Dance diary. January 2023

  • New choreography about women writers

The featured image for this post shows dancers of the Royal New Zealand Ballet in rehearsal for a new work from Loughlan Prior, Woman of Words, which will have its premiere at the Wanaka Festival of Colour with two performances on 27 March 2023. Woman of Words focuses on the career of New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, and in a recent newsletter Prior writes:

Mansfield played a central role in modern literature by experimenting with style, subject matter and theme, with the analysis of anxiety, sexuality and existentialism embroiled within her writing. In remining true to her brilliant and singular voice, she created a body of work that redefined the genre.

Katherine’s intense, captivating and all too short a life is brought to the stage using integrated text and sound design in collaboration with award winning editor Matthew Lambourn. Beginning with her early years growing up in Wellington, to the height of London bohemia and the Bloomsbury group, to her death at the age of thirty-four, Woman of Words celebrates Katherine’s winding journey and her passion for creativity, love and life.

See this link for more about Loughlan Prior. And if Prior’s recent works are anything to go by, Woman of Words will be a courageous production.

But to my surprise (and pleasure), I was reminded that another choreographer is looking at a woman writer as the subject of a new dance work, this time for Queensland Ballet. British-born Cathy Marston is preparing a one act ballet that focuses on the work of Australian writer Miles Franklin (full name Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin). It will premiere in Brisbane on 16 June as part of a triple bill season named Trilogy. Marston has been called a ‘narrative ballet choreographer’ so it will be interesting to see how the narrative unfolds in My Brilliant Career. But two women writers as subject matter within the space of just a few months has to be somewhat remarkable! 

Publicity image for Cathy Marston’s new work, My Brilliant Career.

For more about Cathy Marston and the development of My Brilliant Career, see this link from Queensland Ballet. Another link will take you to an interview with set and costume designer for My Brilliant Career, David Fleischer.

  • Russell Kerr Lecture 2023

From my colleague Jennifer Shennan, here is the news about the next Russell Kerr Lecture.

The fifth Russell Kerr Lecture in Ballet & Related Arts will focus on Patricia Rianne, New Zealand dancer, choreographer and teacher with an extended career both here and abroad. She was a member of New Zealand Ballet, Ballet de l’Opéra de Marseilles, Ballet Rambert (in its new guise after Norman Morrice took over the directorship from Marie Rambert), Scottish Ballet, and was memorably partnered by Rudolf Nureyev, Peter Schaufuss, Ivan Nagy and Jon Trimmer. Trisha staged classic productions and choreographed for RNZ Ballet, also in China and Hong Kong, and taught at NZSchool of Dance and London School of Contemporary Dance. Her choreography for RNZB, Bliss, inspired by the story by Katherine Mansfield, will also feature within the lecture.

Sunday 4.00—6.00pm, 26 February 2023
The Long Hall, Roseneath, Wellington.
email jennifershennan@xtra.co.nz for registration

Patricia Rianne as the Dowager Princess in Swan Lake. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1985.

  • News from James Batchelor

It is always interesting to hear James Batchelor’s latest news as he traverses the world making work. In 2023, however, in addition to being in Europe on several occasions, he has a number of engagements in Australia, especially in Canberra and Melbourne. He lists the following as ‘upcoming in 2023’:

  1. Performances of Deepspace and Hyperspace in Europe soon to be announced.
  2. Performances of Shortcuts to Familiar Places in Ngunnawal Country/Canberra and Naarm/Melbourne. 
  3. Long-form workshop and creation for Canberra Dance Theatre.
  4. New creation with students from the Victorian College of the Arts.
  5. Residencies in Turin, Potsdam and Nîmes for research and development of collaboration Echo Field with Arad Inbar and Leeza Pritychenko.
  6. New creation with Norrdans in Sweden.

Below is a brief trailer for Shortcuts to Familiar Places, a work in which Batchelor explores a movement lineage through his childhood dance teacher Ruth Osborne to the modern dance pioneer Gertrud Bodenwieser. 

  • Talking to Shaun Parker

Just recently I had the pleasure of talking to Shaun Parker about his return season of KING to take place at the Seymour Centre from 24 February to 4 March as part of Sydney WorldPride. I am planning to include a longer website post ‘Talking to Shaun Parker’ in February.

