Chrissy Kokiri_of New Zealand Dance Company. Photo: ©John McDermott

New Directions at New Zealand Dance Company

Comment by Jennifer Shennan

The proposed Bubble between Australia and New Zealand for health, travel and trade purposes sits comfortably on the Anzac matrix in our common history. There’s a long weave of dance exchanges and interactions between Australia and New Zealand over many decades—tours from the 1950s by the Melbourne-based National Theatre Ballet of the first full-length Swan Lake here (with Lynne Golding and Henry Danton); the years of Borovansky visits; the Australian Ballet; Sydney Dance Company; productions mounted on New Zealand Ballet by Peggy van Praagh, Ray Powell, Jonathan Taylor, Graeme Murphy; the major directorship of the Company by Harry Haythorne; Douglas Wright works in Sydney Dance Company—and numerous other visits and exchanges in both directions—most recently by New Zealand Dance Company.  

The appointment of the new directors to NZDC, including Australian James O’Hara, thus has an inbuilt thread which could see further weaving between performers and audiences in the trans-Tasman Bubble.

Chances to view the global wealth of streamed dance videos has been most welcome during Lockdown but all of us are surely looking forward to the introduction of live performances in the not-too-distant future. Safe lift-off to the new team at NZDC.

An excerpt from the media release announcing the changes is below.

THE NEW ZEALAND DANCE COMPANY APPOINTS WORLD CLASS NEW LEADERSHIP TEAM
The Board of the New Zealand Dance Advancement Trust today announced the appointment of former Nederlands Dans Theater chief executive Janine Dijkmeijer as The New Zealand Dance Company’s (NZDC) Executive Director; and renowned dance artists and directors Victoria (Tor) Colombus and James O’Hara, as Co-Artistic Directors.

Board Chair Sharon van Gulik welcomed the new team saying the company was well placed for its next phase of development, building on the incredible artistic and organisational legacy of cofounder and former Chief Executive/Artistic Director, Shona McCullagh.

“The Trust was founded on the ambition of creating a full-time contemporary dance company for New Zealand by bringing together a high-calibre community of dancers, creative collaborators, arts managers and supporters dedicated to creating inspiring new dance. In appointing Janine, Tor and James, we believe we now have the talent to grow the artform of contemporary dance, and take the company into its next era”, van Gulik says.

Janine Dijkmeijer, currently living in the Netherlands as an advisor in the performing arts, say one of her missions in life is to be an advocate for the language of dance.

“I come from a family of researchers, innovators and doctors. I understand why I have come to be passionate about dance, because dance is deeply healing and always tells a true story. This language is nonviolent and global. Communicating through dance is playful and is never judgmental. The New Zealand Dance Company is a jewel. I have known Shona through her films and it feels we are family. Shona’s wide vision of what is possible within dance and communication has always been close to me. I have seen the company perform in the Netherlands and always been impressed with the high quality of dancers. I’m very much looking forward to working with the new artistic directors and the team in New Zealand – the possibilities are unlimited”, she says.

The new NZDC team: (l-r ) Janine Dijkmeijer (Executive Director), Tor Columbus (Co-artistic Director) and James O’Hara (Co-artistic Director)

The full media release, which includes further news and biographies of the artists involved is at this link.

Follow this tag link to read posts relating to NZDC on this website.

Jennifer Shennan, 3 June 2020

Featured image: Chrissy Kokiri of New Zealand Dance Company, 2018. Photo: © John McDermott

Chrissy Kokiri_of New Zealand Dance Company. Photo: ©John McDermott
Queensland Ballet dancers Pol Andrés and Thió-Libby-Rose Niederer. Photo: © David Kelly/Designfront

Dance diary. May 2020

  • Australian Dance Awards

Nominations are now open for the Australian Dance Awards, 2018 and 2019. You may recall that in 2019 the awards for 2018 were cancelled because of funding issues, so the 2020 nominations are in two parts, one for the various categories in 2018, the other for last year’s work.

Ausdance National is collaborating with sponsors and the Ausdance network to manage the double awards ceremony later in the year, but it is not yet clear what format the ceremony will take. This year a nomination fee has been introduced to help cover costs. Ausdance National continues to work without government funding.

Just to remind you of the excitement these awards generate, below is my favourite image from the 2018 ceremony.

Katrina Rank, Services to Dance 2018
Katrina Rank, Services to Dance Education, Brisbane 2018

Nominate via this link. Nominations close on 22 June.

