Lorna Sim is well-known in Canberra arts circles for her exceptional dance photography, and for her generosity in allowing her work to be used freely and frequently by journalists and others writing about dance. An exhibition of Sim’s work, entitled Enigma, specifically relating to a collaborative project she worked on with dancer Eliza Sanders, opens on 19 May 2017. The venue is Canberra’s Photography Room, Old Bus Depot Markets, and the show runs Sundays only until 25 June. Details of the exhibition of Sim’s work are at this link.
What I love about Sim’s work is her ability to capture the moment with all the movement and intensity of purpose that is inherent in dance, and this in fact was the focus of the collaboration with Sanders. Of working with Sanders on this occasion, Sim says: ‘The excitement is the anticipation of what’s she’s going to do as her body moves and capturing that in a still frame.’ The images in the exhibition capture that movement not just in the body but also in the flow of fabric. In the featured image above I especially love, in addition to the flow of movement, the way Sim has captured the emotion in Sanders’ face. Two other startling images from the exhibition are below:
I have been using Sim’s photographs on this site since she first began working in Canberra with QL2 in 2009, and a little later with other artists who were creating their work in the national capital. Below is a small gallery of Sim’s images that have appeared on this site between 2010 and 2017.
Left to right: (top row) Padma Menon; Dean Cross in Walking and Falling; Gabriel Comerford, Eliza Sanders and Dean Cross in Other Moments; (middle row) dancers of QL2 and the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland; Amelia McQueen in Strange Attractor; dancer from QL2 in Night. Stir; (bottom row) Tammi Gissell in Seeking Biloela; scene from Strings Attached; James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in Island.
And below, Sanders in a different guise.
Eliza Sanders in Other Moments at the National Portrait Gallery, 2016.
Other photographers whose work is on show alongside that of Sim at the Photography Room are Maurice Weidemann and Dörte Conroy. Canberra’s dance community may remember Weidemann who photographed the National Capital Dancers at various times. Some of his dance photographs are part of the National Library’s dance collection, two of which are reproduced at the end of this post.
Michelle Potter, 18 May 2017
Featured image (detail): Eliza Sanders. Photo by Lorna Sim from the exhibition Enigma, 2017
The publicity for La danseuse, which was shown around Australia during March and April as part of the 2017 Alliance française French Film Festival, assures us that the film is ‘based on a true story’, or sometimes ‘inspired by a true story’, about the now ‘largely forgotten’ Loïe Fuller. Well, it depends what part of the population is being referred to as to whether Fuller is ‘largely forgotten’ or not, and ‘based on a true story’ is something of an overstatement I think. The events in the film are fictional from so many points of view that it is hard to justify the description of it as a screen biography.
The best sections of the film are those in which we see the recreations, staged by Jody Sperling, of Fuller’s dances. They look spectacular, given the contemporary equipment and facilities that are available and used in these restagings. Of course in Fuller’s time, without the benefits of today’s technical expertise and equipment, her dances would not have looked quite as spectacular, but on the other hand, with what was available in the late 19th/early 20th century, expectations would have been different and it is not hard to see that Fuller was a visionary and an astonishing artist for her time.
I was also impressed with the performance throughout of Soko, the independent actor, singer-songwriter who took the part of Fuller. She created a believable character, I thought, unlike Lily-Rose Depp who gave a somewhat shallow interpretation of Isadora Duncan, Fuller’s rival at the time.
Fuller’s own version of her life story is available (with some restrictions in certain cases) in an online version. Details at this link.
Homage to Carla Fracci. Daniel Schinasi
I was surprised to find, while strolling through the lovely little Italian town of Castiglioncello, an advertisement for an exhibition of paintings by Italian neo-futurist artist Daniel Schinasi, which included a painting called Homage to Carla Fracci (see below). We were very close to the venue advertised, a cafe in a nearby park, but the cafe was closed, seemingly in the throes of a small renovation. The manager, however, kindly let us in to look at the paintings.
Homage to Carla Fracci by Daniel Schinasi
Three of the paintings in the cafe were dance-related and, in addition to the Carla Fracci work with its swirling, circular patterns in the background, I was especially intrigued by one that seemed to by inspired, at least in part, by Picasso’s front-cloth for the ballet Parade, although who is it character sitting on the winged horse?
A very interesting small show of work.
Australian Dance Awards
The long list of nominations for the 2017 Australian Dance Awards includes four groups/artists from the Canberra dance scene. Philip Piggin has been nominated for Services to Dance; Australian Dance Party for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance for Nervous; QL2 for Outstanding Achievement in Youth Dance for Connected, and Liz Lea and collaborators for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance for Great Sport! Congratulations to all, and good luck for the next round, which will produce the short list.
