Dance diary. February 2017

  • Australian Dance Party

Canberra’s Australian Dance Party has announced some upcoming events/performances for 2017.

Shake it will take place on 18 March in the courtyard of the National Film and Sound Archive as part of the Art Not Apart Festival. It will feature, in addition to Party dancers, a mixologist and a DJ.
Autonomous will be played out in a carpark in Canberra’s CBD as part of the You Are Here Festival and will investigate ‘laziness, disposability and pollution of our cities’.
Mine! scheduled for August (depending on funding). A site-specific work set in a Canberra warehouse with a great line-up of dancers. Richard Cilli, Olivia Fyfe and Jack Riley will join Alison Plevey for this show.

Check out ADP’s promo with a message from Alison Plevey and brief scenes from Strings Attached at this vimeo link.

  • BOLD Festival

Plans for the BOLD Festival, which I mentioned in the January diary, are moving ahead speedily. I will be giving a talk on the Saturday (11 March) entitled ‘The Search for Identity. Australian Dance in the 1950s’. I have especially enjoyed where my research has taken me on this one.

I discovered a little more about the composer Camille Gheysens, who wrote music for several of Gertrud Bodenwieser’s works, including Central Australian Suite and Aboriginal Spear Dance, footage of which, danced by Keith Bain, will be shown during my talk. Investigating material relating to Gheysens led me to artist Byram Mansell who designed a record cover (amongst many other items) for some of Gheysens’ compositions. I am still trying to unravel various threads relating to Aboriginal Spear Dance, but in many respects my talk is a forerunner to another session on 11 March, which will feature a 1951 documentary about Rex Reid’s Corroboree and Ella, a film about Ella Havelka.

I will also be discussing briefly Wakooka, a ballet choreographed by Valrene Tweedie for the Elizabethan Opera Ballet Company in 1957. This section of the talk will include an audio extract from an oral history interview recorded with Tweedie in 2004. In the extract she explains how, with the help of John Antill who wrote the score, she came to call the ballet Wakooka. In looking for a portrait of Tweedie from around the time she made Wakooka to include in my presentation, I came across one I had not encountered before, which she has dated on the back of the print as ‘1952-ish’. She was 28 or 29.

Portrait of Valrene Tweedie ca. 1952. Photographer unknown

Portrait of Valrene Tweedie ca. 1952. Photographer unknown

Here is a link to the Saturday BOLD events at the National Film and Sound Archive. And here is a link to a promo video showing some of the amazingly varied dance that can be seen during BOLD.

  • Australian Dance Awards 2017

Just announced: the 2017 Australian Dance Awards will be held on 24 September 2017 at Arts Centre Melbourne. Save the date.

Michelle Potter, 28 February 2017

Featured image: Scene from Strings Attached. Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

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.

Jesse Scales and David Mack in 'Variation 10'. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Peter Grieg

‘Triptych’. Sydney Dance Company

10 October 2015 (matinee), Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney

Sydney Dance Company’s latest offering, Triptych, pays homage to English composer Benjamin Britten, whose compositions, Simple Symphony, Les Illuminations and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, are at the musical heart of the program. All three works have choreography by artistic director Rafael Bonachela, and the dancers are joined onstage by singer Katie Noonan in Les Illuminations, and throughout the program by musicians of ACO2, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s string ensemble.

Simple Symphony looks a lot different on the stage of the Roslyn Packer Theatre. In its earlier outing in 2013, at the Studio Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, it was performed on a T-shaped catwalk with the dancers using the whole of a fairly narrow, if long, T-space, and with players from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra providing the accompaniment from a position at the cross bar of the T. This time the musicians sat on a dais at the back of the stage, a ploy successfully used by Bonachela in his exceptional creation, also made in 2013, Project Rameau. In addition, the dancers had a relatively large, rectangular space in which to perform and, all in all, the work was easier to see and to my mind, therefore, more interesting choreographically.

In the 2013 production of Simple Symphony I noticed Bonachela’s use of lifts in particular. This time, although I was still taken by the lifts, I was entranced by the moves in which the female dancers were swept up into the arms of their partner and dipped and swirled melodiously around, and by the beautifully playful endings to the first two sections, which brought gentle laughter from the audience. Nevertheless, ‘Sentimental Sarabande’, the third section, remained my favourite. It was sensuously performed, a lovely duet.

Bernhard Knauer and Janessa Dufty in 'Simple Symphony', 2015. Photo: Peter Grieg
Bernhard Knauer and Janessa Dufty in Simple Symphony. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Peter Grieg

Simple Symphony is perhaps Bonachela’s most balletic looking piece, and is light and joyous. In contrast, Les Illuminations, with its background of 19th century French Symbolism via the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, has a more moody quality. Its opening scene shows the four cast members, two men and two women, standing in pools of dark light, looking like mysterious figures from a Symbolist painting. As with Simple Symphony, Les Illuminations was easier to enjoy in a more regular space and Katie Noonan’s rendition of Britten’s songs resonated beautifully throughout the theatre.

Cass Mortimer Eipper and Charmene Yap in 'Les Illuminations' . Sydney Dance Company 2015. Photo: Peter Grieg
Cass Mortimer Eipper and Charmene Yap in Les Illuminations. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Peter Grieg

The most exquisite of the duets that comprise the choreography for Les Illuminations was, for me, the final one, ‘Le départ’, between the two male cast members, Richard Cilli and Cass Mortimer Eipper. It was tender, sensual, and filled with moving moments such as those where palms touched and then arms were pushed upward. The final sculptural pose was an emotional ending.

Bonachela’s new creation for this season, Variation 10, was danced to Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. In particular it showed Bonachela’s skills in group work as opposed to the duet structure that characterised Simple Symphony and Les Illuminations. I especially enjoyed a quintet for five ladies and as usual was staggered at how beautifully they moved individually and as a group.

There is nothing like the passion for movement that Sydney Dance Company has, nor the choreographic passion that characterises Bonachela’s work.

Michelle Potter, 11 October 2015

Featured image: Jesse Scales and David Mack in Variation 10. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Peter Grieg

Jesse Scales and David Mack in 'Variation 10'. Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: Peter Grieg