Nureyev. Legend and Legacy. Marquee TV

Marquee TV is streaming for a limited time a ticketed program, for which I paid just over AUD 10, called Nureyev. Legend and Legacy. As a live show it happened in London early in September at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Reproduced to honour Rudolf Nureyev, it was directed by former Royal Ballet principal Nehemiah Kish and included works in which Nureyev performed, and some that he had restaged or choreographed for various companies. The dancers who appeared in the show came from various companies, with a strong contingent from the Royal Ballet.

The program opened with the Entre’Acte solo from The Sleeping Beauty Act II, as interpolated into the ballet by Nureyev, as he did on other occasions in other ballets when he felt more choreography was needed for male dancers. Somewhat hesitantly danced by Guillaume Côté from the National Ballet of Canada, it made me feel that Nureyev was not such a good choreographer. The choreography seemed quite static and as a result the performance was a little underwhelming. But things got better and the dances that preceded interval included a lovely performance of the pas de deux from Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano performed by Francesco Gabriele Frola and Ida Praetorius and the pas de six from Laurencia (which I had never seen before) showcasing an inspired Natalia Osipova and a dramatically stunning Cesar Corrales, along with Yuhui Choe, Marianna Tsembenhoi, Benjamin Ella and Daichi Ikairashi. The flamboyance of Laurencia with its Spanish flavoured choreography from Nureyev after Vakhtang Chabukiani contrasted well with the gentle beauty of Flower Festival.

Francesco Gabriele Frola and Ida Praetorius in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano, 2022. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

The second half of the program included the grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty performed by Natascha Mair and Vadim Muntagirov, a moving performance of the pas de deux from Act II of Giselle from Francesca Hayward and William Bracewell, and an excerpt from John Neumeier’s Don Juan danced by Alina Cojacaru and Alexander Trusch.

The program closed spectacularly with the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, a work that is undeniably connected to Nureyev’s astonishing career in the West. It was danced by the beautiful Yasmine Naghdi, whose work I have admired for a number of years, and the simply astonishing Cesar Corrales. In particular, Corrales’ solo demonstrated the extraordinary way he uses his body. He sweeps the floor at times as he leans into a step, but then reaches skywards at other times. His manège of grand allegro steps flies high and is perfection in performance, and his turns, in whatever position his legs are held, are just breathtaking in speed and execution. Then, the way he engages with his partner is thrilling, as is the pride he shows throughout in the way he holds his body. The coda was distinguished by brilliant dancing and a series of fouettés from Naghdi was filled with doubles, not just one every so often but often a single was followed by three consecutive doubles. My one complaint is that Corrales stretches his thumbs so that they look overly dominant. But astonishing work really from both dancers.

Yasmine Nahgdi and Cesar Corrales in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, 2022. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

Australian audiences of a certain age were fortunate enough to see Nureyev perform in the 1960s and 1970s when he was here on various occasions. I can still remember his entrance in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire and the thrill that ran through my body even from my standing room position way at the back of the ’gods’ at the old Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown (Sydney). So watching this program, despite the odd moments that did not resonate well, was an absolute delight. And how I hope I will get to see Cesar Carroles perform live one of these days. He gives me the same thrill as I got from watching Nureyev.

Nureyev. Legend and Legacy, which includes short interviews with some who worked with Nureyev (including Monica Mason), is available on Marquee TV as a ticketed offering until 26 September only.

Michelle Potter, 21 September 2022

Featured image: Natalia Osipova in Laurencia pas de six. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Explicit Contents. Rhiannon Newton

9 September 2022. QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra

The title of this work may give the impression that is about violence, abusive content, or any other of the somewhat damaging notions that are contained in the more common, singular phrase ’explicit content’. This was not the case with Explicit Contents, the dance work, as I understood it, although a certain sensuality was made clear at various times. Made on two dancers, Ivey Wawn and David Huggins, by the Sydney-based choreographer Rhiannon Newton, the work for me was calming, contemplative and mesmerising, at least for most of the time and in certain respects.

