Dance diary. August 2012

  • America’s irreplaceable dance treasures

This month my essays in the series America’s irreplaceable dance treasures: the first 100 went online on the website of the Dance Heritage Coalition. I was commissioned to write on Merce Cunningham and Rudolf Nureyev. The Irreplaceable treasures site is something to be treasured in itself. It is a continuing source of regret to me that in Australia we no longer have something similar. See my previous post on the demise of Australia Dancing: the Australia Dancing site was admired and used not just in Australia but around the world.

  • Tammi Gissell

I continue to be impressed with dancer Tammi Gissell who earlier in August was the solo performer in Liz Lea’s work in progress ‘Seeking Biloela’. A follow up conversation with Gissell revealed her strong and much treasured connections to her indigenous heritage. It was also interesting to hear her thoughts about working with scientists at CSIRO. She said: ‘What is also exciting for me in working with Liz is the opportunity to work with the scientists at CSIRO and to see the absolute relationship between traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge and how they support each other. For example, the scientists confirm that the Black Cockatoo rides ahead of the rain currents, heralding fertility for the land and people’.

Tammi Gissell 2012. Dance diary August. Photo Lorna SimTammi Gissell in rehearsal for ‘Seeking Biloela’, 2012. Photo: Lorna Sim

Gissell has recently been commissioned to create two new works for the Perth-based Ochre Contemporary Dance Company for a forthcoming season. She will choreograph one herself and make the other in collaboration with Jacob Lehrer. She is also currently in discussions with Queensland Theatre Company to develop a new work in 2013.

  • Claudia Gitelman

I was sorry to hear, just a day or so after posting my review of On stage alone, edited by Claudia Gitelman and Barbara Palfy, that Claudia Gitelman had died. Gitelman was associate professor emerita at Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey, and was well-known for her uncompromising scholarship. Her published writing includes a study of Hanya Holm. She also co-edited and contributed to a critical analysis of the work of Alwin Nikolais with whose company she performed. Here is a link to a brief obituary.

  • Time in motion

The exhibition venue at the State Theatre in Melbourne is currently showing an exhibition celebrating the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary. Called Time in motion: 50 years of the Australian Ballet and curated by Margot Anderson, the Arts Centre Melbourne’s curator of dance and opera, the exhibition shows a diverse range of material including footage (some of which is archival), photographs, designs and memorabilia. It covers, if randomly, the company’s history from its first performance of Swan Lake in 1962 up to the triple bill, Infinity, staged in 2012.

Natasha Kusen 2004 Photo Justin SmithNatasha Kusen of the Australian Ballet in Serenade, 2004. Choreography G Balanchine ©The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: Justin Smith

I was especially taken by the works on paper from set and costumes designers working for the Australian Ballet across the decades. They ranged from highly detailed works, such as that by Kristian Fredrikson for Franz in the 1979 production of Coppélia, to others that were simply pencilled shapes, such as the designs by Moritz Junge for Wayne McGregor’s 2009 production, Dyad 1929. I especially liked the designs by Akira Isogawa for Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet (2011). They looked like they had been drawn in fine black pen on cloth rather than paper and were careful works of art with fabric swatches attached to become part of the art work rather pinned or stapled on in a less than careful manner. But probably my favourite was Michael Pearce’s design for the character played by Simone Goldsmith in Stephen Baynes’ At the edge of Night (1997). I loved how it was presented as a collage of sources with costume drawings complemented by historical images and a fabric swatch carefully placed to enhance the total effect.

My one gripe is that there were some issues with the display of archival footage. Some of the footage made the dancers look decidedly short and dumpy. While one can make excuses (perhaps) for the 1960s footage, there is no excuse for having Lisa Bolte and Robert Curran look short and dumpy in footage of Baynes’ beautiful pas de deux from Edge of night. I know they don’t look like that and suspect that something as simple as a change of monitor might have made a difference.

Time in motion finishes in Melbourne on 23 September 2012 and then goes to Sydney where it will be hung at the State Library of New South Wales, 12 November 2012–10 February 2013.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2012

‘Edge of Night’. The Australian Ballet

This last triple bill of the Australian Ballet’s 2010 season was an opportunity to revisit two ballets created by resident choreographer Stephen Baynes and to ponder on the emergence of a new force in Australian choreography, Tim Harbour.

Edge of Night, which gave the program its name, was first seen in 1997. What especially stood out for me from this 2010 viewing was the visual strength of the work. Michael Pearce’s set and costumes and Stephen Wickham’s lighting evoked just the right atmosphere of nostalgia, longing and sad (and perhaps not so sad) memories. A real sense of collaboration was evident and Pearce in particular deserves many accolades for bringing a quality of surrealism to the design, which suggested the role of the subconscious in our most nostalgic encounters. Pianist Stuart Macklin added to the mood with his expressive playing of the seven Rachmaninov Preludes to which Edge of Night is set.

Kirsty Martin was elegant in the leading female role and the partnership with Robert Curran as the man in her past was as smooth as silk. But Martin played the part a little coldly for my liking missing the opportunity to develop an emotional connection with the audience. The stand-out performer was Laura Tong as the girl on the swing. She did connect with us and the youthfulness and the ‘breath of spring’ quality to her dancing was a joy.

Harbour’s new work, Halcyon, had a strong narrative line and suffered from being pretty much incomprehensible unless one knew intimately the Greek myth concerning the wind goddess Halcyon’s doomed love affair, and its consequences, with the mortal Ceyx. The ballet needed surtitles! However, if one ignored the narrative and watched from a purely visual and theatrical point of view—and I’m ignoring for the moment the implications of that idea—there was much to admire. Harbour’s choreography was brimming with ideas and I was especially taken by the fact that he had managed to imbue the choreography with the look of ancient Greek sculpture while also giving it a real contemporary edge. Stage concept and lighting was by the Melbourne-based lighting and design company, Bluebottle, and their designers made effective use of backlighting to create two worlds of action by at times turning what initially looked like a backcloth into a scrim. The work looked fabulous and the dancers looked beautifully rehearsed and absorbed in executing the choreography for maximum effect. But oh … that need for surtitles!

The closing work on the program, Baynes’ Molto Vivace, is a crowd pleaser, and to my mind an exercise in silliness, danced to a compilation of works by Handel. It was first seen in 2003. Dourly I have to say that I have never been a fan of this work but I laughed my way through it unable to do anything else when the woman behind me was almost hysterical with laughter from opening to closing moment. Laughter breeds laughter.

Leanne Stojmenov danced the leading role of the Lady but again like Martin in Edge of Night I found her performance beautifully rendered but a little cold. In the glorious central pas de deux with its exquisite lifts and soft, sighing movements, which for me is the raison d’être of this work, she looked perfect in an Alice in Wonderland kind of way. But thoughts of Simone Goldsmith, who created the role in 2003 and whose extreme vulnerability gave to the pas de deux a deep humanity, were hard to erase from my mind.

Michelle Potter, 28 November 2010