  • Tatiana Leskova

As I read of the horrifying march of COVID-19 into Brazil, my thoughts went straight to dancer Tatiana Leskova who came to Australia on the last of the Ballets Russes tours in 1939-1940. Leskova lives in Rio de Janeiro and I contacted her to see if she was safe and managing the situation. Well, aged 97, she is isolating in her home seeing only a few essential people while maintaining the required distance from them. She says she is well. Great news!

Tatiana Leskova celebrates her 97th birthday, December 2019.

Tatiana Leskova has often helped me identify material I have come across in various situations and I have valued so much the contacts I have had with her. Read more at this tag.

  • Anita Ardell

Way back in 2001 I interviewed Anita Ardell for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program The interview was only very recently put online, complete with a timed summary. The interview is rich in material about Ardell’s own career, at least in its early phases, as well as in Ardell’s observations about Gertrud Bodenwieser, for whom she danced and taught. Unfortunately a second session, which would have taken Ardell’s career into the 1980s and beyond did not eventuate. But what was recorded is well worth a listen.

Anita Ardell as Toinette in Gertrud Bodenwieser's 'The Imaginary Invalid', 1950. Photo: Peter Burden
Anita Ardell as Toinette the Chambermaid in Gertrud Bodenwieser’s The Imaginary Invalid, 1950. Photo Peter Burden. National Library of Australia

Using the audio file below, listen to a tiny (1:07 mins) excerpt from the interview. The full interview is available at this link.

  • Digital seasons

While I have been enjoying watching a range of streamed performances from major companies around the world, and am looking forward to more, I did wonder why American Ballet Theatre was not joining in the streaming arrangements. Earlier in May, however, I read an article by Marina Harss in The New Yorker, which explained why. ABT has no digital archive. In the article ABT’s executive director, Kara Medoff Barnett, is quoted as saying, ‘Our strength is our cohesion and collaborative spirit. Our weakness is not having a library of digital content.’ Later in the article Barnett says, ‘I told my colleagues, the age of the ephemeral is over. From now on we must capture everything that we do, from rehearsals to the stage.’*

The streaming sessions from Australian dance companies show just how lucky we are in Australia. The material we have seen has been professionally filmed and, while there is nothing to compare with a live performance, what we have seen on screen has been a joy to watch.

  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer

My forthcoming book Kristian Fredrikson. Designer is now with the printer. It will be launched later this year, although exactly when depends on further easing of restrictions in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. Updates will be forthcoming. The title page, below, shows Ako Kondo and Juliet Burnett as Guardian Swans in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, revival of 2014. Photo by Jeff Busby, courtesy of the Australian Ballet.

Title page

Pre-orders can be made at this link.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2020

Featured image: Queensland Ballet dancers Pol Andrés Thió and Libby-Rose Niederer. Photo: © David Kelly/designfront

Queensland Ballet dancers Pol Andrés and Thió-Libby-Rose Niederer. Photo: © David Kelly/Designfront

*Marina Harss, ‘Dancing on their own during the coronavirus crisis.’ The New Yorker, 21 May 2020 (digital edition).

Daniel Gaudiello as James in 'La Sylphide', Act II. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Paquita & La Sylphide. The Australian Ballet. 2020 Digital Season

I saw this program twice in 2013 and have to admit that, apart from outstanding performances by one or two dancers in each of the casts I saw, I was somewhat underwhelmed. But this screening by the Australian Ballet as part of its 2020 digital season left me absolutely thrilled.

The Paquita we see is really an excerpt from a full-length ballet of the same name that is rarely seen these days. Its choreography is by Marius Petipa and what we see in this excerpt is Petipa’s classicism. We see it in spades, especially in the way the dancers hold their bodies, erect and proud, with a straight spine as the central axis, and in the kinds of steps the dancers perform. In his introductory remarks to the streamed production, David McAllister calls it a ‘ballet ballet’. And so it is.

The cast is led by Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson. They show off their classical technique brilliantly. Jones. for example, has a series of fouetté turns in one solo and she launched straight into eight (or it could even have been nine) double turns in succession. Spectacular. The four soloists, Amy Harris, Juliet Burnett, Ako Kondo and Miwako Kubota, all danced with extraordinary skill. Standing out for me were Amy Harris with her perfectly controlled fouetté relevés, and Ako Kondo who made a thrilling entrance with a series of grands jetés and then proceeded to dazzle us with some exceptional turning steps, including some pretty much perfect double turns in attitude. Then I can’t forget the corps de ballet (which in fact included some of today’s principal artists such as Benedicte Bemet and Dimity Azoury). The corps danced with great style and each one of them looked as though she loved performing.

Ako Kondo in 'Paquita', The Australian Ballet. Photo © Jeff Busby, 2013
Ako Kondo in Paquita. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo © Jeff Busby

Then came La Sylphide with Leanne Stojmenov as the Sylph and Daniel Gaudiello as James, with choreography by Erik Bruhn after August Bournonville. Act I raced along and I enjoyed Gaudiello’s acting from the opening moments when, asleep in his armchair, a little dream-like smile kept hovering across his face as the Sylph danced around him. Stojmenov was a truly beautiful Sylph with an understanding of the needs of the Romantic style of movement. She seemed so light, so supernatural, so at home with the gentle tilt of the head and the forward-leaning style of movement we expect in the Romantic style. She has a beautifully coordinated body and it is quite fascinating to watch the relationship between legs, arms, upper body and head, each seeming to be separate actions yet at the same time part of an alluring whole.

Of course both Gaudiello and Stojmenov came into their own in Act II. Gaudiello’s beats were breathtaking as was his ability to perform with the ballon and apparent ease that characterises the Bournonville style. And Stojmenov continued with her Romantic and supernatural manner. Apart from the technical aspects of their performance, Stojmenov and Gaudiello also interacted so well that the story simply sped along, taking us with it. It was a perfect pairing for this ballet. The issues I felt when I saw the program live were mostly still there, but seemed no longer to matter, thanks to Stojmenov and Gaudiello. Bouquets to them both.

Colin Peasley as Madge and Andrew Wright as Gurn also gave strong performances and I enjoyed as well being backstage at the Sydney Opera House while the overture to La Sylphide was playing. I can’t wait to look again.

My reviews of previous performances are at these links: Melbourne; Sydney. I was also lucky enough to see the full-length Paquita as restaged by Pierre Lacotte for the Paris Opera Ballet but it was before I started this website and, unfortunately, I have no written record of the performance.

Michelle Potter 30 May 2020

Featured image: Daniel Gaudiello as James in La Sylphide, Act II. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Daniel Gaudiello as James in 'La Sylphide', Act II. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby
Amber Scott and Adam Bull in 'Dyad 1929'. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Branco Gaica

Dyad 1929. The Australian Ballet. 2020 Digital Season

It is an ongoing fascination being able to watch streaming sessions of works I have seen live (often more than once). The Australian Ballet’s triple bill of Graeme Murphy’s The Narrative of Nothing, Stephen Page’s Warumuk—in the dark night, and Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929 has been no exception. From this program, Dyad 1929 stood out for the new insights into the work that it gave me.

Dyad 1929 was first seen in Australia in 2009 as part of a program called Concord. It was, in fact, made on the Australian Ballet as part of its Ballets Russes project. We saw it again in 2013 also as part of a mixed bill, this time called Vanguard. Then this year it had just a few performances in March in Melbourne, as part of a program called Volt, before the COVID-19 pandemic closed everything down. The Volt season was cancelled.

What I especially enjoyed when watching Dyad 1929 on screen was a duet danced by Amber Scott and Adam Bull. As they came onstage for this duet there was an unexpected mood change, choreographically, visually and musically (Dyad 1929 is danced to Steve Reich’s Double Sextet). From the fast-paced first sections with their rush of extreme movement under Lucy Carter’s bright white lighting, the setting darkened as a horizontal bar of fluorescent yellow lights began to descend from the flies. A yellow circle of light appeared on the stage floor and the music, unexpectedly, became moody and slightly mysterious.

Choreographically, movements seemed less sharp. They were still extreme and filled with eccentricities—Scott executed a series of cabriole-style beats while being held by Bull in a kind of fish dive pose—but there was often a more gentle feel to much of the dancing. Having said that, occasionally a beautiful slow unfolding of the leg was followed quickly by a sudden movement, although this kind of juxtaposition is not unusual for McGregor. Then there was the moment—gone in a flash—when Scott made a small circle with thumb and index finger and held it up to her eye like a monocle. It echoed the large black circle on her costume and also the rows of black dots we see on the back- and floorcloth.

The duet was eventually interrupted by the appearance of other dancers and the work continued. But I loved seeing Scott and Bull together and I loved having the luxury of noticing tiny aspects of the choreography that I missed on previous, live viewings.

