Dance diary. May 2017

  • Canberra dance: funding news

In the dire funding situation affecting dance artists across the country, it was a thrill to hear from Liz Lea that her third science show for schools, Reef UP!, has been funded by the Queensland Government under their Engaging Science Grant Program. Read more at this link.

Lea, ever resourceful when it comes to collaborating and seeking funding, has previously presented science-oriented shows called Flying Facts and Star Struck in collaboration with the Queensland Music Festival. She received an ACT seed grant last year to begin research on Reef UP! Discussing Lea’s plans for her children’s shows I wrote last year:

Flying Facts began from a seeding grant Lea received to develop a show, eventually named InFlight, which examined Australian aviation history using materials in the National Library and the National Film and Sound Archive. During the research period, Questacon [the National Science and Technology Centre] asked Lea if a science component could be incorporated. InFlight went ahead as planned but a children’s show looking at how planes and birds fly, Flying Facts, also emerged and scored considerable success. The other children’s show, Star Struck, grew from work Lea did with astronomers and scientists from Mount Stromlo Observatory. It explores the astronomy of the northern and southern constellations and now Lea is exploring the possibility of a new collaboration with Mount Stromlo incorporating dancers from Australia and Singapore. And, fascinated by David Attenborough’s work on the fate of the Great Barrier Reef, Lea is working on a new educational show with characters called Manta, Ray, Slinky the Shark and the like. She has a small grant to undertake further research for this show in Queensland.*

Reef UP! will have an opening season in October in Canberra before touring into regional schools across Queensland and will feature, in addition to Lea, Liesl Zink and Michael Smith.

Liz Lea in a moment from 'Star Struck'. Photo © Sam Rutledge

Liz Lea in a moment from Star Struck. Photo: © Sam Rutledge

In addition to Lea’s funding success, Alison Plevey and Australian Dance Party have received an ACT seed grant to work on a proposed show, Mine!, to premiere (further funding permitting) in August.

  • Zahira Madeleine Bullock (1927–2017)

I was saddened to hear of the death at the age of 90 of Zahira Madeleine Bullock, one of the standout figures in Canberra’s GOLD group. Her appearance in shows by the GOLDs will certainly be missed. I always enjoyed the way her dancing was incorporated into GOLD productions, and how she was assisted along the way by others in the group. She was also founder of Dances of Universal Peace in Australia.

The video clip at this link shows some moments from her dancing career with the GOLDs. Her opening remark on the clip— ‘I think it’s rubbish that dance is only for the young’—will live on forever.

Portrait of Zahira Madeleine Bullock. Photo © Lorna Sim

Portrait of Zahira Madeleine Bullock. Photo © Lorna Sim

  • Hannah O’Neill

Fans of Hannah O’Neill may be interested in watching the following short film, Ascension made by by Jacob Sutton in 2015, showing O’Neill and Germain Louvet dancing inside and outside the Palais Garnier. Follow this link.

The venues used by Sutton in his film can be seen as well in the film Relève (Reset), which documents the first months of Benjamin Millepied’s directorship of Paris Opera Ballet. In particular, there are scenes in Relève that have been shot on the roof of the Palais Garnier, where O’Neill and Louvet execute that very beautiful (but somewhat terrifying) lift with O’Neill being carried along the edge of the roof in a grand jeté pose.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2017

Featured image: Liz Lea in a moment from Star Struck. Photo: © Sam Rutledge

* Read the full article at this link.

 

The Golds in a scene from 'Great Sport!'

Dance picks 2016

Recently, arts writers and critics for The Canberra Times were asked to choose their top five shows for 2016 for publication immediately before and after Christmas. We wrote and filed our stories in mid-December and, for various reasons I chose only four productions.