  • Dance Australia e-news

Some readers may be interested in this link.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2023

Featured image: Dancers of Royal New Zealand Ballet in rehearsal for Woman of Words. Photo: © Jeremy Brick

Kairos. Meryl Tankard

20 January 2023. Carriageworks, Eveleigh. Sydney Festival

In 2012 I self-published a biography of Meryl Tankard, which for better or worse I entitled Meryl Tankard. An original voice. Well rarely has that ‘original voice’ been so noticeable as it was in Tankard’s latest work, Kairos. The word ‘kairos’ means (in Greek) ‘the right or opportune moment for doing, a moment that cannot be scheduled’ and media information tells us that Tankard’s Kairos was a response to the uncertain and challenging times in which we live, and especially the circumstances in which the work was made. ‘The right and opportune moment is now’, we were told.

The work was really a collection of solos for each of the six dancers Tankard worked with to create Kairos: Lillian Fearn, Cloé Fournier, Taiga Kita-Leong, Jasmin Luna, Julie Anne Minaai and Thuba Ndibali. A young girl, Izabelle Kharaman, joined the group on two brief occasions. As is her usual practice, Tankard acknowledged the dancers as collaborators, although it is hard to know just how much of each solo was from the dancers and how much from Tankard. Each dancer had a very distinctive way of moving so there was no strong choreographic through-line, although there were moments when Tankard-esque features surfaced. The frequent tossing of her long hair by Lillian Fearn, especially towards the end of the work, was one such feature. But only rarely did the dancers work as a group.

(l-r) Lillian Fearn, Cloé Fournier, Thuba Ndibali, Julie Ann Minaai in Kairos, 2023. Photo: Régis Lansac

I especially enjoyed Thuba Ndibali’s movement, especially the way he used his long, loose limbs, although not so entertaining was his duet (of sorts) with Taiga Kita-Leong when Ndibali treated Kita-Leong as a kind of dog (slave?). I also admired Fearn whose elegance and strength of presence was mesmerising. But each performer seemed involved in his or her own activities and thoughts so there seemed to be no narrative through-line. In the end I gave up trying to decide what each moment meant. They could have meant anything according to how one was feeling or thinking at the time.

One or two moments were annoying, to me anyway. But then perhaps that was part of the whole. Not everything makes us happy, not in troubling times, not ever really. I wondered why, for example, at one stage the dancers appeared with boxes over their heads with the boxes having pictures/photos(?) on the front of the box. They were meant to refer to a period in the life of Australian artist Sidney Nolan when he was creating portraits using a particular medium that Tankard and her creative team found unusually interesting. But for me the parading with the boxes was pretty much meaningless and perhaps even insensitive to Nolan’s practice.

Another moment that was frustrating was when Cloé Fournier stood on a stool and recited in French a poem by Arthur Rimbaud, Le dormeur du val (The Sleeper in the Valley). The French is not difficult to understand but I could not hear every word being spoken. There was a lot of ambient sound and Fournier’s projection was not always strong enough to overcome other noises. This was a shame because the poem is fascinating for the way it presents the image of a soldier apparently asleep but actually dead, having been shot. Here was one moment when at least one idea stood out—appearances can be deceptive—but we missed it by not hearing the full version of the poem.

Looking more positively, however, visually and musically Kairos was completely absorbing. Régis Lansac’s video design and photography were brilliant. I was especially taken with some early moments in the work when the backcloth of scrims had changing images of a bush landscape projected on it. Mysterious figures hovered in the background, and bird sounds and other bush noises filled the air. Such atmosphere! The lighting by Verity Hampson was also outstanding. The accompanying and inspiring score was by Elena Kats-Chernin, who performed live on a grand piano that was situated mostly in a downstage corner, but that was pushed by the performers into a centre stage position towards the end of the work.

Tankard’s original voice was certainly there on show in Kairos. It was especially obvious in her powerful aesthetic of collaboration, but not always in the positive manner that I remember from her works made in Canberra and Adelaide. There was much that was puzzling about Kairos, largely because of a lack of easily understood themes and from choreography that seemed messy in its diversity, even though it was mostly performed skilfully. As a result, I thought that for the audience a certain negativity permeated the work. Kairos reminded me of an article by Helen Shaw, which appeared recently in The New Yorker entitled New York’s Theatre Festivals Imagine a World After Mankind. In it Shaw examines ‘visions of the future’ and finds that in several shows she has seen recently she has been somewhat dismayed to notice in the performances a delight in, and savouring of the disappearance of the world as we have known it. Dance doesn’t have to be like that, although it seems more and more as if that is the way it is going.

Michelle Potter, 22 January 2023

Featured image: Lillian Fearn in Meryl Tankard’s Kairos. Photo: Régis Lansac

David McAllister, 2019. Photo: Georges Antoni

David McAllister: ‘an exciting retirement opportunity’

‘Once a dancer, always a dancer’ is a phrase that springs to mind when looking at how David McAllister is managing retirement after serving for two decades as artistic director of the Australian Ballet. Since leaving that directorship role at the end of 2020, McAllister has published Soar, his autobiography; created a new Swan Lake for the Finnish National Ballet; been honoured with various awards; and taught for many organisations and dance schools across Australia (amongst a variety of other activities).

But the most recent news is perhaps the most interesting of all his recent engagements. In a commission that he has described as ‘an exciting retirement opportunity’, he will act as interim artistic director for the Wellington-based Royal New Zealand Ballet until a replacement is chosen to take over from Patricia Barker, who has announced her retirement. McAllister will take up the role early in March. Barker will return to the United States following the regional tour, Tutus on Tour, which concludes on 12 March.

Barker’s retirement comes at a significant point in RNZB’s history. The year 2023 is the 70th anniversary of the company’s foundation in 1953 by Poul Gnatt. Over those 70 years, and looking at the book The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60 (edited by Jennifer Shennan and Anne Rowse), it is clear that the company has appointed directors from around the world. But was the last New Zealander to hold the post really Bryan Ashbridge in 1971? One wonders if, in celebration of the company’s stellar history, it is an appropriate time to appoint once more a New Zealander as director? Time will tell and, in the meantime, I’m sure McAllister will do a terrific job and will be admired by all involved. Interesting times for dance in New Zealand.

Michelle Potter, 10 January 2023

Featured image: David McAllister, 2019. Photo: © Georges Antoni

David McAllister, 2019. Photo: Georges Antoni

Dance diary. December 2022

At the end of December it is always interesting to look back on statistics for the year. During 2022, Jennifer Shennan and I have posted 58 items on the website (just over one per week) and we have received around 46,000 visits over that period. Melbourne tops the list of cities from which our readers have come, but the website attracts visitors from around the world, especially (apart from Australia and New Zealand) from the United States and the United Kingdom. May our statistics continue to improve over the year to come and I wish all our friends and colleagues a happy new year. May 2023 be filled with dance, in whatever form that may currently be for you.


In the meantime, below are some news items that emerged during December 2022.

  • Joseph Romancewicz

In a recent ‘Behind Ballet’ post, the Australian Ballet has explained why I have not seen Joseph Romancewicz onstage for some time. I have admired his dancing, and his strong stage presence, since 2018 when I thoroughly enjoyed his performance in a small role in a production of The Merry Widow, but had been a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen him recently. Well an injury in 2021 has kept him out of performances but it seems, with the help of the Australian Ballet’s health team and some surgery, he has recovered. He was an excellent Tybalt in the recent production of Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet and I look forward to seeing him again in 2023.

Joseph Romancewicz (right) as Tybalt with Jarryd Madden in Romeo and Juliet. The Australian Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud

  • Melanie Lane

Melanie Lane, whose recent work in Canberra was Metal Park for QL2 Dance’s annual Quantum Leap show, has been named Choreographer in Residence 2023-2024 by Melbourne’s Chunky Move. The Choreographer in Residence initiative will invest $120,000 in Lane’s practice over the two years including a direct contribution of $50,000 in artist fees and $70,000 towards the commission of a major work in the second year of the tenure.

Melanie Lane rehearsing Quantum Leap dancers for Metal Park, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Lane has previously been commissioned by Sydney Dance Company, where she showed her unforgettable work WOOF, and by Australasian Dance Collective, Dance North, Chunky Move, Schauspiel Leipzig and West Australian Ballet. She was the recipient of the 2018 Keir choreographic award and the 2017 Leipziger Bewegungskunstpreis in Germany.

I interviewed Lane earlier this year while she was preparing Metal Park. See this link for what I wrote as a result of the interview. I am very much looking forward too to seeing what eventuates from Lane’s work with Chunky Move.

  • La Nijinska. A new book by Lynn Garafola

How little I knew about Bronislava Nijinska before reading Lynn Garafola’s latest, intensively researched book La Nijinska. It is a very dense book but, from the countless research elements, stories and anecdotes, one or two stand out for me, largely for personal reasons. I was interested to read about the genesis of Les Noces for example: it has a whole chapter to itself. It reminded me of a performance in Canberra way back in 1982 when Don Asker, then directing the city’s resident dance company, Human Veins Dance Theatre, choreographed a version of Les Noces for a Stravinsky Festival. Asker collaborated with the Canberra School of Music and, perhaps ‘for the first time ever’, so the media reported, had the music performed as Stravinsky envisaged it. The orchestra, including four grand pianos, soloists and chorus, shared the stage with the dancers. It was a monumental undertaking and one not to be forgotten.

Perhaps the most interesting snippet for me, however, was a brief discussion of Nijinska as a potential director of a second Ballets Russes company for Colonel de Basil, one that would eventually head to Australia. The story goes:

Now, in the summer of 1936, rumours circulated about the likelihood of de Basil forming a second company that would tour Australia, while the main company danced in Germany and the United States. Thomas Armour … wrote to a friend on April 22, “I have been told de Basil really plans this year to have two companies and that Nijinska will be in charge of the second.” (Lynn Garafola, La Nijinska. New York, Oxford University Press, 2022, p. 359).

Well it didn’t happen that Nijinska came to Australia in that role. It was Leon Woizikowsky who headed that 1936 visit to Australia. One must wonder however how different ballet in Australia might have been had it happened!

  • The Dying Swan

As we begin a new year, enjoy a beautiful performance of The Dying Swan danced by Nina Ananiashvili. It comes from the Jacob’s Pillow playlist, an amazing source of dance on film from works performed over the years at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts. Watch Ananiashvili here.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2022

Featured image: A private lesson. Photo: © Tim Potter

The best of … 2022

In 2022 I managed to see more live performances than I did in 2021. I was even able to get to New Zealand to see Loughlan Prior’s Cinderella. There were still a number of online offerings to add to the year’s viewing of course, and online watching has become part of my life I think.

As I did in 2021, I have chosen just five performances as my highlights for 2022, and the pluses and minuses experienced in 2021 were pretty much the same in 2022: difficulties resulting from choosing such a small number, but the advantage of having to focus strongly on what defines for me an outstanding work.

Below are my ‘top five’ productions for 2022, arranged chronologically according to the date of performance. I have included a link to my review in each case and have simply included in this post the main reason why I chose each work. All posts refer to live performances.

LESS (Canberra. Australian Dance Party, March)

LESS was a brilliant collaborative endeavour, and an outstanding site-specific work, the ongoing focus of Australian Dance Party.
Here is the link to the review.

(As a Canberra-based writer I also chose LESS as my highlight for 2022 for Dance Australia and my comments should appear in that magazine soon).

Kunstkamer (Sydney. The Australian Ballet, May)

Kunstkamer was an outstanding work that showed the Australian Ballet and its dancers in a totally new light.
Here is the link to the review.

Li’s Choice (Brisbane. Queensland Ballet, June)

Li’s choice showed the exceptional diversity of Queensland Ballet’s dancers and the equally exceptional directorship of Li Cunxin and his support staff.
Here is the link to the review.

Vito Bernasconi and Lina Kim in We who are left from the triple bill Li’s Choice. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

Galileo (Parramatta. Sydney Choreographic Ensemble, June)

Francesco Ventriglia skilfully demonstrated how choreography can convey a huge range of ideas and while doing so make a totally absorbing and focused work.
Here is the link to the review.

Veronika Maritati and Zachary Healey in a scene from Galileo. Sydney Choreographic Ensemble, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Asher Smith

Cinderella (Auckland. Royal New Zealand Ballet, August)

Loughlan Prior gave his Cinderella a setting and storyline that was a courageous and totally unexpected look at a well-worn story,
Here is the link to the review, and another link to an interview with Loughlan Prior in which he talks about Cinderella.

Laurynas Vejalis as the Royal Messenger and Clytie Campbell as the Queen in Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Michelle Potter, 30 December 2022

Featured image: Dancers of Australian Dance Party in LESS, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim