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

Robert Rauschenberg. A retrospective at Tate Modern

10 February 2017, Tate Modern, London

The Robert Rauschenberg retrospective currently showing at London’s Tate Modern until 2 April, is a remarkable exhibition. It brims with the known from Rauschenberg—Monogram, the famous Angora goat with tyre; Bed made from a quilt when Rauschenberg had no money for canvas; the early Black Mountain experiments; the fascinating sound assemblage, Oracle; his silk screen work; in fact memorable items from every decade of his working life.

Monogram 1955-59 Combine: oil, paper, fabric, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe-heel, and tennis ball on two conjoined canvases with oil on taxidermied Angora goat with brass plaque and rubber tire on wood platform mounted on four casters 106.7 x 135.2 x 163.8 cm Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Purchase with contribution from Moderna Museets Vänner/The Friends of Moderna Museet © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York
Monogram 1955-59
Combine: oil, paper, fabric, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe-heel, and tennis ball on two conjoined canvases with oil on taxidermied Angora goat with brass plaque and rubber tire on wood platform mounted on four casters, 106.7 x 135.2 x 163.8 cm
Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Purchase with contribution from Moderna Museets Vänner/The Friends of Moderna Museet
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

But it also has some fascinating lesser known items. They include a collection of personal boxes (Scatole personali) of various shapes and sizes containing an assortment of small items (including dead insects, pebbles, dirt and sticks) made in response to reliquaries Rauschenberg saw in the 1950s while touring Italy with fellow artist Cy Twombly; and a large, square, open-topped tank of bubbling mud, or actually bentonite clay and water, that is linked up with a sound system that records the sound of the bubbles plopping and spluttering.

What the exhibition shows quite clearly is that Rauschenberg was fearless in his approach to what constitutes art. He experimented with everything that came his way.

But I was especially interested in Rauschenberg’s collaborations with choreographers, including Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and a range of choreographers working with Judson Dance Theater, and also with his own endeavours in the field of performance art. These activities were nicely represented in the exhibition with video material, photographs and, in the case of Rauschenberg’s performance pieces, his workbooks in which he recorded his movement ideas. Of his own pieces, the best documented was Pelican first made in 1963 for Rauschenberg himself, Per Olof Ultvedt and Carolyn Brown.

Photograph of Robert Rauschenberg’s Pelican (1963) as performed in a former CBS television studio, New York, during the First New York Theatre Rally, May 1965 © The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York Photo: Peter Moore © © Barbara Moore / Licensed by VAGA, NY. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Photograph of Robert Rauschenberg’s Pelican (1963) as performed in a former CBS television studio, New York, during the First New York Theatre Rally, May 1965. © The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York
Photo: Peter Moore © © Barbara Moore / Licensed by VAGA, NY. Courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

As video footage in the exhibition shows, Rauschenberg and Ultvedt performed the choreography on roller skates with parachutes attached to their backs and Carolyn Brown executed some balletic moves, including a stunning series of posé turns on pointe. The piece evolved when Rauschenberg was inadvertently described as choreographer rather than stage manager on publicity material for the Pop Art Festival being held in Washington D.C. in 1963. He seized the moment and made Pelican. Others of Rauschenberg’s performance pieces that were well documented in the exhibition included Elgin Tie and Spring Training.

Other dance material on show included some footage from Minutiae, an early work from Cunningham featuring a screen designed by Rauschenberg. While the screen itself was not included in the exhibition, the footage showed several close-up shots of it, including a small revolving mirror and pieces of lace and other fabric, in addition to the largely red paintwork. What was especially interesting was the location of the footage in a room of Rauschenberg’s ‘red’ paintings, made in a period when he moved away from his early experiments with black and white paint. These red paintings, which included Charlene (1954), a stunning work from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, clearly set the context for the Minutiae screen.

Other dance footage included a section from Cunningham’s Travelogue, designed by Rauschenberg in 1977. Again the location of the footage within the exhibition was significant. It provided further context for Rauschenberg’s Travelogue designs. In 1975 Rauschenberg spent time in Ahmedabad, a city in India renown for its textiles, and his use of textiles in his works from this period were hung in one room of the exhibition, along with the Travelogue footage. In Travelogue, this Indian experience is reflected in the costumes he designed, with their ‘wheels’ made from sections of different fabric; in the sheer cloth that hung from overhead as the dance progressed; and in the long strip of sheer, white fabric that the dancers carried at various stages.

On the other hand, the painting Charlene from 1954 has, in one corner of the canvas, a flattened-out umbrella with its sections painted in different colours and his Travelogue costumes are redolent of this part of Charlene. In fact, I was surprised by the extent to which umbrellas and parachutes appeared throughout the exhibition. They seemed to permeate most periods of Rauschenberg’s output.

Untitled (Spread) 1983 Solvent transfer and acrylic on wood panel, with umbrellas 188.6 x 245.7 x 88.9 cm © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York
Untitled (Spread), 1983
Solvent transfer and acrylic on wood panel, with umbrellas
188.6 x 245.7 x 88.9 cm
© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York

Then the exhibition also had on display material relating to Trisha Brown’s 1979 Glacial Decoy, for which Rauschenberg provided costume designs that required the use of sheer, white materials. He also provided the set, which consisted largely of a series of his photographs that were projected in a particular rotation onto four screens at the back of the stage space as the dance unfolded. There was video footage of Glacial Decoy for visitors to view and also, projected onto an exhibition wall in the manner in which they appeared on stage, were the photographs that made up the set.

One other item (or two items) interested me—Factum I and Factum II. These two works (combines) were painted simultaneously in 1957. Rauschenberg apparently said he made them because he was interested in ‘the role that accident played in my work’. They reminded me of those ‘spot the difference’ games, and the differences included drips of paint in one that were not the same in the other. But given the date at which they were painted—a time when Rauschenberg was closely involved with Cunningham and John Cage—that interest in ‘accident’ in a work must surely reflect the influence of Cunningham and Cage.

This was an exceptional exhibition, curated jointly by curators from Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was a great insight into the long and varied career of one of the world’s boldest artists, and there was much to be enjoyed for those whose major interest is in dance and collaboration.

Michelle Potter, 12 February 2017

Featured image: Costume from Travelogue (detail) as displayed in the exhibition INVENTION: Merce Cunningham and Collaborators, Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, New York, 2007. Photo: Neville Potter

travelogue-costume-detail

‘Darkness is hiding black horses’, ‘Glacial decoy’, ‘Doux mensonges’. Paris Opera Ballet

2 November 2013, Palais Garnier, Paris

Triple bill programs can be mixed experiences. The Paris Opera Ballet’s recent program, with works by Saburo Teshigawara, Trisha Brown and Jiri Kylian, was a case in point: three choreographers from three very different backgrounds dealing in very different ways with the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown, the spaces in which dance takes place.

The newly created work, Darkness is hiding black horses, by Japanese choreographer Teshigawara opened the program. Made for just three dancers, a female and two males, it was the most difficult to make sense of as it appeared to have no choreographic structure beyond a quite simple floor pattern of straight lines of movement. The dancers very rarely interacted with each other and the movement itself also seemed to have no obvious structure with the dancers moving in a kind of slinky, bendy fashion as if collapsing into and around themselves. An interview with Teshigawara in the printed program noted that the choreographer was interested in surrealism and the act of automatic writing as favoured by some artists of Dadaist bent. Darkness looked a little like a form of automatic choreography.

To tell the truth I have no idea what the work was meant to be about although publicity kept using words like black, obscurity and the like. It was performed in a kind of black box space and little puffs of smoke kept escaping into the air from jets on the floor of the stage. It was mystifying and I think presumptuous. And as for the black horses…?

Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy, a work she made in 1979, was welcome relief. Its exploration of the space beyond centre stage, including wing space, was lively and playful and her beautifully exuberant use of dancers picking up phrases from one another was a delight. Robert Rauschenberg’s background projections of his own black and white photographs, mostly of assorted suburban and industrial subjects, seemed to echo the choreography as they slipped across the stage from left to right in groups of four with the far right image constantly disappearing and being replaced by another on the far left.

The dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet handled Brown’s loose limbed, swinging movement and idiosyncratic gestures with style although with perhaps a little too much classicism, a feature of the performance that was more noticeable than it might have been given that Brown’s New York company was performing its own program concurrently at the Théâtre de la Ville.

But it was Jiri Kylian’s exquisite Doux mensonges that was the highlight of the evening. It is a beautifully coherent combination of dance (for four dancers only), film (shot under the stage of the Palais Garnier), song (from the group Les Arts florissants), lighting (Michael Simon) and a fabulous, hanging pinky-orange cloud-like structure that turns, folds and unfolds slowly to display varying facets of its composition (also by Michael Simon).

Doux mensonges was created in 1999 for the Paris Opera Ballet and its title might be translated as Sweet lies, although I prefer Sweet deceits. Kylian has explained that his inspiration for the piece is the duality of our personal world, the world that we show to others and allow them to share and the world that we prefer to keep hidden from others. This is best seen in the work when, after performing onstage, the dancers sometimes disappear from the stage via a trapdoor only to be seen below the stage on film (projected back up onto the stage) where a less pleasant and sometimes quite violent side, perhaps a more honest side, of their relationship is shown.