But mid-December was before the names of successful applicants for artsACT project funding were made public. The announcement made it very clear that a massive cutback had been made to project funding (more than 60% less money was made available for arts projects than in the previous round). Just one dance project was funded: James Batchelor received $30,000 to develop ‘a large-scale new dance performance’ at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Had I written the story a little later I would have changed one part of my article. Rather than saying, as I did, But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year and may that continue as well, and be recognised by local and national funding bodies, I would have written ‘But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year, and it is a sad indictment of the current ACT government that it has not chosen to recognise the vibrancy of dance being produced in Canberra by locally-based artists, artists who have worked tirelessly to show that Canberra is a place where dance can flourish throughout the year.’

Perhaps I would also have changed my final sentence as well, but that would have assumed that locally-based artists might have given up. But dancers don’t give up. They find ways to keep moving right along.

Here is my Canberra Times story as published this morning, although slightly altered to include what was cut and, for variety, with a slightly different selection of images. The story is also available online at this link.

Much of the dance that audiences have seen in Canberra in 2016 has been refreshingly ‘underground’ in that it has been a little non-conformist in terms of where it has been performed and who has performed it. Our national cultural institutions have, for example, been active in hosting small dance performances, sometimes, as with the National Portrait Gallery, as an adjunct to their various exhibitions or acquisitions. We have, of course, seen Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Dance Company, who, to our ongoing pleasure and gratitude, continue to visit Canberra and bring with them their outstanding, more mainstream work. Let’s hope that such visits continue as they have done over the past several decades. But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year and may that continue as well, and be recognised by local and national funding bodies.

Without a doubt the dance highlight for me was Great Sport! a site-specific production that took place in various parts of the National Museum of Australia, including outdoors in the Garden of Australian Dreams. The brainchild of Liz Lea, the production was a celebration of movement and sporting history. It continued the focus Lea has had since arriving in Canberra in 2009 on working in unusual spaces and, in particular, on using the Canberra environment and its cultural institutions as a venue, and as a backdrop to her work.

Scene from 'Great Sport!'

Scene from Liz Lea’s ‘Annette’ in Great Sport!

The show had its first performance on World Health Day and, given that the program featured Canberra’s mature age group, the GOLDS, as well as two Dance for Parkinson’s groups, Great Sport! was also a program that focused on healthy living through movement.  Great Sport! showcased the work of several professional choreographers, some from Canberra, others from interstate, all commissioned by Lea to make different sections of the work. One of the most interesting aspects of Great Sport! was, in fact, the way in which the choreographers, all very different in their approaches and choreographic style, were able to maintain and make visible those inherent stylistic differences, while working with community groups in which movement skills were, understandably, quite varied.

What we saw was innately theatrical: outrageous at times, more thoughtful and serious at others and bouquets are due to Lea for her persistent focus on Canberra as a place where dance happens. Great Sport! was an exceptional piece of collaboration and a spectacularly good event.

Then, in a major development for dance in Canberra, Alison Plevey launched a new contemporary company, Australian Dance Party. Plevey has been active as an independent artist for some time now but has often spoken of the need for a professional dance company in Canberra. In 2016 she made this vision a reality and her new contemporary dance company has already given two performances to date: Strings Attached, the opening production staged in collaboration with several musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in a pop-up theatre space in the Nishi building, and Nervous, a work staged in a burnt-out telescope dome at Mt Stromlo. Again, Plevey is committed to making dance in Canberra and has been persistent in her drive and determination to make this happen.

Dancer Alison Plevey and harpist in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

Alison Plevey in Strings Attached. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Beyond locally created dance, and of the more mainstream live ventures to come to Canberra, Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker was a pre-Christmas treat. This Nutcracker was danced to perfection by Queensland Ballet now directed by the highly-motivated Li Cunxin, who has moved the company from a not-so-interesting regional organisation to one that has everything to offer the most demanding dance-goer. Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker was a heart-warming performance of a much-loved ballet and it was thrilling to see Queensland Ballet as a major force in the world of Australian ballet. May the company return many times to Canberra.

