restrictive confines of the danse d’école. Indeed one can’t help thinking that the writing for this ensemble is deliberately transitional, Petipa Duncanised as it were. And because ‘Petipa Duncanised’ is all but a synonym for ‘Fokine’—at least the Fokine of Les Sylphides—this episode illustrates the transformation that the very art of ballet witnessed during Clara’s childhood.

What thrills me is that Edgecombe treats the work as an artistic creation of the highest order, one that deserves to be interpreted within the widest cultural context, not as some Snugglepot and Cuddlepie story (with apologies to May Gibbs). In his final paragraph, after discussing some issues he has with Marius Petipa’s work, and a similar issue he sees relating to the way Murphy has used a section of the music, Edgecombe says:

And what one allows to Petipa, one must allow to Murphy, a choreographer, in my opinion, of entirely comparable genius.1

Dame Margaret Scott, Vicki Attard and David McAllister in Graeme Murphy's 'Nutcracker'. The Australian Ballet 1994. Photographer not identified

Dame Margaret Scott, Vicki Attard and David McAllister in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker. The Australian Ballet 1994. Photographer not identified

I am aware that not everyone will relate to the way Edgecombe writes and analyses but, like Edgecombe, Dame Margaret Scott, who danced Clara the Elder in 1992, 1994 and 2000, also speaks of the slight nature of traditional productions and recognises the extent to which Murphy’s ballet recontextualises the traditional work into something with more narrative and choreographic depth. In an interview in 2000, in which she replies to a question about why some found the Murphy production hard to accept, Dame Margaret says:

In the crits in the 1892 production, there was one critic who said, ‘It’s a pity that [such] fine music is expended on nonsense unworthy of attention.’ And in the 1992 production here, one of the crits said: ‘One of the great achievements of this production is that Tchaikovsky’s music sounds as if it was written to a brief from Murphy.’

And then it goes on about the ballet itself. In 1892 the crit said, ‘Ballet is sliding downhill having lost its footing and moving away towards some kind of fragile and sugary Nutcracker.’ And then in Australia, ‘With Nutcracker the Australian Ballet came of age.’ I juxtaposed those two because it is relevant to the production.

I think if it had been called from the beginning, The Story of Clara, they would have accepted it. But it’s difficult to change the traditionalists. They still want the tutu ballet. And I mean, people don’t realise that the history of Nutcracker itself is a very chequered one. It only came into this popularity when the pantomimes died and it took the place of pantomimes because of its Christmas story. It became the cash cow, the Christmas entertainment. So to say it is popular because of a great love [is wrong] because a lot of people find it very dissatisfying.2

It is common knowledge that Murphy was at first hesitant to accept the commission from Maina Gielgud to create a new Nutcracker. In an interview in 1996 he says:

Maina Gielgud had asked me years ago to think about doing a Nutcracker and I’d rejected the idea on the basis that the story was silly, the piece was clichéd, and I’d never really seen one I liked.

But, thankfully, he eventually did accept the commission. He explains:

The clinch for me was the music, which I adore. So Kristian [Fredrikson] came over and we played the tape and I think somewhere in the course of that listening I was going ‘I can’t do a Nutcracker set in a postcard snowland, white Christmases and all that stuff. It doesn’t really mean anything. Maybe if you could do a Nutcracker set in arid Melbourne suburbia …’ And that was really the beginning of it.3

What we have with Murphy’s visionary production should be regarded, especially by those who write media notes, as a ballet of international reach. Save gumnuts for other less sophisticated things. But if some see a need to dumb down the work with a crazy name (in order to attract more people and bring in more money?) then perhaps they should rename the Australian Ballet the Ocker Ballet?

Michelle Potter, 17 June 2017

References

  1. All quotes from Professor Edgecombe are from Rodney Stenning Edgecombe, ‘Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker.’ Brolga, 17 (December 2002), pp. 23–32.
  2. Lee Christofis, ‘Coming of age. Retrieving history with Dame Margaret Scott and Valrene Tweedie OAM.’ Brolga, 13 (December 2000), pp. 44–58.
  3. All quotes from Murphy are from ‘Graeme Murphy. Humanity revealed’ in Michelle Potter, A passion for dance (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1997), pp. 61–77.

