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

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.

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

Featured image: 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

Canberra dance. A professional company?

Canberra hasn’t had a professional dance company for some time now and, as Dance Week 2012 approached, an article appeared in The Canberra Times in which Neil Roach, director of Ausdance ACT, suggested that the city should aspire to have an ‘emerging professional dance company … like those already being successfully funded by the Australia Council—Kate Champion, Lucy Guerin, Chunky Moves [sic]’. Well to put it bluntly, there is no reason why we in Canberra should expect to have a funded dance company. It is not a right.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to one of course. Nor that we don’t want one. But Canberra isn’t Sydney or Melbourne. It’s an unusual place and those who have watched several professional companies come and go in Canberra since 1980, when Don Asker’s Human Veins Dance Theatre became Canberra’s first professional dance company, will all have an opinion as to what suits Canberra.

Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised when I say that for me the most vibrant time for dance in Canberra was 1989 to 1992 when the Meryl Tankard Company was the city’s resident dance company. The place was buzzing then—art attracts art—and if we look back to that period there is much upon which we can draw to make a case for what will inspire the Canberra population to embrace a dance company.

I have always been taken by the words of Stefanos Lazaridis, who directed Orphée et Eurydice for Opera Australia in 1993, which Tankard choreographed after she had left Canberra. He said on an Imagine program on SBS Television in ca. 1994:

The word ‘choreography’ did not apply as far as I am concerned. I wanted this dimension [of the opera] to be dealt with by somebody who has the demonic dance talent of Meryl Tankard, who is a woman of total theatre.

Tankard brought to Canberra something more than ‘just dance’. She brought that ‘total theatre’ that Lazaridis was smart enough to recognise and to declare in such a public forum.  In my opinion that’s just what a small city needs. The population of Canberra at the moment is just 360,000. With that number of people, if  a dance company aspires to be ongoing and viable it needs to be able to attract an audience from across the visual, literary and performing arts. A company that doesn’t aspire to attract, or isn’t capable of engaging audiences beyond the confines of the local dance community, will never make an impact.

Court of Flora. Photo Regis Lansac

Tuula Roppola as the Rose in Court of Fora, Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Australia, 1991. Photo: Régis Lansac. Courtesy Régis Lansac

Tankard was always proud that her 1989 work  Banshee, shown at the National Gallery of Australia in conjunction with an exhibition of Irish gold and silver, largely Celtic jewellery, attracted a small punk audience. And I can never forget Court of Flora first staged in 1990 at Floriade, Canberra’s annual outdoor spring event. It drew large crowds, who delighted in Anthony Phillips’ spectacular costumes and in the ability of Tankard’s dancers to imbue the floral characters they represented with human characteristics. The work was repeated many times in a variety of Canberra venues between 1990 and 1992. Marion Halligan wrote about Tankard’s work. The Embassy of France and the Goethe Institute in Canberra supported the company.

But what was also interesting about those years was that Tankard and her partner in art and life, Régis Lansac, embraced the Canberra community, its institutions, its landscape and its resident artists. They lived in the city. Lansac exhibited his photographs with other local artists. Tankard made a short film in the Federal Highway Park Quarry just out of the city. Lansac incorporated photographs of a local landmark, Mount Ainslie, in projections that accompanied Two Feet. Lansac received a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award for ‘his constant searching for, and discovery of, new frontiers in stage design’. And ultimately Tankard was made ACT Citizen of the Year in 1992 for having ‘brought the arts in Canberra to both national and international attention’ and for ‘enriching [Canberra’s] reputation as one of great diversity and creativity’. It was a heady time for dance in the ACT and one that has not been equalled since in my opinion.

So yes, I too would love there to be a professional dance company in Canberra. But I don’t think it should be an experimental, contemporary company with interests that attract only a minority of dance aficionados. Leave that to larger cities. Canberra needs a dance company that the wider community can feel belongs to Canberra, not just to dance.

Michelle Potter, 28 April 2012.

Dance diary: February 2012

  • Spring Dance

It was good to read that Rafael Bonachela will take on the directorship of Sydney’s Spring Dance program for the next three years.  I am sure Bonachela will bring huge enthusiasm not to mention knowledge and understanding of the contemporary dance scene to the job.

Some of my most unusual and rewarding dance experiences in recent years have been at Spring Dance. Philippe Priasso‘s amazing interlude with an earth mover was one. Meryl Tankard’s Oracle another. Here is a link to the Spring Dance tag.

And on the subject of Tankard I have just received publicity for the restaging by Lyon Opera Ballet of Bolero. I wrote about Bolero in an earlier post and also noted then that the Lyon restaging would be part of a triple bill program that also includes works by Kylian and Forsythe. Do we have to go to Lyon these days to see such a program? Perhaps the company from Lyon is worth considering for Spring Dance? Or another Australian dance festival?

Lyon Opera Ballet poster

  • SAR Fellowship

My Fellowship at the National Film and Sound Archive to investigate the film and television commissions of Kristian Fredrikson officially came to a conclusion at the end of February. I gave my staff presentation, ‘Kristian Fredrikson: on screen’, towards the end of February, appeared on 666 ABC Canberra to talk to presenter of Saturday Breakfast, Greg Bayliss, about the Archive and my research, and I will be presenting in Melbourne in April as part of the Arts Centre’s Spotlight series.

A number of surprises emerged from being located at the Archive. On the one hand I had liberal access to the collection held there, which consists not only of film and video material but all kinds of other documentation and, on the other, I had access to the expertise and network of connections of the Archive’s curators. I discovered a design commission that had not been mentioned in any of the sources I had investigated so far: Fredrikson designed the operatic backgrounds for a children’s television series screened by SBS in 1985 called The Maestro’s Company. And I was also put in touch with the director of The Magic Telescope, an unrealised film for which Fredrikson created some designs that are totally unlike anything else I have seen from him to date. In addition I watched all the better known productions on which he worked including the delicious Undercover, which led to a number of other discoveries regarding the origins of the dance scenes that make up the finale to that movie. Through another Archive connection I discovered more about The Lovers of Verona, featuring Kathy Gorham and Garth Welch and produced by the ABC in 1965.

I was also able to relive through film and video some of the best known early Sydney Dance Company works. I was reminded time and time again as I watched productions like Poppy, King Roger, Daphnis and Chloe, After Venice and others what an amazing and versatile performer Janet Vernon was. I watched too a performance of Old Friends, New Friends (1984), the precursor to Nearly Beloved. It wasn’t designed by Fredrikson but happened to be on the same tape as After Venice. What a joy it was to see Vernon in that work and to watch as she worked her way through a whole range of different emotions.

  • Canberra news: Dimity Azoury and Jasmin Durham

Demographically Canberra is small in comparison to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and other major Australian cities. So it is a pleasure to hear that two Canberra-trained dancers, Dimity Azoury and Jasmin Durham, have made a mark just recently.

Azoury, a former pupil of Kim Harvey, has been nominated for the Australian Ballet’s 2012 Telstra Awards. The major award is worth $20,000 and having sat on the judging panel on one occasion (the year Lana Jones was the recipient of the $20,000), I know that the year-long assessment process is gruelling, but nevertheless I believe a formative experience for those involved, including the judges. For more on the Telstra Awards, which include a People’s Choice Award worth $5,000, see the Australian Ballet’s website.

Dimity Azoury Photo by James Braund

Dimity Azoury. Photo by James Braund. Courtesy the Australian Ballet

Jasmin Durham, who trained in Canberra with Lisa Clark, has been accepted into the Australian Ballet, and began her professional career in January. I recall watching her several years ago now in a student performance, and a scholarship competition and her talent was absolutely clear. She joins a number of other Canberra-trained dancers in the company including principals Lana Jones and Rachel Rawlins and her corps de ballet companion Dimity Azoury.

Jasmin Durham Photo by James Braund
Jasmin Durham. Photo by James Braund. Courtesy the Australian Ballet

Michelle Potter, 29 February 2012

Dance diary. December 2011

  • Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet

During 2011 I have published many thoughts on a whole variety of dance subjects, but there is no doubt that most interest has been generated by posts and comments associated with the Australian Ballet’s production of Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet. Traffic across this website has risen by 50% since the opening of R & J in September. My two posts on this show were quickly picked up. The original post has been the top post in terms of visitor numbers since October and the ‘second’ look’ post quickly took up the second spot from November onwards.*

The main thrust of the comments on R & J has been, it seems to me, that the story lost its depth as a result of the wildly changing locations and eras in which this production of the ballet is set. In response to one such comment following the Sydney season I wrote: ‘ I keep wondering about our expectations of ballet, and this ballet in particular. Does the story lose its profundity if it covers different territory and does so in a way that is not expected?’ I think most people believe the story did lose rather than gain in this production, but I still wonder and look forward to further comments when the work goes to Brisbane early in 2012.

  • Infinity: the Australian Ballet’s 2012 triple bill

Graeme Murphy is in the throes of creating another work for the Australian Ballet. It will form part of a triple bill entitled Infinity, which will open in Melbourne in February and comprise works by Murphy, Gideon Obarzanek and Stephen Page. While I have no inkling as to what Murphy will give us this time, Bangarra Dance Theatre’s December newsletter gives us a hint of what we might expect from Page’s work, which will use dancers from both his own Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Australian Ballet — definitely something to look forward to.

  • Scholars and Artists in Residence (SAR) Fellowship

In December I began my research into designer Kristian Fredrikson’s film and television commissions at the National Film and Sound Archive under a SAR Fellowship and will resume work there after the holiday break. I was especially pleased finally to be able to see a film called Undercover, made in 1983 and produced by David Elfick with Kristian Fredrikson as costume designer and Anna French as his assistant designer. This film is set in the 1920s and charts the growth of the Berlei undergarment enterprise in Australia. Fredrikson’s designs, especially for the women and for the dance sequences (choreographed by former Australian Ballet dancer Leigh Chambers) towards the end of the film, are beautifully realised within the spirit of the fashions of the 1920s. I suspect Fredrikson reimagined some of his work for Undercover when he began work on Tivoli, which he designed in 2001 for Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Ballet. In any case, despite the reservations I had (before I had seen the film I have to admit) about the subject matter, Undercover is a fascinating film and I hope to arrange a screening of it at a later date.

As a result of a mention I made of the SAR Fellowship in my dance diary post for November I was surprised and delighted to be contacted by one of Fredrikson’s assistants who worked with him on a production of Oedipus Rex, produced in 1965 by Wal Cherry for his Emerald Hill Theatre in Melbourne. It was only recently that I discovered that Fredrikson had designed this show, one of his earliest Australian design commissions, and I hope to include reference to it in a Spotlight Talk I will be giving for the Performing Arts Centre, Melbourne, in April when I will also talk about Fredrikson’s other early designs in New Zealand and Australia.

  • Meryl Tankard

Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac returned to Sydney in December following the opening of Tankard’s latest work, Cinderella, for Leipzig Ballet in November. As well as passing on news about Cinderella, Tankard also told me of the success that The Oracle had when it was shown in Lyon in November. Tankard made The Oracle in 2009 as a solo work for dancer Paul White and one clipping from a Lyon newspaper that Tankard sent me referred to Paul White as ‘a revelation to the French public’ and ‘a god of the stage’ and suggested that his solo had instantly attracted a cult following. Here is a link to another review (in French or, if you prefer, in English translation) from the Lyon Capitale that lauds, once again, White’s remarkable physicality and virtuosity and Tankard’s and Lansac’s extraordinary work. The Oracle was the recipient of two Australian Dance Awards in 2010.

  • Paul Knobloch

Australian dancer Paul Knobloch was in Canberra over the holiday season visiting family and friends. Knobloch is excited at the new direction his career is about to take. He will take up a contract in February with Alonzo King LINES Ballet based in San Francisco. King recently made a work called Figures of thought for Béjart Ballet Lausanne, where Knobloch has been working for the past few years. King offered Knobloch a contract after working with him in Lausanne. Alonzo King

Alonzo King rehearsing Daria Ivanova and Paul Knobloch in Figures of thought, Lausanne, June 2011. Photo: Valerie Lacaze.

The BBL website has a photo gallery from this work. It contains several images of Knobloch in rehearsal.

      • Luminous: Celebrating 50 years of the Australian Ballet

In December The Canberra Times published my review of the Australian Ballet’s most recent publication, Luminous: Celebrating 50 years of the Australian Ballet. Here is a link to the article.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2011

*The third most popular post for both November and December was that relating to Stanton Welch and the other Australians working in Houston, Texas.

‘Bolero.’ Meryl Tankard & Régis Lansac

Bolero, by that remarkable duo Meryl Tankard and  Régis Lansac, will have another European outing in April 2012. It will appear on a triple bill program by the Lyon Opera Ballet along with works by William Forsythe and Jiri Kylian. Is there any other Australian choreographer whose work can, over and over again, stand alongside those who are considered by most to be choreographic giants?

Bolero shows off Tankard’s capacity to create a vision of an ever-changing body in movement. It grows from earlier experiments with shadow play, which can be traced at least back to works made in Canberra—works such as Banshee and Nuti.

Bolero was first staged on commission from the Lyon Opera Ballet in 1998 shortly after Tankard had been dismissed as artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre. Its opening scene recalls a Javanese shadow play. Shadows in profile, delicately costumed in bell-shaped skirts with fretted designs are images of real dancers who are hidden behind a screen. As these dancers move across the stage space, they hold their arms in a way that casts two dimensional shapes onto the screen. They move jerkily through images of shadowy columns and disappear behind what appears to be the narrowest of slits between two architectural columns. They then re-emerge from this slim, vertical strip of light, and pursue their crossing of the space.

However, as the work proceeds—and it is performed entirely as a shadow play—the feeling of artificiality disappears. A feeling that this is a real world emerges, even though the audience is still involved in watching bodies behaving in mysterious ways. At one stage a man and a woman engage in a romantic interlude that changes emotional direction and ends with her being pushed to the ground. As she falls to the ground the floor swallows her up. The shadow of her body simply disappears from view. Further into the piece a Spanish dancer is joined by a headless woman and they dance alongside each other.

Set to the driving rhythms of Ravel’s Bolero, the dance gathers momentum along with the music. As both music and dance move to an inevitable climax, shadowy figures change size and shape and position. Some scurry across the space, some move with relentless slowness. There are multiple manifestations of the one figure. Frenzy and control. It is a technical tour de force for Lansac and a work in which the collaboration between Tankard and Lansac reaches a high point. The work was restaged in 2003 in Sweden by the GöteborgsOperans Balett but has never been seen in full in Australia.

© Michelle Potter, 25 April 2011

Featured image: a moment from Bolero. Photo: Régis Lansac

Scene from ‘Bolero’. Photo: Régis Lansac

‘The Oracle’. Meryl Tankard

19 september 2009, The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, Spring Dance

The Oracle, Meryl Tankard’s work set to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, is a triumph. A solo work for Paul White, who dances with astonishing physicality and intensity, it is an example of how affecting a work can be when the creative team has a strongly shared vision and works single-mindedly to bring that vision into being. The Oracle was visually and choreographically focused and articulate. It moved from section to section as relentlessly as the music until it reached its dramatic conclusion.

Paul White in 'The Oracle'

Paul White in The Oracle. Photo: Regis Lansac, 2009

Tankard’s choreography, with shared credit to White on the program, moved between small and intricate movements of the hands and fingers and even of the tongue, which required sensitivity of the smallest body part, and movements that demanded that White fling himself through the air, while always maintaining absolute control of the whole body as it hurtled through space. Introverted movements, sometimes executed with the dancer’s back to the audience or with his head shrouded in a chocolate-coloured length of velvety cloth, contrasted with steps of exceptional virtuosity, exuberance and extroversion. Some sections were acrobatic — at one stage White walked on his hands — others had a strong classical feel. This choreography required an extraordinarily versatile performer and White’s performance was quite simply a tour de force.

Tankard assembled The Oracle following the structure of the Stravinsky score but, in her hallmark manner, it was built on multiple layers of meaning and allusion. There were emotive links to Nijinsky, who first gave choreographic expression to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913. They were noticeable in some of the choreographic phrases, which seemed to refer back to Nijinsky’s movement phrases created for his own Rite of Spring. They were also noticeable in those moments when White seemed to be lost in a surreal world, which recalled Nijinsky’s descent into mental illness in the later years of his life. There were allusions to Martha Graham’s well known work, Letter to the World, in which she used her long skirt to give extra shape and form to her choreography. White used that long, chocolate-coloured swathe of velvet not this time to cover his head but as a skirt tied to his waist. He made it swirl through the air as he cart-wheeled and jumped and manipulated it across the floor as he slithered and twisted. The work drew on other sources of inspiration from the work of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum to Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. But The Oracle is absolutely Tankard’s own. One of her great strengths as a choreographer is to make references while maintaining an individual integrity.

Regis Lansac, working again with Tankard as he has done over many years on set and video design, created an opening video sequence to a soundscape of whistling and other mechanical sounds and a recording of Magnificat by the Portuguese composer of the baroque period, João Rodrigues Esteves. This sequence picked up on aspects of the choreography and on images of White and manipulated both to explore a different view of the human body. It seemed also to set up a dance of its own that moved from the figurative to the abstract and back again melding and confusing the two ideas. At times throughout the piece Lansac’s projections and video sequences provided an evocative background. At other times they became essential to the unfolding of the dance, especially in those moments when White encountered his image on the backcloth and needed to contend with what he saw.

The Oracle was lit by Damien Cooper and Matt Cox. Highlights included the Rembrandt-esque lighting of White’s face, arms and legs in the opening moments; the expanding and contracting circle of light around whose circumference White made a slow and tentative progression; and the breathtaking closing moment as White, centre stage, jumped high into the air as a shaft of brilliant light closed down upon him.

Paul White in 'The Oracle' (2)Paul White in The Oracle: Photo Regis Lansac, 2009

The Oracle shows the collaborative work of Tankard and Lansac at its best. It is an awesome piece of dance and theatre and was received with well deserved shouts of bravo and a standing ovation at both performances I attended.

Michelle Potter, 21 September 2009

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