The Golds in a scene from 'Great Sport!'

Dance picks 2016

Recently, arts writers and critics for The Canberra Times were asked to choose their top five shows for 2016 for publication immediately before and after Christmas. We wrote and filed our stories in mid-December and, for various reasons I chose only four productions.

But mid-December was before the names of successful applicants for artsACT project funding were made public. The announcement made it very clear that a massive cutback had been made to project funding (more than 60% less money was made available for arts projects than in the previous round). Just one dance project was funded: James Batchelor received $30,000 to develop ‘a large-scale new dance performance’ at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Had I written the story a little later I would have changed one part of my article. Rather than saying, as I did, But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year and may that continue as well, and be recognised by local and national funding bodies, I would have written ‘But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year, and it is a sad indictment of the current ACT government that it has not chosen to recognise the vibrancy of dance being produced in Canberra by locally-based artists, artists who have worked tirelessly to show that Canberra is a place where dance can flourish throughout the year.’

Perhaps I would also have changed my final sentence as well, but that would have assumed that locally-based artists might have given up. But dancers don’t give up. They find ways to keep moving right along.

Here is my Canberra Times story as published this morning, although slightly altered to include what was cut and, for variety, with a slightly different selection of images. The story is also available online at this link.

Much of the dance that audiences have seen in Canberra in 2016 has been refreshingly ‘underground’ in that it has been a little non-conformist in terms of where it has been performed and who has performed it. Our national cultural institutions have, for example, been active in hosting small dance performances, sometimes, as with the National Portrait Gallery, as an adjunct to their various exhibitions or acquisitions. We have, of course, seen Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Dance Company, who, to our ongoing pleasure and gratitude, continue to visit Canberra and bring with them their outstanding, more mainstream work. Let’s hope that such visits continue as they have done over the past several decades. But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year and may that continue as well, and be recognised by local and national funding bodies.

Without a doubt the dance highlight for me was Great Sport! 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 brainchild of Liz Lea, the production was a celebration of movement and sporting history. It continued the focus Lea has had since arriving in Canberra in 2009 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.

Scene from 'Great Sport!'

Scene from Liz Lea’s ‘Annette’ in Great Sport!

The show had its first performance on World Health Day and, given that the program featured Canberra’s mature age group, the GOLDS, as well as two Dance for Parkinson’s groups, Great Sport! was also a program that focused on healthy living through movement.  Great Sport! showcased the work of several professional choreographers, some from Canberra, others from interstate, all commissioned by Lea to make different sections of the work. One of the most interesting aspects of Great Sport! was, in fact, the way in which the choreographers, all very different in their approaches and choreographic style, were able to maintain and make visible those inherent stylistic differences, while working with community groups in which movement skills were, understandably, quite varied.

What we saw was innately theatrical: outrageous at times, more thoughtful and serious at others and bouquets are due to Lea for her persistent focus on Canberra as a place where dance happens. Great Sport! was an exceptional piece of collaboration and a spectacularly good event.

Then, in a major development for dance in Canberra, Alison Plevey launched a new contemporary company, Australian Dance Party. Plevey has been active as an independent artist for some time now but has often spoken of the need for a professional dance company in Canberra. In 2016 she made this vision a reality and her new contemporary dance company has already given two performances to date: Strings Attached, the opening production staged in collaboration with several musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in a pop-up theatre space in the Nishi building, and Nervous, a work staged in a burnt-out telescope dome at Mt Stromlo. Again, Plevey is committed to making dance in Canberra and has been persistent in her drive and determination to make this happen.

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

Alison Plevey in Strings Attached. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Beyond locally created dance, and of the more mainstream live ventures to come to Canberra, Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker was a pre-Christmas treat. This Nutcracker was danced to perfection by Queensland Ballet now directed by the highly-motivated Li Cunxin, who has moved the company from a not-so-interesting regional organisation to one that has everything to offer the most demanding dance-goer. Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker was a heart-warming performance of a much-loved ballet and it was thrilling to see Queensland Ballet as a major force in the world of Australian ballet. May the company return many times to Canberra.