See also the text of a program article I wrote for the Australian Ballet’s 2009 season of Nutcracker. The story of Clara. As a concluding remark I wrote, ‘This is a Nutcracker to be loved and cherished. Its Australian connections are heart warming and a source of pride and pleasure. But the dramatic text is universal.‘ Here is the link.

Featured image: Chrissa Keramidas as Clara the Elder in Nutcracker. The story of Clara. The Australian Ballet, 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Chrissa Keramidas as Clara the Elder in 'Nutcracker. The story of Clara.' The Australian Ballet, 2017. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Dance diary. January 2016

  • Indigenous dance programs in Canberra

The National Film and Sound Archive’s first Black Chat program for 2016 will take place at the Archive on 12 February at 6 pm and will feature dancer Tammi Gissell talking with curator Brenda Gifford on the topic ‘Indigenous identity through dance’. Gissell made a terrific impact in Canberra during the city’s centennial year, 2013, and her presence at Black Chat is enough to make the program more than worthwhile. But, in addition, the Archive is screening three films from its Film Australia Collection, Aeroplane Dance, 7 Colours, and Aboriginal Dances (five from Cape York and three performed by David Gulpilil).

Tammi Gissell 2012. Dance diary August. Photo Lorna Sim

Tammi Gissell rehearsing Seeking Biloela, Canberra c. 2013. Photo: © Lorna Sim

All three have features that I am sure will make interesting viewing but I was fascinated to read about Aeroplane Dance, both in a book (Savage Wilderness by Barry Ralph) giving a totally white perspective on the crash of an American bomber that generated the creation of the dance by a local Yanyuwa man, Frank Karrijiji, and in an online article with a wider, more balanced account. Read about the Black Chat session at this link.

Then in March the National Film and Sound Archive will host a season of Stephen Page’s Spear. This film, which had a world premiere in Canada at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2015, and an Australian premiere in Adelaide the following month, marks Page’s debut as director of a feature film. The Canberra season begins on 10 March and an 8 pm session on 12 March will include a Q & A session with Page and other members of the cast and crew. More later.

Filming 'Spear', 2015. Photo: Jacob Nash

Filming Spear, 2015. Photo: © Jacob Nash

  • Miscellaneous activities

The sole dance performance I saw during January was the Australian Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty for children—review below. My four grandchildren (aged from 8 to 5) all went (one went twice) and all loved it, even one 8 year old grandson who later confided to me that he really didn’t want to go but had, to his surprise, really liked it. So congratulations to the Australian Ballet for nurturing future audiences with this delightful pantomime-style show.

On another performance front, I made an abortive attempt to get to Sydney to see Marrugeku’s latest show Cut the Sky, but my plane from Canberra was involved in a bird strike and, sadly, I had no option but to cancel.

Other January activities hold future promise. I interviewed choreographer Alexander Ekman, who was in Sydney rehearsing Cacti with Sydney Dance Company for their CounterMove season beginning at the end of February. Our conversation will feed into a future feature for The Canberra Times.

Sydney Dance Company presents Alexander Ekman's Cacti. web Photo by Peter Greig

Dancers of Sydney Dance Company in Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photo: © Peter Greig

And I also spent several days in Melbourne with two archivists from the National Library sorting and boxing Dame Margaret Scott’s extensive collection of photographs, board papers, correspondence and other paper-based items for eventual transfer to Canberra.

  • Site news

Follow this link for a fascinating series of comments on an early post on James Upshaw and Lydia Kuprina.

  • Press for January

‘Delightful Tchaikovsky for children.’ Review of the Australian Ballet’s Storytime Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty. The Canberra Times, 22 January 2016, ‘Times 2’, ARTS p. 6. Online version.

Dance diary. December 2015

  • ‘Creative minds’: Stephen Page

I was, earlier today, doing a bit of ‘last day of the year’ exercise on the treadmill at the gym when I accidentally turned on a television channel I didn’t mean to select. It was a fortuitous accident as it happened. The program that came on turned out to be an interview with Stephen Page conducted by Robin Hughes in her series called ‘Creative Minds’. Somewhere along the line I managed to miss it when it was originally screened some three years ago, but I have since put in an order to add it to my collection.

