Rainbow Serpent. Canberra International Music Festival 2021

9 May 2021, James O. Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia

Rainbow Serpent was the overarching title given to the penultimate program of the 2021 Canberra International Music Festival. It featured four distinctive works of music and dance. Two focused on the myth of the Rainbow Serpent as understood, on the one hand, by the Murrawarri people whose land straddles the border between New South Wales and Queensland, and, on the other, the people of the Melville and Bathurst Islands north of Darwin.

The most significant of the dance offerings was Mundaguddah, a solo choreographed and danced by Tammi Gissell, a proud Murrawarri woman, to a 1982 score by Brian Howard. Howard’s composition was dedicated to dancer/choreographer/artistic director Barry Moreland and in 1982 was given a performance choreographed by Moreland and danced by prominent ballet dancer Kelvin Coe.* For this 2021 production, the composition was played onstage by Ensemble Offspring, a chamber ensemble of violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trombone and percussion.

Gissell’s appearance as the Rainbow Serpent was sudden and unexpected. She was dressed in white tights and top with a short skirt, which was partially covered by a black coat. From a downstage corner, she slid and writhed onto the narrow stage space of the James O. Fairfax Theatre and, performing in an even narrower space than usual given that the musicians occupied a significant area, her lithe and liquid body twisted and contorted itself to the other side of the stage. Occasionally she would rise up and with shimmering hands draw attention to her upper body.

Tammi Gissell in Rainbow Serpent, 2021. Photo Peter Hislop
Tammi Gissell in Mundaguddah, 2021. Photo: © Peter Hislop

Reaching the other corner, she picked up props representing branches and, wrapping herself in a long piece of cloth lit with various colours, she began what was the most exciting section of the dance. She seemed no longer to be representing the snake but, from a standing position, to be showing us a human reaction to the myth. Removing the black coat (shedding skin?), she stretched her body in all directions and eventually picked up a long stick, which she swirled and wrapped around her before balancing it across her shoulders as the dance concluded.

Removing the black coat/shedding skin in Mundaguddah, 2021. Photo: © Peter Hislop

Gissell has always provided a fascinating view of the subject of her works. Program notes tell us that the word Mundaguddah refers to the spirit of the Rainbow Serpent and Gissell showed us various aspects of that spirit from its serpent-like characteristics to the ways in which that spirit engages the community that honours it.

Tammi Gissell in Mundaguddah, 2021. Photo: © Peter Hislop

The production and performance of Tammi Gissell’s Rainbow Serpent was commissioned and supported by Ausdance ACT and the Canberra International Music Festival.

The other work with a dance component was Ngarukuruwala, a selection of action songs featuring the group Tiwi Strong Women, accompanied by a male performer who played clapsticks and also sang and danced. It was a quite different approach from what we saw from Gissell. Ngarukuruwala was basically a rendition of traditional songs associated with the Rainbow Serpent myth. Accompanied by simple stamping movements and lifted arms, it was also quite different in terms of movement. It was much enjoyed by the audience and by the performers themselves, who seemed delighted to be presenting their heritage in Canberra.

Three Tiwi Strong Women in Ngarukuruwala, 2021. Photo: © Peter Hislop

Publicity for Ngarukuruwala suggested that during this performance we would see screened footage from the National Film and Sound Archive of Tiwi ancestors performing traditional songs and dances. Well this didn’t happen, at least not at the performance I attended. We did see screened, however, some art representing the Rainbow Serpent, in particular a painting by Maggie Timapaetua. Shame about the lack of archival footage, but Ngarukuruwala finished with a healing song in response to the pandemic that has touched us all.

Two other items comprised the full program: Three Songs from Joe Geia and the ANU Jazz Collective (including an interesting version of Advance Australia Fair), and Rain falls and after for two guitars by Christopher Sainsbury, played engagingly by Andrew Blanch and Vladimir Gorbach.

