‘L’. Mirramu Dance Company

15 July 2015, Q Theatre, Queanbeyan

Elizabeth Dalman’s L begins with a solo dance, ‘The firebird’, performed by Miranda Wheen. Wheen wears a red tutu that Dalman herself wore as a young ballet student in Adelaide and, as Wheen finishes her solo and makes her exit, a red feather drops from her costume. It is picked up by Dalman who enters as Wheen exits. The feather, Dalman exclaims, holds the story of ‘a vibrant life’. What follows is indeed the story of Dalman’s life in dance, largely the 50 years since Dalman established Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide in June 1965. L has in fact been made in celebration of that 50th anniversary. The name of the work, L, is the Roman numeral for 50 and also the first letter of Liz, the name by which Dalman was known when she directed ADT between 1965 and 1975.

Miranda Wheen as the Firebird in 'L'. Photo: © Barbie Robinson
Miranda Wheen as the Firebird in L. Photo: © Barbie Robinson

is a reworking of an earlier evening-length piece, Sapling to Silver, which Dalman made in 2011. Although Sapling to Silver also celebrated Dalman’s career in dance, L has an even stronger focus on Dalman and has clearly benefited from the input of a dramaturg. It is tightly constructed and follows a logical, easily understood pathway.

Some of the dance segments are drawn from the early ADT repertoire. They feature choreography in the style of those who influenced Dalman at the time—Eleo Pomare, Martha Graham and others of that era—and music and songs by the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Yoko Ono and other artists of the 1960s and 1970s. Other segments are newer and have been made during the time Dalman has spent at her Mirramu Creative Arts Centre on the shores of Lake George at Bungendore just north of Canberra.

The separate elements of L are drawn together by the story, narrated by Dalman over the course of the various sections, of a eucalyptus tree that grows and flourishes before dying—a metaphor for life. The narrated storyline is accompanied at times by danced segments, including ‘Sapling’ to music by Colin Offord. ‘Sapling’ is strongly danced by Vivienne Rogis and Rogis’ constant and commanding presence throughout L highlights another strand of Dalman’s career. In 2000, Rogis was co-founder with Dalman of Mirramu Dance Company.

One of the most moving segments in the work is ‘Tree spirit’, danced by Dalman and, as the spirit of the tree, the newest member of Mirramu Dance Company, Hans David Ahwang. Ahwang seems possessed by that tree spirit as he dances around Dalman, crouching, hovering, leaping. His body quivers at every move and his eyes dart and then focus strongly. The choreographic detail he displays is spellbinding.

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Elizabeth Dalman and Hans David Ahwang in ‘Tree Spirit’, Mirramu Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Barbie Robinson

As this section finishes Dalman holds up a stone she has gathered from the spot on which her tree used to stand. It has, she says, the face of a young woman written on it and, as Dalman leaves, Miranda Wheen begins a solo, ‘Young Woman’, in which she flies through the air, turning and twisting with all the vigour of youth. These two sections work beautifully together as a juxtaposition of dancing generations.

L then takes on a more sombre tone as Dalman dances ‘Old Woman’ with choreography by Adriaan Kans, followed by ‘Dyin’ Time’ to music by the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary and danced by the whole Mirramu company. I wondered about these last sections. At 81 Dalman, to her credit, never tried in L to pretend she was still a young dancer. But ‘Old Woman’, which Dalman performed with remarkable power and strength, was perhaps a little too long, and maybe  ‘Dyin’ Time’ was unnecessary, even though the words expressed what Dalman hopes to achieve—that is to pass on her heritage to her company of dancers? But the celebratory tone of the finale, into which Dalman had choreographed the curtain calls, removed the darker notes of the previous two segments. On balance, L is indeed a celebration of Dalman’s truly vibrant life.

The Queanbeyan performance was a precursor to a gala event in Adelaide to be held on 18 July. Dalman was not impressed that public funding for an ADT gala in Adelaide was pulled. So, determined that ADT’s 50th anniversary should not go unnoticed, she self-funded L to be performed at the Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre where the program will include an excpert from Garry Stewart’s Be Your Self performed by the current ADT dancers.

Michelle Potter, 17 July 2015

Dance diary. June 2015

  • Mirramu Dance Company

The dancers of Elizabeth Dalman’s Mirramu Dance Company are currently in residence at Mirramu Creative Arts Centre, on the shores of Lake George, Bungendore, rehearsing for L. The current Mirramu company consists of Dalman herself, Vivienne Rogis, who co-founded the company with Dalman, Miranda Wheen, Janine Proost, Amanda Tutalo, Mark Lavery and the newest recruit, Hans David Ahwang, a recent graduate from NAISDA.

Mirramu Dance company 2015. Photo Barbie Robinson

(l–r) Hans David Ahwang, Amanda Tutalo, Vivienne Rogis, Miranda Wheen, Mark Lavery, Janine Proost, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: © Barbie Robinson, 2015

L is the story of a vibrant life, that of Elizabeth Dalman. It began as Sapling to Silver in 2011 and in that form won a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award. Dalman is reworking it and tightening the production, and she has renamed it L for its upcoming performances in Queanbeyan and at a gala event in Adelaide in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Australian Dance Theatre. L is the roman numeral for 50 and also the first letter of Liz, the name by which Dalman was known as founding director of ADT. While L is autobiographical, Dalman sees it as an Everyman story, the story of every dancer and every artist facing the pleasures and the difficulties of a creative life. It is also the story of every human being facing the ageing process and pondering how to communicate knowledge to a younger generation. As such it seems a perfect way to celebrate 50 years of ADT as well as the contribution Dalman has made across those 50 years.

L is at the Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, on 15 July; and at the Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide, on 18 July.

  • Hans David Ahwang

Meet the newest member of Mirramu Dance Company.

Hans David Ahwang. Photo Barbie Robinson 2015

Hans David Ahwang. Photo: © Barbie Robinson, 2015

Ahwang is a Torres Strait Islander from St Paul’s Community of Moa Island. He graduated from NAISDA in 2014 with a Diploma of Careers in Dance Performance. As well as performing with a range of companies during his time at NAISDA, Ahwang was a model at the first Indigenous Fashion Week in April 2014. I look forward to his performances in L, and to following his dance career.

  • Strange attractor: the space in the middle

Now in its third year, Strange attractor, a Canberra-based initiative, brings together several independent choreographers, and a range of other contributors, in a choreographic lab where the choreographers have freedom to explore a particular project. This years lab was facilitated by Margie Medlin and choreographers were Alison Plevey, Amelia McQueen, Janine Proost, Laura Boynes and Olivia Fyfe. I can’t say I really understood what was behind every project and I have always disliked program notes that refer to concepts that are beyond the ken of many in the audience. Nevertheless, there was some interesting dancing and some quite stunning dance photography by Lorna Sim.

Amelia McQueen in her 'Strange Attractor' project #2. Photo: Lorna Sim, 2015

Amelia McQueen in her Strange Attractor project #2. Photo: © Lorna Sim, 2015

Although I can’t say Amelia McQueen’s first project, which was an audio piece, thrilled me much, I enjoyed her dancing in her second project, in which she re-enacted a duet between dancer and guitarist. I was also fascinated by Alison Plevey’s work with its ‘strange attractions’ of dancers hidden in black costumes but sporting some kind of lighting tube on their costumes.

Strange attractor is an important project. Choreographers need the space to experiment without fear of criticism before their projects are fully formed. But to the organisers, please remember the (future) audience. Dance will only survive if an audience will come and see what has been created. It doesn’t have to be simplistic, but it can’t be abstruse.

  • Kathrine Sorley Walker

I learnt just recently of the death in April of Kathrine Sorley Walker at the grand age of 95. Australian dance historians (and others) must be eternally grateful to her for bringing the Ballets Russes Australian tours to the fore in her book De Basil’s Ballets Russes, first published in 1982. Her chapter on Australia certainly informed my work on those momentous tours, including my initial foray into that time for my undergraduate honours thesis in the Department of Art History at the ANU.

Her other contribution to Australian dance history is her work on Robert Helpmann, which appeared in book form and in a series of articles in Dance Chronicle. I have always felt she saw Helpmann through rose-tinted glasses but, as with her Ballets Russes work, it provides a great starting point for further research.

An obituary published by London’s Telegraph is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2015

Chen Fu-rong in Landscape, Mirramu Dancecompany and guests, national Gallery of Australia, 2015. Photo: Michelle Potter

‘Fortuity’. Mirramu Dance Company and Guests

My review of Fortuity from Mirramu Dance Company with guest artists from Taiwan is now available on DanceTabs at this link.

Elizabeth Dalman and her guests also appeared on several occasions during May in various public places and institutions around Canberra. I was able to see two such performances, one in the National Gallery of Australia and one in the Canberra Museum and Gallery. The National Gallery of Australia show began in the foyer with a solo by Chen Fu-rong from Dalman’s work Landscape, made originally in 1967 for Australia Dance Theatre to music by Nomad and Clifford Brown. Chen’s solo was Dalman’s response to works in the Mandala series by South Australian artist Lawrence Daws and was memorable for Chen’s strong sense of balance and his capacity to extend his limbs into the off-centre poses that characterised Dalman’s choreography during the 1960s.

A second highlight of the program, which also included improvisations in response to various works as we moved from the foyer to the downstairs sculpture gallery, was another solo, this time from Peng Hsiao-yin entitled Woman of the River. This piece was made by Dalman for herself in 1987 to music of the Penguin Café Orchestra and was recently handed on to Peng by Dalman. Peng’s performance was filled with lyricism as she danced Dalman’s flowing, swirling choreography, weaving her way around the varied sculptural items currently on display.

Peng Hsiao-yin in 'Woman of the River', National Gallery of Australia, 2015. Photo: Michelle Potter

Peng Hsiao-yin in Woman of the  River, National Gallery of Australia, 2015. Photo: © Michelle Potter

The showing at the Canberra Museum and Gallery was largely characterised by improvisations but concluded with solo danced by Vivienne Rogis, which was mesmerising for the calmness Rogis was able to bring to the piece.

Taiwanese guest of Mirramu Dance Company at CMAG, 2015

Taiwanese guest of Mirramu Dance Company improvising at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, 2015. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Michelle Potter, 23 May 2015

Featured image: Chen Fu-rong in a solo from Landscape, Mirramu Dance Company and Guests, National Gallery of Australia, 2015. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Chen Fu-rong in Landscape, Mirramu Dancecompany and guests, national Gallery of Australia, 2015. Photo: Michelle Potter

Dance diary. November 2013

  • Alexei Ratmansky

With Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella now playing a Sydney season with the Australian Ballet, it was a delight to hear that in 2014 Sharmill Films will be screening Ratmansky’s Lost Illusions, a work based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac and made in 2011 for the Bolshoi Ballet. It opens at cinemas around the country on 29 March 2014. Follow this link for the full Sharmill program of ballet screenings.

I am, however, also looking forward to the visit to Australia (Brisbane only) in 2014 by American Ballet Theatre when Ratmansky’s gorgeous work, Seven Sonatas, will be part of the company’s mixed bill  program. I wrote about this work in an earlier post. It is truly a work worth seeing.

Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in ‘Seven sonatas’, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Rosalie O’Connor

Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in Seven Sonatas, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Rosalie O’Connor

In the meantime I am looking forward to further viewings of Cinderella very soon. More later.

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2013

The dance awards in the annual Canberra Critics’ Awards this year went to Liz Lea and Elizabeth Dalman. Lea was honoured for the diversity of her contributions to the Canberra dance scene, in particular for her input into the dance and science festival she curated in collaboration with Cris Kennedy of CSIRO Discovery, and for her initiatives in establishing her mature age group of dancers, the GOLD group.

Dalman received an award for Morning Star, which she  created on her Mirramu Dance Company earlier in 2013. Morning Star was based on extensive research in and travel to indigenous communities and the final product used an outstanding line-up of performers from indigenous and non-indigenous communities and mixed indigenous and Western dance in insightful ways.

  •  Movers and Shakers

Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery was recently the venue for a short program of dance presented by two Sydney-based independent artists, Julia Cotton and Anca Frankenhaeuser. Called Movers and Shakers and held on the last weekend of the Gallery’s exhibition of photographs by Richard Avendon, the short, 30 minute program was largely a celebration of dancers Avendon had photographed over the course of his career, including Merce Cunningham and Rudolph Nureyev. Cotton and Frankenhaeuser are mature age performers and it was a joy to see that, as such, they had taken their work to a different plane in terms of technique but had lost none of the expressive power that has always been at the heart of their dancing.

Anca and Julia 6
Julia Cotton (left) and Anca Frankenhaueser in Movers and Shakers, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, November 2013. Photo: Michelle Potter

The tiny objects you see on the white pillar on the left of the image above are little decorative items representing bees, which Frankenhaeuser initially wore on her face and which she removed and stuck on the pillar at one stage in one of her solos. This part of the program referred not to a dance portrait but to Avendon’s well known shot of a beekeeper. It was a particularly strong and confronting solo by Frankenhaeuser who danced around the pillar—and was sometimes almost completely hidden by it—using little more that fluttering hands to convey her story.

  • Hot to Trot: Quantum Leap

Hot to Trot, a program for young, Canberra-based choreographers has been around for fifteen years, although the recent 2013 program is the first one I have managed to see. As might be expected the short pieces, which included a few short dance films, were of a mixed standard. One stood out, however, and deserves a mention—Hear no evil, speak no evil. It was jointly choreographed by Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley who were also the performers. The dance vocabulary they created was adventurous and compelling and the work itself was clearly and strongly focused and well structured.

Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley in 'Hear no evil, speak no evil', Hot to trot 2013 season. Photo: Lorn Sim

Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley in ‘Hear no evil, speak no evil’, Hot to Trot, 2013 season. Photo: © Lorn Sim

Jack Riley will join the WAAPA dance course in 2014.

  • Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac

News came in November from Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac. Tankard’s acclaimed work The Oracle was performed in mid-November in Düsseldorf, Germany, by Paul White, now a member of Tanztheater Wuppertal, as part of a celebration of the legacy of Pina Bausch.

Flyer for 'The oracle'

At the same time, the gallery of Mac Studios in Düsseldorf held an exhibition of more than twenty large-format portraits of Tankard by Lansac. All were produced in the summer of 1984 in the Wuppertal apartment of the American art critic David Galloway. One of Lansac’s most striking images held in Australian public collections also comes, I believe, from the shoot Lansac undertook in this apartment. Follow this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2013

Dance diary. April 2013

  • ArtSound FM, Canberra: new dance segment

Beginning in May I will be hosting a ten minute monthly dance segment on ArtSound FM, Canberra’s community radio station focusing on the arts. The segment will be part of Dress Circle a program hosted by local arts identity Bill Stephens. Dress Circle is broadcast on Sundays at 5 pm and repeated on Tuesdays at 11 pm and my segment will focus on dance in Canberra and surrounding regions. Michelle Potter … on dancing, as the segment will be called, will be a feature of Dress Circle on the first Sunday of each month.

In the first program, which will go to air on 5 May, I will be talking about the Australian Ballet’s visit to Canberra with their triple bill program Symmetries, which opens on 23 May. Leading up to the program I have been talking Garry Stewart about his new work, Monument, and have been discovering some unusual and amusing stories about George Balanchine’s ballet The Four Temperaments. Monument and The Four Temperaments will be accompanied by the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain in this Canberra-only program.

I will also be sharing some information about Liz Lea’s new work, InFlight, which will premiere at the National Library of Australia on 31 May. InFlight is danced by four female performers who are inspired to become aviatrixes when they see their heros, Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, taking to the air in 1928 and breaking the trans-pacific flight record.

Alison Plevery and Liz Lea, 'InFlight'. Photos: Lorna sim  Alison Plevey and Liz Lea in costume for InFlight. Photos: © Lorna Sim, 2012

There will be other snippets of news as well, and I hope to have time to look back on some of the dance events I have enjoyed in the previous month.

There was some lovely news earlier this month from Australian Dance Theatre—Elizabeth Dalman has been named patron of ADT for the company’s 50th anniversary year, 2015. Dalman, along with Leslie White (1936‒2009), founded ADT in 1965. White moved on to other things in 1967 and Dalman continued to direct the company until 1975. After a varied career overseas, both before and after the ten years she spent at ADT, Dalman returned to Australia in 1986 and in 1990 founded the Mirramu Creative Arts Centre at Lake George, near Canberra. She continues to direct the Centre and its associated Mirramu Dance Company. Fifty years of ADT will also mark fifteen of Mirramu.*

Elizabeth Dalman in 'From Sapling to Silver', 2011 Elizabeth Dalman in Sapling to Silver, Mirramu Dance Company. Photo: © Barbie Robinson, 2011

I didn’t post my Canberra Times review of Sapling to Silver when it was performed in Canberra in 2011, so here is a link to the review.

  • ‘The fabric of dance’: National Gallery of Victoria

In April I had the pleasure of presenting an illustrated talk, The fabric of dance, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in conjunction with the Gallery’s exhibition Ballet and Fashion.  In this talk I looked at how the tutu had developed over three centuries or so, and in particular at how its development had been influenced by changes in fashion and by new materials and fabrics that had become available. But, in putting the talk together, I found I was quite unexpectedly wanting to suggest a link between one of the costumes on show in the exhibition and Louis XIV in his famous role as Apollo in Les Ballets de la nuit of 1653, which I did. I am hoping to post the text of the talk, and the accompanying PowerPoint slides, on this site in due course.

One of the images I showed during the talk was of Paris Opera Ballet dancer Carlotta Zambelli, which I was only able to show as a black and white scan from an article first published in the Australian dance journal Brolga in 2005. My postcard of Zambelli was in colour but it disappeared as a result of being lent when that issue of Brolga was being prepared for publication. I despaired of ever seeing it again but it was returned to me a week or so after the Melbourne talk. So for anyone who was at the talk, below on the right is the image in colour, alongside another (also returned to me at the same time in the same circumstances) of Zambelli with an unknown partner in La ronde des saisons in 1906.

Zambelli double

  • The Rite of Spring: Stephen Malinowski’s animated graphical score

I found what I think is an excellent review of Stephen Malinowski’s animated graphical score of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I mentioned this score in a previous post without making much comment myself although what the animated score did instantaneously for me was bring me to a realisation of why I disliked Raimund Hoghe’s Sacre so much. Hoghe completely ignored the fact that the music has so much colour, drive and rhythm. The colour, drive and rhythm of the music is perfectly obvious when listening to the music of course, but seeing the animated score absolutely drives it home and opens up a new view of the intensity of the music. Here is the link to the review.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2013

 

* Dalman has always been a strong voice in the dance world and she argued against a name change to Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre when Meryl Tankard became director of ADT in 1993. A brief account of that interlude appears in my recent publication Meryl Tankard: an original voice (2012). In a letter to Dance Australia Dalman argued that the company should not carry Tankard’s name as it was important to ‘maintain continuity and … respect for the historical background of the company’.

Tankard bannerHOW TO ORDER

‘It brought back so many memories’— Jill Sykes
This book is also available in the National Library of Australia’s bookshop until the end of May, and to library clients through James Bennett Library Services

‘Morning Star’. Mirramu Dance Company

1 March 2013, James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Morning Star is the result of two years of research and choreographic development between Elizabeth Dalman and her Mirramu Dance Company based in Bungendore, New South Wales, and communities in Arnhem Land. The work is based on a sacred songline of the Yolngu people that deals with birth, life, death and rebirth. The cast of Morning Star consisted of indigenous and non-indigenous artists and the production was assisted by several cultural consultants, including the custodian of the traditional Morning Star story, Banula Marika, and didgeridoo player, Nalkuma Burarrwanga.

What made the show especially memorable, and indeed to my mind quite remarkable, was the way in which dances associated with the traditional songline were juxtaposed with contemporary versions of the same aspect of the story. So we saw, amongst other similar components of the production, a traditional spirit dance celebrating the rising of the morning star followed immediately by a contemporary spirit dance enhanced by powerful Western-style theatrical lighting and choreographed using contemporary dance vocabulary.

'Morning Star'. Photo Barbie Robinson © 2013(l–r) Djakapurra Munyarryun, Albert David, Miranda Wheen and Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal in ‘Contemporary Spirit Dance’ from Morning Star. Photo: © 2013 Barbie Robinson

A particular highlight for me was a contemporary brolga dance, which in the spirit of the show followed ‘Mulung, Mulung’, a traditional brolga dance. Performed by Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, a particularly powerful and captivating dancer, the undulating movement of the contemporary choreography expertly captured the notion of a dancing bird. The costume, designed and made by Peta Strachan, was exceptional: a long white, feathery gown with an extended ‘tail’, it was enhanced by a red flower placed on the breast area, which recalled the red plumage the brolga displays around its head.

But I also especially liked watching Albert David who danced strongly throughout and who had a duet with Miranda Wheen towards the end of the show that displayed both his and her technical strengths and strong stage presence. It was a delight too to see Janet and Djakapurra Munyarryun back onstage, in fact often commanding the stage.

I always feel slightly alarmed, however, at the prospect of non-indigenous dancers performing traditional indigenous movement and most of the traditionally-focused sections included non-indigenous dancers working alongside indigenous artists. But to their credit the non-indigenous dancers in Morning Star only occasionally looked out of place. I did find the section called ‘Kinship’ a little jarring though. In it each dancer came forward to explain his or her indigenous heritage or links, including those dancers without an indigenous background who had been adopted into a clan by an indigenous ‘brother’ or ‘mother’ and so on. I’m not sure it was necessary and program notes convey such matters much better I think. The commitment to the project shone through in movement and breaking that feeling with wordy explanations achieved little.

Morning Star was performed in the difficult space of the James O Fairfax Theatre. Its stage has little depth and little wing space and often requires dancers who perform there to radically transform their floor patterns to accommodate the space. But this show fitted beautifully and there were moments when the ambience, helped by a score from Airi Ingram that included the occasional crying child, transported the audience to an imaginary outdoor gathering place.

Morning Star is a beautifully honest show made with love and commitment.

Michelle Potter, 4 March 2013