Dance diary. June 2013

  • Meryl Tankard

Philippe Charluet of Stella Motion Pictures has kindly given me permission to use clips from some of the work he has done with Meryl Tankard. They include excerpts from a short documentary, Meryl Tankard: a unique choreographic voice, made for Spring Dance in Sydney in 2011, and some excerpts from Tankard’s work Possessed, made for the Barossa Arts Festival in 1995 in conjunction with the Balanescu Quartet. The clips give a glimpse of Tankard’s extraordinarily diverse output (apart from being so beautifully filmed and edited) and make me wonder why works like Two Feet, Nuti and so many others have never been made available commercially.

Here are Charluet’s clips:
A unique choreographic voice;  Possessed.

I still have a few copies of my unauthorised biography, Meryl Tankard: an original voice, available for sale. Ordering details are at the end of this post.
Cover design 'Meryl Tankard: an original voice'The book outlines the story behind Tankard’s magical works. Here are the last couple of paragraphs to my story:

Many people have shared her journeys—her family and friends, her partner in life and art, her audiences, her dancers, and those creative artists she especially admires and who admire her. But there are perhaps two ‘last words’ to this story. One belongs to Meryl Tankard herself: ‘I don’t want to go into a battlefield’, she is reported to have said as she prepared to leave Canberra for Adelaide in 1992. ‘I just want to work’. The second comes from Jim Sharman who recalls seeing Tankard performing for the first time in Wuppertal in 1980: a piece by Pina Bausch, Bausch’s eulogy, or ‘memento mori’ as Sharman puts it, for her recently deceased partner and designer for Tanztheater Wuppertal, Rolf Borzik. Sharman writes:

At one point, a very familiar accent cut the air. Australian dancer Meryl Tankard entered to reminisce about having lost her sunglasses in Venice. It was my first thrilling glimpse of this great artist and future choreographer.

These two comments encapsulate two features of Tankard’s life and work in art. Firstly, her comment about just wanting simply to work highlights her commitment to, and pursuit of excellence no matter what obstacles might be placed in her way or whom she might cross in making her work. Secondly, Sharman’s remark encapsulates Tankard’s ability to couch the serious—in this case loss—behind humour and zaniness. Tankard is perhaps Australia’s one truly original dance voice.

(The ‘battlefield quote’ is from an article by Tracey Aubin in The Bulletin in 1992; the quote by Jim Sharman is from his 2008 autobiography Blood and Tinsel: a memoir).

  • The GOLDS

Canberra is in the somewhat odd position of having no professional dance company but of having a strong youth company in QL2 and a group called the GOLDS that consists of older performers (over 55) most of whom have never been professional dancers. The GOLDS, which is directed by the irrepressible Liz Lea, recently gave four sold-out performance at the National Gallery of Australia as part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations. Called ‘Life is a work of art’, the event took place in front of various works of art and I hope to report a little more fully a little later when I have a little more information—I was at the dress rehearsal and no program notes were available. Suffice it to say for the moment that some pieces worked better than others but that as a whole this was a more than interesting event.

  • Press for June

Big, bravura dancing program article for the Bolshoi Ballet’s Australian season;

‘Happy in San Francisco’, profile of Luke Ingham in Dance Australia , June/July 2013 with an online teaser;

Background story on Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal and her latest work, Opal Vapour, published in The Canberra Times on 1 June;

Review of Garry Stewart’s G published in The Canberra Times on 15 June;

Review of Opal Vapour  published in The Canberra Times on 18 June.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2013

Meryl Tankard: an original voice FURTHER DETAILS & HOW TO ORDER
‘It brought back so many memories’— Jill Sykes

Canberra 100 banner

 

Dance diary. March 2013

  • Luke Ingham

In mid-March I had the pleasure of meeting up in San Francisco with Luke Ingham, former soloist with the Australian Ballet. Ingham and his wife, Danielle Rowe, left Houston Ballet in 2012 to take up other offers. Rowe went to join Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague and Ingham scored a soloist’s contract with San Francisco Ballet. Ingham has already had some great opportunities in San Francisco and my story on his activities is scheduled to appear in the June issue of Dance Australia in the magazine’s series Dancers without borders. Watch out for it.

  • Walter Gore’s The Crucifix

I have always been fascinated by a photograph taken by Walter Stringer of the final scene from Walter Gore’s ballet The Crucifix. Alan Brissenden, in his and Keith Glennon’s book Australia Dances, reproduces the photograph on page 53, and a print is part of the National Library’s Walter Stringer Collection. Brissenden gives a brief account of the storyline and the reception the ballet received when it was staged in Australia by the National Theatre Ballet in 1952.