Michelle Potter 10 May 2021

*This seems to be what happened although I was interested to find an article by James Murdoch in Theatre Australia for May 1982 in which he stated that the work was to be performed by Kelvin Coe and dancers of Sydney Dance Company. Moreland was choreographing for Sydney Dance Company at the time and Coe was dancing with the company. But the reference to other dancers may well have been an unrealised intention. That the work was dedicated to Moreland can be found on the Australian Music Centre site.

Featured image: Tammi Gissell in a Mundaguddah, 2021. Photo: © Peter Hislop

Sylvie Guillem and the Sydney Choreographic Centre

News flash: The Sydney Choreographic Centre has just announced that Sylvie Guillem is to take on the role of international patron of the Sydney Choreographic Centre. Artistic director Francesco Ventriglia has said of the appointment:

I could not be more thrilled and honoured that Sylvie has agreed to become SCC’s International Patron. I want the Centre to be a place of inspiration and there is no one in the dance world more recognised or inspiring than Sylvie.

Well for those of us who have seen Guillem dance in various situations this appointment augurs well and I hope her input will be extensive, if from afar. I don’t think I have ever really recovered from Guillem’s production of Giselle for the Finnish National Ballet, which I had the good fortune to see twice way back in 2001. The intelligence behind what was a truly inspired production was remarkable. I hope that in some way Ventriglia and his team will be able to harness some of that passion and inspiration to add to what they already have.

Michelle Potter, 4 May 2021

Featured image: Sylvie Guillem in Sacred Monsters. Photo: ©Tristram Kenton

Postscript: Apologies to anyone who accessed this news item in the first few minutes of posting. The hated autocorrect kept changing Sylvie to Sylvia! I think it is all fixed now.

The Point. Liz Lea Dance Company

29 April 2021, Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra

My review of The Point was published by Limelight on 30 April. See this link. Below is a small gallery of extra images that show more of the costumes and lighting, as well as the projections of Griffin designs, which I have mentioned briefly in the review.

As I mentioned in my review, I was especially taken by the lighting used to illuminate the action from a different perspective, which you can see in the image immediately above. Without wishing to detract from Karen Norris’ lighting for The Pointe, which was spectacular, with this particular change of perspective I was reminded of a similar use of lighting in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker. The Story of Clara. As we watch the final sections of the Murphy production we feel as though we are onstage with Clara as she dances her final performance. Similarly in The Point, with this lighting change we, the audience, became part of the performance.

The Point continues to resonate in the minds (and voices) of those who saw it. There have been calls for it to travel!

Michelle Potter, 3 May 2021

All images © Andrew Sikorski

Portrait of David McAllister by Peter Brew-Bevan, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Dance diary. April 2021

  • David McAllister awarded Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award

Congratulations to David McAllister, recently retired artistic director of the Australian Ballet. McAllister received the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award at a special event in Sydney, an award administered by the Royal Academy of Dance. McAllister joins a group of extraordinary individuals from the world of ballet who have been recipients of this award. They include Frederick Ashton, Maina Gielgud, Robert Helpmann, Gillian Lynne, Rudolf Nureyev and Marie Rambert. McAllister has had what is perhaps an unprecedented career with the Australian Ballet. Following training at the Australian Ballet School beginning in 1961, he was a performing artist with the company for 18 years followed by a role as artistic director for another 20 years.

For posts about David McAllister on this website see this tag. While it is available, listen to this interview with McAllister by Fran Kelly.

But in particular see (and listen) to this enticing McAllister story from the National Portrait Gallery inspired by the Peter Brew-Bevan portrait used as the featured image above.

  • Tammi Gissell and Mundaguddah

Mundaguddah is a dance/music collaboration between composer Brian Howard and dancer/choreographer Tammi Gissell. It will premiere on 9 May 2021 at the National Gallery of Australia during Australian Dance Week and is a co-presentation by Ausdance ACT and the Canberra International Music Festival. It will have two showings only, at 12pm and 2 pm.

