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

Dance diary. January 2015

  • Jennifer Shennan

I am thrilled to welcome Jennifer Shennan as a contributor to this website. Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Jennifer is a renowned dance writer whose major publications include A Time to Dance: the Royal New Zealand Ballet at 50 (Wellington: RNZB, 2003) and The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2013), which she edited with Anne Rowse. Jennifer teaches dance history and anthropology and has a particular research interest in the Pacific. Her own teachers were Poul Gnatt and Russell Kerr. Now that is a proud heritage!

Jennifer’s first contribution was her tribute to Harry Haythorne and I look forward to publishing more of her writing as 2015 proceeds.

  • ‘Pulse: reflections on the body’

The Canberra Museum and Art Gallery has been running a show since October 2014 called ‘Pulse: reflections on the body’. The exhibition has on display items by a range of artists working across several media. Amongst a collection of works on paper and canvas and some sculpture, two dance items are included—Australian Dance Theatre’s 15 minute video of Garry Stewart’s Proximity, and James Batchelor’s video, Ersatz. Batchelor has also been giving some live performances during the run of the show. As seen in the image below, his performance takes place on the highly polished floor in front of his video installation and, as with all his work that I have seen, it is meticulous in its fine detail and in its interest in the stillness that surrounds movement.

James Batchelor performs in 'Pulse', CMAG 2015

(The hand-blown glass objects in the foreground of the image are from a work by Nell)

Pulse logo

  • Arthur Murch and the Ballets Russes

I was pleased to be contacted during January by the daughter of Australian artist Arthur Murch, who told me that her father had travelled to Australia from Italy on board the Romolo with some of the dancers coming to Australia for the 1939–1940 Ballets Russes tour. I was curious because I had been under the impression that the dancers had come from London on board the Orcades, with another group arriving from the West Coast of the United States on board the Mariposa. The two groups met in Sydney and gave their opening performance at the Theatre Royal on 30 December 1939.

It seems, however, that there were a few Ballets Russes personnel who did indeed travel on the Romolo from Genoa. They included Olga Philipoff, daughter of Alexander Philipoff, de Basil’s executive assistant; Marie (Maria) Philipoff, mother of Olga; and dancer Nicolas Ivangine. The Romolo was the last boat to leave Italy before Italy joined the war and Murch was returning to Australia after spending time in various parts of Europe. The Romolo and its passengers have, it seems, escaped the attention of Australian Ballets Russes scholars so far, as has Murch’s connections with the company. To date I have seen a photograph of a beautiful head sculpture Murch made of Mme Philipoff, and a photo of Olga Philipoff and Ivangine on the deck of the ship. I look forward to reporting further on this discovery at a later date.

  • Dance and criticism

The newest issue of Dance Australia (February/March 2015) includes its annual survey by critics from across Australia, although this year Karen van Ulzen has expanded the space given to the survey so that critics are able to give fuller accounts of their choices. It makes the survey more than simply a list and gives a touch of analysis, an essential element in good dance writing. The new look is a welcome initiative that I hope continues. It is always interesting, too, to see how varied the choices are.

  • Press for January

‘Vibrant, expressive show.’ Review Dancing for the gods, Chitrasena Dance Company, The Canberra Times, 19 January 2015, ARTS p. 6. Online version.

‘In the WRIGHT frame of mind.’ Profile of Sam Young-Wright of Sydney Dance Company, The Canberra Times, ‘Panorama’, 24 January 2015, pp. 10–11. Online version.

‘A classic in its own right.’ Preview of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, The Canberra Times. ‘Panorama’, 31 January 2015, p. 18. Online version.

FACES publcity

FACES. A work in progress by James Batchelor

I had the pleasure recently of seeing a work in progress by James Batchelor. Called FACES, Batchelor describes it as:

…a study of humans in transforming spaces and temporary constructions. From the trenches of the First World War to modern urban utopias, the work analyses sites of rapid evolution, a fluid interface of body and space. It is a portrait of anonymous faces; soldiers, refugees, nomads, vagrants, boom dockers, train hoppers and the homeless; bodies temporarily held in the relentless passage of time.

As with other explanatory notes relating to Batchelor’s works, I had to wonder how such a statement would (or could) translate into dance. Perhaps this is part of the fascination of Batchelor’s choreography? He arouses our curiosity, without being so abstruse as to alienate us, before we even arrive at the performing space.

The first section we saw was for three dancers, Batchelor himself, Amber McCartney and Chloe Chignell. The slow, careful, even meticulous moves made by the dancers as they progressed down the length of the studio space, moving along a pathway of silver coloured cloth, was transfixing. (It reminded me a little of a show I saw in New York several years ago by Butoh-style performers Eiko and Koma where they moved down a ramp covered in leaves taking the full performance time to reach the bottom). Then we watched as Batchelor, McCartney and Chignell manipulated the cloth in various ways and eventually tied it up with string, again with meticulous accuracy, into a package that to our surprise became a kind of long, joint backpack with images of the dancers’ faces attached to it.