Dancers from the GOLD group in a scene from Great Sport! Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016
The Robert Rauschenberg retrospective currently showing at London’s Tate Modern until 2 April, is a remarkable exhibition. It brims with the known from Rauschenberg—Monogram, the famous Angora goat with tyre; Bed made from a quilt when Rauschenberg had no money for canvas; the early Black Mountain experiments; the fascinating sound assemblage, Oracle; his silk screen work; in fact memorable items from every decade of his working life.
But it also has some fascinating lesser known items. They include a collection of personal boxes (Scatole personali) of various shapes and sizes containing an assortment of small items (including dead insects, pebbles, dirt and sticks) made in response to reliquaries Rauschenberg saw in the 1950s while touring Italy with fellow artist Cy Twombly; and a large, square, open-topped tank of bubbling mud, or actually bentonite clay and water, that is linked up with a sound system that records the sound of the bubbles plopping and spluttering.
What the exhibition shows quite clearly is that Rauschenberg was fearless in his approach to what constitutes art. He experimented with everything that came his way.
But I was especially interested in Rauschenberg’s collaborations with choreographers, including Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and a range of choreographers working with Judson Dance Theater, and also with his own endeavours in the field of performance art. These activities were nicely represented in the exhibition with video material, photographs and, in the case of Rauschenberg’s performance pieces, his workbooks in which he recorded his movement ideas. Of his own pieces, the best documented was Pelican first made in 1963 for Rauschenberg himself, Per Olof Ultvedt and Carolyn Brown.
As video footage in the exhibition shows, Rauschenberg and Ultvedt performed the choreography on roller skates with parachutes attached to their backs and Carolyn Brown executed some balletic moves, including a stunning series of posé turns on pointe. The piece evolved when Rauschenberg was inadvertently described as choreographer rather than stage manager on publicity material for the Pop Art Festival being held in Washington D.C. in 1963. He seized the moment and made Pelican. Others of Rauschenberg’s performance pieces that were well documented in the exhibition included Elgin Tie and Spring Training.
Other dance material on show included some footage from Minutiae, an early work from Cunningham featuring a screen designed by Rauschenberg. While the screen itself was not included in the exhibition, the footage showed several close-up shots of it, including a small revolving mirror and pieces of lace and other fabric, in addition to the largely red paintwork. What was especially interesting was the location of the footage in a room of Rauschenberg’s ‘red’ paintings, made in a period when he moved away from his early experiments with black and white paint. These red paintings, which included Charlene (1954), a stunning work from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, clearly set the context for the Minutiae screen.
Other dance footage included a section from Cunningham’s Travelogue, designed by Rauschenberg in 1977. Again the location of the footage within the exhibition was significant. It provided further context for Rauschenberg’s Travelogue designs. In 1975 Rauschenberg spent time in Ahmedabad, a city in India renown for its textiles, and his use of textiles in his works from this period were hung in one room of the exhibition, along with the Travelogue footage. In Travelogue, this Indian experience is reflected in the costumes he designed, with their ‘wheels’ made from sections of different fabric; in the sheer cloth that hung from overhead as the dance progressed; and in the long strip of sheer, white fabric that the dancers carried at various stages.
On the other hand, the painting Charlene from 1954 has, in one corner of the canvas, a flattened-out umbrella with its sections painted in different colours and his Travelogue costumes are redolent of this part of Charlene. In fact, I was surprised by the extent to which umbrellas and parachutes appeared throughout the exhibition. They seemed to permeate most periods of Rauschenberg’s output.
Then the exhibition also had on display material relating to Trisha Brown’s 1979 Glacial Decoy, for which Rauschenberg provided costume designs that required the use of sheer, white materials. He also provided the set, which consisted largely of a series of his photographs that were projected in a particular rotation onto four screens at the back of the stage space as the dance unfolded. There was video footage of Glacial Decoy for visitors to view and also, projected onto an exhibition wall in the manner in which they appeared on stage, were the photographs that made up the set.
One other item (or two items) interested me—Factum I and Factum II. These two works (combines) were painted simultaneously in 1957. Rauschenberg apparently said he made them because he was interested in ‘the role that accident played in my work’. They reminded me of those ‘spot the difference’ games, and the differences included drips of paint in one that were not the same in the other. But given the date at which they were painted—a time when Rauschenberg was closely involved with Cunningham and John Cage—that interest in ‘accident’ in a work must surely reflect the influence of Cunningham and Cage.
This was an exceptional exhibition, curated jointly by curators from Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was a great insight into the long and varied career of one of the world’s boldest artists, and there was much to be enjoyed for those whose major interest is in dance and collaboration.
