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

Liz Lea in 'The Incense'. 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

Raghav Handa in Tukre'. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti

Raghav Handa’s Tukre’. Dance Bites 2015

1 May 2015 (matinee), Lennox Theatre Riverside, Parramatta

Tukre’ means ‘pieces’ in Hindi and Raghav Handa’s solo show was a series of moments from his life—memories, thoughts, recollections. These intimate pieces from his life as an Australian of Indian heritage were spread across about 50 minutes of dance, conversation and projections.

Raghav Handa in Tukre'. Photo © Gregory Lorenzutti

Raghav Handa in Tukre’. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Handa is a beautiful mover and his qualities as a dancer were obvious from the first moments of Tukre’. In semi-darkness Handa bent over a small candle and acted out the faceting techniques of his Indian forbears, who were jewellery makers. Every movement was precise and clearly articulated. And from then on, while the movements became more expansive, and changed in dynamics, there was always the same precision of movement. Throughout the performance his clearly defined musculature allowed us to see his exceptional capacity to isolate movement in individual parts of the body.

There were references in his choreography to his background in Kathak dance, especially when he changed into a long garment, with a full skirt and finely detailed top, and began to turn with the skirt swirling around his body. There were also Indian references in the electronic score from composer Lachlan Bostock, which maintained beautifully the Indian/Western links apparent throughout Tukre’.

At times Handa stopped dancing and picked up a microphone to talk to us about his life. He told us of how his Australian life interacted with his Indian heritage and we were privy to a conversation with his mother, via a film clip projected onto a scrim hanging in the performance space. At first this halt to the movement was a little jarring, but slowly it became clear that this was the structure of Tukre’. We were seeing Handa as a multi-faceted person and artist. There were some particularly affecting moments in his conversation with his mother as they discussed his sexual orientation and the passing on to him of a family heirloom. In addition there was footage of his mother meticulously folding a sari, which was also affecting as it reflected the precision that marked Handa’s choreography. As the work closed we saw Handa wearing the heirloom, an ornate, bejewelled necklace.

I found Tukre’ quite fascinating as a work that set out to cross boundaries between cultures. It didn’t always flow as smoothly as it might have, and I continued to feel a sense of annoyance whenever Handa picked up a microphone and changed the mood of the piece so abruptly. But I look forward to seeing more of Handa’s work, which seems to me to be quite unique on the current dance scene.

Michelle Potter, 3 May 2015

Featured image: Raghav Handa in Tukre’. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Raghav Handa in Tukre'. Photo Gregory Lorenzutti

Chitrasena Dance Company

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Potter, 17 January 2015

‘Never stand still’. Jacob’s Pillow

I finally got round to getting myself a copy of the DVD Never stand still: dancing at Jacob’s Pillow. And I’m so glad I did. What is particularly satisfying about this DVD documentary is that there is no promotion of a particular company or a person and no media hype. It’s simply about dance in its many and varied forms. ‘Dancing is direct and honest,’ says Mark Morris, one of the several illustrious interviewees appearing on Never stand still. And that’s what we get: direct, honest and simply beautiful dance.
'Never stand still'. DVD coverA few sections particularly stood out for me, although others will have their own favourites I am sure. I especially enjoyed segments featuring Mark Morris and his dancers, perhaps because those works of his I have seen recently have not impressed me to any great extent—Beaux danced by San Francisco Ballet and Pacific from Houston Ballet, both of which I saw earlier this year, left me feeling underwhelmed. Never stand still has some lovely footage from Morris’ Italian Concerto and Love Song Waltzes and a brief look at a work called Falling Down Stairs, which Morris made in conjunction with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whom we also see on the DVD. The excerpts from these works show quite clearly what Morris is best known for, his astonishing musicality. And Morris is a forthright and articulate speaker in his interview segments.

I was also especially taken with Shantala Shivalingappa, a solo Kuchipudi dancer born in Madras and raised in Paris. What an amazingly expressive body she has and how she uses it to her advantage. Every movement fills the space and she seems to linger a little at the high point of each movement before seamlessly continuing to the next.

Shantala Shivalingappa 1
Shantala Shivalingappa 2

 

Segements featuring Suzanne Farrell speaking about her transition from Balanchine ballerina to company director make interesting viewing as do excerpts from Balanchine ballets she has set on her own company. Natalia Magnicaballi, a principal with Suzanne Farrell Ballet, is startlingly good in the lead in Tzigane.

Gideon Obarzanek makes an appearance and there are excerpts from his work I want to dance better at parties performed by Chunky Move. I also loved the all too brief footage from Bournonville’s Napoli courtesy of the Royal Danish Ballet, along with a brief discussion of the Danes making their first appearance in the United States at the Pillow at the invitation of Ted Shawn. Then there’s Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, Judith Jamison, tap, vaudeville…so much more.

Interspersed throughout the contemporary footage is rare archival material showing some of the early performances at Jacob’s Pillow along with an underlying narrative about Shawn and the founding of the this renowned festival, an annual event held at Becket, Massachusetts, in the beautiful surroundings of the Berkshire Hills. If you’ve been there it will bring back wonderful memories not just of the variety of dancing on offer, but of that glorious outdoor stage, those barns and the spectacular surrounding countryside. If you have not had the good fortune to be there Never stand still will make you want to pack your bags for 2014.

Never stand still is so worth watching and is available online at the usual places for quite a small amount of money, even with our dollar falling against the greenback. Here is a link to  the official trailer.

Michelle Potter, 26 August 2013