In Mundaguddah (the spirit of the Rainbow Serpent in Murrawarri language), Gissell explores the idea of personal pre-history in a tribute to the Murrawarri spirit who demands we look, listen, and keep moving in the right direction.

Tammi Gissell in a study for Mundaguggah, 2021. Photo: © Anthony Browell
Tammi Gissell in a study for Mundaguddah, 2021. Photo: © Anthony Browell

Tammi Gissell has featured previously on this website, especially for her work with Liz Lea. Follow this link to read earlier posts. To buy a ticket to Mundaguddah, and to read a little more about the legend of the Rainbow Servant, follow this link.

  • The GOLDS. Tenth anniversary

It’s a little hard to believe that the GOLDS, Canberra’s dance group for older people, is ten years old. But the group celebrated its tenth anniversary in April 2021 with performance excerpts from some of its previous shows, along with a new work, Forever Young, from founder of the GOLDs, Liz Lea. Perhaps the most memorable performance excerpt for the evening was that from Martin del Amo’s Grand Finale, which was originally one section from Great Sport!, an award-winning production held at the National Museum of Australia in 2016. Program notes written by del Amo for the Great Sport! show described Grand Finale as, ‘A team of elegantly clad men and women. engaged in a mysterious game. Collectively celebrating diverse individuality. On their own terms…’

The celebratory event also included short speeches by a number of people connected with the GOLDs group, including two of the current directors of the group, Jacqui Simmonds and Jane Ingall; founder Liz Lea; and Ruth Osborne who spoke on the role the GOLDs have played with QL2Dance. For more about the GOLDs and their performances see this tag.

  • Australian Dance Week 2021

In the ACT Australian Dance Week 2021 was launched at Belconnen Arts Centre on 29 April, International Dance Day, by ACT Minister for the Arts, Tara Cheyne. The event celebrated diversity in dance and included a message from Friedemann Vogel at Stuttgart Ballet, along with performances of Indigenous dance as part of the Welcome to Country, as well as short performances of pop n lock, Indian and burlesque dance.

Burlesque dancer Jazida distributes mini cakes at the ACT launch of Dance Week 2021
  • Fabulous flamenco!

Check out the latest playlist from Jacob’s Pillow featuring clips from performances at the Pillow from flamenco dancers. Here is a link. I have never seen flamenco ‘on pointe’ before, but Irene Rodriguez in the 2019 performance clip from Amaranto shows us how it is possible. Amazing work from her.

  • Site news

Updates and fixes were carried out on the website during April. The main fix was to the search box. It had somehow collapsed and was not retrieving search terms as it should. It is now fixed, thankfully. I also had added, thanks to the team at Racket, a new ‘subscribe’ option. It is now on the home page just under the box headed ‘View full tag cloud’.

Visits to the site have increased dramatically over the past few months with page views going from around 3-4,000 to 8-9,000 a month. Perhaps not surprisingly the most visited area during April was the tag Liam Scarlett.

Thanks to all those who follow On dancing.

  • Press for April 2021

From Michelle: Review of The Point by Liz Lea Dance Company. Limelight, 30 April 2021. Online magazine only at this link.

From Jennifer: Obituary for Liam Scarlett. Dominion Post, 30 April 2021, p. 19. Online version,

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2021

Featured Image: The Dance—David McAllister. © 2016 Peter Brew-Bevan. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Portrait of David McAllister by Peter Brew-Bevan, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra



Liam Scarlett (1986–2021)

One of the most exceptional choreographers of the 21st century, Liam Scarlett, has died aged just 35. How lucky we were in Australia to have had the opportunity to see three of his works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dangerous Liaisons and No Man’s Land, all performed by Queensland Ballet. In addition, Scarlett’s new staging of Swan Lake, made for the Royal Ballet in 2018, is readily available on DVD.