Beyond the live stage, Canberra dance audiences had the opportunity to see Spear, a film from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Stephen Page. Following showings at film festivals in Australia and elsewhere, Spear had a season at the National Film and Sound Archive early in 2016. It was a challenging and confronting film that used dance and movement as a medium to explore the conflicting worlds of urban Aboriginal people: it touched on several serious issues including suicide, alcoholism, substance abuse and racism. Cinematically it was breathtaking, especially in its use of landscape and cityscape as a background to the movement. It was tough, fearless, uncompromising and yet quietly beautiful.

Aaron Pedersen as Suicide Man in 'Spear'. Photo: © Giovanni de Santolo

Aaron Pedersen as Suicide Man in Spear. Photo: © Giovanni de Santolo

Art attracts art. Dance attracts dance. The dance scene in Canberra is looking more exciting than it has for many years.

Michelle Potter, 27 December 2016

Featured image: The GOLDS in a scene from Gerard van Dyck’s ‘First and Last’ from Great Sport! Photo: Michelle Potter

The Golds in a scene from 'Great Sport!'

Seeta Patel in Australia

British Indian dancer, Seeta Patel, specialises in the Bharata Natyam style of classical Indian dance and she will be in Canberra in August to work on two projects. The first is a workshop with Canberra Dance Theatre’s GOLDS, the second a one-off performance at Belconnen Arts Centre. When I spoke to her, however, she was in Mt Gambier, South Australia, working with choreographer Lina Limosani on yet another project. Prior to that she spent time a week of intensive work in Sydney with Liz Lea.

Patel worked with Lea on refining her Bharata Natyam technique. Bharata Natyam was a major part of Lea’s practice for many years before she came to Australia but, since arriving in Canberra in 2009, Lea has had little opportunity to work on this aspect of her practice. She has instead concentrated on community dance, including the successful establishment of the GOLDS, and on other areas of her practice, including works made as a result of historical research, such as 120 Birds, which took the travels of Anna Pavlova as its starting point. Patel has re-energised her and brought her back to her Bharata Natyam practice.

‘With recent changes in my career,’ Lea says, ‘I have wanted to return to my own practice and to the Bharata Natyam style. The sessions with Seeta reawakened my deep love for the form, and my deep respect. It is so very difficult and challenging, mentally and physically. Working with Seeta was also quite an adventure. At the end of each day I could scarcely walk!’

Lea also acknowledges Patel’s strengths as a performer at the cutting edge of the growth and development of Bharata Natyam as a contemporary art form for today’s audiences. Patel has worked with several British contemporary dance companies, including DV8 and David Hughes Dance, which she says taught her to use her performance skills in a different way.

‘It is challenging to develop the ability to move across forms and to engage in cross-cultural work,’ Patel says. ‘It is a reminder not to reduce Bharata Natyam to something simplistic, but to find what is inherent in it.’

Patel’s work at Mt Gambier with choreographer Lina Limosani, who works in a contemporary style and who, in 2015, was awarded the Peggy van Praagh Choreographic Fellowship, highlights Patel’s interest in cross-cultural, cross-form work.  Her three week residency in Mt Gambier, supported by Country Arts South Australia, saw Patel not only conducting workshops but also working with Limosani and dramaturg Dagmara Gieysztor on a new contemporary work Not Today’s Yesterday.

Now Patel is working on ways to secure funding to bring Limosani and Gieysztor to England to complete the work they have started and have it tour globally.

For India Meets, the one-off performance at Belconnen Arts Centre on 20 August, Patel will perform a small solo drawing on elements of Bharata Natyam technique. It will be a ‘short work’, athough she suggests that her interest lies in the ‘long form with live music’. Her post-forum discussion may well draw out more on this topic. Lea will also perform, along with several other Canberra-based dance artists. Lea says her work will be informed by her intensive work with Patel but it will not be purely traditional Bharata Natyam.

‘I will be exploring,’ Lea says, ‘a conversation between Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore that took place in 1930. It relates to my ongoing exploration of previous relations between East and West, and my new enquiries into science and astronomy.’