So much stood out in the interview, which included some great archival material from the earliest days of Bangarra. In particular, footage of Russell Page, who was seen in a range of situations across several years, showed what an exceptional mover he was. In addition, the recording showed so beautifully what makes Stephen Page the outstanding director that he is as he answered the often quite probing questions put to him. I was also completely charmed, as ever, by Page’s great sense of humour, humility and passion for his heritage.

I can’t wait to watch it in more comfortable conditions. But I did stay on the treadmill for longer than usual so I could see the whole program!

  • Papers of Dame Margaret Scott

I am pleased to be able to report that Dame Margaret Scott has agreed that her collection of dance material be housed in the National Library of Australia, where it will join the collections of so many dance artists she has taught, performed with, commissioned, and mentored. In the early days of January I will be working to organise the material for its move to Canberra.

Maggie Scott, South Africa 1930s

 Maggie Scott, South Africa 1930s. Collection of Dame Margaret Scott

  • Best of 2015

My 2015 ‘best of’ selections will appear in the February/March issue of Dance Australia. I also have had things to say about 2015 in Canberra and that article appears below in ‘Press for December’. What I didn’t mention in either situation was the show that really stood out for me in 2015—Quidam from the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil. I did review it, however, for The Canberra Times and that review appears below, also in ‘Press for December’. Although not dance in the strictest sense, but circus, a cousin of dance as it were, Quidam was especially impressive for being a production in which every single moment in the show had been thought through with care and theatrical intelligence. A rare experience.

  • Press for December

‘An exhilarating experience.’ Review of Quidam from Cirque du Soleil, The Canberra Times, 12 December 2015, ARTS p. 19. Online version.

‘Dance highlights and hankerings.’ Overview of dance in Canberra in 2015. The Canberra Times, 28 December 2015, Times 2 pp. 6–7. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2015

image

With thanks to all who have visited my website in 2015, especially those whose astute comments have added so much to the posts.

A happy, dance-filled 2016!

‘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

 

Dance diary. July 2015

  • 2015 Helpmann Awards

Media commentary following the announcement of the winners of the 2015 Helpmann Awards has mostly focused on the fact that Les Miserables ‘scooped the pool’ with five awards. Well many congratulations to those involved, but where is the equivalent media commentary for Sydney Dance Company? Sydney Dance could also be said to have ‘scooped the pool’ after receiving all four awards in the dance section.

  • Best Ballet or Dance Work: Sydney Dance Company’s Frame of Mind
  • Best Choreography in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work: Rafael Bonachela, Frame of Mind
  • Best Male Dancer in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work: Cass Mortimer Eipper, Quintett
  • Best Female Dancer in a Dance or Physical Theatre Work: Chloe Leong, Quintett

Sydney Dance Company's Frame of Mind featuring Cass Mortimer Eipper, 2015. Photo: © Peter Greig

Sydney Dance Company’s Frame of Mind featuring Cass Mortimer Eipper, 2015. Photo: © Peter Greig

What a shame that there has been so little publicity by mainstream media for this exceptional feat by Sydney Dance Company.

  • Stephen Page at Parliament House

Early in July I had the pleasure of facilitating a conversation with Stephen Page, artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, as part of a program organised by Parliament House in conjunction with the Canberra Theatre Centre. The conversation took place in the Parliament House Theatre, which I did’t know existed until I was invited to be part of this session. The conversation preceded the arrival of Bangarra in Canberra with its latest show, lore. Page gave a highly entertaining talk about the origins of Bangarra, his nurturing of artists in the company, and some background on the works in lore. The talk was recorded and I understood that it was to be posted on the PH website. So far this has not happened but when/if it does I intend to post a link on this site.

  • David Sumray

I was contacted in July by a journalist from the Camden New Journal, who asked me about David Sumray. She told me that she had heard that an ‘avid ballet historian’ of that name had died suddenly and she wanted to write something about him. I have not been able to confirm this news so I hesitate to mention it here. However, since my attempts to contact David have been unsuccessful (and the journalist has not contacted me again despite a request), I will mention my admiration and respect for him anyway.

David has been a constant visitor to this website and has made many comments on articles and reviews posted here, which have always been illuminating. In addition, he was extraordinarily helpful and generous while I was writing Dame Maggie Scott. He volunteered to check a few facts for me, mostly relating to the life of Maggie’s father, John Scott, and his war record. In so doing he uncovered other interesting facts including material relating to John Scott’s schooling in England. I remember too, as we were discussing John Scott’s engagement to Maggie’s mother, Marjorie, in Birmingham in 1918, he sent me an Edwardian postcard image of the shop where the ring was bought. I have so enjoyed his interest in such details.

H. Greaves Ltd - Postcard of Corporation St.

H. Greaves Ltd, Birmingham

  • Press for July

‘Traditions explored through dance.’ Preview of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s lore. ‘Panorama’, The Canberra Times, 4 July 2015, pp. 6–7. Online version.

‘Gala celebrates troupe’s 50 years.’ Preview of Mirramu Dance Comany’s L. ‘Times 2’, The Canberra Times, 9 July 2015, pp. 6–7. Online version.

‘Some strong performances in a well staged show.’ Review of Circus under my bed, Flying Fruit Fly Circus. The Canberra Times, 18 July 2015, ARTS p. 18. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2015

Dance diary. November 2014

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2014

It was a slow year for local, professional dance in the ACT, especially after the very full dance calendar the city had during its centenary year, 2013. The dance panel of the Canberra Critics’ Circle offered only one dance award for 2014. It went to James Batchelor for his performance installation Island.

James Batchelor

Portrait of James Batchelor, c. 2013

During the Circle’s plenary session, at which nominations in individual categories are put forward to the whole group for discussion, a member of the circle questioned me about whether James should or should not be considered a Canberra artist given his strong links with the Melbourne dance scene. It was a good question and one I had discussed with Batchelor earlier in 2014. His reply was:

I left Canberra to go to university in Melbourne, but I don’t see that that makes me any less of a Canberran. I am in just my second year out from university and, as I establish my practice, I live a transient lifestyle. Recently I have worked all around Australia and in France, Thailand and the United Kingdom. But I am involved in a number of projects in Canberra this year and I definitely intend to employ my practice here in Canberra.

Independent artists working in dance are, as a matter of necessity, almost always peripatetic.

Read more about Batchelor’s work in Canberra at this tag, in my Canberra Times story at this link, and in my review of QL2’s Boundless program at this link.

  • Dimity Azoury: Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, 2014

It was a pleasure to learn that Dimity Azoury, former pupil of Canberra dance teacher Kim Harvey, received the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award for 2014. A profile of Azoury, currently a coryphée with the Australian Ballet, will be coming to this website shortly.

Dimity Azoury in 'Paquita', the Australian Ballet 2014. Photo: Jeff Busby

Dimity Azoury in Paquita, the Australian Ballet 2014. Photo: Jeff Busby

  • Robert Ray’s Nutcracker

Teacher and choreographer Robert Ray tells me he has headed to New York to stage his Nutcracker for students from the Joffrey Ballet School with guest artists from the Joffrey Concert Group. His production of Nutcracker attracted my attention while I was writing Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance. To quote from the book:

In 1985 Maggie had commissioned Ray to create a new version of the ever popular Christmas classic, The Nutcracker. It was a milestone in the School’s history being the first full-length ballet made especially for the School and was designed especially for students to perform and their end of year graduation. It was also a move to have a cost efficient work for the School, one that could be repeated over the years with roles that would suit students from across all levels of training.

‘It was a wonderful training ballet because the first year students could take roles like the mice and the soldiers, the second year students could dance the individual solo roles and the third years could aspire to the pas de deux and the principal roles’, Maggie suggests. ‘And Robert’s choreography was demanding. The students would compete for roles in it. We performed it for five consecutive years.

So now Joffrey Ballet School has taken advantage of this work and Ray believes it is likely to become a permanent fixture on the Joffrey Christmas calendar.

  • Hot to Trot: Quantum Leap

Quantum Leap in Canberra has just shown its sixteenth production of Hot to Trot, a program in which young dancers try their hand at choreography, and occasionally dance on film. Probably the most intriguing piece on the program of eight short dances and one film (also short) was Inside Out by Aden Hamilton. Hamilton is in Year Five at Telopea Park Primary School and, for someone so young, his duet, which he performed with Caroline de Wan, was astonishingly mature and complete in its structure. Someone to watch.