Paula Hinton in Walter Gore's 'The Crucifix', 1952Paul Hinton in the final scene of Walter Gore’s ballet The Crucifix, National Theatre Ballet, Melbourne 1952. Photo: Walter Stringer, National Library of Australia

I have just recently been making a summary of an oral history interview I recorded with Athol Willoughby in February and his recollections of performing in The Crucifix tell us a little more, especially about the final scene, and provide, furthermore, a wonderful example of the value of oral history. Willoughby played the role of one of the soldiers who accompanies the executioner, played by Walter Gore, to the scaffold. He says of the opening performance:

‘The scene changed to a huge [stake] with a lot of fake wood around it … Wally came in carrying Paula … Her hands were tied … and he lifted her onto the [stake]. Just as the symphony ended he picked up a torch—none of us had seen the end of the ballet, even at the dress rehearsal the end of the ballet hadn’t been choreographed and we didn’t know what was going to happen—he picked up a flaming torch and threw it at the pyre of wood. The minute he threw the torch at her the wood lit up, the symphony finished and Paula screamed … It was so powerful.’

  • The Rite of Spring: an animated graphical score

I  have just received the following note and link from composer Stephen Malinowski:
‘The last few months, I’ve been working on an animated graphical score of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. This week I completed the first part:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02tkp6eeh40
Enjoy!’

  • Pacific Northwest Ballet

In my review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s recent program I mentioned that the show I saw was only the second time I had seen the company in performance. Well that is not quite true. I had the good fortune to see the company in 2007 in Seattle when the program consisted of George Balanchine’s La Sonambula, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia and Nacho Duato’s Rassemblement. Certainly a very interesting program.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2013

Featured image: Luke Ingham and Sarah van Patten in Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour. Photo: © Erik Tomasson, 2013. Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

Diary NoteFurther details

Stanton Welch. ‘An Aussie in Houston’

A recent visit to the United States saw me in Houston, Texas, where I was able to have a look at Houston Ballet’s new premises and enjoyed being shown around by Stanton Welch. And there is more than one Aussie at Houston Ballet these days.  Below is the text of a story published on 26 November 2011 in The Canberra Times under the heading ‘An Aussie in Houston’.

stanton-welch-in-rehearsal
Stanton Welch in rehearsal. Photo: © Bruce Bennetts. Courtesy of Houston Ballet

—Stanton Welch is in a buoyant mood as he shows me around Houston Ballet’s stunning new home in downtown Houston, Texas. Melbourne-born Welch has been artistic director of Houston Ballet, the fourth largest ballet company in the United States, for eight years. The company moved into its six-storey headquarters in February of this year and the new studios—nine of them—are huge with high ceilings and lots of windows letting in the beautiful Texan light. In some, children are taking a ballet class. In others, company members are rehearsing for the forthcoming production of the Christmas classic The Nutcracker and for the annual gala, Jubilee of Dance. The building hums with activity.

Welch, a young-looking 42 year old, is the elder son of Marilyn Jones and Garth Welch, former principal dancers with both the Borovansky and the Australian Ballets. Both also worked with Sydney Dance Company and both are teachers of renown. Their second son, Damien, retired quite recently from his position as a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet. Together the four of them are familiarly called the “Royal Family of Australian Ballet” such is their collective status in the Australian dance world. Damien is also currently in Houston to stage his brother’s production of Cinderella for Houston Ballet next year. And indeed the month of November is something of a family time. Jones is also visiting. “Mum comes over a couple of times a year. I usually try to get her to do a bit of teaching while she’s here,” Welch says with a grin.

Welch was a late starter in the ballet world: he took his first lessons only when 16. But there was no looking back after that. He choreographed his first piece, Hades, during the first year of his dance training in 1986 and it won several eisteddfod prizes. By 1989 he had joined the Australian Ballet and in 1990 received his first choreographic commission, which resulted in A Time to Dance for the Dancers Company of the Australian Ballet. He went on to make his first major piece, Of Blessed Memory, for the main company in 1991. By 1995 he was a resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet and remains so, from a distance, to this day. The extent of his choreographic output by now is remarkable and includes works for major companies around the world. He was appointed artistic director of Houston Ballet in 2003 and for the moment he seems firmly entrenched in Houston, largest city in the state of Texas.

“What I love about working here”, he says “is that the dancers are so energised. There is absolutely no complacency. We are so lucky with audiences too. They are very adventurous and brave when it comes to new work, which is great for a choreographer. Our subscriptions continued to grow even during the recession.”

But as I look into the studios from the viewing windows I am struck by the fact that there are Australians in a number of the studios. Ballet master Steven Woodgate is busy rehearsing a large number of dancers for a group scene in Nutcracker. A Churchill Fellowship awardee for 2000, Woodgate retired from the Australian Ballet, where he was senior artist for several years, and took up the position of ballet master at Houston in 2004, the year after Welch’s arrival.

In another studio Luke Ingham, who grew up on a farm in Mount Gambier, South Australia, is rehearsing for his first princely role, that of the Prince in Nutcracker. Ingham has been with the company since July 2011 and has just toured to New York with Houston Ballet where he also took the opportunity to catch up with four of his former Australian Ballet colleagues. They were in New York to dance and promote the Australian Ballet’s New York visit in 2012.