In the second section Chignell and McCartney were joined by eleven dancers from Canberra’s youth ensemble, Quantum Leap. The standout moments of this section for me were in the highly complex yet seemingly simple structure of the choreography as rows of dancers moved up and down the room crossing past each other in simple lines. It had the repetitive feel that one experiences with a piece of music by Philip Glass, or from the look of a grey, grid painting by Agnes Martin, both Americans working in a minimalist manner. The apparent repetition in the works of Glass and Martin repays careful listening or looking when small variations or gradations indicate that there is greater complexity in the structure of their works than first meets the eye. Bouquets to the dancers for being in control of the mathematical intricacies of this section of choreography.

It is hard to know at this stage how the work will unfold. The first section shown in this preview had clear overtones of wartime, but the second had no such obvious context for me. How will they connect? Or will they? Where will they be performed given the apparent links, including through specific funding bodies, to the centenary of the ANZAC landing in 2015 (indoors or outdoors or both)? How will the connections with Canberra’s Quantum Leap dancers develop?

But full marks to Batchelor for having the courage to show FACES in its current, early stage of development. I look forward to future showings.

Michelle Potter, 22 December 2014

Featured image: Publicity shot for FACES

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

Island. James Batchelor

30 April 2014, Courtyard Theatre, Canberra

James Batchelor’s Island is a fascinating look at what dance can encompass when it becomes an immersive experience. The work is performed by three dancers, Batchelor himself along with Amber McCartney and Rebecca Lee, and it deals largely with perception. I have to admit to feeling slightly frustrated by dance that purports to deal with highly abstract notions. Often it’s only the words on the program that have anything to say on the subject while the dance is just a series of steps. But Island is different.

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

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

The first hint that Island might be an interesting work comes early, as we enter the performing space in fact. Architect Ella Leoncio is the designer. She has decorated the small black box space that is the Courtyard Theatre of the Canberra Theatre Centre with bright white tape stretched in lines and geometric patterns across the floor and up the walls. A bank of mirrors is attached to one wall, six movable glass (or perspex?) screens are arranged in the centre of the space in two groups of three and six circles of small bright lights are on the floor. What we don’t know immediately is that some of the screens are slightly convex/concave, a little like those Coney Island-style mirrors that distort the image of those who look into them.

The work itself is in three parts performed without interval. It begins with a solo for Lee, which is followed by a duet for Batchelor and McCartney. All three dancers join together for the final section. Batchelor’s choreography exists in many small movements, sometimes quite subtle, other times forceful in response to Morgan Hickinbotham’s score, which is confronting and yet listenable in its diversity of sounds. I especially enjoyed the performance of McCartney who had absorbed Batchelor’s movement style and added something of her own—a strength of purpose perhaps? Her dancing was certainly strong and well-defined.

But what makes Island so interesting is that the audience is encouraged to walk around the space and see the dance/installation from different viewpoints. Again this is something that I usually find annoying as it is more often than not a meaningless exercise. On this occasion however, the mirrors and screens, which were moved into different positions at the end of each section, came into their own. There were some totally absorbing perspectives on Batchelor’s choreography. Depending on where one went it looked enlarged, minimised, stretched out, and any other number of shape distortions. Occasionally Leoncio’s striped walls and floor became an integral part of the dance when they too were reflected into the screens. Then as a foil there was the clean, precise look of dance undistorted when one moved to other positions. Not everyone in the audience was on the move, which was a real shame because they missed a lot.

Leoncio continued her black and white theme in her costumes and make-up with the white extending beyond the costumes themselves to hair, face and even fingernails in some cases.

I really enjoyed this show. Batchelor has an enquiring mind and his work is definitely worth looking at and analysing.

Michelle Potter, 3 May 2014

Ballet Rambert in Australia 1948

Dance diary. April 2014

  •   Ballet Rambert Australasian tour

I was delighted to find, during my recent research in the Rambert Archives in London, an album, currently on loan to the Archives for copying, assembled by dancer Pamela Whittaker (Vincent) during the Ballet Rambert’s tour to Australia and New Zealand, 1947–1949. What struck me instantly was the fact that this company enjoyed a similarly social time in Australia and New Zealand as did the Ballets Russes companies that preceded Rambert. I hope to pursue this a little further in a later post but in the meantime the featured image (above) is a photo from Pamela Whittaker’s album. Below is another image from that album.

Ballet Rambert in Australia. Horseriding excursion, 1948

Ballet Rambert on an outing in Australia, 1948. From the personal album of Pamela Whittaker (Vincent)

  • Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship 2014

The Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship for 2014 has been awarded to West Australian designer Alicia Clements. For more about Alicia’s work see her website, but below is a costume for the character of Nishi from The White Divers of Broome staged by the Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth in 2012.

Costume by Alicia Clements for Nishi in 'The White Divers of Broome'. Photo © Cameron Etchells.

Costume by Alicia Clements for Nishi in The White Divers of Broome. Photo © Cameron Etchells.

