Dance diary. October 2014

This month’s diary is something of  a celebration of three of Australia’s senior artists: Eileen Kramer (Cramer), former Bodenwieser dancer; Dame Margaret Scott, founding director of the Australian Ballet School; and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, founder of Australian Dance Theatre. Each has been in the news in different ways recently. I have arranged these mini posts, which are largely in the form of links, according to descending order of age of those three dancers, beginning with Eileen Kramer, who will very shortly celebrate her 100th birthday.

  • Eileen Kramer
Eileen Kramer in 'Indian Love Song', 1952. Photo: Noel Rubie
Eileen Kramer

(left) Eileen Kramer in Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Indian Love Song, 1952. Photo Noel Rubie; (right) in Sydney in 2013 celebrating her 99th birthday

Early in October I received an unexpected email from a producer for Sydney not-for-profit radio station FBi Radio. The message was to let me know that Eileen Kramer, whom I had interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program in 2003, was  appearing on an FBi Radio program called Out of the Box. She was to appear on the program with singer/songwriter Lacey Cole who had made a music video in which he sang his composition, Nephilim’s Lament, accompanied by Kramer dancing on a rocky promontory above Clovelly beach in Sydney. Here is a link to the radio interview, which was conducted by Ash Berdebes, and a link to the five minute video. [Update August 2016: the link to the radio interview is no longer available]

  • Dame Maggie Scott: A Life in Dance

Maggie Scott (right) and Sally Gilmour unpacking Ballet Rambert costumes, Melbourne 1947

Maggie Scott (right) and Sally Gilmour unpacking Ballet Rambert costumes, Melbourne 1947. Image from Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance

I have updated the post on my biography of Maggie Scott with links to recent media stories in which the book is discussed. Here is a link to the updated page.

  • Elizabeth Dalman

Elizabeth Dalman in 'From Sapling to Silver', 2011

Elizabeth Dalman in From Sapling to Silver, 2011

It is a pleasure to be able to report that Elizabeth Cameron Dalman has been short-listed as a finalist for the ACT Senior Australian of the Year. It is rare for a someone working in the dance area to be nominated in awards of this nature so congratulations to Elizabeth for once again putting dance at the forefront of public life. Dalman is one of four finalists in this category and the ACT  Senior Australian of the Year will be announced on 3 November.

  • Press for October

‘Wayward daughter delights.’ Preview of West Australian Ballet’s La fille mal gardéeThe Canberra Times, Panorama, 4 October 2014, p. 15.  Online.

‘A Dame called Maggie.’ The Canberra Times, Panorama, 25 October 2014, pp. 10–11. Online.

Canberra dance. Coming in 2014

Details of the dance productions Canberra audiences can expect in 2014 are slowly emerging. In announcing its ‘Collected Works, 2014′, the Canberra Theatre Centre revealed that both Sydney Dance Company and Bangarra Dance Theatre will return to Canberra in 2014, thus maintaining the strong links those two companies have forged with the city over many years. For example, Sydney Dance Company’s first season in Canberra was in 1977.* Scarcely a year has been missed since then.

Sydney Dance will bring its triple bill Interplay, which will consist of new works by Rafael Bonachela and Gideon Obarzanek and a reprise of Raw models by Italian choreographer Jacopo Godani. Raw models was part of a Sydney Dance Company program in 2011 and my thoughts on the show then are at this link. Bangarra will bring a new work by Stephen Page called Patyegarang, which focuses on the friendship between a young indigenous woman, Patyegarang, and colonial identity Lieutenant William Dawes.

The Brisbane-based group Circa will also be in Canberra in 2014 with their new production S. My connections with the National Institute of Circus Arts through the Heath Ledger Project interviewing program have brought home to me the esteem with which this  company is held in the industry so I look forward to their 2014 show, which we are told explores a sinuous energy—appropriately, given the title S—and is a physical ode to the human body.

A surprise revelation at the launch of the 2014 season was that West Australian Ballet will visit in October with a production of La Fille mal gardée, but not in the version choreographed by Frederick Ashton that we are used to seeing in Australia. The version being brought by West Australian Ballet is choreographed by Marc Ribaud, currently director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, and is set in 1950s rural France. Costumes are by Lexi De Silva whose previous credits include designs for Tim Harbour’s Halcyon and Sweedeedee. De Silva also worked alongside Hugh Colman as he created the designs for Stephen Baynes’ recent Swan Lake. Sets are being created by Richard Roberts, lighting by John Buswell. Here is the Canberra Theatre’s preview video for the Fille program. It is a photo shoot in essence featuring the leading characters, Lise, Colas and Alain, but gives some idea of what the work might look like.

But before we even get to the new year, the Canberra Theatre has also just announced a Christmas treat for very young dance-goers (and their parents and grandparents) who will have the  pleasure of seeing Angelina and friends live onstage in Angelina Ballerina: the Mousical. It opens at the Canberra Theatre on 12 December 2013. What a treat!
Angelina Ballerina the mousical

Michelle Potter, 28 September 2013

* Although led  by Graeme Murphy the company was at that stage still called the Dance Company (NSW). 1977 was Murphy’s first full year as director of the company, which was renamed Sydney Dance Company in 1979.

‘Cinderella’ by two: some thoughts

West Australian Ballet’s Cinderella, newly created this year, had a season in Canberra in November and its popularity was such that an extra show needed to be scheduled. I had certain expectations, having spoken previously to the artistic director of WAB, the choreographer and the designer before writing a preview piece for The Canberra Times. All spoke eloquently about the process of creation and their aspirations for the piece.