Our New Zealand colleagues saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream before we did in Australia, first in 2015, and Royal New Zealand Ballet is reviving the work later in 2021. RNZB’s response to Scarlett’s death included the photo below with a special caption that read, ‘In loving memory of our friend and colleague Liam Scarlett. His creation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream filled our studios with joy, and our stages with magic.’

Liam Scarlett and Lucy Green on the set for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2015. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

There have been many comments from around the world on the subject of his death with calls for explanations to be given by various organisations, but nothing can take the place of the words of those who worked with him and those who saw his productions and were astounded by his remarkable abilities. In addition to the posts on this website at this tag and RNZB’s words above, see for example comments from dancers Jack Lister and Laura Hidalgo on the Limelight tribute, and from Karen van Ulzen, editor of Dance Australia, who wrote in a weekly email newsletter, ‘I adored Liam Scarlett’s choreography. When the Queensland Ballet brought his A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Melbourne a few years ago, it was one of those rare occasions when you know you are completely in the hands and imagination of a master.’

Scarlett’s death is a huge loss and we no longer have him beside us giving us works that demonstrate his astonishing talent. Like most of us I am heartbroken, but I’d rather not cast blame or demand explanations but remember the joy he has given to audience members and dancers alike.

Michelle Potter, 23 April 2021

Featured image: Pool of Siloam, Leura, New South Wales, 2021. Photo: © Neville Potter

New York Dialects. The Australian Ballet

17 April 2021 (matinee). Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

The first thing to say about this first Sydney program for 2021 from the Australian Ballet is that the dancers look fabulous. They are in terrific form in a technical sense and seem absolutely to relish being back onstage after a grim 2020. Watching them perform was a real thrill.

The program was certainly an interesting one and at the end it became clear what the ‘dialect’ of the title was (or was not) all about. The language of each of the three works, Serenade and The Four Temperaments, both by George Balanchine, and Watermark by Pam Tanowitz, was very much about the vocabulary of ballet (contemporary and otherwise) and the way that vocabulary can be arranged onstage. I’m not sure, however, that this is specifically a New York dialect, except that the two choreographers are or were New Yorkers. If we think of dialect as being a form of language specific to a particular region, it seems to me that what we saw was a choreographic dialect from people who happen to be New Yorkers. I guess I didn’t much like the title of the program. But I did like the dancing and in some cases the choreography.

Serenade has always been a beautiful way to start a program. Although Balanchine liked to say his ballets didn’t usually have a story behind them, I love those moments when there is a backstory there. In Serenade there is the girl who arrives late, for example, and also the mystery ending when two dancers embrace and one is then lifted high and carried into the distance. What has happened? What will happen? Then there’s the opening scene. It always generates a frisson of delight, even though it is expected.

Dancers of the Australian Ballet in the opening scene of Serenade, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Throughout the work, Balanchine’s masterful groupings and use of the stage space, and his particular take on the classical vocabulary, are clearly on view. A work to watch over and over.

Second on the program was a new work from Pam Tanowitz, Watermark. I have to ignore that title because it seemed meaningless in relation to the work. Tanowitz’s vocabulary was quirky in parts, with its beats done with feet as if in first position, its jerky arm and hand gestures and its frequent use of drooping bodies. Tanowitz counts former Cunningham dancer Viola Farber as one of her mentors and where the vocabulary was not so eccentric it reminded me a lot of the Cunningham style with its off centre movements and its jetés that never tried to look as though they were like splits in the air.

I also wondered why a line of dancers, midway through the piece, needed to come onstage from the auditorium? And I couldn’t enjoy the ending when the stage space was virtually empty and all the dancers were lined up along the wings. It just seemed like trying too hard to be different. This is the second work by Tanowitz that I have seen and I can’t say I have really enjoyed either of them.

Dancers of the Australian Ballet in a scene from Watermark, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Boud

The Four Temperaments was beautifully danced. Some of Balanchine’s vocabulary in this work might also be called quirky but its flow and role in the overall piece was arresting rather than seeming out of place. There is a coherence there.