For more information on India Meets follow this link. Tickets at eventbrite.

Michelle Potter, 10 August 2016

‘Great Sport!’. Liz Lea and collaborators

7 April 2016 (World Health Day), National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Canberra’s GOLDS (joined briefly on this occasion by two Dance for Parkinsons groups) have once again surprised me. Great Sport! was a site specific production that took place in various parts of the National Museum of Australia, including outdoors in the Garden of Australian Dreams. The production was a celebration of movement and sporting history but, given that the show had its first performance on World Health Day, and given that the program also included a segment by the two Dance for Parkinsons groups, Great Sport! was also a program that focused on healthy living through movement.

The production began with ‘Annette’, a celebration of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman. Choreographed by Liz Lea, joint artistic director of the GOLDS, it was full of glitz and glamour, as was befitting of the subject given that Kellerman was not just a swimmer but an advocate for female issues and a star of Hollywood in the early twentieth century. We saw spangly costumes, 1900/1920s-style cozzies, lots of feathers, fans and froth, and some gorgeous, fun-filled choreography that suited these dancers so well.

Great-Sport-2-Small

Great-sport-6-Small

Great Sport! Scene from ‘Annette’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016.

‘Annette’, which was accompanied in part by an original musical composition/poem by Chrissie Shaw, made wonderful use of the Museum’s surrounding spaces—a pool; swirling, curving pathways; an ancient tree trunk; and soaring architecture.

A piece by Gerard van Dyck called  ‘First and Last’ also looked good outdoors, especially against a huge, curved metal wall covered in shadows. ‘First and Last’ used the men of the GOLDS and focused on the practising of sporting activities in a non-competitive environment. The theme suited the company beautifully and the men performed with their usual commitment. There is nothing to prove. Just dance!

Great Sport! Scene from 'First and Last' , Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

Great Sport! Scene from ‘First and Last’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

We the audience moved from indoors to outdoors, from outdoors to indoors, taking our lead from Lea as compere for the event. One indoor piece, ‘I used to run marathons’, was particularly moving. Choreographed by Philip Piggin and Jane Ingall (also co-directors of the GOLDS) using people living with Parkinson’s Disease, it was performed to the well-known theme from Chariots of Fire. It took place on a circle of chairs and within the space formed by those chairs, and the circular theme was picked up by the choreography and reflected the Olympic symbol of five connecting rings. While the music had something to do with the feeling of transcendence I got, that each of the dancers had such a different capacity for movement, but that each was completely immersed, was also part of that feeling.

Another indoor section, Grand Finale, was choreographed by Martin del Amo. It was gorgeously costumed (based on a concept by del Amo) with the women garbed in long evening dresses, all different. Program notes stated that these women were ‘engaged in a mysterious game, collectively celebrating diverse individuality, on their own terms.’ And it was certainly mysterious as the ten or so women moved amongst each other, forming and reforming various patterns. As seems typical (to me anyway) of del Amo’s work, Grand Finale operates at a level that is somewhat obscure or arcane and, while I often find this aspect of del Amo’s work frustrating, that Grand Finale was meant to be mysterious, or obscure, or arcane, was made absolutely clear by the dancers. They moved through the choreography with distant looks on their faces and with no acknowledgement of each other.

But the pièce de resistance was Kate Denborough’s ‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives’ (a quote from Jane Austen). It was a spectacular and unexpected end to the program and showed the exceptional theatricality that is at the heart of Denborough’s work.

This final piece began with the women of the GOLDS dressed in scarlet dressing gowns and sporting bright red wigs. They began the piece in what initially appeared to be a narrow and quite dark cul-de-sac off the main outdoor area of the Museum. But at the end of this space was a set of double doors and, after performing together for a few moments, the dancers moved towards this door, opened it, and let in a flood of light and a water view (Lake Burley Griffin). They proceeded to open red umbrellas, and then to my surprise undid the dressing gowns to reveal a red swimming costume underneath. They then tripped the light fantastic to the water’s edge, sat down and dabbled their toes in the water, and we watched as a woman with red wig and red gown, paddled a red canoe past them. The play of light and shadow, water and land, and so many other things was breathtakingly beautiful. The canoe became a journey of life. Amazing.

Great Sport! Scene from 'None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives'. Photo: Michelle Potter

Great Sport! Scene from ‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives’. Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

Great Sport!, with its beautiful opening ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ choreographed by Tammi Gissell, was a remarkable event and continues the focus of Liz Lea on working in unusual spaces and, in particular, on using the Canberra environment and its cultural institutions as a venue, and as a backdrop to her work. But apart from the bouquets that are due to Lea for her persistent focus on Canberra as a place where dance happens, one of the most interesting aspects of Great Sport! was the way in which the choreographers, all very different in their approaches and choreographic style, were able to maintain and make visible those differences while working with a community group in which movement skills are understandably quite varied. In addition, the GOLDS get better and better in their very individual manner and responded with gusto on this occasion to the work of choreographers with the professionalism to be able to draw out the very best from a community group. The courage and commitment of the GOLDS knows no bounds, and nor does the power and understanding of the choreographers involved.

Michelle Potter, 10 August 2016

Dance diary. September 2015

  • Remi Wortmeyer

News from a colleague in Amsterdam is that Remi Wortmeyer, formerly with the Australian Ballet and now a principal dancer with the Dutch National Ballet, is making a mark in that company’s Hans van Manen program. For more news about Wortmeyer’s activities here is a link to his website.

Remi Wortmeyer in 'Joel', 2014. Photo © Jack Devant

Remi Wortmeyer in Joel, 2014. Photo: © Jack Devant

  • New Helpmann book

A new book about Robert Helpmann is currently in preparation in London and will be published in 2016 by Dance Books. With the title The Many Faces of Robert Helpmann, it is edited by Richard Cave and Anna Meadmore. The book is being published as a companion volume to Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist (Dance Books, 2012) and will include, in addition to a series of essays on various aspects of Helpmann’s career, a DVD of filmed material. I am working on a chapter on Elektra, Helpmann’s ballet that premiered at Covent Garden in 1963 and that was restaged by the Australian Ballet in 1966.

Elektra, the Australian Ballet 1966. Photo Australian News and Information Bureau

Scene from Elektra, the Australian Ballet 1966. Kathleen Geldard as Elektra. Photo: Australian News and Information Bureau. National Archives of Australia

  • William Forsythe and Dance Australia

I was delighted, on opening the October/November issue of Dance Australia, to see an article I wrote for the issue of February/March 1994 republished (with some new photographs) as part of an ‘Anniversary Collection’ celebrating 35 years of Dance Australia. That article, which was based on an interview I conducted with William Forsythe in Frankfurt while on a holiday in Europe in late 1993, was one of the earliest pieces I wrote for Dance Australia.

The experience of interviewing on that occasion is, however, still etched on my mind. It was funny—I had trouble getting past the very determined doorman at the stage door until I produced a letter and said in my very best school German Ich habe eine Brief (sic—I got the gender wrong); informative—Forsythe has an incredible intellect; and moving—Forsythe is also very personable and was so willing to engage with me, even at midnight when the interview took place. Before the interview, I was lucky enough to see the show that was playing that night, which was Forsythe’s Artefact.

But congratulations to Dance Australia for having survived for 35 years and having produced so many great stories, reviews and other dance-related pieces. May it continue.

  • Press for September

‘GOLDs head overseas.’ Preview of tour to the United Kingdom and Europe by Canberra’s GOLD company. The Canberra Times, 12 September 2015, ARTS p. 22. Online version.

‘Plenty to enjoy in diverse mix.’ Review of Circus Oz in ‘But wait…there’s more.’ The Canberra Times, 25 September 2015, p. ARTS 7. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2015

‘The Golds’. A film by Sue Healey

The Golds is the latest production from Sydney-based film maker, Sue Healey. It does much to strengthen her position as a leading maker of dance films in Australia. With an earlier career as a dancer and choreographer to inform her work, Healey is able to hone in on what is intrinsic to dance, as indefinable as those intrinsic qualities might be.

The Golds are the dancers of Canberra’s mature age dance group, GOLD. (Growing Old Disgracefully, is the expanded form of the name). They are all over 55, some are much older. What is especially noticeable, and what is perhaps the most moving aspect of the film, is that most of these older men and women dance without a trace of self-consciousness. Their bodies are not, and mostly never have been, dancers’ bodies but they show the transformative power of dance. From this point of view The Golds is a truly beautiful film and much credit must go to Liz Lea for her inspirational leadership of the group.

I especially enjoyed a solo by Greg Barrett, a tall man with a long white beard. Made as a slow motion segment, his beard and his black, loose-fitting outfit moved beautifully with his very fluid body. Then there were some lovely segments with another dancer, whom I only know at this stage as Jane, a nun of (I think) the Brigidine order, dancing with Abbie, her little blind dog. She showed such honest movement, both with Abbie and in another section, in which she performed in front of a wall covered in what looked like graffiti or old, torn posters.

Scene from Sue Healey's film 'The Golds' (1)

Scene from Sue Healey’s film The Golds, 2014

The film might also be seen as a series of vignettes as individual dancers recount why they joined GOLD and what their backgrounds have been. Thus The Golds becomes a mini documentary. There are the expected responses to questions posed (off camera and not heard by the viewer). ‘It’s good exercise for an ageing body’, ‘I want to stay active’ and other similar remarks. But there are also some surprises. ‘No I can’t do the splits, but is it necessary? I don’t think so’, or ‘I was attracted by the word disgracefully in the name’.

Director of photography, Judd Overton, has selected some spectacular locations for this film. Canberra’s landscape and some of the city’s well-known architectural features form the background for much of the film. There are some eye-catching shots of figures in the landscape and figures interacting with features of the architecture. But there are also some interior locations. Some are domestic interiors, some are in Canberra institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery. They have all been carefully chosen and add a layer of exceptional visual interest.

Scene from Sue Healey's film 'The Golds' (2)

Scene from Sue Healey’s film The Golds, 2014

The first public screening of The Golds was at the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, on 3 October 2014 as part of the Archive’s final Silver Screenings program. Sadly, this program now goes into limbo as part of budget cutbacks.

This screening of The Golds was essentially a preview, as Healey noted in her opening remarks. There are one or two technical issues to be fine tuned, she said, one of which she hopes will make the program suitable as a TV documentary.

Michelle Potter, 6 October 2014

Dance diary. September 2014

  • Devdas the musical

In August The Canberra Times published my review of Devdas the musical, a show billed as a Bollywood-style event. One dancer stood out for me. She was young but her potential was obvious. There were no programs available for the Canberra showing—someone told me they had been left behind in Sydney—so I was unable to name this dancer in my review. Since then I have discovered that her name is Divya Saxena and I am pleased to be able to post a photo of her in her role as the young Chandramukhi in Devdas the musical.

Divya Saxena as the young

Divya Saxena (centre) as the young Chandramukhi in Devdas the musical

I think her presence as a performer is clearly evident in this photo and her dancing had a similar power. I look forward to following her progress over the next few years.

The Canberra Times review is at this link.

  • Liz Lea

Liz Lea is reworking her show from 2013 about South African anti-apartheid activist and former political prisoner, Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada. The new production will feature a reworked version of her solo from 2013—reworked into three shorter solos—along with appearances by tabla player Bobby Singh; GOLD, Canberra’s mature age dance group; Kathak dancer Shruti Ghosh; and African dance and drumming group, Troupe Olabisi.

Liz Lea in her solo from 'Kathrada 50/25', 2013

Liz Lea in her solo from Kathrada 50/25, 2013. Photo: Lorna Sim

Sadly for dance in Canberra, Lea has not been successful recently in obtaining artsACT funding for her work, so for this new show she has turned to crowd funding to assist with expenses. An online plea (now closed) for funding via Pozible is at this link. It shows excerpts from the 2013 show, including parts of Lea’s solo, and gives a clear picture of the theatrical breadth of the show.

Kathrada 50/25 (the title is explained in the Pozible footage) in its new guise is at Gorman House Arts Centre, Canberra, on 1 and 2 November 2014 (not 18 and 19 October as originally planned).
Kathrada poster 2014

  • Rafael Bonachela in the Art Gallery of NSW

I continue to be surprised at the activities of Rafael Bonachela, artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, who has embraced his Australian role with unabashed enthusiasm. He and composer Nick Wales are being interviewed tomorrow (1 October) by Tom Tilley of Triple J on the inspiration they draw from poetry in the creation of their work, specifically Bonachela’s piece Louder than Words. It is part of the celebrity event series at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

  • Press for September

An American dream. Program article for the Australian tour by American Ballet Theatre.

‘Dance feast on the cards with two tours next year.’ Preview of 2015 Canberra seasons by the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company, The Canberra Times, 20 September 2014, ARTS p. 21. Online

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2014

‘Life is a work of art’. The GOLDs

28 June 2013 (dress rehearsal), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

In my June dance diary I mentioned a show at the National Gallery of Australia called Life is a work of art performed by the GOLDs, a group of performers over the age of 55. I have now received some images from that show and what follows is not a review as such, as GOLD is not a professional company, but rather some observations on some parts of the show. Life is a work of art was co-directed by Liz Lea and Jane Ingall and was a processional performance leading the audience through the National Gallery of Australia, pausing in particular galleries where specially commissioned dances were performed.

The section that worked best for me was staged in the Kimberley Gallery where art by Rover Thomas and other indigenous artists from the Kimberley region is on display. The section, called ‘Black/GOLD’, was choreographed by Tammi Gissell, a descendant of the Muruwari nation of northwestern New South Wales. It was performed to music composed and played by Francis Gilfedder.

Gissell wrote in her program notes:
What a wonderful opportunity for Aussie Elders from all walks of life and cultural heritage to dance together in celebration of the rhythms and memories of this land. Australia now sensed freshly with knowing eyes and ears and footsteps. Black/GOLD is concerned with claiming ownership over one’s self, for this must occur to accept your role within a mob—the second yet equally important concern of the piece.

It struck me as I watched it that what made it especially powerful was perhaps the fact that in indigenous communities everyone dances. It seemed quite appropriate for these older, non-indigenous people to be dancing in front of indigenous art. And Francis Gilfedder, who sang and played the didgeridoo, was magnificent. Reading Gissell’s program note just increased my respect for her and the work. In the case of ‘Black/GOLD’ she chose a concept that is deeply entrenched within her heritage, made it relevant to the occasion, made it inclusive of her cast, and gave it a simplicity that belied the complexity of the concept. A real gem.

I was also impressed with ’A gentle spirit’ as a wonderful example of a site specific piece. As we progressed down a ramp to the sculpture gallery on a lower floor, we passed by Carol Mackay. She had a solo piece, which she performed at the corner of the ramp under Maria Cadoza’s Starfish. While our view of it was gone in a flash as we walked by, it was perfectly sited. Music for it was composed and played live by cellist David Pereira, but as I was at the dress rehearsal, at which he was not present, I’m not sure if he was a visual part of the piece, although from the images I received it appears not.

Finally, I enjoyed two pieces in the galleries of contemporary, international art: ‘Caught between Kapoor’, an improvisation by Luke Mulders in Gallery 3, and ‘Pop Art’, a piece choreographed by Liz Lea against a backdrop of works by Andy Warhol and others from the period of the 1960s.

