Liz Lea in the 'showgirl' sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

RED. Liz Lea Productions

8 March 2018, QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra

What follows is a slightly expanded version of my review for The Canberra Times of Liz Lea’s RED. A link to the online version of The Canberra Times‘ review is at the end of this post. The print version will appear next week.

The pre-show media for Liz Lea’s new work RED prepared us to expect something a little extraordinary, something a bit bawdy, something with adult themes, something fierce and fractious, perhaps something that was even a bit funny, but definitely something confronting. And yes, it was all of those things. But nothing, nothing at all, prepared us for the emotional power that coursed through RED, and for the brilliantly coherent manner in which the show drew its diverse sections together. And nothing prepared us for the courage and dignity with which Lea put her life before us, her life as a dancer who has battled endometriosis throughout her career.

RED was a multi-media experience. It began with a film clip of a young girl crossing a white bridge; the sound of a counter tenor singing that exquisitely melancholic aria ‘What is life to me without thee’ from Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice; and a voice over that began with the words ‘She thought she could have it all.’ That voice returned throughout the work. It was a doctor explaining the nature of the illness from which Lea suffered, and the procedures that she had to endure. I am told that the voice of the doctor was that of Brian Lucas, the dramaturg and Lea’s mentor for the production. Film clips from cinematographer Nino Tamburri also returned from time to time, and Lea talked about her career. Her conversation focused largely on how she managed her condition, but also went right back to her experiences as a thirteen year old dancer. Of course she also danced throughout the hour-long show.

The dancing segments were fast and forceful at times, full of theatrical extravaganza at others. It was easy to see in the choreography, from three choreographers (Vicki van Hout, Virginia Ferris and Martin del Amo) in addition to Lea, the styles with which Lea is most familiar—hints of Indian dance moves, suggestions of martial arts, and a fabulous, stunningly lit showgirl routine, choreographed by Ferris and lit by Karen Norris, with feathers (red of course), fans and sequins. Then there was a ‘codeine nightmare’ when Lea was joined by several older dancers dressed in black (the women mostly with added sparkles to their dresses) who danced with and for her and helped her live out the experience of having to manage excessive pain.

Liz Lea with Greg Barratt and David Turbayne in RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Liz Lea with Greg Barratt and David Turbayne in RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

But it was the ending that reduced me to tears. That incredible Gluck aria returned and Lea, now dressed in a tight, short, black number with high-heeled black patent leather shoes (with red soles), hair pulled back, and looking superbly elegant and glamorous, stood before us. She scarcely moved at first, but slowly her arms began a dance that gathered momentum and seemed to promise a future full of hope. Her limbs stretched this way and that, lyrical, questioning, wondering, and in the very last moment a shower of shiny, red “snowflakes” fell from above. The choreography for this last section was by Martin del Amo. Its simplicity was striking but it was also a breathtaking finale for all that it looked back on, and all that it promised.

Liz Lea in the finale to RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Liz Lea in the finale to RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

RED was a truly remarkable piece of dance theatre with the coherence that only exceptional dramaturgy can achieve. Every aspect of the production was astonishing, but standing out was the power of dance, and the wider multi-media context in which it can and did fit, to transmit a diverse and very human message, and to do so with such emotion and such clarity. As for Lea, how courageous, how remarkable can one artist be? Brava!

Here is the link to the online article in The Canberra Times.

RED: the prequel

RED was launched prior to its opening night performance in one of the courtyards of Gorman Arts Centre. It was a beautiful, clear, not-too-cold night and Gorman was alive. The show was launched by the ACT Minister for the Arts, Gordon Ramsay, and his launch speech was preceded by comments from artistic director of QL2, Ruth Osborne, and Gai Brodtmann, Member for Canberra in the Federal House of Representatives.

We were also treated to a performance by the ‘wuthering’ ladies and gentlemen of Canberra who danced to Kate Bush’s 1970s song Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights community dancers, Canberra 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Wuthering Heights community dancers, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Also on display in one of the studios of Gorman was a collection of costumes from Liz Lea’s collection covering her productions over the past 20 years, including the costume for her solo work Bluebird. Since its premiere in London in 2005, Lea’s Bluebird has been performed across the world, with its first Australian showing taking place at the Choreographic Centre, Canberra, in 2006.