Choreographically Doux mensonges consists largely of duets, on this occasion between Eleonora Abbagnato with Vincent Chaillet and Alice Renavand with Stéphane Bullion. With its focus sometimes on extended legs and arms stretched fully to the side in lifts, it reminded me a little of the duets from Stepping Stones. But I loved the opening duet executed on the edges of a trapdoor and a later moment when in one lift the woman held her legs straight down in a 5th position and executed a series of quivering beats as she was carried across the stage.

There were so many moments of sheer inventiveness, visually, kinaesthetically and musically. Doux mensonges for me is a work of breathtaking, expressionistic beauty. It is hard to think of anything that equals it.

Michelle Potter, 6 November 2013

'Glacial decoy' Trisha Brown Dance Company Photo © Julietta Cervantes 2009
Trisha Brown Dance Company in Glacial decoy, 2009. Photo: © Julietta Cervantes

Unfortunately I have been unable to convince the Paris Opera Ballet of my bona fides as a writer. The press office has ignored my requests for access to images, which is a shame because Teshigawara’s costumes in particular need to be seen rather than described. C’est la vie I guess. The image above of Glacial decoy is of the Trisha Brown Dance Company and comes from their media site.

Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Tate Modern

What is it about Trisha Brown’s 1976 work Line Up (Spanish Dance) that is so enticing? Is it the brevity—it can’t last  more than two minutes or so? Is it the Bob Dylan song (Early Morning Rain) that accompanies it? Is it the apparent simplicity of the choreography as the cast lines up equidistant from each other and one by one moves towards the person in front to create a mini-train of tightly bunched-up bodies. Is it the inevitability of it all as the wall looms closer and we know what the outcome has to be? Is it the sexy, hip-swaying walk with which the dancers proceed towards the wall in front of them? Whatever it is, it was there as the Trisha Brown Dance Company performed this work at London’s Tate Modern as part of the UK’s Dance Umbrella 2010.

The Trisha Brown event at the Tate Modern began on the bridge that crosses the vast Turbine Hall, which is the first encounter many visitors have with Tate Modern’s spaces. On the bridge four dancers, Tamara Riewe, Leah Morrison, Laurel Tentindo and Elena Demyanenko, performed Group Primary Accumulation a Brown work from 1970. While one’s own mind is allowed to wander and to speculate on many things as one watches, there is no room for the dancers’ minds to wander as, lying on the floor for the duration of the piece, they perform a sequence of movements that grows in complexity as the moves are repeated and added to with each repeat. The dancers’ level of concentration is more than admirable and the effect quite mesmerising.

Group Primary Accumulation was followed by Leaning Duets (1970) in which three groups of two dancers made their way down the sloping entry space of the Turbine Hall. With hands joined, inside arms extended tautly and sides of the inside foot pushed against that of the partner, each pair of dancers walked a step at a time down the slope, each testing the extent to which he (or she) could lean to the side without losing balance. It was especially interesting to see, a little later in the Tate’s film tribute to Brown, such duets being performed in 1970 in what appeared to be the streets of downtown Manhattan. Then the duets took place in a much more relaxed and casual environment and amongst curious and bemused passers-by.

Tamara Riewe

Tamara Riewe in Sticks, Trisha Brown Dance Company. Art work: Abakan Red (1969) by Magdalena Abakanowic

From the Turbine Hall the dancers moved to various of the Tate’s gallery spaces and danced amongst the art works, making art amongst art. Here the program comprised another accumulation work, another version of the leaning duets, Line Up and two different versions of Sticks (1973). Sticks requires the performers secure one end of a long stick against a wall or to anchor it it some other way, balance the other end on a part of their body and then undertake a series of simple moves such as kneeling or lying down, all the while keeping the stick balanced. One version was performed by three dancers in three separate gallery spaces No dancer could see another and the dance unfolded with the performers indicating the stage they had reached by calling out to the others across the galleries. The dance concluded when the third dancer called ‘Done’.

For those who were not New York City residents in the 1960s and 1970s the Tate Modern event was an  exceptional opportunity to see the early work of one of the twentieth century’s most significant dance pioneers. The works shown at the Tate represented on the one hand Brown’s interest in process and problem solving and on the other her attempts to redefine what constitutes dance and to blur the boundaries of dance and installation art. While nothing can ever replicate the original works performed in streets, on roof tops, down the side of buildings and the like, it was a rare privilege to see a twenty-first century manifestation of this early work by the current Trisha Brown Dance Company in London’s most impressive contemporary art space.


Michelle Potter, 23 October 2010