Ingham will be dancing in Houston’s Nutcracker with his partner in life Danielle Rowe, a former Australian Ballet principal who joined Houston Ballet early in 2011. He is looking forward to the occasion. “It’s great to work with someone you love,” he says. “I love being out there on stage with Dani.”

In her relatively short time in Houston to date Rowe has already made a name for herself. A dazzling dancer and winner of a 2010 Helpmann Award as best female dancer in a dance or physical theatre production, Rowe has so far danced leading roles in Houston productions of two major classics, Sleeping Beauty and Giselle. In Giselle, a production staged by yet another Australian artist, dancer and coach Ai-Gul Gaisina, critics spoke glowingly of Rowe’s performance as “gossamer-spirited.” and noted that she moved like “a tissue in a breeze.”

There have been Australians in the Houston company for a while. Mary McKendry, who was brought up and learnt to dance in Rockhampton, Queensland, was a principal dancer with Houston Ballet in the 1980s when a young man from Mao’s China defected while on an exchange visit to Houston Ballet. His name was Li Cunxin and McKendry eventually married him. They moved to Australia where Li would go on to have a stellar career with the Australian Ballet, write his best selling autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer and eventually become a stockbroker in Melbourne. Li often returns to Houston and did so earlier this month to be honoured for his achievements by the Houston-based organisation Dance of Asian America.

What is it that draws Australian dancers to Houston Ballet? Welch believes that it is the varied repertoire that the company offers. His dancers get the opportunity to perform in works that he creates himself, works by acclaimed American and European choreographers and both old and new takes on the classics. Danielle Rowe suggests the same. Along with a positive work ethic, it was what she was looking forward to most of all when she left the Australian Ballet for a new career in Houston. Ingham couldn’t resist the thought though that, with his farming background, there might be the added attraction of the Texan cowboy culture! But whatever it is, the vibes are good at Houston Ballet. Welch strides through his new domain laughing and joking and generously accommodating my every request.—
danielle-rowe-in-sleeping-beauty-1

Danielle Rowe and Simon Ball in Ben Stevenson’s Sleeping Beauty, 2011. Photo: © Ron McKinney. Courtesy of Houston Ballet

And in addition to those Australians mentioned above, former Australian Ballet dancer Andrew Murphy is an instructor at Houston Ballet’s academy. Murphy is married to Sabrina Lenzi, ballet mistress of Houston Ballet II, a company similar in outlook and mission to the Australian Ballet’s Dancers Company.

Michelle Potter, 26 November 2011

Featured image: Stanton Welch in rehearsal (detail). Photo: © Bruce Bennetts. Courtesy of Houston Ballet

‘The Silver Rose.’ The Australian Ballet

Elsewhere on this website I made a comment that referred to Graeme Murphy’s The Silver Rose, which I saw just recently towards the end of its Sydney season by the Australian Ballet. My comment was in response to what I thought was an excellent argument about the new magazine Fjord Review, which also brought up other issues relating to leadership and marketing of dance and dancers and in particular to perceived problems with Australian Ballet dancers ‘nailing the right atmosphere’ in their performances. My comment in its turn generated another comment picking up on The Silver Rose. All the comments are available at this link but I am reposting the last one below.

  • I was hoping Michelle would open a thread about The Silver Rose. I seem to be in a minority in thinking that Murphy acquitted himself well in the enormous task he set himself and his designer in taking on a danced version of Der Rosenkavalier.

Well, I was very disappointed with The Silver Rose. I thought the final trio for the Marschallin, Sophie and Octavian was brilliantly choreographed and well performed by Danielle Rowe, Amber Scott and Luke Ingham. It was a moment of nostalgia and in true Murphy fashion all the yearning, wistfulness and regret contained in that particular emotion came through in the choreography. But, there wasn’t all that much else in it for me. The first act, which had to establish the characters, cried out for words or surtitles or program notes that lit up in the dark, anything. The complications of who was who just couldn’t be established through choreographic means. I also found the pantomime of the hairdresser, couturier and make-up artist so over the top that it made me cringe. Personally I like my pantomime to be a little more subtle, and I don’t think that’s a contradiction in terms.

But the point I was making in the comment posted earlier was that I didn’t think the dancers of the Australian Ballet, with a few exceptions, really got the feel of Murphy’s brand of choreography on this occasion. There were so many moments when they simply looked awkward. It reminded me of Carolyn Brown, that great, great Cunningham dancer from the mid decades of the twentieth century, who said that when the Cunningham company went to watch Cunningham’s equally great, great work Summerspace performed by New York City Ballet (in 1966) that they all sat in the auditorium and cried.

However, this post is now open for comments.

Michelle Potter, 26 April 2010.