  • Australian Dance Awards 2014

The long list of nominations for the 2014 Australian Dance Awards was released during April. From a Canberra perspective it is good to see a number of nominations with strong Canberra connections, although I wonder whether any or many of them will make the short lists given the fact that so few people outside Canberra will have seen the productions in the flesh. That concern aside, however, I was especially pleased to see Garry Stewart’s Monument on the list for two awards, an individual award to Stewart for outstanding achievement in choreography and an award to the Australian Ballet for outstanding performance by a company. It was also gratifying to see Life is a Work of Art created by Liz Lea and others for GOLD, the group of mature age performers associated with Canberra Dance Theatre, nominated in the community dance category.

'Richard House, Rudy Hawkes & Cameron Hunter in 'Monument', 2013. The Australian Ballet. Photo © Branco Gaica

Richard House, Rudy Hawkes and Cameron Hunter in Monument, 2013. The Australian Ballet. Photo © Branco Gaica

But I noticed that Janet Karin, former director of the National Capital Ballet School, currently kinetic educator at the Australian Ballet School, and also now president of  the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, is again on the list for services to dance education. Fingers crossed for this one as her contribution to the Australian dance scene has been remarkable over many years and in many areas and she deserves recognition from her peers.

  • Island: James Batchelor

I am looking forward to the opening of James Batchelor’s new work, Island, which premieres tonight at the Courtyard Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre. Batchelor was impressive when I interviewed him earlier his month (see online link below) but seeing in production what one has written about in advance is always challenging. But Canberra needs more dance of the sophisticated variety. So fingers crossed!

James Batchelor in 'Ersatz', Bangkok 2013. Photo © NDEPsixteen

James Batchelor in Ersatz, Bangkok 2013. Photo © NDEPsixteen

  • Press for April

‘Outstanding skills shown in diversity’. Review of Sydney Dance Company’s Interplay. The Canberra Times, 12 April 2014, ARTS 19. Online 

‘Dedicated Batchelor’. Preview story for James Batchelor’s Island. The Canberra Times, 26 April 2014. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2014

Featured image: Ballet Rambert enjoying the Australian bush, 1948. From the personal album of Pamela Whittaker (Vincent)

Ballet Rambert in Australia 1948

 

 

Inwonderland. James Batchelor

6 April 2013, Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

James Batchelor’s dance and multimedia installation has already been seen in various manifestations, often as a work in progress, in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. This particular Canberra showing was, however, my first taste of the work and in fact my first taste of Batchelor’s approach to making art. It is an impressive production showing Batchelor’s strong film making skills—he has been mentored by Sue Healey—and some beautifully detailed costumes and settings. Overall it is a remarkably cohesive show.

Amber McCartney in 'Inwonderland'Amber McCartney in James Batchelor’s Inwonderland. Courtesy James Batchelor

The title, Inwonderland, evokes of course Lewis Carroll’s Alice in wonderland and there are many clear allusions to that story. At the beginning of the work we enter a darkened space with our camp stools (shades of an art gallery installation) and notice that there are several separate areas where the work will unfold. At first we encounter a circle of toy rabbits with a dancer dressed in a long Victorian-style dress moving in the middle of this ring. The rabbit-hole of course! She engages in conversation with one rabbit, she twitches and twists—in fact circles seem to be a choreographer signature here. And as the work continues and we move on with it to other parts of the performing space there are other allusions to Alice in wonderland. The most obvious comes when the work takes place around a long table set up for a grand tea party.

But we can spend a lot of time searching for connections with Alice in wonderland when in fact the work goes beyond that. It’s an expressionistic work where ideas are subjectively presented, where experiences are exaggerated, removed from reality and often distorted. A scene where Amber McCartney, the ‘Alice’ of the piece, sits reading in the glow of a Tiffany-style lamp is a case in point. As she does so film footage of the Inwonderland characters moving through a hedge maze and a tangle of branches appears on a screen that looks as if it is made from unspun wool (in fact it’s wadding). This screen distorts what is in fact beautifully crisp footage (see the excerpt at the link below). The dream-like quality that emerges as the footage is screened in this way is mirrored by McCartney who moves in slow motion, sometimes almost imperceptibly.

The tea party is a great example of Batchelor’s approach as well. It becomes almost a slapstick adventure for the three characters: a schoolmarm, ‘Alice’, and a brightly dressed, crazy character, all of whom wreak havoc at the beautifully set up table. Stretched above the table is another screen on which footage is again distorted, both as a result of the screen’s location high above the table and because the screen is not stretched taut.

Inwonderland falls down slightly in terms of choreography, which I thought needed some pruning particularly in the opening rabbit-hole sequence. And a stronger movement vocabulary is needed I think. I’m not sure if Batchelor works in a particular manner in creating his vocabulary but it looks like he needs a firmer foundation from which to build and develop his movement ideas. I would have liked to know more too about the sound track and the scenic and costume design. The hand-out missed giving these credits.

Inwonderland is, however, a wonderful example of how dance, film, and scenic and costume design can work together, and its presentation as an installation is beautifully thought through and thoroughly refreshing. It is a dreamscape of the mind. I look forward eagerly to seeing more of Batchelor’s work and hope that he doesn’t move entirely into the area of dance film, although he is clearly talented in that area, but keeps a live component in his works as well.

Michelle Potter, 7 April 2013

Here is a link to the footage filmed at Berrima, New South Wales.