The work had begun as we entered the performing space with Wawn and Huggins moving to and fro with Newton’s quite simple but nicely performed choreography—introductory moments. The main body of the work began shortly afterwards when the space was plunged into darkness and we watched the dancers moving, occasionally and subtly, while stretched out on the floor, upstage. There were quite long periods of stillness and the darkness made it hard to make out what was happening. In some respects though it reminded me of the Merce Cunningham concept of ‘body time’ as without any obvious score at this stage (the noise we heard was from cars driving up and down the road outside the Arts Centre), the two dancers were aware of each other and seemed mostly to be working in unison with slight, individual variations.

As this dark and slowly moving section continued, it began to be interrupted by drops of water falling on the floor (lit so they were visible as they landed). From there the work unfolded in a number of episodes, to a sound score by Peter Lenaerts and in which the two dancers engaged in a series of activities. They sat on the ground in front of us and ate a piece of fruit, Wawn had a passionfruit, Huggins a mango. They picked up a glass bowl half filled with water and manipulated the water level before balancing it on their bodies. In an unexpected moment they tipped the water on the floor and sat down and swirled around in that seated position. Another earlier episode had the dancers taking geometrical-style poses, sometimes mirroring each other, at other times taking separate stances

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins with glass bowls of water in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: © Lucy Parakhina

Choreographically, however, the work was not really outstanding. While Wawn and Huggins reacted beautifully to Newton’s style, they hadn’t really been given hugely challenging movement. It was more about a concept on which Newton had based the work, ‘how bodies are are not separate from but inextricably connected to their environments’. Although I found the work calming and mesmerising, I think this feeling came from non-choreographic aspects of the work, aspects that were visually interesting rather than choreographically challenging—water dripping to the floor, eating fruit, balancing bowls of water on the body, and the incredible lighting from Karen Norris, especially those moments when her lighting allowed the dancers bodies to be reflected mirror-like onto the floor.

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
David Huggins eating a mango in Explicit Contents. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

I recall a colleague saying once ‘Dance is a visual art form’, to which another colleague replied, ‘No it’s not, it’s much more than that.’ This is the first work from Newton that I have seen. I look forward to seeing more and will be curious to see how/if she balances the various aspects that make a work a dance one. The balance was not convincing in Explicit Contents.

Michelle Potter, 10 September 2022

Featured image: Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Shirley McKechnie (1926–2022)

Shirley McKechnie, who has died in Melbourne at the age of 96, was one of Australia’s most influential dance educators. Born Shirley Elizabeth Gorham, she was educated at Albion State School and Williamstown High School. After matriculating from secondary school, and with the prospect of a career in science, began work in Melbourne in the research laboratories of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works.Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Lucy Parakhina

But her interest in dance and movement had begun when she was very young and, while engaged with the Board of Works, she continued her interest by taking dance and composition classes with Hanny Exiner and Daisy Pirnitzer, both of whom were exponents of the European modern dance technique as brought to Australia by Gertrud Bodenwieser. Exiner and Pirnitzer were associated with the Melbourne-based Studio of Creative Dance and McKechnie also began dancing with the performance group attached to that Studio.

In 1945 McKechnie began teaching dance at a small school she established with the encouragement and support of the Ferntree Gully Arts Society. She continued to teach at this school until her marriage to Ken McKechnie in 1948. After the birth of her second child, she established a second school in Beaumaris, Melbourne, in 1955. This school became the foundation for her long career as a teacher, choreographer and dance director.

In 1963 McKechnie founded the Australian Contemporary Dance Theatre, whose dancers were drawn from the older students of her school. McKechnie was the company’s director and main choreographer between 1963 and 1973. During this time she choreographed a number of works for the company including Sketches on Themes of Paul Klee (1964), Earth Song (1965), Vision of Bones (1966), Sea Interludes (1966), Hymn of Jesus (1967), Of Spiralling Why (1967), The Other Generation (1968), Landscape of Dream and Memory (1970), The Finding of the Moon (1972), and Canon for Four Dancers (1973). During this period she also wrote and choreographed a lecture and performance titled The Dancer, the Dance and the Audience.

In the 1970s she worked closely with English dance advocate and educator Peter Brinson on two of the four momentous summer schools that took place at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, between 1967 and 1976. The summer schools were initially an initiative of Dame Peggy van Praagh and the first two had a focus on classical ballet and audience development, and had broadly speaking a lecture/discussion-style emphasis. Those in which McKechnie and Brinson were closely involved highlighted choreography and creativity. More about the Armidale summer schools is at this link.