  • Press for November

‘Bold effort but unwoven threads.’ Review of Kathrada 50/25, Liz Lea. The Canberra Times, 4 November 2014, p. 6.  Online.

‘Local links in national awards.’ Report on the Australian Dance Awards 2014. The Canberra Times, 10 November 2014, pp. 10–11. Online.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2014

Dance diary. October 2014

This month’s diary is something of  a celebration of three of Australia’s senior artists: Eileen Kramer (Cramer), former Bodenwieser dancer; Dame Margaret Scott, founding director of the Australian Ballet School; and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, founder of Australian Dance Theatre. Each has been in the news in different ways recently. I have arranged these mini posts, which are largely in the form of links, according to descending order of age of those three dancers, beginning with Eileen Kramer, who will very shortly celebrate her 100th birthday.

  • Eileen Kramer
Eileen Kramer in 'Indian Love Song', 1952. Photo: Noel Rubie
Eileen Kramer

(left) Eileen Kramer in Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Indian Love Song, 1952. Photo Noel Rubie; (right) in Sydney in 2013 celebrating her 99th birthday

Early in October I received an unexpected email from a producer for Sydney not-for-profit radio station FBi Radio. The message was to let me know that Eileen Kramer, whom I had interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program in 2003, was  appearing on an FBi Radio program called Out of the Box. She was to appear on the program with singer/songwriter Lacey Cole who had made a music video in which he sang his composition, Nephilim’s Lament, accompanied by Kramer dancing on a rocky promontory above Clovelly beach in Sydney. Here is a link to the radio interview, which was conducted by Ash Berdebes, and a link to the five minute video. [Update August 2016: the link to the radio interview is no longer available]

  • Dame Maggie Scott: A Life in Dance

Maggie Scott (right) and Sally Gilmour unpacking Ballet Rambert costumes, Melbourne 1947

Maggie Scott (right) and Sally Gilmour unpacking Ballet Rambert costumes, Melbourne 1947. Image from Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance

I have updated the post on my biography of Maggie Scott with links to recent media stories in which the book is discussed. Here is a link to the updated page.

  • Elizabeth Dalman

Elizabeth Dalman in 'From Sapling to Silver', 2011

Elizabeth Dalman in From Sapling to Silver, 2011

It is a pleasure to be able to report that Elizabeth Cameron Dalman has been short-listed as a finalist for the ACT Senior Australian of the Year. It is rare for a someone working in the dance area to be nominated in awards of this nature so congratulations to Elizabeth for once again putting dance at the forefront of public life. Dalman is one of four finalists in this category and the ACT  Senior Australian of the Year will be announced on 3 November.

  • Press for October

‘Wayward daughter delights.’ Preview of West Australian Ballet’s La fille mal gardéeThe Canberra Times, Panorama, 4 October 2014, p. 15.  Online.

‘A Dame called Maggie.’ The Canberra Times, Panorama, 25 October 2014, pp. 10–11. Online.

‘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.

‘The Listeners’. A ballet by Joanna Priest

Towards the end of research for my forthcoming publication, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance, an item relating to Joanna Priest’s ballet The Listeners emerged, quite unexpectedly. I had briefly looked into The Listeners as it was one of the ballets performed during the opening season by the National Theatre Ballet in Melbourne in September 1949. This was the occasion when Dame Margaret Scott made her return to the stage, following a lengthy stay in St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, during the 1947—1949 Australasian tour by Ballet Rambert.

The appearance of this previously unknown item (unknown to me anyway) prompted me to look at The Listeners in a little more depth. My main source for further investigation was a Laban score for the work, part of the small collection of notated scores acquired by the National Library of Australia from Meg Abbie Denton in around 2004. Further information came from Meg’s publication Joanna Priest: her place in Adelaide’s dance history (Adelaide: Joanna Priest, 1993), and Alan Brissenden’s and Keith Glennon’s Australia dances: creating Australian dance 1945–1965 (Adelaide: Wakefield Press,  2010).

