Dance diary. December 2011

  • Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet

During 2011 I have published many thoughts on a whole variety of dance subjects, but there is no doubt that most interest has been generated by posts and comments associated with the Australian Ballet’s production of Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet. Traffic across this website has risen by 50% since the opening of R & J in September. My two posts on this show were quickly picked up. The original post has been the top post in terms of visitor numbers since October and the ‘second’ look’ post quickly took up the second spot from November onwards.*

The main thrust of the comments on R & J has been, it seems to me, that the story lost its depth as a result of the wildly changing locations and eras in which this production of the ballet is set. In response to one such comment following the Sydney season I wrote: ‘ I keep wondering about our expectations of ballet, and this ballet in particular. Does the story lose its profundity if it covers different territory and does so in a way that is not expected?’ I think most people believe the story did lose rather than gain in this production, but I still wonder and look forward to further comments when the work goes to Brisbane early in 2012.

  • Infinity: the Australian Ballet’s 2012 triple bill

Graeme Murphy is in the throes of creating another work for the Australian Ballet. It will form part of a triple bill entitled Infinity, which will open in Melbourne in February and comprise works by Murphy, Gideon Obarzanek and Stephen Page. While I have no inkling as to what Murphy will give us this time, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s December newsletter gives us a hint of what we might expect from Page’s work, which will use dancers from both his own Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Australian Ballet — definitely something to look forward to.

  • Scholars and Artists in Residence (SAR) Fellowship

In December I began my research into designer Kristian Fredrikson’s film and television commissions at the National Film and Sound Archive under a SAR Fellowship and will resume work there after the holiday break. I was especially pleased finally to be able to see a film called Undercover, made in 1983 and produced by David Elfick with Kristian Fredrikson as costume designer and Anna French as his assistant designer. This film is set in the 1920s and charts the growth of the Berlei undergarment enterprise in Australia. Fredrikson’s designs, especially for the women and for the dance sequences (choreographed by former Australian Ballet dancer Leigh Chambers) towards the end of the film, are beautifully realised within the spirit of the fashions of the 1920s. I suspect Fredrikson reimagined some of his work for Undercover when he began work on Tivoli, which he designed in 2001 for Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Ballet. In any case, despite the reservations I had (before I had seen the film I have to admit) about the subject matter, Undercover is a fascinating film and I hope to arrange a screening of it at a later date.

As a result of a mention I made of the SAR Fellowship in my dance diary post for November I was surprised and delighted to be contacted by one of Fredrikson’s assistants who worked with him on a production of Oedipus Rex, produced in 1965 by Wal Cherry for his Emerald Hill Theatre in Melbourne. It was only recently that I discovered that Fredrikson had designed this show, one of his earliest Australian design commissions, and I hope to include reference to it in a Spotlight Talk I will be giving for the Performing Arts Centre, Melbourne, in April when I will also talk about Fredrikson’s other early designs in New Zealand and Australia.

  • Meryl Tankard

Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac returned to Sydney in December following the opening of Tankard’s latest work, Cinderella, for Leipzig Ballet in November. As well as passing on news about Cinderella, Tankard also told me of the success that The Oracle had when it was shown in Lyon in November. Tankard made The Oracle in 2009 as a solo work for dancer Paul White and one clipping from a Lyon newspaper that Tankard sent me referred to Paul White as ‘a revelation to the French public’ and ‘a god of the stage’ and suggested that his solo had instantly attracted a cult following. Here is a link to another review (in French or, if you prefer, in English translation) from the Lyon Capitale that lauds, once again, White’s remarkable physicality and virtuosity and Tankard’s and Lansac’s extraordinary work. The Oracle was the recipient of two Australian Dance Awards in 2010.

  • Paul Knobloch

Australian dancer Paul Knobloch was in Canberra over the holiday season visiting family and friends. Knobloch is excited at the new direction his career is about to take. He will take up a contract in February with Alonzo King LINES Ballet based in San Francisco. King recently made a work called Figures of thought for Béjart Ballet Lausanne, where Knobloch has been working for the past few years. King offered Knobloch a contract after working with him in Lausanne. Alonzo King

Alonzo King rehearsing Daria Ivanova and Paul Knobloch in Figures of thought, Lausanne, June 2011. Photo: Valerie Lacaze.

