Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and Falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. November 2015

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2015

The Canberra Critics’ Circle annual awards ceremony took place on 23 November and, in a special moment for dance in the Canberra region, Elizabeth Dalman was named ACT Artist of the Year. A well deserved award in a year when Dalman, currently teaching in Taiwan, worked extraordinarily hard to bring attention to the diverse history of Australian Dance Theatre, which celebrated fifty years of creativity in 2015.

Elizabeth Dalman in Taiwan, 2014. Photo: Chen, Yi-shu

Elizabeth Dalman in Taiwan, 2014. Photo: © Chen, Yi-shu

Among the Circle’s general awards, which go to innovative activities in the performing and visual arts, and literature, two dance awards were given for 2015. Dalman received an award for her works Fortuity and L, both of which highlighted the range of her choreography dating from her time as director of Australian Dance Theatre to her recent work for her Mirramu Dance Company. Ruth Osborne, director of QL2 Dance, received an award for her work Walking and Falling, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and made in conjunction with its World War I exhibition All that Fall.

Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in a moment from Ruth Osborne’s Walking and falling, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

  • Keir Choreographic Award 2016

Eight emerging (and not so emerging) choreographers have been selected as finalists in the 2016 Keir Choreographic Award. Two have strong Canberra connections: James Batchelor and Chloe Chignell. Canberra audiences will remember their joint show earlier this year, when Batchelor showed Metasystems and Chignell Post Phase. The two have worked together frequently over the past few years with Chignell often appearing in works choreographed by Batchelor.

The other finalists are Sarah Aiken, also a finalist in the first Keir Award in 2014, along with Ghenoa Gela, Martin Hansen, Alice Heyward, Rebecca Jensen and Paea Leach. The eight finalists will each show a work, commissioned by the Keir Foundation, in Melbourne at Dancehouse in April 2016. Four works will then be selected by a jury and shown in Sydney at Carriageworks in May 2016, where the winner will be chosen.

  • Bodenwieser Ballet

Shona Dunlop MacTavish, former dancer with the Bodenwieser Ballet, recently visited Sydney from her home in New Zealand and, to celebrate the occasion, some of her Bodenwieser colleagues gathered in Sydney for a special get together. The image below shows Eileen Kramer (left) now 101 and Shona Dunlop MacTavish now 96. In the background they can be seen in a photograph in which they are dancing in Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Blue Danube, one of their best known roles.

Shona Dunlop MacTavish and Eileen Kramer, Sydney 2015. Photo: Barbara Cuckson

Shona Dunlop MacTavish (right) and Eileen Kramer, Sydney 2015. Photo: Barbara Cuckson

Oral history interviews with Shona Dunlop MacTavish and Eileen Kramer are available online. Follow the links to the National Library of Australia’s online oral history site: Shona Dunlop MacTavish; Eileen Kramer.

  • Ian Templeman (1938–2015); Glenys McIver (1949–2015)

I was saddened to hear of the deaths in November of two former colleagues from the National Library of Australia, Ian Templeman and Glenys McIver. While perhaps not widely known in the dance community, both made a significant contribution to the growth of my career as a dance writer, historian and curator. Glenys appointed me as the Esso Research Fellow in the Performing Arts at the National Library in 1988. Among my many activities in that position, I began recording oral history interviews for the Library, which I continue to do now some 25 years later.

Ian was appointed Assistant Director General Public Programs at the National Library in 1990 and proceeded to expand the Library’s publishing program. This involved establishing the monthly magazine National Library of Australia News (now renamed The National Library of Australia Magazine and published quarterly), and the quarterly journal Voices (now no longer active). He encouraged my dance writing for both publications and was responsible for commissioning my book A Passion for Dance (now out of print), which consisted of a series of edited oral history interviews with some of Australia’s foremost choreographers.

Both Glenys and Ian made significant other contributions to my career. I will always be grateful for their mentorship.

  •  Dance rattles (tied around the ankles during performance) from Bondé, New Caledonia

Dance rattles

Michelle Potter, 29 November 2015

Featured image: Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in a moment from Ruth Osborne’s Walking and falling, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and Falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

 

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

Jon Trimmer as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in 'A Servant of Two Masters'

Harry Haythorne. A tribute from Jennifer Shennan

From Jennifer Shennan

In September 2013 Anne Rowse and I flew to Melbourne for the Arts Festival…mainly in pursuit of Fabulous Beast, with Keegan-Dolan’s astonishing double-bill of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. We relished equally the chance to catch up with dear Harry, knowing he would say yes to the suggestion of a performance, an exhibition, a forum, with coffee dates, dinners and suppers tucked in everywhere. We knew he would have seen half the Festival already, and would offer us incisive and helpful opinions on what was what. Good times coming.