Michelle Potter, 12 February 2017
Featured image: Costume from Travelogue (detail) as displayed in the exhibition INVENTION: Merce Cunningham and Collaborators, Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, New York, 2007. Photo: Neville Potter
Being in London is always full of dance surprises. Apart from performances, the city’s galleries almost always have a dance-related exhibition, or a small display featuring dance items from their permanent collections. This November, for example, the Courtauld Gallery had a particularly interesting show, Rodin and dance. The essence of movement. It examined Rodin’s mouvements de danse, until now a little known a series of sculptures, with accompanying drawings, made towards the end of his life.
The first room of the exhibition had a section that looked at the inspiration Rodin drew from the visit to France by the Royal Cambodian Ballet in 1906, which I have discussed briefly in a different context elsewhere on this site. This room included a small number of the very beautiful drawings in pencil, watercolour and gouache that Rodin made of the Cambodian dancers, along with photographs of contemporary dancers who also influenced Rodin, including Loïe Fuller and Ruth St Denis, and some photographs of Rodin himself.
Auguste Rodin sketching a Cambodian dancer in France in 1906. Photo: Émile Sanremo
The second, and main room contained material devoted to the mouvements de danse, a collection of terracotta and plaster figures, with some bronze castings, and accompanying drawings showing extreme dance movements and acrobatic poses. Although the drawings had been exhibited during Rodin’s lifetime, the sculptures had not. While they were all fascinating to look at—and there is a handsome exhibition catalogue (Rodin and dance. The essence of movement (London: Paul Holberton, 2016)—a model of Vaslav Nijinsky (in fact two models, one in plaster and one in bronze) attracted my attention.
Auguste Rodin, bronze casting of a model of Vaslav Nijinsky (original model 1912)
Rodin is known to have been at the opening night of Nijinsky’s L’après-midi d’un faun in Paris in May 1912 and followed up with an article in the Parisian newspaper Le Matin in which he showered Nijinsky with praise. Shortly afterwards, Nijinsky reputedly visited Rodin in his studio when it is thought the model for the sculpture was made. Looking at the sculpture it is impossible not to notice a certain turbulence and intensity in the figure. It is quite breathtaking in fact.
The Courtauld also has a collection of bronzes and paintings by Degas including the one shown as the featured image in this post. This particular bronze made me wonder about how it was made. Did a model pose, and if so was she a dancer? Most dancers, I think, would automatically take a pose with the lifted arm in opposition to the pointed foot, rather than same arm as leg as in the sculpture. Or did Degas simply model from memory, or just by adding body parts unthinkingly? But however it was made, this sculpture looked particularly beautiful as a shadowy figure with light streaming through the window.
The other major show with a strong dance component was an exhibition, Picasso Portraits, at the National Portrait Gallery. One room was devoted to portraits and some photographs of Picasso’s first wife, Diaghilev dancer Olga Khokhlova. While the portraits and drawings were fascinating, so too were some photographs of Olga, including two of her on the roof of the Minerva Hotel in Rome and some wonderful home movie footage of the family—Picasso, Olga, their son Paulo, and the family dog enjoying some light-hearted family moments.
A portrait of Olga appears on the cover of the catalogue (Elizabeth Cowling, Picasso Portraits (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2016).
Other rooms in the Picasso Portraits exhibition contained items relating to Ballets Russes personnel including composers, designers and of course Jean Cocteau looking particularly dashing in one pencil drawing in two dimensional, Egyptian style representing, so the caption said, Cocteau’s well known vanity.
Michelle Potter, 12 November 2016
Featured image: Edgar Degas, bronze sculpture of a dancer, right foot forward, the Courtauld Gallery, London. Photo: Michelle Potter
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.
Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders in Other moments. QL2, 2016.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
Ruth Osborne, artistic director of QL2 Dance, has made a wonderfully moving vignette of dance for the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Called Walking and Falling, it features three beautifully costumed dancers, Dean Cross, Gemma Dawkins and Caitlin MacKenzie. All three are former Quantum Leapers who have gone from their student days with Canberra’s youth program to become professional dancers.
The work follows, in just 15 economical minutes, the life of a man who goes to war and returns shaken from the experience, unable to participate in the warmth of his family life as he could before he left. It opens with a charming scene around a table as the man and the two women in his life drink tea and eat scones to the sound of the patriotic wartime song Keep the Home Fires Burning. One of the women discovers a white feather in the pocket of the man’s jacket, but he does go off to war leaving the women to devote themselves to their daily chores. They pause often to think of him.
The scene shifts to the battle field and we see the man engaged in combat. Osborne has made smart use of the space available to her and of the simple props that she uses—a table, three chairs and a poster on a side wall. The table from that opening family meal of tea and scones becomes a form of shelter and protection for the man at war and it divides the small foyer area in which the dance unfolds into two separate spaces. There is one particularly poignant moment when the man shelters behind the overturned table to read a letter from home. On the other side of the table one of the women writes a letter and, in a flash, we see two worlds.