The BBL website has a photo gallery from this work. It contains several images of Knobloch in rehearsal.

      • Luminous: Celebrating 50 years of the Australian Ballet

In December The Canberra Times published my review of the Australian Ballet’s most recent publication, Luminous: Celebrating 50 years of the Australian Ballet. Here is a link to the article.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2011

*The third most popular post for both November and December was that relating to Stanton Welch and the other Australians working in Houston, Texas.

Dance diary. November 2011

  • SAR Fellowship: National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA)

In 2012 I will be taking up a SAR Fellowship, SAR being the acronym for Scholars and Artists in Residence, for two months at the National Film and Sound Archive. This Fellowship will enable me to investigate a lesser known aspect of the career of designer Kristian Fredrikson, namely his commissions for film and television. In addition to designing costumes for one or two televised ballets in the late 1960s, in the 1980s Fredrikson worked on at least three feature films, Undercover, Sky Pirates, and Short Changed, and three mini-series for television, The Shiralee, The Dirtwater Dynasty and Vietnam. I’m looking forward to delving into this aspect of Fredrikson’s multi-faceted career.

The SAR program aims to promote the NFSA as a centre for scholarly activity, to encourage and facilitate research relating to the NFSA collections and programs and to bring new ideas and expertise to the NFSA.

  • Houston Ballet

In addition to my meeting with Stanton Welch while in Houston recently, which was the subject of a recent post, I spent half a day with Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet’s wardrobe manager. Laura spoke to me at length about Kristian Fredrikson’s designs for ‘Pecos’, part of a Houston Ballet evening length program called Tales of Texas, and Fredrikson’s last work, a new version of Swan Lake. Both works had choreography by Stanton Welch and his Swan Lake, which premiered after Fredrikson’s death, was dedicated to Fredrikson. We also visited the HB warehouse, a little out of town, to have a look at the costumes themselves.

Rack of costumes for Houston Ballet's 'Swan Lake'

Rack of costumes for the Houston Ballet production of Swan Lake.

  • Miranda Coney Barker

Most readers of this site will remember Miranda Coney, a much-loved principal of the Australian Ballet during the 1990s. Miranda is now living in New York with her husband, conductor Charles Barker, and their two young sons. I caught up with her while in New York and was more than delighted to know that she has been giving class to young dancers in the current Broadway production of Billy Elliot—‘quite a challenge’ she says!

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2011

In November the Canberra Critics’ Circle met to discuss nominations for its annual awards, which were presented on 29 November. Two dance awards were made. Liz Lea received an award for her creative use of archival material from Canberra collecting institutions in her solo production of 120 Birds. Lea showed 120 Birds as a work for a small company at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 but reworked it as a solo show for presentation in February 2011 as an event associated with the National Gallery of Australia’s Ballets Russes exhibition. She drew on material from the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia bringing it all together to pay homage to those intrepid artists who toured to and from Australia when communications were not the instant experience we know today.

Photos from Lea’s Gallery performance are at this link.

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman received an award for her poignant and moving show Sapling to Silver, which was the story of a vibrant life—her own life in dance. I recall in particular from that show a duet between Dalman and Albert David in which two cultural heritages were juxtaposed, as were two lives lived in different generations. The citation for Dalman’s award also mentioned the seamless way in which the various sections of the work were put together to deliver a beautifully produced whole.

  • ‘The fire and the rose’

The link to my tribute to Valrene Tweedie, an article originally published in Brolga. An Australian journal about dance in December 2008 and posted on this site in July 2009, is not currently available as it was previously via the Ausdance website. The National Library of Australia’s web archiving service, Pandora, came to the rescue however and the tribute is now available at this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2011

Kristian Fredrikson. ‘What’s in a name?’

The work of Kristian Fredrikson is currently the subject of an exhibition called Bedazzled, which opened at the Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, New Zealand, on 26 November 2011 and which runs there until 4 March 2012. After reading publicity for this exhibition, it is clear to me that there is a compelling need for a number of misconceptions about Fredrikson’s early life to be corrected.