Some parts of Life is a work of art, as I mentioned in my June dance diary, worked better than others for me. Here I have simply extracted a few sections that I especially enjoyed, which is not to say that the rest of the show was not enjoyable as well. It is a wonderful community dance concept and, despite the worries that staff at the National Gallery of Australia must have had as people (carrying stools) processed past and performers danced among such precious items, I hope the Gallery will consider doing it again.

All images courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia.

Michelle Potter, 30 July 2013

Dance diary. June 2013

  • Meryl Tankard

Philippe Charluet of Stella Motion Pictures has kindly given me permission to use clips from some of the work he has done with Meryl Tankard. They include excerpts from a short documentary, Meryl Tankard: a unique choreographic voice, made for Spring Dance in Sydney in 2011, and some excerpts from Tankard’s work Possessed, made for the Barossa Arts Festival in 1995 in conjunction with the Balanescu Quartet. The clips give a glimpse of Tankard’s extraordinarily diverse output (apart from being so beautifully filmed and edited) and make me wonder why works like Two Feet, Nuti and so many others have never been made available commercially.

Here are Charluet’s clips:
A unique choreographic voice;  Possessed.

I still have a few copies of my unauthorised biography, Meryl Tankard: an original voice, available for sale. Ordering details are at the end of this post.
Cover design 'Meryl Tankard: an original voice'The book outlines the story behind Tankard’s magical works. Here are the last couple of paragraphs to my story:

Many people have shared her journeys—her family and friends, her partner in life and art, her audiences, her dancers, and those creative artists she especially admires and who admire her. But there are perhaps two ‘last words’ to this story. One belongs to Meryl Tankard herself: ‘I don’t want to go into a battlefield’, she is reported to have said as she prepared to leave Canberra for Adelaide in 1992. ‘I just want to work’. The second comes from Jim Sharman who recalls seeing Tankard performing for the first time in Wuppertal in 1980: a piece by Pina Bausch, Bausch’s eulogy, or ‘memento mori’ as Sharman puts it, for her recently deceased partner and designer for Tanztheater Wuppertal, Rolf Borzik. Sharman writes:

At one point, a very familiar accent cut the air. Australian dancer Meryl Tankard entered to reminisce about having lost her sunglasses in Venice. It was my first thrilling glimpse of this great artist and future choreographer.

These two comments encapsulate two features of Tankard’s life and work in art. Firstly, her comment about just wanting simply to work highlights her commitment to, and pursuit of excellence no matter what obstacles might be placed in her way or whom she might cross in making her work. Secondly, Sharman’s remark encapsulates Tankard’s ability to couch the serious—in this case loss—behind humour and zaniness. Tankard is perhaps Australia’s one truly original dance voice.

(The ‘battlefield quote’ is from an article by Tracey Aubin in The Bulletin in 1992; the quote by Jim Sharman is from his 2008 autobiography Blood and Tinsel: a memoir).

  • The GOLDS

Canberra is in the somewhat odd position of having no professional dance company but of having a strong youth company in QL2 and a group called the GOLDS that consists of older performers (over 55) most of whom have never been professional dancers. The GOLDS, which is directed by the irrepressible Liz Lea, recently gave four sold-out performance at the National Gallery of Australia as part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations. Called ‘Life is a work of art’, the event took place in front of various works of art and I hope to report a little more fully a little later when I have a little more information—I was at the dress rehearsal and no program notes were available. Suffice it to say for the moment that some pieces worked better than others but that as a whole this was a more than interesting event.

  • Press for June

Big, bravura dancing program article for the Bolshoi Ballet’s Australian season;

‘Happy in San Francisco’, profile of Luke Ingham in Dance Australia , June/July 2013 with an online teaser;

Background story on Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal and her latest work, Opal Vapour, published in The Canberra Times on 1 June;

Review of Garry Stewart’s G published in The Canberra Times on 15 June;

Review of Opal Vapour  published in The Canberra Times on 18 June.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2013

Meryl Tankard: an original voice FURTHER DETAILS & HOW TO ORDER
‘It brought back so many memories’— Jill Sykes

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