The Stretton Legacy

As Canberra gets ready to host the 2013 Australian Dance Awards as part of the city’s centenary celebrations, it is inevitable and absolutely appropriate that thoughts are turning to those dancers, teachers, directors and others who have made a major contribution to dance in the city in some way. Canberra-born Ross Stretton comes instantly to mind.

When Stretton died in 2005, following a career as a dancer in Australia and the United States, as the sixth artistic director of the Australian Ballet, and briefly as director of London’s Royal Ballet, I gathered together a list of the repertoire Stretton chose for his four and a half years at the helm of the Australian Ballet. It was published in Brolga, No. 23 in December 2005. As this article is not available via the online issues of Brolga, I am posting it here ahead of the ADAs.

Stretton marked his directorship with a catch phrase, a slogan of sorts: ‘Creativity, Energy, Passion’. It was often thrown back at him, sometimes with a touch of sarcasm, and it became known as the ‘CEP factor’. But behind it was Stretton’s passionate belief that dance was not superficial; it was an art form that in its greatest moments engaged mind, body and soul. Looking back at the repertoire list, which includes an astonishing twelve new commissions in the space of just over four years, as well as new acquisitions for the company from the existing international repertoire, it is clear that the CEP factor was hard at work.

Looking again there are a few works that haven’t been seen since Stretton’s directorship that I would love to see back: 1914 (despite the fact that it was not in general well-reviewed), Dark Lullaby, In the Upper Room, Theme and Variations and The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude are among them.

Below is a Jeff Busby shot of Elisha Willis in 2000 in William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, and below that is a link to the original Brolga article (with one or two corrections to the original). Other corrections if needed or comments are welcome.

Elisha Willis in 'The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude', 2000. Photo: Jeff Busby

‘The Stretton Legacy’. First published in  Brolga. An Australian Journal about Dance, December 2005, pp. 31–34.

Michelle Potter, 24 June 2013

‘Por vos muero.’ The Australian Ballet

The Australian Ballet’s triple bill Concord is currently in its Sydney season. It’s at the Opera House until 30 November.

Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929 is as startling as ever, although the cast I saw did not manage to achieve the same degree of technical precision and sense of purpose that made the opening night in Melbourne this past August such a brilliant occasion. Alexei Ratmansky’s Scuola di Ballo remains pantomime for those who like their ballet that way. As for Nacho Duato’s sublime Por vos muero, it continues to give and give of itself in a way that only the very best works of art can do.

Por vos in its Australian Ballet production goes back to the directorship of Ross Stretton who introduced it to Australian audiences in 2000. Who can forget the ravishing Felicia Palanca in the leading female role in that first season? Her passion for her role knew no bounds. But then who can forget Daniel Gaudiello on opening night in Melbourne this year with his capacity to show to advantage the intricacies of Duato’s choreography?

On the second matinee of the Sydney season no dancer really stood out, which allowed the opportunity to think more about the work itself, especially its seamless yet choreographically idiosyncratic duets, its use of humour and its delicious sensuousness. In fact it sent me back to the DVD to look more closely at how Duato had structured the work and at his use of props, especially the masks in his dance for six women and his decorative screens at the back of the stage space and the way they were used by the dancers to link each section.

But in addition I turned on the DVD’s subtitles and saw for the first time an English translation of the narrator’s Spanish words. The work stands brilliantly by itself—no translation of the words is necessary to feel that it is about love and passion in their many manifestations. Duato also explains on the DVD that everyone danced in fifteenth and sixteenth century Spain: dance was not thought of as an art but simply as a way of expressing oneself on pretty much any occasion. Such a desire to dance is also inherent in the choreography without our being told. Both the words of the narrator and Duato’s explanation simply confirm what we know. Por vos is an exceptional work.

But the words of the narrator are deeply affecting. As six dancers, clothed in stripped back skin-coloured costumes, move off and give up the stage for a final solo by the leading female dancer, whose consort appears in the closing moment to enfold her in his arms, we are told:

For thee I was born/Through thee I have life/For thee I must die/And for thee I die.

Por vos is an exceptional work.

Michelle Potter, 23 November 2009

Featured image: Dancers of the Australian Ballet in Por vos muero, 2009. Photo: © Jim McFarlane.