The man returns home, physically anyway. But he is emotionally scarred. The work closes as it began around the family table, but there is no longer the joyous engagement between the three. To the sound of And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, a song on the futility of war, we watch as emotional silence engulfs the small group, a group that was once filled with life.
What is so attractive about this work is its simplicity. It achieves its huge emotional impact without any fuss or unnecessary razzamatazz. It moves smoothly from segment to segment and demands our attention from opening minute to its closing scene. All three dancers convey their thoughts and hopes strongly through movement, gesture, and eye contact with each other, or lack of it at the end as they struggle to cope with what has happened. As the work closes, we are left with an aching heart for the man, for the women in his life, and for their indescribable loss.
Walking and Falling is a tiny pearl of a dance commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to accompany its exhibition, All that Fall, which examines sacrifice, life and loss during World War I. The exhibition couldn’t have a more perfect addition than Walking and Falling. Bouquets to Osborne and the dancers.
The Portrait Gallery exhibition contains a collection of items from World War I including posters, personal mementos, and art works of various kinds. One of the most moving items is a work, also commissioned especially for the exhibition, by Canberra-based artist Ellis Hutch. She has created an installation of wax panels and light projections as a contemporary response to an uncompleted World War I memorial. The proposal and design for the original memorial was prepared by Theodora Cowen* and it was meant to honour the men who fell in World War I.
Ellis Hutch, Last light, 2014–2015
* There seems to be some controversy about the spelling of Theodora Cowen’s last name. Is it Cowen or Cowan? I have gone with the spelling used by the Portrait Gallery.
My review of Fortuity from Mirramu Dance Company with guest artists from Taiwan is now available on DanceTabs at this link.
Elizabeth Dalman and her guests also appeared on several occasions during May in various public places and institutions around Canberra. I was able to see two such performances, one in the National Gallery of Australia and one in the Canberra Museum and Gallery. The National Gallery of Australia show began in the foyer with a solo by Chen Fu-rong from Dalman’s work Landscape, made originally in 1967 for Australia Dance Theatre to music by Nomad and Clifford Brown. Chen’s solo was Dalman’s response to works in the Mandala series by South Australian artist Lawrence Daws and was memorable for Chen’s strong sense of balance and his capacity to extend his limbs into the off-centre poses that characterised Dalman’s choreography during the 1960s.
A second highlight of the program, which also included improvisations in response to various works as we moved from the foyer to the downstairs sculpture gallery, was another solo, this time from Peng Hsiao-yin entitled Woman of the River. This piece was made by Dalman for herself in 1987 to music of the Penguin Café Orchestra and was recently handed on to Peng by Dalman. Peng’s performance was filled with lyricism as she danced Dalman’s flowing, swirling choreography, weaving her way around the varied sculptural items currently on display.
The showing at the Canberra Museum and Gallery was largely characterised by improvisations but concluded with solo danced by Vivienne Rogis, which was mesmerising for the calmness Rogis was able to bring to the piece.
What a pleasure it was to learn that Ako Kondo had been promoted to principal with the Australian Ballet, although I am not surprised. She was my pick in the category ‘Most Outstanding Dancer’ in the 2014 Critics’ Survey for Dance Australia. ‘Her technical skills are breathtaking,’ I wrote and I recall seeing her as Kitri in the the Dancers Company production of Don Quixote in 2011 when I wrote in The Canberra Times that she gave ‘a stellar performance’. I look forward to more. For other comments see the tag Ako Kondo.
Ako Kondo in Paquita. The Australian Ballet, 2014. Photo: Jeff Busby
Green Room Awards: James Batchelor
It was good to see Canberran James Batchelor take out a 2015 Green Room Award just recently. Batchelor was a joint winner in the category ‘Concept and Realisation’ for his work Island. Congratulations to Batchelor and his team. A well deserved award. Island received a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award last year and is long-listed for a 2015 Australian Dance Award in the category Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance.
Here is a link to my review of Island, written after it was performed in Canberra last year.
The Dance: Benjamin Shine
The Canberra Centre, the city’s central shopping mall, has installed an exhibition called The Dance. The work of Benjamin Shine, it is an entrancing take on store models, positioned as it is outside the fashion floor of David Jones. It looks gorgeous. An article in The Canberra Times explains its genesis.
17 January 2015, Carriageworks, Eveleigh (Sydney). Sydney Festival 2015
My review of the Sydney Festival production of Inside There Falls, a collaboration between London-based artist and musician, Mira Calix, and Sydney Dance Company, has been posted on DanceTabs at this link.
In addition to the photographs published with the article, most of which were kindly supplied by the Sydney Festival, below are some I took during my visit to the installation — and yes, for once photography was allowed! They show the two dancers I saw, Sam Young-Wright and Laura Wood.
Michelle Potter, 19 January 2015
Featured image: Scene from Inside there falls, Sydney Festival 2015. Photo: Michelle Potter