The Sydney Opera House was making an exceptional effort with its COVID plan, even though the venue was pretty much at 100% capacity. But one aspect of it all was exceptionally annoying. Cast sheets were not available so it was not always possible to identify the performers with accuracy (and so I have not mentioned any names in this review). There was the option to scan a cast list onto one’s phone but how would that list look on a screen the size of a phone, apart from the fact that there is nothing more annoying than audience members looking at their phones during a performance. At least there could have been a cast sheet affixed to a board somewhere in the foyer. Next time I guess I need to print off a cast list from the Australian Ballet’s website and trust that it will be accurate on the day? Perhaps we could have been warned in advance? Or did I miss something along the line?

Michelle Potter, 20 April 2021

Featured image: Dancers of the Australian Ballet in a moment from The Four Temperaments, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Boud

.

GRIMM. Sydney Choreographic Centre

16 April 2021. Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta

GRIMM is the first work from the newly established Sydney Choreographic Centre and a world premiere from its director, Francesco Ventriglia. It takes an unusual look at some of the characters from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm), examining the emotions of these fairytale characters and the passage they make from youth to maturity. We meet, for example, Snow White, the Frog Prince, Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. We watch as they are pressured by a black clad figure, an evil character encompassing stepmother, witch and any other malevolent figure from a Grimm story. By the end every one of them had been transformed. Even the black clad Evil One (my name for this character) took on a new guise and appeared finally as a figure enveloped by golden clothes and shining lights. 

Ariella Casu (centre) with dancers of the Sydney Choreographic Centre in the final moments of GRIMM, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Asher Smith

Ventriglia’s choreography was fast-paced and filled with astonishing lifts with arms and legs constantly being thrown in all directions. It was quite angular most of the time. I waited for some moments of stillness, and the occasional feeling of roundness and softening of the limbs, but the angularity continued throughout. The duet between Snow White and her partner came closest to having a sense of calm and smoothness, but only occasionally. All the performers were, however, outstanding dancers and I especially admired the strength and emotional power of Ariella Casu, both as the Evil One and in the final moments when her black costume was stripped away to reveal a different side (perhaps?) of her character. 

Although I wished for more diversity in the choreography, at least in its immediate impact, I was stunned by the absolutely brilliant, very contemporary visual effects throughout. The lighting by Alex Berlage left a lot of the stage quite dark for much of the time but the strong side and down lights were exceptional in the way they highlighted the various characters. The projections by Marco Giani were quite minimal in most cases—just narrow rectangles of light filled with largely abstract designs, although they clearly represented forces of nature. But they too added to an understanding of who the characters were and never detracted from the movement. Costumes by James Acheson, especially for the main characters, were impressive and again a strong sense of the contemporary in design was clear.

On the night I attended the performance the audience reaction was astonishing—cheering, stamping on the floor and the like. It took me back to the days when audiences seemed to go wild with excitement at the ballet (as far back as Borovansky even). Let’s see what happens with the next show from this bold new venture.

Michelle Potter, 18 April 2021

Featured image: Holly Doyle as Red Riding Hood is carried off by wolves in GRIMM. Sydney Choreographic Centre, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Asher Smith

Dance diary. March 2021

  • Promotions at Queensland Ballet

Neneka Yoshida and Patricio Revé were both promoted during the Queensland Ballet’s 60th Anniversary Gala held in March 2021, Yoshida to principal, Revé to senior soloist. Both have been dancing superbly over the past few years. Yoshida took my breath away as Kitri in the Don Quixote pas de deux at the Gala and Revé I remember in particular for his performance as Romeo in the 2019 production of Romeo and Juliet, although of course he also danced superbly during the Gala.

Neneka Yoshida as Kitri in Don Quixote pas de deux. Queensland Ballet 2021. Photo: © David Kelly

Congratulations to them both and I look forward to watching them continue their careers with Queensland Ballet.