After graduating from Monash University with an honours degree in English literature in 1974 McKechnie founded and directed the first degree course in dance studies at an Australian tertiary institution at Rusden College, now Deakin University, in 1975. In her role as dance educator and advocate for dance she was also a co-founder of the Australian Association for Dance Education (AADE), now Ausdance, founding chair of the Tertiary Dance Council of Australia, founder of the Green Mill Dance Project, and a member of the research team for Conceiving Connections, a three year-study (2002-2004) building on the research project Unspoken Knowledges. Conceiving Connections aimed to increase an understanding of dance audiences by addressing problems that had been identified by the dance industry as critical to its viability among the contemporary performing arts in Australia.

McKechnie went on to have an acclaimed academic career and received many awards and accolades. Her awards included a Kenneth Myer Medallion for the Performing Arts in 1993, the Ausdance 21 Award for outstanding and distinguished service, and two Australian Dance Awards, including that for lifetime achievement in 2001. She was made an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1998, and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2013. For a more detailed view of her academic career and her awards see Vale Shirley McKechnie AO on the Ausdance National website at this link.

Perhaps what I admired most about McKechnie’s career was her ’never give up’ approach. Dance is an art form in which so many possibilities are available as one moves through life. McKechnie found and explored so many of them. I mentioned this aspect of her life in relation to a film made by Sue Healey in 2015 when I wrote:

McKechnie has influenced many people working in the area of contemporary dance in Australia and, when a stroke left her unable to continue her own practice, she turned to writing, largely in the field of cognition. As a result, this short film is not so much about how to continue to drive the body physically as one ages, but about how to reinvent oneself in order to remain active within the field of dance.

Shirley McKechnie in a still from Sue Healey's short film 'Shirley McKechnie'
Still from Sue Healy’s short film Shirley McKechnie, 2015

McKechnie spent her final years at Mayflower Brighton Aged Care and I recall that she was thinking of donating her dance library to Mayflower when she entered that centre. That way she would continue to have access to what had been written about the art form that she loved so much.

Shirley McKechnie is survived by her two sons, Garry and Graeme, and their families.

Shirley Elizabeth McKechnie, AO: born Melbourne 18 June 1926; died Melbourne 5 September 2022

Michelle Potter, 8 September 2022

Featured image: Portrait of Shirley McKechnie, 2006. Photo: © Julie Dyson

Note on source materials for this obituary: Much of the material in this obituary comes from items held by the National Library of Australia in Canberra, including Papers of Shirley McKechnie (MS 9553), and a short biography from the website Australia Dancing (which was established at the National Library in ca. 2002 but which has not been active since 2012). I have directly taken sections from this biography, which I wrote in 2005. The Library’s material also includes oral histories with McKechnie as interviewee, and many oral histories that she recorded with contemporary dancers and choreographers for various projects in which she was involved, or which she initiated.

The Australian Ballet in 2023

David Hallberg has put together an interesting selection of works for the Australian Ballet’s 2023 season. Perhaps most interesting, or perhaps surprisingly unexpected, is a double bill called Identity, which will be seen in Sydney in May and Melbourne in June. Identity will feature two new works, The Hum from Daniel Riley and Paragon from Alice Topp. Topp is currently resident choreographer with the company while Riley is artistic director of the Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre. The pairing of works from Riley and Topp promises to bring a certain diversity with the two choreographers coming from quite different dance and ethnic backgrounds. Paragon aims to pay tribute to the heritage of the Australian Ballet while The Hum will be a collaboration between the Australian Ballet and Australian Dance Theatre and will feature Indigenous artists as key artistic collaborators. Both works aim to explore the concept of identity whether it is that of Australia, of community. or of art.

I will also be interested to see Swan Lake, which will be shown in Melbourne in September, Adelaide and Brisbane in October, and Sydney in December. Hallberg will be working from the 1977 production by Anne Woolliams and is aiming to bring new insights into what I thought, way back when it was first shown, was a magnificent production which, with various rearrangements of parts of the storyline, gave audiences a very logical understanding of the narrative. This time, however, it will have new designs, some additional choreography by Lucas Jervies, and some filmic influences.