Beyond the live stage, Canberra dance audiences had the opportunity to see Spear, a film from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Stephen Page. Following showings at film festivals in Australia and elsewhere, Spear had a season at the National Film and Sound Archive early in 2016. It was a challenging and confronting film that used dance and movement as a medium to explore the conflicting worlds of urban Aboriginal people: it touched on several serious issues including suicide, alcoholism, substance abuse and racism. Cinematically it was breathtaking, especially in its use of landscape and cityscape as a background to the movement. It was tough, fearless, uncompromising and yet quietly beautiful.

Aaron Pedersen as Suicide Man in 'Spear'. Photo: © Giovanni de Santolo

Aaron Pedersen as Suicide Man in Spear. Photo: © Giovanni de Santolo

Art attracts art. Dance attracts dance. The dance scene in Canberra is looking more exciting than it has for many years.

Michelle Potter, 27 December 2016

Featured image: The GOLDS in a scene from Gerard van Dyck’s ‘First and Last’ from Great Sport! Photo: Michelle Potter

The Golds in a scene from 'Great Sport!'

James Batchelor in 'Smooth translation', 2016. Photo: Michelle Potter

‘Smooth translation’. James Batchelor

5 November 2016, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

James Batchelor never ceases to surprise with his new choreographies. Smooth translation, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and performed by Batchelor and visual artist and designer, Madeline Beckett, was no exception. And, as is usual, it was only later that the thought behind the work became clear to me—or, perhaps better stated, that I was able to make a personal interpretation of the work.

Smooth translation began with a pile of bean bag-like items piled in a heap in a corner of Gordon Darling Hall at Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery. Slowly, from underneath the pile, human hands began to emerge, then legs and finally two bodies.

smooth-translation-8

The bodies (now clearly Batchelor and Beckett) proceeded to manipulate the bean bags in various ways.

smooth-translation-4

There was one moment, too, when the two performers left the bean bags and strode purposefully out of the performing space via the exit doors and onto the paved entrance area. They kept going, to the surprise of the audience, who wondered whether the show was in fact over. Well it wasn’t, and on reaching the end of the entrance plaza they turned around and, just as purposefully, marched back into Gordon Darling Hall.

smooth-translation-1

Later they carefully emptied pebbles out of small bags onto a long sheet of clear plastic.

smooth-translation-pebbles

And so it went on with a series of mysterious but absorbing actions.

So what was Smooth translation about? In his notes, Batchelor acknowledges the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth as inspiration and remarks that the work ‘examines carving as an entry point to the interiority of matter. It is a choreography of sculpting, building and forming a landscape, a moment of translation from one body to another.’ As has so often happened for me when I encounter Batchelor’s work, I wondered what the words meant and how the actions related to those words. But after a while thoughts came crowding in. I loved the idea that a a work of art, and the ideas for such a work, were emerging in the opening scene. I loved the thoughtful traversing of the room by the two performers, while lying back in the bean bags as if pondering how to develop the work. I loved those moments when Batchelor and Beckett seemed to be measuring the space and objects in Gordon Darling Hall as if deciding on how large the work in  progress should be. I loved the exit from the performing space as if they had decided it was all too hard, only to return to complete it. And so on.

There is not doubt that Batchelor has a deeply intellectual approach to choreography. And such an approach may not be to everyone’s liking especially when it isn’t immediately apparent what is going on! But personally I love being able to ponder and Batchelor always gives me the opportunity to do so. His work allows the construction  of a narrative around the choreography, whether or not such as narrative was the intention of the choreographer or not.

Michelle Potter, 6 November 2016

Featured image: James Batchelor moves around Gordon Darling Hall in Smooth translation

All photos: Michelle Potter

James Batchelor in 'Smooth translation', 2016

Dance diary. September 2016

  • Degas. A new vision

In September I had the pleasure of visiting the National Gallery of Victoria’s recent exhibition of works by Edgar Degas, entitled Degas. A new vision. I enjoyed discovering his non-dance paintings and drawings, in particular those that gave an insight into his family and social life. But I especially enjoyed some of his lesser known (to me anyway) dance works, including the two below: Little girl practising at the barre (1878–1880), although it is a shame about the turn-out being forced onto that little body, and Russian dancer (1985).