But when it came to the performance itself I have to say I was heartily disappointed. While I enjoyed the design by Allan Lees, which set the work in the 1930s, I thought the choreography, by Jayne Smeulders, was scant and quite simplistic. There were many moments when the stage (and I’m talking here about the much-maligned stage of the Canberra Theatre, which is reputed to be too small for the larger kind of ballet production) seemed positively empty of dancing. Not only that, or perhaps because of that, the dancers rarely looked as though they were full-scale professional dancers.

Wherever I have worked in my journalistic dance writing life to date there has always been a policy in place that the person who writes the preview does not write the review of the same piece. My experience with WAB’s Cinderella hammered home the sense behind that policy. But seeing this Cinderella made me wonder about another newly created Cinderella, that by Meryl Tankard for Leipzig Ballet. It opened in Leipzig on 5 November.

Unfortunately I have neither spoken to Tankard about the work nor seen it but the web at least allowed me to catch a glimpse of some images, a bit of footage and snatches of an interview with Tankard about the work. I was interested in Tankard’s answer to a question posed to her by Maeshelle West-Davies from the Leipzig Zeitgeist about why she chose Cinderella and what she thought she could bring to the work. Part of her reply said:

‘Since I am quite used to spending a lot of my time on long trips to and from Australia, I decided to use this experience in Cinderella. The story begins in an airport with Cinderella, and the very ‘glamorous!’ sisters, travelling to an exotic location for a huge party hosted by a wealthy prince. A lot of the scenes will be in ‘hotel rooms’ and the garden scene has been influenced by Sydney’s beautiful botanical gardens. I would like the audience to feel as if they have also been on big trip!’

As thought-provoking too was her reply to a question concerning her process, which seems somewhat different from her process with many of her works made in Australia:

‘I had to be very well organised for Cinderella. I didn’t get much time with the dancers, as they were rehearsing a lot for other productions. I also had to make a lot of decisions about editing the music very early on, so I had to have a clear structure before I began working with the dancers. Since Cinderella is a very well-known story, I had to come up with a new and original way to tell the tale. I approached it as if I were planning a film and storyboarded all the scenes before I arrived in Leipzig.’

A trailer available on YouTube gives a glimpse of the choreography and the design, including the kinds of projections we have come to recognise as signature Tankard/Lansac. Some of the lighting and projections reminded me of sections of Wild Swans, which is not a bad thing in my opinion. I often ponder how Wild Swans the ballet has pretty much slipped from view whereas Elena Kats-Chernin’s delicious score, or parts of it, are heard often. Such is dance I guess.

It seems unlikely that we will see Tankard’s Cinderella in Australia, at least not in the near future. It sounds and looks (at least from a brief glimpse) as though it might be an engrossing take on the fairy-tale. But am I falling into the same trap as I did with WAB’s Cinderella? Such are expectations.

Michelle Potter, 4 December 2011

‘Rose Adagio’. West Australian Ballet 1971

As part of my current research project into the career of Kristian Fredrikson, I came across four designs in the National Library’s Fredrikson collection labelled Sleeping Beauty Act I.  They were for four Princes: English, Indian, Russian and Saracen and so were clearly for the ‘Rose Adagio’. But I was a little puzzled by them as they were not for the Stanton Welch version of Beauty, which Welch choreographed for the Australian Ballet in 2005 and which was designed by Fredrikson. I was not aware of another Sleeping Beauty with Fredrikson designs.

The English Prince had the name DeMasson written on the back and Paul De Masson kindly identified the costume as one he wore while a dancer with West Australian Ballet. He recalled that in the 1970s he had partnered Elaine Fifield in the ‘Rose Adagio’ during a season that contained a number of divertissements.

After a bit more investigation I uncovered a flyer and some programs in the National Library’s Rex Reid collection. Reid directed West Australian Ballet from late 1969 to 1973 and in November 1971 presented a season of two programs, which included a number of divertissements, at the Octagon Theatre, Perth. It was the first program, staged from 8-13 November, that included the ‘Rose Adagio’. The printed program contained the following details:

    • Rose Adagio,

Producer: Bryan Ashbridge
Music: Tchaikovsky
Costumes: Kristian Fredrikson
Choreography: Frederick Ashton
‘A new production by Bryan Ashbridge’

Princess Aurora: Elaine Fifield, Patricia Sadka
Indian Prince: Robert O’Kell
Saracen Prince: Laurence Bishop
Russian Prince: Ron Deschamps
English Prince: Paul DeMasson

I was also curious about the choreographic credit to Ashton, but the Ashton scholar David Vaughan has noted that Ashton created a ‘Rose Adagio’ in 1963 especially for a Royal Performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Bryan Ashbridge, who produced the 1971 West Australian Ballet version, retired from the Royal Ballet in 1965 so could well have been part of that Royal Performance or subsequent stagings of this Rose Adagio.

Rex Reid’s second 1971 Octagon program, presented from 15-20 November, included ‘The Dying Swan’ as one of the divertissements. A design for ‘The Dying Swan’, which was danced by Fifield, is also part of the National Library’s Fredrikson collection.

More items to add to the growing ‘List of works designed by Kristian Fredrikson’.

Michelle Potter, 26 October 2011

Update, 31 January 2017. The Fredrikson material also contains a design, from the same production, for Aurora.