'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!'

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

Dance diary. November 2016

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2016

The Canberra Critics’ Circle, a group of Canberra-based, practising critics from across art forms, presented its annual awards in November. Two awards were given in the dance area.

Liz Lea: For her innovative promotion of dance in the ACT exemplified by her co-ordination and presentation of “Great Sport!” at the National Museum of Australia, which spectacularly showcased the work of The Gold Company, Dance for Parkinson’s, Canberra Dance Theatre, and of a number of local and interstate choreographers, in a memorable and remarkable presentation.

Alison Plevey: For her tireless and consistent efforts as a dancer, choreographer and facilitator towards advancing professional contemporary dance in the A.C.T through her performances, collaborations, and programs, culminating in the establishment of her dance company, Australian Dance Party.

Alison Plevey (left) in 'Strings Attached', Australian Dance Party 2016.

Alison Plevey (left) in Strings Attached, the inaugural show from Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

As indicated in the citations, both Plevey and Lea have contributed to the growth of a renewed interest in dance in Canberra. A preview of Plevey’s forthcoming show, Nervous, is below under ‘Press for November 2016’. My review of Great Sport!, facilitated, directed, and partly choreographed by Lea is at this link.

  • The Nutcracker: Queensland Ballet

A second viewing of Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker, with a change of cast, had some new highlights. Neneka Yoshida was a gorgeous Clara. She was beautifully animated and involved throughout and there were some charming asides from her with other characters during those moments when she wasn’t the centre of attention. Mia Heathcote took on the role of Grandmother, a role that couldn’t be further from her opening night role as Clara. But she created a very believable character and, as we have come to expect, never wavered from her characterisation. Tim Neff was a totally outrageous Mother Ginger and Lina Kim and Rian Thompson gave us a thrilling performance as the leading couple in the Waltz of the Flowers.

Another exceptional performance from Queensland Ballet.

  • Ella. A film by Douglas Watkins

Ella, which premiered earlier in 2016 at the Melbourne International Film Festival, traces the journey of Ella Havelka from a childhood spent dancing in Dubbo, New South Wales, to her current position as a corps be ballet member of the Australian Ballet. My strongest recollection of Havelka with the Australian Ballet is her dancing with Rohan Furnell as the leading Hungarian couple in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake when I called their performance ‘very feisty’.

Scene from the film 'Ella'

Scene from the film Ella, 2016

I found the film largely unchallenging, however, and footage of Havelka dancing with Bangarra Dance Theatre was far more exciting to watch than that showing her with the Australian Ballet. Not only that, the commentary from Stephen Page on the nature of Bangarra, and Havelka’s role as an Indigenous Australian in that company, was far more pertinent and gutsy than the rather non-committal remarks from interviewees from the Australian Ballet. An opportunity missed from several points of view?

  • Royal New Zealand Ballet

Royal New Zealand Ballet is seeking a new artistic director to replace Francesco Ventriglia who will leave his position in mid-2017. Ventriglia will depart ‘to pursue international opportunities.’ Before he departs New Zealand he will take on the new role of guest choreographer to stage his own production of Romeo and Juliet in August. His planned repertoire for 2017 includes works by Roland Petit and Alexander Ekman.

  • Late news: Ruth Osborne

Ruth Osborne, artistic director of QL2 Dance in Canberra, has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to pursue her interest in developing dance projects for young people. More in a future post.

  • Press for November 2016

‘Wonderful version of Christmas classic.’ Review of The Nutcracker from Queensland Ballet. The Canberra Times, 25 November 2016, p. 37.  Online version.

‘Under the microscope.’ Preview of Nervous from Australian Dance Party. The Canberra TimesPanorama, 26 November 2016, p. 15. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2016

Featured image: Liz Lea in a study for a forthcoming show, RED. Photo: © Nino Tamburri, 2016

Liz Lea in a study for a forthcoming show, 'RED'.

 

Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

‘Strings attached.’ Australian Dance Party

25 August 2016, Nishi Building, Canberra

Strings Attached, the debut show from Canberra’s new contemporary dance company, Australian Dance Party, is a knockout. The concept behind the show, devised by the ‘Party Leader’, dancer Alison Plevey, sounds simplistic: an investigation of the relationship between music and dance in a collaboration between four dancers and six musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. But as developed in performance it was totally engaging, illuminating and just plain exciting to watch.

The show began with the sounds of breathing, gentle at first but gathering volume as dancers and musicians met in the performing space before taking their positions to begin the show proper. ‘Before people spoke, we moved,’ the program states. ‘We moved to the innate rhythm of our hearts, our breath and the patterns of our lives.’ And so the dance and its musical accompaniment began, starting with some improvised movement and accompanying sound, moving on to a gentle piece with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully and a kind of slow and refined dance for all four dancers. The show continued its pathway through different musical and dancerly episodes—a lament, a tango, on to Jimi Hendrix with the dancers hooked up to iPods, and, finally, to an ‘Electronic Piece’ that became a riotous party/disco dance in which the audience was encouraged, and sometimes specifically invited to participate.

What was especially noticeable throughout was the absolute commitment of dancers and musicians. They were totally engaged with each other and with the sound and movement they were producing. Alison Plevey and Janine Proost both showed exceptionally fluid, high energy movement, Liz Lea was somewhat more restrained but added a way of engaging socially with the musicians that the others didn’t quite have—Lea always uses strong facial expression as a way of engaging. As for Gabriel Comerford, whose dancing I had never seen before, he knocked me for six with his movement that was on the one hand highly disciplined but on the other totally free.

The venue, a pop-up space in Canberra’s trendy Nishi building, was set up a little like a theatre restaurant with tables and chairs placed around a central performing area. Around the edge of the performance space the musicians sheltered under two white canopies of string sculpture crocheted by installation artist Victoria Lees.

Scene from 'Strings Attached', Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo Lorna Sim

Dancers and musicians in the final moments of Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Some particular highlights, personal favourites perhaps:

  • Alison Plevey and harpist Meriel Owen improvising in the early stages of the show. Amazing, especially in the second part where Owen had to follow Plevey’s rising and falling movements, which she did as if it were second nature.

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

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

  • Gabriel Comerford in ‘March’ (‘Command and Conquer Red Alert Theme—Soviet March’), in which he got totally lost, trance-like, dancing to a stirring, politicised composition by James Hannigan. His long, black hair came loose from its topknot, and his movement was at times absolutely precise and powerful, but at others wildly erratic. Thrilling to watch.
  • A ‘conversation’ between dancer Liz Lea and trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky.
  • The musicians who played more than one instrument throughout, swapping seamlessly between them. And fascinating to look at (as well as to listen to) was Tim Wickham’s white ‘skeleton’ electric violin.

But in many respects it is unfair to single out individuals because everyone in this show gave so much of themselves to make this a standout evening of live music and dance.

I guess my one hope for this brave new venture is that the format of the debut show will not always be the format in the future. Plevey has a rare intelligence as a director and I hope she will find ways of occasionally presenting her work in different spaces, including in more mainstream performing arenas. The party line (as in its celebratory rather than political meaning) is fine for a start but I am hoping for something different as well.

Canberra has been without a professional dance company since Sue Healey left town in the 1990s. If Strings Attached is anything to go by we now have much to anticipate.

Michelle Potter, 27 August 2016.

Featured image: Dancer Gabriel Comerford and cellist Alex Voorhoeve in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

 

Liz Lea in 'The Incense'. Photo: Lara Platman

‘India Meets.’ Various artists

20 August 2016, Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra

India Meets received just one performance, which is a shame because it offered a truly fascinating and diverse experience of Indian and Indian-inspired dance. And it was a sold-out performance.

The evening was the brainchild of Liz Lea, who took the opportunity to put the show together to bring to a close a visit to Australia by British Indian dancer, Seeta Patel. Patel’s training is in the Bharata Natyam technique, a style which Lea has also studied and has performed throughout her career, so the focus of the evening was strongly on this style of movement. The live component of the show, for example, began with a solo, Ashtapadi No. 19, beautifully performed by Canberra-based exponent of Bharata Natyam, Jenni White, who danced to a mesmerising voice and percussion accompaniment by Mahesh Radhakrishnan.

For those in Canberra, however, who remember Kuchipudi dancer Padma Menon whose work was an integral part of the Canberra dance scene in the 1990s, it was a more than pleasurable experience to see Shivashtakam, performed by local Kuchipudi dancers Vanaja Dasika and Suhasini Sumithra. Their exuberant performance was a delight and offered insight into another South Indian technique.

Lea herself performed two pieces. The first, The Incense, was based on a 1906 work by American dancer Ruth St Denis whose interest in spirituality led her to look to India for inspiration to nurture her choreographic and performance career. In The Incense the dancer enacts an incense burning ritual and Lea’s reinterpretation was strongly performed. She held the attention with some fine lyrical movement and arresting poses. The second of Lea’s solos, When Tagore met Einstein, was based on a discussion that took place between poet Rabindranath Tagore and scientist Albert Einstein in 1930. This work perhaps needs to be seen more than once for its full value to be realised. It was hard to follow the extraordinary complexities of the conversation, which was used as a voice-over, and at the same time to focus on the choreography and its performance. Both pieces represented Lea’s interest in historical conjunctions between the cultures of East and West and also demonstrated, in particular with When Tagore met Einstein, her interest in using classical techniques in a contemporary manner.

Patel showed two solos. Patra Pravesham—Ananda Nartana Ganapatim, which concerned the elephant-headed god Ganesha, and which included a strong display of some of the technical aspects of Bharata Natyam; and Padam (Theruvil Vaaraano)—Raga Kamas, showing the expressionistic side of the style. Patel has a powerful sense of focus, meticulous attention to detail, and is an extraordinarily articulate dancer in the manner in which she moves through the choreography and the complex expressionistic language. Only the very best dancers, in whatever dance style they might espouse, have the ability to make their movement look as though it is completely at one with the body. Patel has it all and her performance was moving and utterly entrancing. She is an extraordinary dance artist.

Two short (very short) films were also part of the program. Both gave insight into Patel’s process and practice with one focusing on the work in which she has been engaged in Australia with contemporary choreographer Lina Limosani. For more on Patel’s Australian visit, including a link to the Limosani collaboration, see this link.

Michelle Potter, 22 August 2016

Featured image: Liz Lea in The Incense (detail), 2005. Photo: © Lara Platman

Liz Lea in 'The Incense'. Photo: Lara Platman