Degas. Petit rat
image
  • Australian Dance Awards 2016

The 2016 Australian Dance Awards were held in Perth in September and list of awardees is on the Australian Dance Awards website.

Elma Kris in 'Sheoak'. Banggara Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Elma Kris, winner of ‘Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer’ at the 2016 Australian Dance Awards seen here in Sheoak from the Bangarra Dance Theatre program lore, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

  • National Portrait Gallery: coming soon

The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra continues to offer short dance events as part of its public programs with Dances for David scheduled for October and a work by James Batchelor coming in early November.

Dances for David—four dances reflecting moments in the career of David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet—will be performed by Anca Frankenhaeuser, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Julia Cotton and Elle Cahill.  Each work is inspired by a photographic image of McAllister. Dances for David takes place on 15-16 October and 29-30 October.

In November James Batchelor will present Smooth Translation, a commission from the Portrait Gallery, which is being advertised as ‘an ode to Barbara Hepworth’. Batchelor’s works are often about process of some kind and Smooth Translation purports to be concerned with the process of sculpting a landscape. Intriguing? But then all Batchelor’s works are. Smooth Translation is on 5–6 November.

Check the National Portrait Gallery website for more details.

  • The Australian Ballet in 2017

The Australian Ballet, the national ballet company, once again will not be visiting Canberra, the national capital, in 2017!

  • Press for September 2016

‘Blood ties.’ A look at the career of Bangarra dance Luke Currie-Richardson as Bangarra heads to New York and Paris. The Canberra TimesPanorama, 17 September 2016, pp. 8–9. Online version.

‘Circa attains right balance.’ Review of Carnival of the Animals. The Canberra Times, 19 September 2016, ARTS p. 34. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2016

Featured image: Theatre box (La loge) detail, 1880

Degas box

Elizabeth Dalman in the Silk Moth 2014. Photo Barbie Robinson

Dance diary. August 2016

  • Elizabeth Dalman

When I interviewed Elizabeth Dalman in July for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program she told me, off the record, of a potential performing opportunity that she hoped might come her way. Well, the potential opportunity is now a reality and Dalman is currently in Ireland rehearsing for the role of the Mother in a new Irish production based on the story of Swan Lake. This Swan Lake is being created by Michael Keegan-Dolan, former director of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, which closed down in 2014. Keegan-Dolan’s present company has the name MKD Dance.

The opportunity came via a casting call on Keegan-Dolan’s Facebook page for ‘a woman aged between … 60 and 70.’ The notice went on: ‘The Mother needs a powerful presence and ideally she should have long white hair.’ Dalman is now in her eighties so didn’t fit exactly into the age range. But she certainly has presence and long white hair. She got the role.

This Swan Lake, danced to an original score based on traditional Irish and Nordic folk music played live on fiddle, nyckelharpa, cello, voice and percussion, will premiere as part of the 2016 Dublin Theatre Festival. Its Dublin season will be from 28 September to 8 October, after which it goes to Aarhus in Denmark and then to Sadler’s Wells, London, with 2017 seasons planned for Stuttgart and Luxembourg with other venues in the planning stage.

  • News from James Batchelor

James Batchelor is currently working at Tasdance in Launceston on Deepspace, a production emerging from his expedition to Antarctica on board the RV Investigator earlier this year. His Tasdance residency is supported by the Australia Council and is being conducted in conjunction with visual artist Annalise Rees (also part of the Investigator expedition), performer Amber McCartney and sound artist Morgan Hickinbotham. Later this year there will be another development at Arts House in Melbourne as part of the CultureLAB program. The work is set to premiere in 2017.

Read my previous post on the Investigator expedition here. Footage of Batchelor’s work on board the Investigator is below.