The Listeners was first staged for the South Australian Ballet Club in Adelaide on 30 November 1948 at the Tivoli Theatre (later Her Majesty’s). It was inspired by a poem written by Walter de la Mare, and Priest used the poem’s title as the name of her ballet. It was performed to Erno Dohnanyi’s String Quartet No 2 in D flat major, Opus 15, played by the Elder String Quartet, and had designs by Kenneth Rowell, his second commission from Priest.

'The Listeners', South Australian Ballet Company, 1948. Photo: Colin Ballantyne

Harry Haythorne as the Traveller, with Margaret Monson (left) as the Woman who Loved Him and Lynette Tuck as the Woman He Loved in The Listeners, South Australian Ballet Club, 1948. Photo: Colin Ballantyne

In the poem, the only human is a traveller who knocks on the door of a deserted house, deserted except for ‘a host of phantom listeners’ who do not respond to him. For her work, Priest added two women in the traveller’s life—one who loved him, the other whom he loved—as well as the child who was born from the liaison between the traveller and the woman who loved him. They were joined by the force of circumstance represented by four female dancers. Program notes explain:

The traveller arrives at an abandoned house which holds intimate memories…and here among “a host of phantom listeners” the conflict of his relationship with two women is re-enacted in his imagination. Dogged by the relentless interference of circumstance he tries in vain to weave into an enduring pattern his longing for the woman he loves, and his loyalty to the woman who has borne him a child. The harmony of the pattern is perpetually broken by inexorable forces, and, as in life, his struggles against them prove unavailing.

In the original production Harry Haythorne danced the Traveller, Margaret Monson the Woman who Loved  Him, and Lynette Tuck the Woman He Loved.

The ballet entered the repertoire of the National Theatre Ballet in 1949 with Rex Reid as the Traveller, Joyce Graeme as the Woman who Loved Him, Margaret Scott as the Woman He Loved and Jennifer Stielow as the Child. Six extra dancers were added, three men and three women, representing phantom listeners. Kenneth Rowell designed new sets and costumes for this production.

Alan Brissenden’s report of the National’s production has a number of errors, in particular some confusion as to which roles were danced by whom, but of the overall production he says:

The complex choreography followed the melodic structure of the music…and was firmly knit with the development of the story.

What is the unexpected item? It will appear in the plates section of Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance.

Michelle Potter, 14 August 2014

Featured image: Joyce Graeme as the Woman who Loved Him and Jennifer Stielow as the Child in The Listeners, National Theatre Ballet, 1949. Photo: Harry Jay

Dance diary. June 2014

  • Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance

My biography of Dame Margaret Scott is now in the editing and design phase and is scheduled for release in October 2014. I originally interviewed Dame Margaret for the National Library’s oral history program in 1993 and, while that interview provided a skeleton plan, there was much more to discover, or at least many details to investigate further. And who would have thought I would find material in the Imperial War Museum in London, or the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra? But I did. Dame Margaret’s life is quite remarkable, apart from the role she played in the establishment of the Australian Ballet Foundation and as inaugural director of the Australian Ballet School.

Potter_Scott_flyer_001

The commission to write the book came unexpectedly and I had a very short time in which to complete the manuscript. But what an exciting journey it has been so far. It has meant, however, that posts to my website have been a little meagre over the past few months. I hope to rectify that situation shortly.

  • Honours

It was a real, pleasure to see two dance leaders honoured during June. Cheryl Stock was awarded an AM in the Queen’s Birthday honours list and Louise Howden-Smith was the recipient of the West Australian of the Year award for arts and culture.

Stock is Associate Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. Before turning to academia, she had a distinguished career as a dancer, choreographer and artistic director with a wide range of companies in Australia and elsewhere.

Howden-Smith made a major contribution to dance over a ten year period as executive director of West Australian Ballet. I have happy memories of her generosity to the media during those years. She is now director of Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, founding director as it happens. The company aims to promote Aboriginal culture through contemporary dance.

It was also good to see that Philip Piggin, who has been involved with community dance in the ACT for many years now, received a 2014 Churchill Fellowship to travel to the USA and the United Kingdom to develop skills and experience in teaching dance to people with Parkinson’s disease.

  • Press for June

‘Shadlowland showcases masters of movement.’ The Canberra Times, 25 June 2014, ARTS p. 6.  Online version.