  • Fjord review, issue 3, 2020

Some years ago I wrote an article about Fjord Review, the first issue. At that stage it was based in Melbourne (or so I thought anyway), although now it comes from Canada. Its scope is international and its production values are quite beautiful. I was surprised to find (by accident) that its most recent print issue contained a review of my book Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. See further information about this unexpected find at the end of this post.

The print version of issue #3 also had some articles of interest about dance in Australia. ‘Dance break’ is a short conversation with Imogen Chapman, current soloist with the Australian Ballet; ‘Creative Research with Pam Tanowitz’ is a conversation with the New York-based choreographer whose latest work will premiere shortly in Sydney as part of David Hallberg’s season, New York Dialects; and ‘A.B.T. Rising’ discusses four recent dance films including David, ‘an ode to David Hallberg’.

As to the review of the first issue mentioned above, some of the comments received following that post are more than interesting!

  • Coming soon in Canberra. The Point

Liz Lea is about to premiere her new work, The Point, at Belco Arts Centre, Canberra. It will open on 29 April, International Dance Day.

Nicholas Jachno and Resika Sivakumaran in a study for The Point, 2021. Photo: © Lorna Sim

The Point. performed by a company of twelve dancers from across Australia and India, pursues Lea’s interest in connections across dance cultures, an appropriate theme for any International Dance Day event. It also looks at interconnections in design and music and takes inspiration from the designs of Walter Burley and Marion Mahoney Griffin, designers of the city of Canberra. A further source of inspiration is the notion of Bindu—the point of creation in Hindu mythology.

  • David McAllister and the Finnish National Ballet

Early in 2021, the Finnish National Ballet was due to premiere a new production of Swan Lake by David McAllister with designs by Gabriela Tylesova. The premiere was postponed until a later date. Read about it at this DanceTabs link.

And on the subject of McAllister, the National Portrait Gallery has a new photograph of McAllister and his partner Wesley Enoch on display in its current exhibition, Australian Love Stories. Looks like McAllister has his foot in an Esky in this particular shot! I am curious.

Peter Brew-Bevan, Wesley Enoch and David McAllister 2020. Courtesy of the artist. © Peter Brew-Bevan
  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments

Madelyn Coupe, ‘Light and dark of the human heart.’ Fjord Review, issue 3, 2020. pp. 43-45.
Unfortunately this review is not available online. Read it, however, via this link (without the final image, which is of Dame Joan Sutherland in Lucrezia Borgia).

I will be giving a talk on Fredrikson for the Johnston Collection in Melbourne in June. Details at this link.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2021

Featured image: Patricio Revé in Études. Queensland Ballet, 2021. Photo: © David Kelly

Third Practice. Tero Saarinen Company with Helsinki Baroque Orchestra

Digital season, March–April 2021

When thinking about Tero Saarinen’s Third Practice, it helps to know (which I didn’t before reading up prior to watching) where the title comes from. Third Practice is performed to madrigals by Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, played and sung by members of Helsinki’s Baroque Orchestra. Monteverdi’s musical style was referred to by his contemporaries as ‘second practice’ to distinguish his unprecedented compositional practice from that of his predecessors, who engaged in what was known as ‘first practice’. Monteverdi’s work sat at the point of transition between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods.

Saarinen set himself the task of examining, researching, and putting on stage a changing approach to creativity, a ‘third practice’ in dance and music and the collaborative arts, in order to add a new look and to give, to my mind anyway, an interesting new perspective on performance. He says, ‘ I’ve tried to preserve opportunities for “virtuoso freedom”. The third practice that we are talking about could mean a space for performers where their own skill and virtuoso flair facilitate risk-taking: discovering something new and unforeseen in your expressive idiom.’

