Scene from Rachel Arianne Ogle's 'Of Dust'. Sydney Dance Company's New Breed season, 2016. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Dance diary. March 2017

  • Australia Council dance news

During March the Australia Council announced the results of grant awards for international residences. I was especially interested to note that West Australian choreographer, Rachel Arianne Ogle, is the recipient of a residency at the Cité internationale des arts in Paris. I admired her work Of Dust at Sydney Dance Company’s 2016 New Breed season. In Paris she will work on creating a series of short solo works that will be the foundation for a new full-length work. I look forward to seeing the outcome of this residency.

Other dance awardees include Anna Seymour, born profoundly deaf, who will spend time in New York at the Omni International Arts Centre; Matt Shilcock from Adelaide who will work with Helsinki dance companies; and Melbourne-based Natalie Abbott who will also work in Helsinki.

  • The search for identity. Australian dance in the 1950s

At the recent BOLD Festival in Canberra I delivered a paper entitled The search for identity. Australian dance in the 1950s. Among the several works I looked at was Terra Australis, made for the Borovansky Ballet in 1946, which I considered as a forerunner to the many works on Australian themes that were choreographed in the 1950s. Looking at Terra Australis now, it stands as quite a remarkable production for its time. I was able to play, as part of my presentation, an excerpt from a radio interview with librettist Tom Rothfield, and some footage from both the 1946 production and the restaging in 1947 when the work had new designs.

Martin Rubinstein, Peggy Sager and Vassilie Trunoff in 'Terra Australis'. Borovansky Ballet, 1946.

Martin Rubinstein, Peggy Sager and Vassilie Trunoff in Terra Australis. Borovansky Ballet, 1946.

What especially stood out in the Rothfield interview was the fact that he made it very clear that he and Borovansky had focused on the the fate of the Indigenous population at the time of white settlement. In fact, he spoke strongly of the fact that he and Edouard Borovansky, who was choreographer of the work, hoped to provoke the audience into understanding what he referred to as the ‘true story’ of the arrival of Europeans. Very provocative for the 1940s.

In my research for that paper I also uncovered some interesting material relating to Camille Gheysens, a Belgian-born composer who made his home in Australia and who composed several pieces of music for Gertrud Bodenwieser, including her 1954 work Aboriginal Spear Dance. Gheysens’ patronage of Bodenwieser was significant, although perhaps not without its problems. Bodenwieser dancer, Anita Ardell, in her 2004 oral history interview for the National Library, remarked:

‘I don’t think that Madame really loved his music. Werner Baer certainly didn’t, and he was the musical director of the ABC at the time. But Madame was a very practical person. If this man were going to provide costumes and venues for her choreography, then so be it.’

Camille Gheysens composing, 1950s (?)

Camille Gheysens composing, 1950s (?)

The research period was certainly a thought-provoking time and I hope eventually to be able to post the paper on this site.

  • Trisha Brown (1936–2017)

I was saddened to receive the news of the death of American choreographer Trisha Brown, a most remarkable pioneer of postmodern dance. Alastair Macaulay’s obituary for The New York Times is at this link and there are many tributes to be found on the Trisha Brown Dance Company website.

My opinion of Brown’s works comes from seeing her company not in New York or anywhere in America, but from performances I have seen in London and Paris. In particular I still remember with huge pleasure a set of dances the company performed at London’s Tate Modern several years ago—my review is at this link. I also had the pleasure of seeing Glacial Decoy danced by Paris Opera Ballet and, just recently, I was reminded of this particular work when some brief footage from it, along with Rauschenberg’s photographs that slid across the back screen throughout the work, were shown in the Tate’s recent Robert Rauschenberg retrospective. Vale Trisha Brown. The small amount of her work that I saw gave me much pleasure.

Trisha Brown. Photo: © Marc Ginot

Trisha Brown. Photo: © Marc Ginot. Media Gallery, Trisha Brown Dance Company.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2017

Featured image: Scene from Rachel Arianne Ogle’s Of Dust. Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed season, 2016. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from Rachel Arianne Ogle's 'Of Dust'. Sydney Dance Company's New Breed season, 2016. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from 'Epic Theatre' Photo Pedro Greig

‘New Breed’ (2016). Sydney Dance Company

9 December 2016, Carriageworks, Eveleigh (Sydney)

The most ‘left-of-centre’ work on this year’s New Breed program was the final offering, Shian Law’s Epic Theatre. His premise, which he enunciated at the end of his work, was that theatre is basically one set of people looking at another set of people. And so he played with who was audience and who was performer, beginning as we entered the performing space for the start of his work. There was, however, a kind of ‘taster’ during the interval when we watched two dancers engaging in a powerful physical encounter outside the theatre space. (Carriageworks doesn’t really have a lobby as such).

Once inside, we were confronted by a line of people, a mix of dancers and audience, with arms linked tightly. The way to our seats was effectively blocked. Gradually we were given an opportunity to move to our seats and once everyone was in, there was some crazy dancing, especially from the tall and physically expressive Sam Young-Wright who, at one stage, stripped down to his underpants. There was also a lot of walking up, down, and around the performing space by dancers and some audiences members. But in the end, as entertaining as it all was, and that entertaining aspect extended to an electronic score played live by composer Marco Cher-Gibard, the idea was more interesting than the performance.

Coming in a close second in the left-of-centre stakes was Richard Cilli’s Hinterland. It began with a section in which a group of dancers ‘commented’ on the dancing of their colleagues with noises of various kinds—grunts, whoops and a range of silly sounds. Then followed a section when the dancers collapsed in a writhing heap while the triumphant strains of Liszt’s Chapelle de Guillaume Tell filled the air. The work finished with a section in which there was an ongoing discussion of which dancer was most like which character in the movie Titanic. (Bernhard Knauer was the iceberg!)

According to Cilli, Hinterland ‘explores the tension between outward appearances and the vast inner landscape.’ A little like Epic Theatre, the idea was a rather more interesting than the outcome. Having said that, some parts Hinterland were quite funny and Daniel Roberts was particularly expert at making his silly noises sound perfectly suited to the movements of his colleagues

I really enjoyed the opening work, Jesse Scales’ What you see, even though it might be regarded as the most conventional of the evening’s offerings—if indeed anything emerging from Sydney Dance can be thought of as conventional. Made for just three dancers, Cass Mortimer Eipper, Nelson Earl and Latsiha Sparks, and performed to music by Max Richter, it consisted basically of three solos, followed by a group section in which the silent screams of each of the dancers was a gripping element. Each solo focused on a different kind of gloom or torment, but the dancing was so good that the darkness of mood did not overpower the work. The whole was carefully composed with each solo following on smoothly from the other, and with the performers often moving down the diagonal with the kind of extreme movement that characterises much of Sydney Dance Company’s work. All three dancers performed exceptionally well and their facial expressions were a powerful means of highlighting the moods of What you see.

Scene from 'What you see'. Photo Pedro Greig

Scene from What you see, Sydney Dance Company. Photo: © Pedro Greig

For me the work of the night, however, was Rachel Arianne Ogle’s Of Dust, which explored connections between the stars, and other cosmic forces, and man’s journey from birth to death. It was a fast moving piece danced to a commissioned score by Ned Beckley. It began with a tightly knit group of dancers, five in all (Juliette Barton, Richard Cilli, Nelson Earl, Cass Mortimer Eipper, and Charmene Yap), pulling each other and the group into a series of constantly changing shapes. There was tension there, but also a feeling of unity. What followed teetered between order and disorder, connections and disconnections with some wonderful dancing from Juliette Barton and Charmene Yap in particular. Partnering was exceptional and the work moved swiftly and lyrically from beginning to end.

Unlike the situation with What you see, perhaps it would have been difficult to make the connection between Ogle’s work and her intentions without program notes, but Of Dust was a beautiful work to watch. It is the first piece I have seen from Ogle, who is based in Western Australia. I look forward to seeing more.

Scene from 'Of Dust'. Photo Pedro Greig

Scene from Of Dust, Sydney Dance Company. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Lighting for each of the four works was by Benjamin Cisterne and was most effective in Of Dust where Cisterne was able to use downlights, circles of light, changing colours, and other devices to add to the feeling that we were looking beyond the earth.

Michelle Potter, 14 December 2016

Featured image: Scene from Epic Theatre, Sydney Dance Company. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from 'Epic Theatre' Photo Pedro Greig

On another note, it is frustrating that Sydney Dance Company no longer provides names  of dancers in the captions attached to its media images. The dancers of Sydney Dance Company are all exceptional performers and deserve to be identified. I can guess but I’d rather be sure by having the company do the work of identification.