The work of George Balanchine will be on show with Jewels as will that of Frederick Ashton with a double bill of The Dream and Marguerite and Armand. Jewels, which will be seen in Sydney in May and Melbourne in July, will have costumes and sets by the original designers Barbara Karinska for costumes and Peter Harvey for set. This is a shame really as there have been some stunning new designs for Jewels and I am reminded of a remark made in France that the original designs were ‘fussy and outmoded’. But the work itself is stunning with its three separate sections, each representing a different precious stone. On seeing a performance of Jewels by New York City Ballet in 2010 I wrote:

‘Emeralds’ is at once moody and mysterious, romantic and sombre, and sometimes like a whisper in a forest glade. ‘Rubies’ is all sass and neon. ‘Diamonds’ is pure and clean, a dance in an arctic cave filled with cool yet intricate ice carvings.

I am looking forward to seeing it again.

Amy Harris, Benedicte Bemet and Dimity Azoury in a study for Jewels. Photo: © Simon Eeles

Australian audiences saw Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand during a Royal Ballet tour in 2002 when we had the good fortune to see the leading role of Marguerite danced by Sylvie Guillem partnered by Jonathan Cope, and later in the season by Massimo Murru. Since then I have seen stunning performances by Alessandra Ferri partnered by Federico Bonelli and by Zenaida Yanowsky partnered by Roberto Bolle. A line up of stars for sure, so it will be interesting to see who in the Australian Ballet will take on the roles.

Ashton’s The Dream was performed by the Australian Ballet in 2015. Read my review at this link. The Ashton program will be staged in November and only in Sydney.

The 2023 season will also feature a production of Don Quixote adapted for stage from the 1973 film, which starred Rudolf Nureyev, Lucette Aldous and Robert Helpmann.

Lucette Aldous and Robert Helpmann in rehearsal for the film, 'Don Quixote', the Australian Ballet 1972. Photo: Don Edwards
Lucette Aldous and Robert Helpmann in rehearsal for the film, Don Quixote. The Australian Ballet, 1972. Photo: Don Edwards

Don Quixote will play in Melbourne in March and Sydney in April.

In addition, and as part of the Australian Ballet’s 2023 program, the Tokyo Ballet will visit Melbourne in July bringing their staging of Giselle.

Michelle Potter, 6 September 2022

Featured image: Robyn Hendricks in a study for Swan Lake. Photo: © Simon Eeles

Dance diary. August 2022

  • Cranko. The Man and his Choreography. A new book

A new book, Cranko. The Man and his Choreography by Ashley Killar is due to be released in London next month. Killar, who danced extensively with Stuttgart Ballet when John Cranko was the company’s artistic director, presents a detailed and extensively researched analysis of the life and career of Cranko, going right back to his childhood in South Africa. The book will also have an Australian launch in December, coinciding with the production of Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet as part of the Australian Ballet’s Sydney season. At present the book can be pre-ordered from Book Depository or from the British publisher at this link. In Australia it will initially be available through Bloch Dance stores.

Read more about the book at this link, where you’ll find some unexpected items, including recipes (and see above an image of Cranko as chef).

  • Douglas Wright’s Gloria

The latest news from CO3, the Perth-based contemporary company led by Raewyn Hill, is that the company will be staging Douglas Wright’s Gloria in September.

Douglas Wright (centre) performing in his Gloria in 1990. Photo: © Patrick Reynolds

Here is what Jennifer Shennan wrote about Gloria in 2004, which she updated for Raewyn Hill just recently:

Gloria—by Douglas Wright & Antonio Vivaldi

To Vivaldi’s exuberant music, Douglas Wright made Gloria, the best dance ever choreographed in New Zealand. It affirms and celebrates life as it is on Earth. Dancers clad in gold silk launch themselves into the air and seem to stay there, flying over each other in twists and plaits, bodies somehow freed from gravity, aiming for the stars, hitting the sun.

Douglas was commissioned by his friend Helen Aldridge to choreograph a work commemorating the life of her daughter, and also his friend, Deirdre Mummery, who had died of an accidental drug overdose.

Helen did not know what might result—a lament? an elegy? commiseration? She could scarcely have imagined the ecstasy and expression of life’s force as these exquisite dancers walk then run, lean then leap, lift then fall, roll then rise, turn then hold, shimmer then fly.

The physical stamina required is phenomenal but not for a moment do we sense any struggle. The choreography is woven of exquisite lines and loops, allowing the dancers to embrace every baroque quaver in the light and shade of Vivaldi’s Gloria. It affirms and celebrates life as it is in Heaven, where Deirdre and Douglas now live.

Written by Jennifer Shennan in 2004, for BEST—a New Zealand compendium [AWA Press 2004]; reworked for Raewyn Hill, August 2022

My review from 1993, when Gloria was staged by Sydney Dance Company along with Graeme Murphy’s Protecting Veil, is at this link. See also the tag Douglas Wright for more about Wright’s work as it appears on this website.

Further information about the CO3 staging is available on the company’s website.

  • News from James Batchelor

Short Cuts to Familiar Places, James Batchelor’s latest work, will receive its world premiere in Düsseldorf, Germany, in October. The work investigates the concept of ‘body lineage’ and, in his media release, Batchelor describes it as exploring ‘the idea of the body as a site of inscription, a morphing map or text that is continuously re-drawn and re-written’.

Batchelor has been researching the background for this work for a year or so now and he has given particular focus to the work of his teacher at Canberra’s QL2, Ruth Osborne, and her connections through her own teacher, Margaret Chapple. Chappie, as she was familiarly known, was a student of and dancer with Gertrud Bodenwieser and, after Bodenwieser’s death, directed (with Keith Bain) the Bodenwieser Dance Centre in Sydney. Batchelor has also worked with, and considered the heritage of others with connections to Bodenwieser including Eileen Kramer and Carol Brown.

James Batchelor in a study for Short Cuts to Familiar Places. Photo: © Morgan Hickinbotham

With luck Short Cuts to Familiar Places will eventually be shown in Australia. Stay tuned.

Production credits (from the media release):
CHOREOGRAPHY, PERFORMANCE James Batchelor DRAMATURGY, PRODUCTION Bek Berger COMPOSITION Morgan Hickinbotham PERFORMANCE Chloe Chignell LIGHT DESIGN Vinny Jones COSTUME DESIGN Juliane König CHOREOGRAPHIC CONSULTATION Ruth Osborne, Eileen Kramer, Carol Brown RESEARCH CONSULTATION Michelle Potter

  • The end of an era?

It was something of a shock to learn that the world renown dance magazine Dancing Times will publish its very last issue next month, September 2022. The London-based magazine with an international reach was established in 1910 when its predecessor, a house magazine of the Cavendish Rooms, was bought by founding Dancing Times editor P. J. S. Richardson. Since then it has had other editors with the present holder of the position being Jonathan Gray. Current production editor of the magazine, Simon Turner, writes:

Sadly, since 2020, the tremendous economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the rapid increase in costs over the past year, means that the magazine is no longer financially viable in its current form.

The news has shocked the international dance world of course and we have to hope that the same fate does not occur with Dance Australia, which already has reduced its schedule from a print version every two months to one every three months.

*********************

But on different although related issue, dance reviews and articles in print outlets in Australia (and elsewhere?), especially those by knowledgeable contributors, seem to be slowly disappearing. Another end to an era? I was struck by a recent notification from the Sydney Opera House of an event due to take place in September called ‘How do you solve a problem like the media?’ Despite the clear allusion in the title to a well-known song and by extension to the arts, this event appears to be focusing on politics, with which I have no issues of course. But the opening remark in the advertisement for the occasion, ‘The media has gone through a huge upheaval in recent decades. Now we’re starting to see the effects …’, applies equally to the arts, and to dance in particular, which scarcely ever gets an informed and in depth mention, even in online outlets associated with newspapers.

  • Liz Lea at the Edinburgh Fringe

As mentioned in the July dance diary, Liz Lea’s RED was set to be part of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and RED took the stage from 16-28 August. Read Helen Musa’s review of the Edinburgh show for Canberra City News at this link. And in the light of my comments above re the disappearance of the arts from print outlets, we are lucky in Canberra that City News, which has a weekly print edition as well as an online presence, still sees fit to carry news and reviews about the arts, including dance.

  • Glimpses of Graeme. Another new book

My next book is currently being designed, although a release date is not yet available. Called Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, it consists of a selection of reviews and articles I have written about Murphy and his works. Rather than gathering the pieces together chronologically, as is often the case with such collections, I have arranged them in chapters that reflect themes that I believe characterise Murphy’s oeuvre. More later.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2022

Featured image: The chair Cranko used for rehearsals in Stuttgart. From Ashley Killar’s website regarding his book.