 

  • Joseph Skelton, Royal New Zealand Ballet

Having had the pleasure of seeing Royal New Zealand Ballet in performance recently, I was interested to learn that RNZB dancer Joseph Skelton will be appearing as guest artist with the Australian Ballet shortly. He will dance the leading role of Albrecht in a New South Wales regional tour of Giselle. ‘The Regional Tour’ appears to be a new name for the Dancers Company, which name seems to have quietly left the vocabulary of the Australian Ballet. The Australian Ballet website notes that this production will feature ‘artists from The Australian Ballet and graduating students from The Australian Ballet School.’

Whatever is behind the mysterious name change, Joseph Skelton’s performances will be worth watching. In Wellington earlier this month, I admired his performances in the Stiefel/Kobborg production of Giselle. I saw him in the peasant pas de deux (with Bronte Kelly), and as the Older Albrecht (a character unique to the Stiefel/Kobborg production), where his quiet but commanding presence was impressive.

Joseph Skelton in Giselle rehearsals. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo Stephen A'Court

Joseph Skelton in rehearsal for the Ethan Stiefel/Johan Kobborg production of Giselle. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

  • On the subject of musicals …

For those who love musicals with lots of dance, a new production of Mamma Mia will be part of the 2017 Australian musical theatre scene. The Canberra Theatre Centre has just announced that the Australian premiere of the new production will be in Canberra in November 2017 ahead of performances in other Australian cities. No details yet of cast or creatives (who will be the choreographer?). More information when it becomes available.

  • Press for August 2016

‘Strings attached.’ Preview of the debut performance by the Australian Dance Party. The Canberra TimesPanorama, 13 August 2016, p. 15. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2016

Featured image: Elizabeth Dalman in The Silk Moth, 2014. Photo: © Barbie Robinson

Elizabeth Dalman in the Silk Moth 2014. Photo Barbie Robinson

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

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

 

Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and Falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. November 2015

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2015

The Canberra Critics’ Circle annual awards ceremony took place on 23 November and, in a special moment for dance in the Canberra region, Elizabeth Dalman was named ACT Artist of the Year. A well deserved award in a year when Dalman, currently teaching in Taiwan, worked extraordinarily hard to bring attention to the diverse history of Australian Dance Theatre, which celebrated fifty years of creativity in 2015.

Elizabeth Dalman in Taiwan, 2014. Photo: Chen, Yi-shu

Elizabeth Dalman in Taiwan, 2014. Photo: © Chen, Yi-shu

Among the Circle’s general awards, which go to innovative activities in the performing and visual arts, and literature, two dance awards were given for 2015. Dalman received an award for her works Fortuity and L, both of which highlighted the range of her choreography dating from her time as director of Australian Dance Theatre to her recent work for her Mirramu Dance Company. Ruth Osborne, director of QL2 Dance, received an award for her work Walking and Falling, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and made in conjunction with its World War I exhibition All that Fall.

Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in a moment from Ruth Osborne’s Walking and falling, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

  • Keir Choreographic Award 2016

Eight emerging (and not so emerging) choreographers have been selected as finalists in the 2016 Keir Choreographic Award. Two have strong Canberra connections: James Batchelor and Chloe Chignell. Canberra audiences will remember their joint show earlier this year, when Batchelor showed Metasystems and Chignell Post Phase. The two have worked together frequently over the past few years with Chignell often appearing in works choreographed by Batchelor.

The other finalists are Sarah Aiken, also a finalist in the first Keir Award in 2014, along with Ghenoa Gela, Martin Hansen, Alice Heyward, Rebecca Jensen and Paea Leach. The eight finalists will each show a work, commissioned by the Keir Foundation, in Melbourne at Dancehouse in April 2016. Four works will then be selected by a jury and shown in Sydney at Carriageworks in May 2016, where the winner will be chosen.

  • Bodenwieser Ballet

Shona Dunlop MacTavish, former dancer with the Bodenwieser Ballet, recently visited Sydney from her home in New Zealand and, to celebrate the occasion, some of her Bodenwieser colleagues gathered in Sydney for a special get together. The image below shows Eileen Kramer (left) now 101 and Shona Dunlop MacTavish now 96. In the background they can be seen in a photograph in which they are dancing in Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Blue Danube, one of their best known roles.