Because the streaming of Dyad 1929 finishes on 28 May 2020, below is a video of Scott and Bull rehearsing the duet I enjoyed so much. While the rehearsal in the studio lacks something of the punch that the duet had in performance, it is nevertheless a record of the choreography. It was interesting too to see Antoine Vereecken, who staged the work in 2013, giving comments at the end of the rehearsal.

Looking back at Wayne McGregor’s program note from both 2009 and 2013, I noticed he had dedicated Dyad 1929 to Merce Cunningham, who died in 2009 the year of the premiere of Dyad 1929. McGregor wrote of Cunningham that he was ‘a choreographer whose curiosity, sense of adventure and seamless collaboration knew no bounds.’ I can often see similar characteristics in McGregor’s works. Read more about my thoughts on his works at this tag.

Michelle Potter, 21 May 2020

Featured image: Amber Scott and Adam Bull in Dyad 1929. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Branco Gaica

Amber Scott and Adam Bull in 'Dyad 1929'. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Branco Gaica

SHELTER. Reneff-Olson Productions

The short film SHELTER, from California-based Reneff-Olson Productions, features dancers from across the world. It was made in response to the difficult situation in which performers find themselves at the moment during the COVID-19 crisis. The production company is headed by siblings Alexander and Valentina Reneff-Olson and, speaking of the making of SHELTER, Alexander Reneff-Olson said:

I wanted to bring attention to the current realities performing artists are facing during this time. Self-isolation has kept dancers from performing in conventional ways and traditional venues, but it hasn’t diminished their resilience, even in the face of these unprecedented times.

You might be surprised at the number of people who are involved in SHELTER who have strong connections with Australia and New Zealand. I was when it was suggested by a colleague from San Francisco that I take a look.

First up is perhaps Danielle Rowe, former principal with the Australian Ballet. After leaving Australia, Rowe has had a varied career, first with Houston Ballet, and then Nederlands Dans Theater and various other companies. She is now well into a career as a choreographer. Her work Remember, Mama, for Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2018 program Strength and Grace, was reviewed on this site by Jennifer Shennan. Read that review at this link. Rowe is currently choreographing a production of The Sleeping Beauty for Royal New Zealand Ballet. It is due to open in October (provided that is a possibility given current restrictions).

Nadia Yanowsky and Paul Mathews in 'Remember, Mama', Royal New Zealand Ballet 2018. Photo: © Stephen A'Court
Nadia Yanowsky and Paul Mathews in Danielle Rowe’s Remember, Mama, Royal New Zealand Ballet 2018. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

For SHELTER, Rowe worked with Garen Scribner, a New York-based actor, dancer and singer, on the choreography and the casting of the dancers who appear in the SHELTER. And, as Alexander Reneff-Olson has commented, Rowe also ‘selected and assigned sections of the choreography to each dancer and provided artistic feedback as the editing progressed’.

Australian Ballet principals, Amber Scott and Ty-King Wall, also appear, as does Artistic Director designate David Hallberg. Then there are Australians who no longer dance in Australia but are busy making exceptional careers elsewhere in the world. They include Benjamin Ella, currently a soloist with the Royal Ballet in London, and Jared Wright, at present a soloist with Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. Royal New Zealand Ballet principal, Nadia Yanowksy, seen in the image above, is also featured in SHELTER.

The project grew from an earlier work called Hey Mami co-choreographed and performed by Rowe and Scribner in 2015. But the idea grew to include 26 dancers and, as Alexander Reneff-Olson explains:

Dani and Garen assigned specific time-codes from Hey Mami for each dancer to learn and film themselves performing, and they offered to virtually rehearse individually with any dancers who wanted to.

The individual segments were then edited by the Reneff-Olson team.

SHELTER also has some quite beautiful scenes shot on the stage of an empty San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. Alexander Reneff-Olson explains:

The city and County of San Francisco gave about a 12 hour advance warning on the shelter-in-place order taking effect, and we used some of that time to capture what footage we could of Joseph Walsh [a principal with San Francisco Ballet] in the War Memorial Opera House, the home of San Francisco Ballet.

Watch the trailer for SHELTER below.

SHELTER: Reneff-Olson Productions

The full video can be viewed at this link where you will also find credits and a full list of the dancers who appear.

Michelle Potter, 20 May 2020

With thanks to Kate McKinney of San Francisco Ballet for putting me in touch with Alexander Reneff-Olson, and Renee Renouf Hall for suggesting I take a look at SHELTER.

Featured image: Promotional image for SHELTER.