Tor and Jan Gnatt, bless them, met us at the airport. We were all so excited to connect so soon after the launch of Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty that the Gnatt boys forgot where in the airport they had parked their car. We had lots of conversation catch-up while they hunted every floor of the car park for the elusive vehicle. (Their father, Poul, would have remembered the rego plates of the vehicles he had parked next to, and been mortified by this scenario.)

We found an el cheapo hotel, and fell into welcoming Melbourne as though we had always lived there.

Harry had already seen Fabulous Beast, and had a number of reservations about it. He nonetheless joined us for the forum, and had the grace to acknowledge afterwards that the incisively brilliant mind and wit of Keegan-Dolan helped him to retrospectively re-evaluate the choreography.

Harry instructed us which exhibitions to visit, and suggested a local dance group’s performance, preceded by a meal with his friend Robin Haig (they had worked together in 1940s in London…a typical Harry trait…ever loyal to his many friends and colleagues). The meal was great fun but the performance, which entailed the slow lighting of many candles, then their being equally slowly extinguished, then equally slowly re-lit, we found suffocatingly pretentious. (In all his years in New Zealand Harry always attended everything, and was supportive in principle of all dance endeavour, but was occasionally heard to mutter upon leaving ‘Well, the best thing about it is that they’re doing it.’ After leaving this particular evening he muttered, ‘Well, the worst thing about it is that they’re doing it).’

But as we rode the tram back into Melbourne central, an extraordinary event took place. A young Aboriginal woman, striking in appearance, but in a state of very great distress, was remonstrating up and down the tram carriage with all the world about many things. Not drunk, but totally out of control, in a wrath of emotion and heartbreak, pain, confusion and grief that was moving, even terrifying, to witness. No one knew how to help. Harry quietly started speaking a commentary to us, tracing various chapters of Australia’s colonial history, engaging us to listen, and to thus avoid making eye contact with the woman pacing the tram, as any such eye contact can become a trigger to further volatility. There was such an informed sympathy, empathy even, in Harry’s words…no judgment, no reproof. His calm, informed, sad summarising of history, at the same time offering us a degree of protection from a potentially explosive situation, was much as I imagine Thomas Keneally might have behaved.

Bi-cultural issues and opportunities within dance were part of Harry’s long-term thinking. During his time at Royal New Zealand Ballet (‘the happiest years of my life’ he was often heard to say), he commissioned Tell Me A Tale from Gray Veredon, with design by Kristian Fredrikson, to music by New Zealand composer Matthew Fisher. In that talisman piece, with leading roles created by Jon Trimmer and Kerry-Anne Gilberd, was an encounter between Maori and Pakeha, a haka within the ballet given extraordinarily powerful expression by Warren Douglas. No more telling moment has occurred in the company’s entire repertoire history, and it is a great loss that the work has not been retained.

Warren was also spectacular as the hilarious Cook in the Veredon/Fredrikson Servant of Two Masters, with Jon Trimmer as Pantalone and Harry as Dr Lombardi, tottering about wearing a twelve foot long striped scarf that threatened to trip him and everybody else on stage all evening. A fine film of this ballet is held in the New Zealand Film Archive, and is well worth the three hours it lasts. (We subsequently lost Warren to AIDS and many hearts were broken).

Harry took his title of Artistic Director Emeritus very seriously. He wrote to Ethan Stiefel upon his appointment, wishing him well, highlighting the related arts in New Zealand as a context for choices of ballet repertoire, and encouraging an awareness of Maori issues. Despite clearly failing health, Harry was still taking an interest in the news of the appointment of Francesco Ventriglia in late 2014. He asked us to send reports on any indications or statements of artistic vision as they appeared. This company was Harry’s baby, and he loved it as parents love their children.

Harry’s own term as artistic director, from 1981 to 1993 with business manager Mark Keyworth, was a resilient team effort and there has probably never been a stronger partnership between artistic and business directors in the company’s history. What those two achieved on the miniscule resources of the day was breathtaking. Harry also maintained a very close relationship with the New Zealand School of Dance under the direction of Anne Rowse. They shared so much knowledge and awareness of repertoire in the wider dance world that the students were fortunate beneficiaries of that rapport, also the strongest partnership in the history of both institutions.

The chapter Harry wrote for the book, Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty, recounts many highlights of his term. It was an inspired early move to celebrate in 1983 the company’s 30th anniversary with a Gala season, inviting each previous director to select a choreography. We had No Exit from Ashley Killar (this was Harry’s choice, and a pearler) and Bournonville from Poul Gnatt. Perhaps the abiding achievement of this project was Harry’s diplomacy in welcoming Poul back to his adopted country after various chapters of less than happy history since his departure in 1963.

In 1986, Harry’s production of Swan Lake, again in tandem with Fredrikson, was a theatrical tour de force. He always remained very sad it was not retained in the company’s repertoire. Harry was a youngster in vaudeville performance. His formal schooling had turned into supervised backstage correspondence while on tour, but his bright brain and fabulous memory ensured a lifelong passion for learning across many disciplines. Harry’s close rapport with Graeme Murphy saw him in several cameo roles … as Court Photographer in that astonishing Swan Lake, a charming friend of Clara in the inspired Nutcracker, only upstaged by his tap dancing on roller skates in Tivoli (and was certainly worth my trip across the Tasman to check it out).

In an adult education course I will teach in Wellington early in 2015, one of the sessions will be dedicated to a survey of Harry Haythorne’s term as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet …’the happiest years of my life’. Well, you said it Harry.

Jennifer Shennan, Wellington, December 2014

Featured image: Jon Trimmer (left) as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in A Servant of Two Masters, 1989. Photo: Martin Stewart, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. PACOLL-8050-36-04

Harry Haythorne

Harry Haythorne (1926–2014)

Harry Haythorne, child performer extraordinaire, well-travelled dancer, ballet master, artistic director, teacher and mentor, has died in Melbourne aged 88.

Haythorne was the child of an English father and an Australian mother of Irish descent who met at a dance hall in Adelaide: both parents loved ballroom dancing. But they were barred from many dance halls in Adelaide because they dared to introduce what Haythorne jokingly referred to in an interview as ‘filthy foreign dances’ such as the foxtrot and the quickstep. His father had brought these dance styles with him when he migrated to Australia. They were unknown at the time in Adelaide.

Haythorne began his own dance training with Jean Bedford who taught ‘operatic dancing’ and shortly afterwards began tap classes with Herbert Noye. His initial ambitions were to go into vaudeville. Even with the arrival of the Ballets Russes in Australia in the 1930s, which was an exciting time for him, he still did not have ambitions to take up ballet seriously.

When Haythorne was about 14 he began his professional performing career with Harold Raymond’s Varieties, a Tivoli-style vaudeville group established initially as a concert party to entertain troops as World War II began. With Harold Raymond he took part in comedy sketches, played his piano accordion, sang and danced. His star act, which would feature again much later in his life, was his tap dancing routine on roller-skates.

Eventually, in the late 1940s, he took ballet classes from Joanna Priest and performed in her South Australian Ballet before leaving for England. It was seeing Ballet Rambert during its Australasian tour 1947–1949 that inspired him to change direction and look to ballet as a career. In London he took classes with Anna Northcote and Stanislas Idzikowski before auditioning successfully for Metropolitan Ballet, later joining Mona Ingelsby’s International Ballet. But his career in England and Europe was an eclectic one and he also worked on the Max Bygraves Show, danced on early British television shows, performed in the Cole Porter musical Can Can and toured to South Africa with a production of The Pyjama Game.

Haythorne listed the three greatest influences on his early career as Léonide Massine, for whom he acted as personal assistant and ballet master for Massine’s company, Les ballets européens; Walter Gore, for whom he was ballet master for Gore’s London Ballet; and Peter Darrell who hired him as manager of Western Theatre Ballet and then as his assistant artistic director of Scottish Ballet in Glasgow.

Always an Australian at heart, Haythorne began to miss his homeland and made various moves to return. He eventually came back as artistic director of Queensland Ballet, a position he took up in 1975. With Queensland Ballet he mounted works by Australian choreographers including Graeme Murphy, Garth Welch and Don Asker and had Hans Brenaa stage La sylphide and other Bournonville ballets. But it was a short directorship. Haythorne was unhappy at how his contract was terminated in 1978 and always maintained that no reason was given other than ‘boards don’t have to give reasons’. But he remained in Queensland for the next few years and worked to established the tertiary dance course at Kelvin Grove College of Advanced Education (now Queensland University of Technology).

But after deciding that he did not want to head a school but direct a company he accepted the position of artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 1981. Haythorne’s directorship of the Royal New Zealand Ballet was a fruitful one and lasted until 1992. During his tenure the company staged works by New Zealand and Australian choreographers as well as ballets by major international artists. Haythorne oversaw the company’s 30th anniversary in 1983; toured the company to China, the United States, Australia and Europe; and staged his own, full-length Swan Lake. For the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 60th anniversary in 2013, encapsulating his attitude to his appointment in 1981, and also his approach to directorship in general, he wrote:

I knew I had to learn much more about New Zealand and its history, familiarise myself not only with its dance world but also with its literature, music and visual arts, while still keeping a finger on the international pulse.*

Harry Haythorne as Father Winter

Harry Haythorne as Father Winter in Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1991.  Photographer unknown

On his return to Australia in 1993 Haythorne was always in demand. He taught dance history at the Victorian College of the Arts and repertoire at the National Theatre Ballet School. He returned to the stage on several occasions with productions by the Australian Ballet, taking cameo roles in Stanton Welch’s Cinderella, Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Ronald Hynd’s Merry Widow, and the joint Australian Ballet/Sydney Dance company production of Murphy’s Tivoli.

Many will remember clearly his role in Tivoli where he was cast as an old vaudeville trouper and, at the age of 75, reprised his tap dancing/roller-skating/skipping routine from the 1940s. For his performances in this role he received a 2001 Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer. I also especially enjoyed his performance as the Marquis in Act I of Murphy’s Swan Lake. His role required him to assemble guests at the wedding into various groups and to photograph them using an old camera on a tripod. Much of this action took place upstage outside of the main activities. But Haythorne made the role his own and his interactions with the guests, including the children who were part of the crowd, were always fascinating and he never paused to stand and watch what was happening downstage.

But perhaps my fondest memory is of sitting in his Melbourne flat after recording an interview with Robin Haig, who was staying with him at the time. Harry got out a bottle of wine and some huge goblets that looked like they could have been a prop from Swan Lake.  After a glass or two and much talk and laughter I realised that my plane home to Canberra had already departed. Consternation! Several hurried phone calls later a taxi arrived. I was hustled into the taxi, we sped down the freeway and I made the next plane.

Harry Haythorne: born Adelaide, 7 October 1926; died Melbourne, 24 November 2014

* Harry Haythorne quoted in Jennifer Shennan and Anne Rowse, The Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2013), p. 86

Michelle Potter, 25 November 2014

Featured image: Harry Haythorne, c. 2000. Photographer unknown

UPDATE: See Jennifer Shennan’s tribute to Harry Haythorne at this link.

Gailene Stock (1946—2014)

Gailene Stock, most recently director of the Royal Ballet School, has died from complications resulting from a brain tumour. Stock had been ill since 2013. Born in Ballarat, Victoria, and named Gail Stock by her parents, she changed her first name to Gailene at the request of Peggy van Praagh, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, who thought that the name ‘Gail’ was too short.

Gailene Stock and Gary Norman, Melbourne 2012. Photo © Jean Stewart

Gailene Stock and Gary Norman, Melbourne 2012. Photo © Jean Stewart

Stock was the middle child in a family of three girls born to Roy and Sylvia Stock. When Stock was quite small, the family moved to Perth, Western Australia, when her father, a journalist, took a job there. It was in Perth that she took her first dance lessons. When the family moved to Melbourne after a short time in Perth, Stock took up dancing more seriously at the Himing School of Dance where she studied the Cecchetti syllabus. As a teenager she studied with Paul Hammond who prepared her for her major examinations of the Royal Academy of Dance. Her dance training was interrupted for two long periods, however, first as a result of a severe bout of poliomyelitis and then following injuries sustained in a serious car accident.

Deferring a Royal Academy bursary to study at the Royal Ballet School, Stock joined the Australian Ballet, aged sixteen, for its inaugural season. But the following year, with a year’s leave of absence from the Australian Ballet, she took up her bursary and travelled to London. At the Royal Ballet School her main teacher in the theatre class, where she was placed because she had come from a company to the School, was Pamela May. Outside of the School she took classes with Maria Fay and after a nine month period at the Royal she took classes in Paris and then in Cannes with Rosella Hightower. Her classes in France were to satisfy van Praagh who thought that her dancing was very correct and that she needed a bit of French pizzazz. Before returning to Australia she danced with the Grand ballet classique de France and then with an Italian company.

Rejoining the Australia Ballet in 1965 she was cast in works by Antony Tudor and John Butler and her reputation as an exponent of dramatic roles grew. But after seven years she wanted what she has called ‘new pastures’ and joined the National Ballet of Canada on the recommendation of  Rudolf Nureyev. A position as principal with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet followed. She was joined in Canada by Gary Norman whom she married while in Canada.

Gailene Stock and Paul Wright, Ballet Imperial 1967. Photo Walter Stringer
Gailene Stock, 1963. Photo Keith Byron

(left) Gailene Stock and Paul Wright in Ballet Imperial, the Australian Ballet, 1967. Photo Walter Stringer; (right) Gailene Stock before leaving for London, Melbourne 1963. Photo Keith Byron. Images courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

On their return to Australia Stock danced briefly with the Australian Ballet under Anne Woolliams before having her daughter Lisa and then directing the National Theatre Ballet School. Her next major step was the directorship of the Australian Ballet School which she took on at the end of 1989. Her last role was that of director of the Royal Ballet School. Stock has discussed her approach to her work in London at length in her oral history interview for the National Library of Australia, recorded in Melbourne in 2012. The audio is available online over the National Library’s website.The entire interview is a warm and informative account of her life and career and full of charming and sometimes very funny anecdotes about those she met and worked with during her life. Talking about her earliest dance experiences in Perth she says:

‘My debut on the stage was as a chicken and a hula girl. In the back of my mind I think I was already being a ballet mistress, teacher, director, because when we were doing our chicken dance I looked along the line and saw one of the chickens was very much out of line and lost. So I toddled over and shoved her back into line and got her into place and then went back to my own place and went on with the dance. I’ve always been obsessed with staying in line so it probably started at a very young age’.*

Stock is survived by her husband Gary Norman and their daughter Lisa.

Michelle Potter, 4 May 2014

* Gailene Stock interviewed by Michelle Potter, April 2012. National Library of Australia, TRC 6399.

Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg's Piano Concerto, in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945

Laurel Martyn (1916–2013)*

Laurel Martyn, one of Australia’s most eminent dancers, choreographers and dance educators, has died in Melbourne on 16 October, three years short of her 100th birthday. Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, as Laurel Gill, Martyn received her early dance training with Kathleen Hamilton in Toowoomba and Marjorie Hollinshed in Brisbane and in 1933 left Australia for further training. In England she studied with Phyllis Bedells and in 1934 won a choreographic scholarship from the Association of Operatic Dancing (later the Royal Academy of Dancing) with her first composition Exile. She passed all her Royal Academy exams to Solo Seal and in 1935 won the Adeline Genée gold medal, the second Australian to do so in the then short life of the competition, which began in 1931. In 1935 Martyn also arranged the dances for a production of The Waltz King and in the same year received second prize in a choreographic competition, the Pavlova Casket, for her ballet Sigrid.

Laurel Martyn in 'Exile', London 1935

Laurel Martyn in Exile, London 1935. National Library of Australia

Martyn joined the Vic-Wells Ballet (later Sadler’s Wells Ballet) in 1936. She was the first Australian woman to be accepted into the company and by 1938 was a soloist. While in England she changed her name from Gill to Martyn, also a family name. She danced in many of Frederick Ashton’s early ballets including Horoscope, Nocturne and Le Baiser de la fée and also spent time in Paris studying with the Russian émigré ballerinas Lubov Egorova and Mathilde Kchessinska.

Martyn returned to Australia in 1938 following the death of her father and took up a position in Melbourne with well-known teacher Jennie Brenan. While teaching for Brenan she was offered the dancing lead in Hiawatha, a pageant produced by T. E. Fairbairn and choreographed by Brenan, which opened in Melbourne’s Exhibition Building on 21 October 1939. The ballet cast of 80 was led by Martyn, Serge Bousloff and Lawrence Rentoul. While performing in Hiawatha Martyn was noticed by Edouard Borovansky who persuaded her to join his fledgling Borovansky Ballet, which she did in 1940. Martyn was one of Borovansky’s principal artists in the early days of the Borovansky Ballet, along with Edna Busse and fellow Queenslander Dorothy Stevenson. Martyn danced and created leading roles with Borovansky until 1945, including the Spirit of the River in Borovansky’s meditation on his Czech homeland, Vltava. While with Borovansky she also restaged Sigrid and reworked what is probably her best known work, En Saga, which premiered for the Borovansky Ballet in 1941.

Martyn left the Borovansky Ballet after her marriage to Lloyd Lawton in 1945. But in 1946, at the request of the Melbourne Ballet Club, Martyn took on the directorship of Ballet Guild, as the Melbourne Ballet Club had renamed itself. She was its director for an extended period. Ballet Guild became Victorian Ballet Company in 1963 and Ballet Victoria in 1967. Martyn was at the helm until 1973. She also established a school associated with Ballet Guild and students from the school augmented professional dancers in Ballet Guild productions. Martyn created many original works for Ballet Guild and Ballet Victoria productions and collaborated with Australian composers, including Dorian Le Gallienne, Margaret Sutherland, John Tallis, Esther Rofe, and Verdon Williams, and Australian designers, including Alan McCulloch, Len Annois, and John Sumner. Some of her works also had specifically Australian themes, notably The Sentimental Bloke (1952) and Mathinna (1954). Other significant works that Martyn made in this period included L’Amour enchantée (1950), a full-length Sylvia (1962), Voyageur (1956) and Eve of St Agnes (1966).

Laurel Martyn in 'En Saga', 1947. Photo: Ronald Esler
Laurel Martyn in 'Swan Lake', Borovansky Ballet, 1944. Photo: Ronald Esler

 

(left) Laurel Martyn as the Aggrieved Woman in En Saga, Ballet Guild, 1947; (right) Laurel Martyn in Swan Lake, Act II, Borovansky Ballet, 1944. Photos: Ronald Esler. National Library of Australia

Martyn developed a specific method for teaching dance to children, the principles of which she published in Let them Dance (1985). She also was instrumental in forming the Young Dancers’ Theatre, for which she choreographed several works in the 1980s, and the Classical Dance Teachers Australia Inc, which provided in-service training for dance teachers. She was on the steering committee for the Australian Institute of Classical Dance in the early years of its development. Martyn guested with the Australian Ballet as Mar in The Sentimental Bloke in 1985, as the mother of James in La Sylphide also in 1985, as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, in Giselle in 1986 and as Miss Maud in The Competition (Le Concours) in 1989. In 1991 she reproduced Michel Fokine’s Le Carnaval for the flagship company. In 1997 she was the recipient of the award for lifetime achievement at the inaugural Australian Dance Awards.

Martyn was interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program in 1989 and the interview is available online at this link. See also ‘Inspiring Mentors: Valrene Tweedie and Laurel Martyn’ published in July 2002 in National Library of Australia News. In addition, a special issue of Brolga: an Australian journal about dance—Issue 4 (June 1996)—was published in honour of Martyn’s 80th birthday. It contains the following articles:

  • Laurel Martyn OBE: a voyager ahead of her time by Janet Karin
  • In her own words: excerpts from an oral history interview with Laurel Martyn
  • The choreography of Laurel Martyn, 1935–1991
  • The smile of Terpsichore: notes on Laurel Martyn as choreographer by Robin Grove
  • Dancing the Bloke by Geoffrey Ingram
  • Laurel Martyn and her composers, 1946–1956 by Joel Crotty

Also published in Brolga, in its first issue of December 1994, and under the title ‘Silent stories’, is Robin Grove’s incisive discussion of Martyn’s Sylvia.

Laurel Martin Lawton: born Toowoomba, 23 July 1916; died Melbourne, 16 October 2013.

Michelle Potter, 19 October 2013

*This brief biography draws on original research I carried out, first for the National Film and Sound Archive’s Keep Dancing! project between 1997 and 2001 and then as part of the early stages of the National Library of Australia’s Australia Dancing project beginning in 2002.

Featured image: Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945. National Library of Australia

Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg's Piano Concerto, in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945

 

Anna Volkova Barnes (1917–2013)

Here at last is a link to my obituary for Anna Volkova published in The Canberra Times on 18 September 2013.

See also my ‘Vale Ania’ story at this link.

Anna Volkova in costume for Les Sylphides, Sydney 1939

Anna Volkova in costume for her signature role in Les Sylphides. Dedication to Xenia and Edouard Borovansky, 1939. Photo: The Sun, Sydney, National Library of Australia.

Here too is an extract from an interview I recorded with Volkova in 2005 for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection in which she talks briefly about arriving in Australia for the first time. The full interview is not presently available online, but here is the catalogue record. I used this extract previously, with Volkova’s permission, in a talk I delivered at the National Gallery of Australia in 2011 called ‘We’re going to Australia: the Ballets Russes Down Under’.

For all posts relating to Volkova see the tag Anna Volkova.

Michelle Potter, 19 September 2013

Anna Volkova Barnes. Vale

I was saddened to hear that Anna Volkova Barnes, the last remaining dancer living in Australia from the Ballets Russes companies who visited between 1936 and 1940, has died aged 96. She danced her way out of this life on 18 August. An obituary is in process [now available], but in the meantime below are two non-dancing images that I especially like from Volkova’s dancing years in Australia and later in South America.

Anna Volkova and colleagues in Australia,1938

Anna Volkova (second from left) with colleagues Serge Ismailoff, Oleg Tupine and Tamara Tchinarova, with Paul Petroff standing in the background, Australia (Melbourne?), 1938. National Library of Australia

Dancers in performance for F.A.E
Left to right: Lydia Kuprina, Leda Youky, Tamara Grigorieva, Anna Volkova, Tatiana Leskova, 1945. Photo: Kurt Paul Klagsbrunn. Private collection

The photo immediately above was taken in Rio de Janeiro not long before Volkova agreed to move to Australia to marry Australian rower Jim Barnes. She came to Australia in 1945 and they married in 1946. The photo above was a promotional shot for a performance these dancers gave for a student organisation in Rio.

In addition here is a link to some footage (probably also classed as non-dancing to a certain extent) taken by Dr Ewan Murray-Will at Bungan Beach. It is a mini-performance, known amongst the dancers as the Bungan Ballet, featuring Volkova, Ludmilla Lvova, Anton Vlassoff and Paul Petroff. Volkova is the dark-haired lady clambering over the rocks in the early seconds of the footage in a story about a damsel in distress who is rescued from the sea.

The Bungan Ballet

I last saw Anna Volkova earlier this year when I went to visit her at her home in Belrose where she helped me identify some of the images in the Upshaw album, about which I have written elsewhere. She was as charming and generous as ever. A truly wonderful lady. Vale.

Michelle Potter, 21 August 2013

Robin Grove, 2009

Robin Grove (1941-2012)

This is a belated, personal tribute to Robin Grove who died on Christmas Day 2012. Robin had a long and distinguished career as an academic but was also an acclaimed writer about and reviewer of dance. Ballet and music had been part of his life from an early age and as a young man he took classes with Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild.

Robin Grove in the Ballet Guild studios (1), Melbourne ca. 1967. Photo: Vivien Jones
Robin Grove in the Ballet Guild studios (2), Melbourne ca. 1967. Photo: Vivien Jones

Robin Grove in the Ballet Guild studios, Melbourne ca. 1967. Photos: Vivien Jones. Courtesy Elisabeth Grove

During the 1960s he choreographed several ballets for the Guild, whose company at that stage was named the Victorian Ballet Company (later Ballet Victoria). Perhaps the best known of Robin Grove’s works for the Guild was Apollon Musagète, to the score by Igor Stravinsky. A filmed (but silent) rehearsal of this work is in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive, as I was thrilled to discover while working in the Archive in the late 1990s.

The current dance literature is a little confusing with regard to performance dates for Apollon Musagète but it appears that it was given its first company performance in a short season at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, on 4–5 September 1964. It shared the program with Carnaval, Bottom’s Dream (Maxwell Collis), the pas de deux from Nutcracker and Once upon  a Whim (Martyn). Its décor was by Warwick Hatton* and the program has the additional design credit line ‘after Lionel Feininger’. A note in the 1964 program states that the work was added to the company’s repertoire ‘after its successful reception in the programme Repertoire Nights held in the Victorian Ballet Guild’s studio theatre’, although I have not yet been able to establish the date of that earlier showing. The 1964 program records that Apollo was danced by Maxwell Collis, Calliope by Barbara Warren-Smith, Poly[hymnia] by Dianne Parrington, and Terpsichore by Jillian Luke. Other Muses were danced by Pamela Baker, Elaine Kemp, Margaret Crowder, Victoria Gibaljo, Mary Long and Denise Saunders.

Anne Sims and Jilllian Ray in the Victorian Ballet Company production of 'Apollon Musagète', 1967. Photo: Walter Stringer

Scene from Robin Grove's 'Apollon Musagete', ca. 1964. Photo: Walter Stringer

Two scenes from Apollon Musagète (left, courtesy National Library of Australia; right, courtesy Elisabeth Grove) Photos: Walter Stringer

The work was reprised at least once at the Guild studio theatre by the Victorian Ballet Company in September 1967. It was part of a program of four ballets with the other three comprising The Little Mermaid (Rex Reid) The Comedians (Jack Manuel) and Dear Dorothy Dix (Michael Charnley). The program was reviewed in The Herald (Melbourne) on 1 September 1967 by H. A. Standish.

I can’t remember when I first met Robin—it may have been at a Green Mill dance conference in Melbourne around 1992, but he worked with me to establish Brolga: an Australian journal about dance, which appeared for the first time in December 1994. I valued his support and his input as Brolga developed as an idea and then blossomed as an enterprise. He was a member of the advisory panel from that first issue onwards and later, when I went to work in New York in 2006, he became co-editor (with Alan Brissenden) until December 2008.

He contributed Silent Stories, a wonderful analysis of Laurel Martyn’s 1963 work Sylvia, to the first issue of Brolga, and he continued to contribute on a number of occasions after that. It was he who suggested that we devote an entire issue to the work of Laurel Martyn, and the issue—a kind of Festschrift—appeared in June 1996 in celebration of Martyn’s 80th birthday. In addition to Robin’s article, The smile of Terpsichore: notes on Laurel Martyn as choreographer, that issue included articles by Janet Karin, Geoffrey Ingram, JoAnne Page and Joel Crotty. It also contained extracts from an oral history interview with Martyn and a list of her choreography from 1935 to 1991. In my opinion the Laurel Martyn issue remains one of the best we produced.

Robin brought to Brolga an amazingly wide-ranging attitude to what we could publish in a dance journal. His background in music and literature was invaluable and I trusted his opinion unreservedly when he read articles that I thought needed a second opinion with regard to publication. Of his own articles, what I loved was the way he was able to place his material into a wide cultural context. But I guess what I loved most was that he believed that ballet was an art form worthy of consideration at the highest level.

I regret that our lives did not cross after my return from New York. An obituary, published in The Age in April 2013, is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 18 August 2013

Featured image: Robin Grove, Melbourne 2009. Courtesy Elisabeth Grove

Robin Grove, 2009

NOTES

* I have not been able to find information about Warwick Hatton’s design work and would be pleased to hear from readers who may know of his background. The costumes, as far as I can ascertain from the Stringer images, recall some features of the designs for David Lichine’s Protée, which was seen in Australia during the Ballets Russes tours and which was designed by Giorgio de Chirico.

** Of the two Stringer photos above the image on the left is from the collection of the National Library of Australia and is dated 1967. The dancers’ names on the Library’s catalogue record do not coincide with those on the 1964 program. The Stringer image on the right was kindly supplied by Elisabeth Grove.

 

Valerie Grieg (1922–2013)

‘Good dancers love dancing’ (Valerie Grieg, 2011)

Valerie Grieg, who has died in Melbourne on 27 March in her 91st year, was an inspired teacher of ballet whose deep understanding of the classical technique and how it can best be taught are contained in her publication Inside ballet technique: separating anatomical fact from fiction in the ballet class. Inside ballet technique was first published in 1994 by the Princeton Book Company and remains an essential guide to body mechanics and the anatomical laws behind classical ballet.

Valerie Grieg, 1951Valerie Grieg modelling Prestige Ltd fabric, taken during the filming of ‘Fabrics in Motion’, Melbourne, Victoria, 1951. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Reproduced with permission

As a child in Melbourne Grieg studied ballet before going on to work with Elisabet Wiener, proponent of the Central European modern dance style. But ballet, with its strong technical underpinning, was where her interests and commitment lay and in the 1940s she joined Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild. It was an extraordinarily creative time at the newly-formed Guild and Grieg’s colleagues at the time represented a roll call of Melbourne-based artists of the day. They included Martin Rubinstein, Strelsa Heckelman, Corrie Lodders, Max Collis, Graham Smith and Eve King. With Ballet Guild, Grieg performed in many of Martyn’s original compositions, including Sigrid in which she danced the title role, as well as in classics of the repertoire such as Serge Bousloff’s staging of Le Carnaval in which she appeared as Chiarina.

Teaching soon became an important aspect of Grieg’s career. In 1950 the Guild established a branch in Hamilton, Victoria, and Grieg became its director. A newspaper report in 1952 claimed Grieg had flown over 40,000 miles to give classes since taking on this role. Later she taught for the Guild on the Mornington Peninsula.

Grieg left the Guild, and Australia, in the early 1950s to work and study in the United Kingdom. In London she came under the influence of esteemed teacher Audrey de Vos whose approach to a number of technical issues Grieg absorbed into her own developing career as an educator.

After returning to Australia briefly Grieg left in the early 1960s to pursue her dance interests in the United States. She studied in New York at the Juilliard School where she especially admired the warmth and strength of Martha Hill, and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she worked with Ohio Ballet. She was also the founding coordinator of the Dance Department at the University of Akron, Ohio. Eventually, Grieg returned to Manhattan where she coached, choreographed and taught master classes. She came back to Australia on frequent occasions to teach and coach. Later she returned permanently to her country of birth living first in Canberra and then in Melbourne.

Grieg’s students continue to teach and perform in the United States, Australia and elsewhere and many continue to develop and expand upon her influential approach to teaching. Her friend and colleague, Janet Karin, recalls Grieg’s influence:

‘In the 1950s, Valerie was a ballet teacher well ahead of her time. Her experience in modern dance, her anatomical knowledge and her enquiring, analytical mind enabled her to see the fundamental truths behind traditional teaching. As my mentor in my early teaching years, she was always generously encouraging. Her interest in discussing esoteric technical points inspired me then, and was still inspiring me as she reached the age of 90. Valerie helped lay the foundations of my teaching career.’

Grieg’s legacy lives on. She is survived by her nephews, Christopher Zegelin in the United States and Peter Zegelin in Australia.

Valerie Grieg: born Melbourne, 4 September 1922; died Melbourne, 27 March 2013.

Michelle Potter, 28 March 2013