Costume for Liz Lea's 'Bluebird'. Photo: Michelle Potter

Costume for Liz Lea’s Bluebird. Photo: Michelle Potter

Michelle Potter, 9 March 2018

Featured image: Liz Lea in the ‘showgirl’ sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Liz Lea in the 'showgirl' sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Katie Senior and Liz Lea in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

That extra ’some. Liz Lea & Katie Senior

3 December 2017, Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra

It took me a while to work out what the ‘some’ in this very brave and beautiful work meant. It premiered a few months ago as part of Escalate II, an Ausdance ACT mentoring program. I didn’t see it then but kept noticing that the ‘some’ of the title was occasionally written with an apostrophe before it, but at other times without. As one watches the work, however, which I finally had the pleasure of doing, it is perfectly obvious that the ‘some’ should indeed have an apostrophe before it. It stands for the last syllable of ‘chromosome’. The work is performed by Liz Lea and Katie Senior and, as a person with Down Syndrome, Katie Senior carries an extra chromosome in her genetic makeup.

Katie Senior in ‘Tha extra ‘some’, 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim

Katie Senior in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Lea is a wonderfully creative and theatrical director/choreographer and in That extra ‘some, along with movement of various kinds, she has brought together surprises, colour, props, audio, and footage to produce a portrait of Senior that ultimately is one of the most moving works of dance I have seen.

Lea and Senior begin the work sitting on chairs sharing a variety of gestures. They move on to watch film footage together, and they listen as Senior discusses her favourite things. The props we noticed on two small tables as we entered the space are gathered up by Lea and given to Senior to wear and hold—a gorgeous pink hat and a pink sculpture of a cockatoo among them—as Senior tells us what she loves, what is her favourite colour and the bird she likes best. And, what seem at the beginning of the show to be pink decorations tucked inside the neckline of the black outfits they both wear, turn out to be pink rubber gloves. Senior likes washing up!

Senior announces that she is learning Reggaeton, a kind of Latin American Hip Hop, and she and Lea dance together.

Liz Lea and Katie Senior in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Liz Lea and Katie Senior in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

More dancing and more conversation follow. The text of the conversation, which is played over the footage, is extraordinary. It is Senior’s own, hesitant voice and occasionally our expectations are shattered. A discussion of how Down Syndrome affects those who live with it is followed by sentences such as ‘I feel fabulous!’ As the work ends we watch Senior, dressed in beautiful clothes, strolling through a Canberra landscape. Feeling fabulous; looking fabulous.

This one-off performance at Belconnen Arts Centre was in celebration of the International Day of People with a Disability. But what Lea and Senior showed was that living with a disability does not remove a person’s humanity. No wonder we were reduced to tears at times during this very moving work.

Michelle Potter, 5 December 2017

Featured image: Katie Senior (left) and Liz Lea in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Katie Senior and Liz Lea in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim


Liz Lea in a study for 'RED'. Photo: © Nino Tamburri

Liz Lea. ACT City News Artist of the Year 2017

Liz Lea, Canberra-based dancer, director, and choreographer, has been named ACT ’City News’ Artist of the Year for 2017. The decision was reached at a plenary session of the Canberra Critics’ Circle and announced at the ACT Arts Awards ceremony on 27 November. Lea’s citation read:

For her unwavering commitment to, and focus on making, directing and promoting dance in the ACT, in particular for the inclusiveness that characterises her work and for her charismatic leadership of the inaugural BOLD Festival in March 2017.

2017 has been an exceptional year for Lea, and what follows is a longer citation:

Over the past decade, Canberra-based dancer, choreographer and director, Liz Lea, has galvanised dance audiences in the ACT with her commitment to developing their expectations about what dance is, who can perform it and where it can happen. Her work is distinguished by its inclusiveness. She works with artist of all ages, of varying abilities, and of all ethnic groups and she makes sure she acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which her choreography is being performed.

In 2017 she made a major contribution to Canberra’s dance culture by presenting, without any external funding, the BOLD Festival, which took place in the ACT over three days in March. This venture offered an exceptionally varied program of lectures, demonstrations, films and performances. Participants and audience members represented a wide range of arts backgrounds and dance genres and came from across the country for this exceptional initiative. The festival took advantage of Canberra’s wealth of venues for presentation and performance, including the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, and Gorman & Ainslie Arts Centre.

Lea’s own performance and choreographic activities in 2017 have included her work That extra ‘some, performed as part of Escalate a mentoring program for ACT-based young people, of which Lea is a primary mentor. In That extra ‘some Lea worked with Down Syndrome dance artist Katie Senior, which required Lea to develop a new approach to choreography. In addition, in 2017 Lea performed in India Meets, a program that she initiated to bring to a close an Australian tour by acclaimed British-Indian dancer Seeta Patel. In yet another example of Lea’s commitment to developing an ACT dance culture, her India Meets program included dance performances from Canberra-based Indian practitioners. Lea has also presented small works around the city as part of various special events for 2017 including during Dance Week and Science Week. Throughout the year she has continued her ongoing interest in presenting dance as an aid to understanding scientific processes with the development of schools’ programs concerning coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2017 Lea was the recipient of an Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance. Her unwavering commitment to, and focus on making, directing and promoting dance has put the spotlight on the ACT and moved the Territory into a position where it can now claim to have a truly vibrant and unique dance culture.

Lea is currently working on a new solo show, RED, scheduled for showing in 2018.

Michelle Potter, 27 November 2017

Featured image: Liz Lea in a study for RED. Photo: © Nino Tamburri

Liz Lea in a study for 'RED'. Photo: © Nino Tamburri

'The Beginning Of Nature.' Australian Dance Theatre. Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

Dance diary. October 2017

  • Coming to Canberra in 2018

In October the Canberra Theatre Centre released its ‘Collected Works 2018’. Canberra dance audiences will have the pleasure of seeing Australian Dance Theatre’s The Beginning of Nature, which will open its Australian mainstage season in Canberra on 14 June 2018.

Canberra Theatre Centre’s program also includes a season of AB [Intra] from Sydney Dance Company and Dark Emu from Bangarra Dance Theatre and, as part of the Canberra Theatre’s Indie program, Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson will perform Cockfight. 

Bangarra Dance Theatre. Study for 'Dark Emu'. Photo: Daniel Boud

Bangarra Dance Theatre. Study for Dark Emu. Photo: © Daniel Boud

  • Eileen Kramer making a splash

The irrepressible Eileen Kramer was in Canberra recently. She made a fleeting visit to have a chat with Ken Wyatt, Minister for Aged Care, about funding for a project she is planning for her 103rd birthday in November. Kramer will perform A Buddha’s wife, a work inspired by her visit to India in the 1960s. It will be part of a project (The Now Project) featuring 10 dancers and co-produced by choreographer/film-maker Sue Healey. Read about the project and listen to Kramer and Healey speak briefly about it on the crowd funding page that has been set up to help realise the project.

  • Fellowships, funding news, and further accolades

It was a thrill to see that Australian Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Garry Stewart, is the recipient of a 2017 Churchill Fellowship. Stewart will investigate choreographic centres in various parts of the world including in India, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

Garry Stewart rehearsing 'Monument' 2013. Photo Lynette Wills

Garry Stewart in rehearsal. Photo: © Lynette Wills

Then, artsACT has announced its funding recipients for 2018 and, unlike last year’s very disappointing round, dance gets some strong recognition. Alison Plevey’s Australian Dance Party has been funded to produce a new work Energeia, Canberra Dance Theatre has received funding to create a new piece for its 40th anniversary, Liz Lea has funding also to create a new work, and Emma Strapps has been funded for creative development of a work called Flight/less.

Also in the ACT, Ruth Osborne has been short-listed as the potential ACT Australian of the Year for 2018. Osborne is artistic director of QL2 Dance and has made a major contribution to youth dance in the ACT. She was a 2016 recipient of a Churchill Fellowship and has recently returned from studying youth dance in various countries around the world.

Ruth Osborne, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Ruth Osborne prior to taking up her Churchill Fellowship. Photo: © 2017 Lorna Sim

Then, from Queensland Ballet comes news of some welcome promotions. Lucy Green and Camilo Ramos are now principal artists, and Mia Heathcote has been promoted to soloist.

  • Jean Stewart (1921–2017)

For a much fuller account of the life and work of Jean Stewart than I was able to give see Blazenka Brysha’s story at this link, as well as an interesting comment from her about one of Stewart’s photos of Martin Rubinstein.

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2017

Featured image: The Beginning Of Nature, Australian Dance Theatre. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

'The Beginning Of Nature.' Australian Dance Theatre. Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions

‘Reef UP!’ Liz Lea and dancers

7 October 2017,  Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

I’ll reverse the usual order of things here and put the verdict first. It comes from my young companion, Ollie, aged 8, who said as we left the Courtyard Studio, ‘It was just too good. I loved it and would like to see it again.’

Liz Lea’s Reef UP! is a show for children (although it’s fun for adults too) about the Great Barrier Reef and some of its inhabitants. It examines the effects that climate change, human intervention, and other problems of our era are having on this magnificent world heritage site. But while it is a didactic piece in so many ways and exhorts us to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’, it is just gorgeously presented with spectacular costumes, wigs and lighting; decorative props filling the performing space; and underwater footage playing continuously in the background. It is expertly performed by three dancers (Liz Lea, Liesel Zink and Michael Smith), who all are required to make a myriad of quick changes to become different reef creatures; and one imposing gentleman (Greg Barratt from Canberra’s GOLD company) as King Neptune.

Reef UP! is a little in the tradition of the now old-fashioned panto. The performers constantly invited audience involvement, and the children in the audience responded with gusto; and there was a lot of patter and some ad-libbing from the performers as well. But there were also enough contemporary references to make it relevant to young folk today. David Attenborough was referenced several times. His research provided some of the scientific data about various creatures, and about the Reef itself. There was a murmur through the audience whenever his name came up. Then there were references to Star Wars at times, including a fight using a light sabre against the Crown-of-thorns character.

Choreographically the show was uncomplicated but fast-moving and performed to a grab bag of songs and symphonies—from pop to Beethoven. While all the performers carried out their many roles with aplomb and true professionalism, I couldn’t help but admire Liesel Zink in particular. Pure joy in moving coursed through her body. Such a pleasure to watch.

Lea, once again, has surpassed expectations and given young people a new way of looking at a topic through dance. After Canberra, Reef UP!, Lea’s third educational show with a scientific bent, is touring schools in regional Queensland with an Engaging Science Grant from the Queensland Government.

Michelle Potter, 8 October 2017

Featured image: Cast of Reef UP!, Canberra 2017. (l-r) Liesel Zink, Liz Lea, Michael Smith, Greg Barratt. Photo: © David Turbayne

Scene from 'Great Sport!' Canberra 2016. Photo © Lorna Sim

Australian Dance Awards 2017

24 September 2017. The Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

The winners of the 2017 Australian Dance Awards were announced in a ceremony in Melbourne on 24 September. The Playhouse at the Victorian Arts Centre was packed for what turned out to be an occasion with strong emotional and political overtones. The evening was hosted by cabaret star Sarah Ward and dancer Benjamin Hancock, both of whom brought a somewhat outrageous element to the evening. (To be absolutely honest, I can never understand why hosts of such events have to behave as if the show belongs to them). The politics came in the form of references by several of the presenters to the current same-sex marriage campaign.

The first half of the program suffered from what I can only describe as ‘technical issues’ in which the digital display of images and credit lines for nominees, and the eventual winner in each category (not to mention the life dates and images in the ‘In Memoriam’ section), didn’t fit properly on the screen. This was not a good look at all and resulted in confusion in some cases when the winner’s name was not given correctly by the presenter. I had to wonder whether there had been a tech rehearsal or not! Fortunately, the problem was fixed during the interval but it didn’t make up for the poor standard of production in the first half. The printed program was, however, beautifully designed and produced.

Nevertheless, for dance in the ACT, the outstanding news was that Liz Lea took out the award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance. She received the award for Great Sport!, a site specific work that Lea directed in collaboration with Canberra Dance Theatre, the National Museum of Australia, Dance for Parkinson’s ACT, and seven different choreographers—Lea herself, Martin del Amo, Kate Denborough, Tammi Gissell, Jane Ingall, Philip Piggin and Gerard van Dyck. This was a richly deserved award that recognised Lea’s significant effort to collaborate across the community spectrum, to seek out skilled choreographers from within the ACT and elsewhere, and to make dance that is inclusive. As it happens, however, Lea was one who suffered as a result of the ‘technical issues’. Her name was not called out as the recipient of the award!

Here is a link to my review of Great Sport! following its opening performance in celebration of World Health Day 2016.

Congratulations to Lea and all those who received an award. Here is the complete list of awardees.

  • Lifetime Achievement: Helen Herbertson
  • Services to Dance: Jennifer Irwin
  • Services to Dance Education: Kim Walker
  • Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance: Liz Lea and collaborators for Great Sport!
  • Outstanding Achievement in Youth Dance: Catapult Dance (The Flipside Project) for In Search of the Lost Things
  • Outstanding Achievement in Choreography: Lucy Guerin for The Dark Chorus
  • Outstanding Performance by a Company: Bangarra Dance Theatre for OUR Land People Stories
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer: Ako Kondo (Australian Ballet) for Coppélia
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer: Benjamin Hancock (Lucy Guerin Inc) for The Dark Chorus
  • Outstanding Performance in Commercial Dance or Musical Theatre: Jack Chambers (Stage Entertainment & Chichester Festival) for Singin’ in the Rain
  • Outstanding Achievement in Dance on Film or New Media: Tara and Pippa Samaya (The Samaya Wives) for The Knowledge Between Us.

In addition, Noel Tovey was inducted into the Hall of Fame and, in an emotion-filled acceptance speech, acknowledged those who had influenced his career, going right back to Jean Alexander and Xenia Borovansky. The Ausdance Peggy van Praagh Choreographic Fellowship, an award worth $10,000, went to Kristina Chan.


Apart from Liz Lea’s award, and its significance for the growth of dance in the ACT, from a very personal perspective, I was thrilled with the following:

    • Australian Ballet principal dancer Ako Kondo took out the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer for her performance as Swanilda in Coppélia. While an ADA in this category refers in particular to a performance in a particular year, not for a body of work, I have watched Kondo perform in many productions over the past few years and I could not help but think back to those many and varied times when I have had the pleasure of watching her onstage. Her technique is spectacular and in certain roles, including that of Swanilda, she just sparkles.See my previous comments at this tag.

Ako Kondoin 'Coppelia' Act II, 2016. Photo: Kate LongleyAko Kondo in Coppélia Act II, the Australian Ballet 2016. Photo: © Kate Longley

    • Jennifer Irwin walked away with the award for Services to Dance. Irwin has been designing costumes for major dance companies since she began working with Sydney Dance Company in the 1980s. Apart from Sydney Dance Company under Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, Irwin has had significant commissions from Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Australian Ballet. In her acceptance speech, Irwin acknowledged Graeme Murphy and Stephen Page for the influence they have had on her career. In addition, Irwin designed costumes for Dirty Dancing, the musical that had its first performances in 2004 in Australia. It featured well-known Australian dancer Joseph Brown, and the show went on to have popular seasons around the world. Irwin also designed parts of the 2000 Sydney Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. See this tag for further comments on various of Irwin’s designs.

Wearing costumes designed by Jennifer Irwin: (left) Amy Harris and Lana Jones in The narrative of nothing. The Australian Ballet, 2012. Photo: © Jeff Busby; (right) Kaine Sultan Babij in a study for Sheoak. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

  • Bangarra Dance Theatre received the coveted award of Outstanding Performance by a Company for OUR land people stories. This triple bill was a truly stunning example of the way in which Bangarra produces work in which dance meets theatre, meets art, meets music. It showcased the choreography of three dancers from within the ranks of the company—Jasmin Sheppard, Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith—with the addition of a work from artistic director Stephen Page. It demonstrated Bangarra’s interest in bringing a wide range of Indigenous issues to the stage. Politics, kinship, and art all played a major role in the production and, as always, the show was splendidly staged and thrilling to watch.Daniel Riley accepted the award on behalf of Bangarra and acknowledged David Page, who died in 2016 and to whom the production of OUR land people stories was dedicated.Here is a link to my review of OUR land people stories.

Bangarra Dance Theatre in 'Nyapanyapa' from 'OUR land people stories,' 2016. Photo by Jhuny Boy BorjaBangarra Dance Theatre in ‘Nyapanyapa’ from OUR land people stories, 2016. Photo: © Jhuny Boy Borja

And finally, the performances that accompanied the announcements were extraordinarily varied. I have to say I enjoyed most of all the lively Hopak Kalyna by the Lehenda Ukrainian Dance Company. The dancers smiled at us! It was a shame, though, that the Australian Ballet’s contribution, the pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty danced by Amber Scott and Ty King-Wall, somehow looked out of place amid all the cabaret, hip hop, sexually-oriented material, angst and other dance elements. It made me wonder why I love ballet as much as I do. Perhaps there needs to be a change somewhere along the line. Perhaps a more contemporary piece from the Australian Ballet, or a bit more ballet in the program?

Michelle Potter, 24 September 2017

Featured image: Scene from ‘Annette’ in Great Sport! featuring dancers from the GOLDS, Canberra’s company of senior dancers. Photo © Lorna Sim, 2016

Scene from 'Great Sport!' Canberra 2016. Photo © Lorna Sim


‘The search for identity. Australian dance in the 1950s’

In March 2017 I was a speaker at the first BOLD Festival, an event directed by Liz Lea and held in Canberra. It set out to examine dance heritage in Australia.

BOLD press release detail

The paper I presented at the National Film and Sound Archive, The search for identity. Australian dance in the 1950s, had a narrow focus, despite its title. I made some comments on my paper in my Dance Diary for March 2017, but I have been wanting to publish the full text on this site for several months. Unfortunately, I cannot add the vision I used, which came from the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive, but here is the link to the text and PPT images.

In addition, here is the link to the audio I used from an oral history interview with Valrene Tweedie, and also the link to Dr Liz Conor’s article on Aboriginalia, to which I refer in the text of the paper.

Michelle Potter, 13 August 2017

Dance diary. May 2017

  • Canberra dance: funding news

In the dire funding situation affecting dance artists across the country, it was a thrill to hear from Liz Lea that her third science show for schools, Reef UP!, has been funded by the Queensland Government under their Engaging Science Grant Program. Read more at this link.

Lea, ever resourceful when it comes to collaborating and seeking funding, has previously presented science-oriented shows called Flying Facts and Star Struck in collaboration with the Queensland Music Festival. She received an ACT seed grant last year to begin research on Reef UP! Discussing Lea’s plans for her children’s shows I wrote last year:

Flying Facts began from a seeding grant Lea received to develop a show, eventually named InFlight, which examined Australian aviation history using materials in the National Library and the National Film and Sound Archive. During the research period, Questacon [the National Science and Technology Centre] asked Lea if a science component could be incorporated. InFlight went ahead as planned but a children’s show looking at how planes and birds fly, Flying Facts, also emerged and scored considerable success. The other children’s show, Star Struck, grew from work Lea did with astronomers and scientists from Mount Stromlo Observatory. It explores the astronomy of the northern and southern constellations and now Lea is exploring the possibility of a new collaboration with Mount Stromlo incorporating dancers from Australia and Singapore. And, fascinated by David Attenborough’s work on the fate of the Great Barrier Reef, Lea is working on a new educational show with characters called Manta, Ray, Slinky the Shark and the like. She has a small grant to undertake further research for this show in Queensland.*

Reef UP! will have an opening season in October in Canberra before touring into regional schools across Queensland and will feature, in addition to Lea, Liesl Zink and Michael Smith.

Liz Lea in a moment from 'Star Struck'. Photo © Sam Rutledge

Liz Lea in a moment from Star Struck. Photo: © Sam Rutledge

In addition to Lea’s funding success, Alison Plevey and Australian Dance Party have received an ACT seed grant to work on a proposed show, Mine!, to premiere (further funding permitting) in August.

  • Zahira Madeleine Bullock (1927–2017)

I was saddened to hear of the death at the age of 90 of Zahira Madeleine Bullock, one of the standout figures in Canberra’s GOLD group. Her appearance in shows by the GOLDs will certainly be missed. I always enjoyed the way her dancing was incorporated into GOLD productions, and how she was assisted along the way by others in the group. She was also founder of Dances of Universal Peace in Australia.

The video clip at this link shows some moments from her dancing career with the GOLDs. Her opening remark on the clip— ‘I think it’s rubbish that dance is only for the young’—will live on forever.

Portrait of Zahira Madeleine Bullock. Photo © Lorna Sim

Portrait of Zahira Madeleine Bullock. Photo © Lorna Sim

  • Hannah O’Neill

Fans of Hannah O’Neill may be interested in watching the following short film, Ascension made by by Jacob Sutton in 2015, showing O’Neill and Germain Louvet dancing inside and outside the Palais Garnier. Follow this link.

The venues used by Sutton in his film can be seen as well in the film Relève (Reset), which documents the first months of Benjamin Millepied’s directorship of Paris Opera Ballet. In particular, there are scenes in Relève that have been shot on the roof of the Palais Garnier, where O’Neill and Louvet execute that very beautiful (but somewhat terrifying) lift with O’Neill being carried along the edge of the roof in a grand jeté pose.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2017

Featured image: Liz Lea in a moment from Star Struck. Photo: © Sam Rutledge

* Read the full article at this link.


Anca Frankenhaeuser in 'Toccata', BOLD Festival. National Portrait Gallery, 2017

BOLD dances. National Portrait Gallery

10 March 2017, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Canberra’s first BOLD Festival, a varied program of dance events over the period 8–12 March 2017, offered a wide-ranging series of activities. Those activities included performances in a variety of styles, as well as talks and discussions on a variety of topics. Dancers showed a range of skill sets and artists came from across the country. The Festival culminated with a performance, To boldly go…, featuring, again, a wide variety of artists.

For me, however, the surprise highlight was a selection of dances performed at the National Portrait Gallery on 10 March. I guess I am constantly fascinated by what dance looks like in the space of Gordon Darling Hall, which is really the entrance lobby for the Portrait Gallery. I love watching how choreographers make their work fit into this space.

The performances began in the afternoon and, as has been the custom at the National Portrait Gallery, there were three short sessions of a program that consisted of two works. Each short session began with Kym King’s Time, danced by Judy Leech and Rosemary Simons, and concluded with a solo by Katrina Rank, My Body is an Etching 2. Neither was choreographically complex but both had emphasis on small details, which were a pleasure to watch in the intimate space available. I especially enjoyed Rank’s solo, which concerned the notion that a dancer’s body is marked by the individual movements that, across time, have affected that body in some way. As Rank remarked in her program notes, those marks consist of ‘intersecting grooves, gouges, grazes and feather like marks’. To add a visible emphasis to her thoughts, Rank had added a subtle yet clear representation of those etched marks onto parts of her body—down her legs, along her arms and extending up the side of her neck.

Katrina Rank in My Body is an Etching 2. BOLD Festival, 2017. National Portrait Gallery

An early evening session was a set of five works. Tammi Gissell reprised a section from Magnificus, magnificus, a work concerning the red-tailed black cockatoo and choreographed by Gissell herself with directorial input from Liz Lea. Gissell is a strong dancer and her performances are always remarkably emotion-filled. The background to Magnificus, magnifcus, which was made in 2013, is discussed at this link.

In an earlier session at the National Film and Sound Archive that morning, Gissell had talked about the fact that she had been advised by her grandmother not to mess with the black cockatoo and, as she turned her back on the audience, not only did the strip of red in her costume remind us of the black cockatoo’s flaming red tail, but her tensed hands reminded us of the warning. Then, as she stalked off I thought what a wonderful Carabosse she would make!

Tammi Gissell in an excerpt from 'Magnificus, magnificus'. Canberra, 2017
Tammi Gissell in an excerpt from 'Magnificus, magnificus'. Canberra, 2017

Tammi Gissell in an extract from Magnificus, magnificus. BOLD Festival, 2017. National Portrait Gallery

The Magnificus, magnificus extract was preceded by Plastic Time, a work choreographed by Peng Hsiao-yin, artistic director of the Taiwanese dance company Danceology, and danced by Peng and three of her performers. It was amusing to watch the dancers producing, time and time again, plastic bags and other such items from surprising places—and sometimes using them in surprising ways. One dancer looked as though he was using a long strip of plastic as dental floss, for example. But at the same time, Plastic Time made a pertinent political statement about the pollution of our environment.

Then followed three short pieces from Anca Frankenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer. I especially enjoyed Viola Duet in which Frankenhaeuser and Harding-Irmer danced together and yet stayed apart. Their connection with each other, achieved through eye contact, glances towards each other, and changing facial expressions, was remarkable and exceptionally moving.

Anca Frankenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer in Viola Duet. BOLD Festival, 2017. National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery showing was a personal favourite. I am sure others would have their own favourites from BOLD, which was the brainchild of independent artist, Liz Lea. I am amazed at what was accomplished over those five days, given that NO external funding was forthcoming for the Festival.

Michelle Potter, 17 March 2017

Featured image: Anca Frankenhaeuser in Toccata. BOLD Festival, 2017. National Portrait Gallery

Anca Frankenhaeuser in 'Toccata', BOLD Festival. National Portrait Gallery, 2017

All photos: Michelle Potter

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!'