Shona Dunlop MacTavish and Eileen Kramer, Sydney 2015. Photo: Barbara Cuckson

Shona Dunlop MacTavish (right) and Eileen Kramer, Sydney 2015. Photo: Barbara Cuckson

Oral history interviews with Shona Dunlop MacTavish and Eileen Kramer are available online. Follow the links to the National Library of Australia’s online oral history site: Shona Dunlop MacTavish; Eileen Kramer.

  • Ian Templeman (1938–2015); Glenys McIver (1949–2015)

I was saddened to hear of the deaths in November of two former colleagues from the National Library of Australia, Ian Templeman and Glenys McIver. While perhaps not widely known in the dance community, both made a significant contribution to the growth of my career as a dance writer, historian and curator. Glenys appointed me as the Esso Research Fellow in the Performing Arts at the National Library in 1988. Among my many activities in that position, I began recording oral history interviews for the Library, which I continue to do now some 25 years later.

Ian was appointed Assistant Director General Public Programs at the National Library in 1990 and proceeded to expand the Library’s publishing program. This involved establishing the monthly magazine National Library of Australia News (now renamed The National Library of Australia Magazine and published quarterly), and the quarterly journal Voices (now no longer active). He encouraged my dance writing for both publications and was responsible for commissioning my book A Passion for Dance (now out of print), which consisted of a series of edited oral history interviews with some of Australia’s foremost choreographers.

Both Glenys and Ian made significant other contributions to my career. I will always be grateful for their mentorship.

  •  Dance rattles (tied around the ankles during performance) from Bondé, New Caledonia

Dance rattles

Michelle Potter, 29 November 2015

Featured image: Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in a moment from Ruth Osborne’s Walking and falling, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and Falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

 

James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in 'Island', 2014. Photo © Lorna Sim

James Batchelor. New choreographic perspectives

James Batchelor’s performance installation, Island, developed as part of a Housemate Residency at Melbourne’s Dancehouse and presented in Canberra in April 2014, has had some outstanding critical response. It received a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award in 2014, was lauded by two separate reviewers in the Dance Australia Critics’ Survey for 2014, and was shortlisted for a 2015 Australian Dance Award in the category Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance.

But it was also noticed by an academic, Professor Mike Coffin, from the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Sciences, who happened to be in Canberra during the season of Island and chanced to go along to a performance. Professor Coffin contacted Batchelor after the show and the ensuing conversation so impressed Coffin that he invited Batchelor to accompany a research voyage to the Southern Ocean.

Batchelor and visual artist Annalise Rees, who is undertaking a PhD at the Institute, will set sail with a team of international scientists in January 2016 on board the RV Investigator heading towards Heard and McDonald Islands. The scientific aim of the voyage, Batchelor says, is to produce three-dimensional, high-resolution maps of the seafloor surrounding the islands to reveal relationships between submarine volcanoes and biological activity in the Southern Ocean.

RV Investigator port view

RV Investigator, port view

Batchelor completed his degree at the Victorian College of the Arts only in 2012 and, for a choreographer in such an early stage of his career, this invitation is an astonishing event. He hopes to develop a new performance work based on the experience and says of his and Rees’ participation in the voyage:

Our roles as artists will be to document and analyse processes taking place on the voyage and to form a creative dialogue about ways research findings can be interpreted and communicated.

Batchelor’s work emerges from unusual and often highly intellectual thought processes. Island, for example, set out to investigate the role of structure in how we perceive and respond to the environment. He says his question as he prepares to undertake this new adventure is: Can the environment be constituted into another physical language?  He hopes that he and Rees can create a mapping system that utilises movement, sound and installation.

If Batchelor’s previous work is anything to go by, the performance work that will no doubt emerge as a result of the voyage is likely to be exceptionally accessible, notwithstanding its intellectual framework, and visually fascinating as well.

For more from this website on Batchelor’s works see this tag. See also my story about Batchelor published in The Canberra Times in April 2014.

Michelle Potter, 24 October 2015

Featured image: James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in Island, Canberra 2014. Photo: © Lorna Sim

James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in 'Island', 2014. Photo © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. April 2015

  •  Ako Kondo

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. Photo © Jeff Busby, 2013

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.

James BatchelorJames Batchelor

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.

The dance 2web

  • Site news

What a surprise to receive a piece of verse as comment! See comments on Yugen and headdresses.

  • Press for April 2015

‘Celebrating half-century of dance,’ preview of Elizabeth Cameron Dalman’s Fortuity. The Canberra Times, 18 April 2015, Panorama p. 12. Online version

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2015

James Batchelor's METASYSTEMS, 2015. Photo: Anna Tweeddale

‘Metasystems’. James Batchelor

12 February 2015. Courtyard Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre as part of Canberra Multicultural Fringe

James Batchelor began working on Metasystems in 2014 for the inaugural Keir Choreographic Award, an award dedicated to commissioning new work and promoting innovation in contemporary dance. Batchelor was a semi-finalist in the award. A longer version of Metasystems was recently performed in Canberra as part of the Canberra Multicultural Fringe, and in conjunction with ‘Pulse: reflections of the body’, an exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. I have briefly commented on Batchelor’s involvement with Pulse elsewhere. Below is an expanded version of my review of Metasystems, originally published in The Canberra Times on 14 February 2015.

James Batchelor’s Metasystems appears to be an austere work about construction and deconstruction. Four performers spread two piles of concrete bricks across the floor of the performing space. Two different kinds of bricks, both concrete, are used during the performance—regular-sized house bricks, and Besser blocks. They are arranged in meticulously laid out but changing patterns. Part of the handout as we enter the theatre is a card bearing a plan by architect Anna Tweeddale of potential arrangements. Visual artist Madeline Beckett also worked on the design of the system of stacking and unstacking the bricks.

Anna Tweeddale: plan for 'Metasystems' 2

Anna Tweeddale: plan for 'Metasystems' 2

 

Drawings by Anna Tweeddale for Metasystems, 2015.

We usually hear a deliberate thump as each brick is placed in position, although at times the performers move the bricks as silently as they can. We watch as the bricks are rearranged over the course of the performance. It all seems to be working according to a mathematical formula, although one or two minor mishaps spoilt the purity of the arrangement on opening night.

Two of the performers, James Batchelor and Amber McCartney, have a dual function. They not only assist the other two performers, Madeline Beckett and Emma Batchelor, in laying out the bricks, but there are times when they dance between and around the rows and piles of bricks. Their movements take on an expressive function, often mirroring in dance the construction and the shape and placing of the bricks. Particularly absorbing is a sequence in which the bricks are arranged into long channels—lines of single bricks placed upright on the floor. James Batchelor and McCartney squeeze themselves into the channels and worm their way down the narrow spaces from top to bottom while occasionally balancing parts of the body precariously on the top of the bricks.

Two aspects of Metasystems stand out. Firstly, inherent in this work is a powerful understanding of body time. With no music and not always even the steady thump of bricks on the floor to guide them, Batchelor and McCartney frequently dance in unison without obviously watching each other. They sense the timing of the other and rarely falter.

Secondly, the work ends in an unexpected way. Having watched some 45 minutes of walking and brick-carrying, it is something of a shock when, as the work is concluding, the dancers separate out an individual space for themselves within the final arrangement, a tightly knit square of bricks. They then snuggle down into the construction. Suddenly something personal is injected into the show, even a hint of emotion. It is the human element inhabiting the built environment and disturbing its mathematical precision.

It occurred to me only later that the earlier confrontation with the bricks, as McCartney and James Batchelor wriggled their way down those narrow spaces between the bricks, touching them occasionally and taking care not to disturb them, that this too was part of a human engagement with the built environment.

That Batchelor can surprise like this is what makes his work so worth following.

Michelle Potter, 18 February 2015

Featured image: Final scene from James Batchelor’s Metasystems. Photo: © Anna Tweeddale, 2015

James Batchelor's METASYSTEMS, 2015. Photo: Anna Tweeddale