The main issue concerns Fredrikson’s name. At the time of writing this post a number of online sources, including the website Australia Dancing to which a number of other sites have posted links, and from which others have harvested material or used information on it in some other way, maintain that Fredrikson was born Kristian Adrian Sams and that he later changed his name to Kristian Adrian Fredrikson. Some obituaries published in Australian newspapers and now available online for all to read do the same. It is simply not so. My recent research into the career of Fredrikson reveals otherwise.

Fredrikson was born Frederick John Sams and was at least the third generation in the Sams family to carry the first name of Frederick. His early reviews written for New Zealand newspapers were signed ‘F. J. S.’ and it was not until 1962 that he took on the name Kristian Adrian Fredrikson. One signed early drawing I have seen indicates that he was playing around with the spelling of Frederick, his given first name, while probably a teenager. But the name change to Kristian Fredrikson happened around the time he was designing his first theatrical work, A Night in Venice. That work premiered in 1962. There are also indications that at least one review he wrote shortly after the premiere of A Night in Venice was signed ‘K. F.’

The second ‘fact’ that is constantly and erroneously perpetuated is that Kristian Fredrikson was the son of a Danish merchant seaman. He wasn’t. His father, Frederick Spencer Sams (1910-1996), was not a Dane but a New Zealander. His grandmother, Ann Sams (nee Munro), was also a New Zealander and his grandfather, also named Frederick Sams, was Australian. As for the occupation of merchant seaman, in 1938 when he was 28 Frederick Spencer Sams’ occupation was mentioned in a New Zealand newspaper as ‘seaman’, although when he took up this occupation and how long it lasted is unclear at this stage of my investigations. It was probably not for an extended period of time and certainly wasn’t a long-term career. He married early in 1940 and in May of that year, before his first son was born, there is clear evidence that he was unemployed.

There is still much to learn about the early life of the man we have come to know as Kristian Fredrikson but he was not born Kristian Adrian Sams and he was not the son of a Danish merchant seaman. All sources, even the web and newspapers, and even Fredrikson’s own oral history interview, are not necessarily accurate. Kristian Fredrikson was intent on creating a persona for himself that did not entirely reflect the circumstances of his early family life.

© Michelle Potter, 30 November 2011

All rights reserved. Please acknowledge the source of this information if you use it elsewhere.

‘Rose Adagio.’ West Australian Ballet 1971

As part of my current research project into the career of Kristian Fredrikson, I came across four designs in the National Library’s Fredrikson collection labelled Sleeping Beauty Act I.  They were for four Princes: English, Indian, Russian and Saracen and so were clearly for the ‘Rose Adagio’. But I was a little puzzled by them as they were not for the Stanton Welch version of Beauty, which Welch choreographed for the Australian Ballet in 2005 and which was designed by Fredrikson. I was not aware of another Sleeping Beauty with Fredrikson designs.

The English Prince had the name DeMasson written on the back and Paul De Masson kindly identified the costume as one he wore while a dancer with West Australian Ballet. He recalled that in the 1970s he had partnered Elaine Fifield in the ‘Rose Adagio’ during a season that contained a number of divertissements.

After a bit more investigation I uncovered a flyer and some programs in the National Library’s Rex Reid collection. Reid directed West Australian Ballet from late 1969 to 1973 and in November 1971 presented a season of two programs, which included a number of divertissements, at the Octagon Theatre, Perth. It was the first program, staged from 8-13 November, that included the ‘Rose Adagio’. The printed program contained the following details:

    • Rose Adagio,

Producer: Bryan Ashbridge
Music: Tchaikovsky
Costumes: Kristian Fredrikson
Choreography: Frederick Ashton
‘A new production by Bryan Ashbridge’

Princess Aurora: Elaine Fifield, Patricia Sadka
Indian Prince: Robert O’Kell
Saracen Prince: Laurence Bishop
Russian Prince: Ron Deschamps
English Prince: Paul DeMasson

I was also curious about the choreographic credit to Ashton, but the Ashton scholar David Vaughan has noted that Ashton created a ‘Rose Adagio’ in 1963 especially for a Royal Performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Bryan Ashbridge, who produced the 1971 West Australian Ballet version, retired from the Royal Ballet in 1965 so could well have been part of that Royal Performance or subsequent stagings of this Rose Adagio.