Third Practice is a multi-camera, filmed version, with projection design by Thomas Freundlich, of a stage production that premiered in Cremona in 2019. With music direction and arrangement by Aapo Häkkinen, it is performed by six dancers and six musicians with two soloists, a tenor (appearing live) and a virtual soprano. The collaborative elements are crucial from the very beginning. The lighting, by Eero Auvinen, cannot be ignored. It has been compared to the use of light and dark in the paintings of Baroque artists, especially Caravaggio. The use of side lights and down lights, and contrasting strongly lit, shadowy and misty spaces delivers a diverse, constantly engaging, often tantalising environment in which the work unfolds.

Pekka Louhio, Annika Hyvärinen, Natasha Lommi, Eero Vesterinen, Jenna Broas in Third Practice, Tero Saarinen Company, 2021. Photo: © Kai Kuusisto

The costumes, designed by Erika Turunen, cross boundaries between the past and the present. The costume for the tenor soloist (Topi Lehtipuu) is masterful, although sometimes hard to see in media images. Its full sleeves and decorative finishing at the end of the sleeve recall Baroque-style shirts, but the materials are minimal and very contemporary in look. Similarly, the musicians wear Baroque-looking head gear, very appealing, but the rest of their costume again is mostly minimal.

Then there is the way in which the performing space is used. The virtual soprano, Núria Rial, appears in many parts of the space. We see her upstage and downstage; sometimes as a tiny figure in the background; hidden behind a floating piece of silk; reflected on the back of a dancer; and in other unexpected ways, including projected onto a silk hanging in the curtain calls. It is arresting staging and highlights the use of contemporary techniques to fill the space. The silks, while perhaps not an unusual item in contemporary dance and opera stagings, are nevertheless used in an exceptionally varied way. Sometimes they fall around the musicians lined up across the upstage area, or they engulf the dancers. At other times they are part of the choreography, occupying a space not usually filled with movement.

In terms of Tero Saarinen’s choreography, I was often transfixed by the expressive qualities of the movement. In the opening madrigal, the movement seemed jerky and somewhat puppet-like. I was reminded of figures from the Italian commedia dell’arte. Sometimes the movement seemed filled with a kind of extreme attention to detail both in the body movements and in facial expression. I was reminded of Baroque excess—the highly decorative aspects of Baroque church architecture and interiors, or Caravaggio’s fruit spilling out of the picture frame of his portraits. At other times, especially in a beautiful duet towards the end of the work, there was no excess, just calm, smoothly structured movement. Sadly, I am not familiar with the words of the madrigals and so was not able to determine whether the choreography was reflecting the meaning of the words, but it was a joy having the opportunity to create my own ideas anyway.

The standout performer in all of this was the tenor, Topi Lehtipuu. He sang live throughout whether he was standing, lying, crawling, kneeling or performing as one of the dancers. There was a moment when he was lying on the floor with dancers piled on top of him. He was still singing, this time in a duet with himself with the second voice a prerecorded one. Again it was an example of using technology to expand possibilities, but that Lehtipuu could sing so beautifully in such a compromised situation, compromised as far as his body was concerned, was astonishing.

Third Practice is an extraordinary work examining the endless possibilities of cross art form collaboration and the potential of dance to stand at the forefront of new explorations in the arts. It also made me reconsider the nature and potency of dance on film. Once again Tero Saarinen and his dancers and associates have given me an experience like no other. I love dance that expands the boundaries of my thinking. Third Practice does that and more.

Michelle Potter, 25 March 2021

Featured image: Topi Lehtipuu in a scene from Third Practice. Tero Saarinen Company, 2021. Photo: © Kai Kuusisto

Olivia Fyfe in 'Symbiosis' (4) Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter

Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party

10 March 2021, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Symbiosis was Australian Dance Party’s contribution to Canberra’s Enlighten Festival for 2021. Made in true ADP style as a site-specific work, it took place in various parts of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. It was in fact a guided tour through the Gardens with snippets of dance, music and poetry, and even instruction about various plants, inserted at various points. Again in true ADP style, the work had political overtones, on this occasion issues associated with the environment. True to its title, it explored both conflict and interference, as well as fusion between species (including the human species) in the world in which we live, the natural world that is.