Rex Reid’s second 1971 Octagon program, presented from 15-20 November, included ‘The Dying Swan’ as one of the divertissements. A design for ‘The Dying Swan’, which was danced by Fifield, is also part of the National Library’s Fredrikson collection.

More items to add to the growing ‘List of works designed by Kristian Fredrikson’.

Michelle Potter, 26 October 2011

Update, 31 January 2017. The Fredrikson material also contains a design, from the same production, for Aurora.

‘Yugen’ and headdresses

While pursuing research into the career of designer Kristian Fredrikson I was surprised to find Fredrikson’s name mentioned in production credits for Yugen, Robert Helpmann’s 1965 one-act work for the Australian Ballet. Fredrikson, whose home base was Melbourne at the time Yugen was being created, is listed, along with William Miles, as having made the headdresses.

yugen-gail-fergusonGail Ferguson as a woman of the village in Yugen, 1965 or later. Photo by Walter Stringer. Reproduced with permission of the National Library of Australia

Yugen was designed by Desmond Heeley who tells me that he worked on the designs in London and sent the drawings to Australia by mail with copious instructions to the wardrobe department at the Australian Ballet. Helpmann requested, however, that the costume for the leading role of the Goddess, danced in the original production by Kathleen Gorham, be made by costume makers who had worked with him on previous occasions at Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden, including Hugh Skillen who made the very delicate headdress worn by Gorham and those who followed in the role.

Fredrikson’s interest in headdresses and wigs—millinery in general—can be traced back to his very first works made in New Zealand. For what is reputed to be his first theatrical commission, the Strauss operetta A Night in Venice, one reviewer wrote:

‘An intriguing effect has been created for the doxies in the opera by giving them flowing wigs in vivid purple, green, blue and orange. Making these wigs occupied two days—they had to be dyed, teased, shaped, curled, brushed and, where necessary, lacquered’.

His interest in framing the face in some way can also be followed throughout his career and many of his designs on paper contain detailed instructions to the millinery department of the companies for which he worked.

In 1965 Fredrikson had just a few design commissions behind him, perhaps the most prestigious being designs for Aurora’s Wedding for the Australian Ballet in 1964. Making the Yugen headdresses to Heeley’s designs was no doubt an important and prestigious step for him and he often mentioned Heeley as an influence on his own work. 

yugen-headdress-maleScene from the Australian Ballet production of Yugen, 1965 or later. Photo by Walter Stringer. Reproduced with permission of the National Library of Australia.

For more images of Yugen follow the link.

Michelle Potter, 21 October 2011

Dance diary. July 2011

During July I posted only two items to this site, other than this update on my activities. The month has in fact been very busy as I have been deep in research on the career of designer Kristian Fredrikson. While I thought I was aware of the extent of his theatrical activity, I have been totally amazed at just how prolific and diverse he was since he designed his first work, the operetta A Night in Venice, in Wellington in 1962. My list of his works, which eventually will form the backbone to my book, now numbers 128, although I am not yet through searching as well as checking and confirming dates and venues.

In addition, in July I had the privilege of recording an oral history interview for the National Library of Australia with Paul de Masson. Paul’s career as a dancer and ballet master, and now as a teacher in Melbourne, has also been extraordinarily diverse. He is a great raconteur and a great impersonator—wonderful oral history material emerged. I heard reports that he gave exceptional performances as Njegus in the Australian Ballet’s recent Melbourne season of The Merry Widow. Melbourne audiences will, I believe, also be able to see him as the Red King in the forthcoming British Liaisons program.

I also finally got to see Lucy Guerin Inc’s production of Untrained, which visited Canberra on the last stop of a long nation-wide tour. What an engaging insight into how the body reveals a personality.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2011