We set off with a guide (Liz Lea dressed as a kind of outback botanist) and began our journey with a walk through the lush rainforest area. There we encountered, at first individually, members of the Canberra-based group Somebody’s Aunt. As we made our way through the gully, we could hear them breathing and see them gently moving as we passed by. Eventually we reached a higher point and could look down at them as they came together to embrace each other, and perhaps the environment (?).

Dancers from Somebody's Aunt in 'Symbiosis'. Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter
Dancers from Somebody’s Aunt in Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Further along the rainforest gully we were asked to pause and looked up to see Ryan Stone moving across a ridge of trees and plants to sounds of a human voice created by Stone and poet Melinda Smith. And so we continued with the botanist-figure naming various plant species and explaining various matters about other species and their place in nature. We encountered Levi Szabo engaging acrobatically with a tree and its spreading branches, and with the benches that were on the ground close to it. At various points we also noticed Alison Plevey as a kind of lizard/dragon lurking in the bushes and on the paths.

The standout item for me was a section featuring Olivia Fyfe performing to a soundscape by Alex Voorhoeve on electric cello. Fyfe dramatised thoughts about the fate of a tree, with those thoughts ranging from the idea of protection to horror at what was the eventual fate of the tree. Voorhoeve made those changing thoughts audible in stunning fashion. It was an extraordinarily moving section, made especially so by the collaborative blend of movement and music.

The most obviously political section came towards the end when Alison Plevey played the part of some kind of leader attempting to convince her audience (of plants) that ‘the bigger picture’ was being considered, while the ‘green’ organisation she represented moved along (or didn’t) with its environmental plans (or lack thereof).

Alison Plevey in 'Symbiosis'. Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter
Alison Plevey in Symbiosis Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

In addition to the moving performance from Voorhoeve and Fyfe as they contemplated the destruction of a tree, an exceptional performance came from the Gardener, danced and acted by Elizabeth Dalman. So immersed was she in her character and so beautifully disguised in her costume, especially that soft-brimmed hat, that it took me a while to realise that it was in fact Dalman. She appeared and re-appeared several times as a kind of ‘extra’ until the very end when she led the concluding dance. She began by setting up the shape of a star, made from bark pieces, on the ground at the final venue. Accompanied by the words of Melinda Smith, which were often difficult to make out in the very open space of the Gardens, one by one the performers we had watched came together. Maintaining her distance from the others, Dalman soothed and comforted, calmed and regenerated. She showed her true colours as an extraordinary artist throughout.

Elizabeth Dalman in 'Symbiosis'. Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter
Elizabeth Dalman in Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Symbiosis lasted for 90 minutes, which was, at least for me, about 30 minutes too long given the small amount of performance we saw. Did we really need all that botanical information? A little was fine but announcing all those Latin names of various plant species was pretty much unnecessary. We can go on a special Botanic Gardens tour if we need to get to know that kind of information.

Symbiosis was in essence an after-dark show, although I ended up seeing it in the early evening, which gave me lots of pleasure. Looking at published images taken during evening shows, I am glad I had the opportunity to see it in an ‘enlightened’ situation where the performance skills of the artists involved were clearer. The pleasures of carrying lanterns during the late evening shows, as I believe was the case, and the fairy lights that decorated the pathways, may have been fun but I prefer to have a clear view of how the artists are performing.

Perhaps the final note is to say that the event was constantly permeated by the sound of the wind in the trees and the birds calling each other. Even a hungry magpie hopped across the grass looking for scraps for its dinner as Fyfe and Voorhoeve were at work. From the point of view of the ambient sound, and the slow change of light as dusk began to fall, the show was very special.

Michelle Potter, 13 March 2021

Featured image: Olivia Fyfe in Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Olivia Fyfe in 'Symbiosis' (4) Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter