Subject to Change. QL2 Dance

16 May 2024. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

Below is a slightly enlarged version of my review of Subject to Change, which was published on 17 May in Canberra CityNews.

Three separate works made up Subject to Change, the 2024 production by Quantum Leap, the pre-professional youth performance group at Canberra’s QL2 Dance. First up was Kaleidoscope choreographed by Gabrielle Nankivell, then came Alpha Beta from Alisdair Macindoe. Both Nankivell and Macindoe are professional choreographers with extensive experience across Australia and overseas with much to offer young dancers. Voyage was the third work on the program and the final work from current artistic director of QL2 Dance, Ruth Osborne, as she prepares to hand over the directorship to Alice Lee Holland. 

The overarching theme of the evening was the effects of a rapidly evolving world and the need to adapt to changing conditions. Not all works were easily or instantly understood within that theme, but the standard of dancing was exceptional, as was the overall theatricality of the production, especially in terms of the lighting design from Antony Hateley and the film input from Wildbear Digital.

Nankivell’s Kaleidoscope was structured in a series of short sections, each separated by a sudden blackout. It focused on negotiating change and contained what was probably the most complex choreography of the evening. The dancers had to move on and off stage with speed and the work contained a vast array of choreographic patterns, all filled with what was also a vast array of movement. One of the dancers I spoke to used the word ‘wild’ (without in any sense condemning the work) to describe the choreography. The movements were often quite intricate and sometimes unexpected and certainly required an ongoing and strong input from the dancers. It was performed to a score by Luke Smiles and, given the speed and complexity of both music and choreography, the ability of the dancers to give the lively performance that they did was outstanding.

Macindoe’s Alpha Beta, performed to a score by Macindoe himself, was second on the program and looked at concepts of individualism and collectivism. After the fast-moving Kaleidoscope, Alpha Beta seemed, at least initially, quite static with the dancers often standing still or engaging in sharp movements of the arms into positions that they held fixed for a few seconds. While it ended with the dancers engaging in a kind of rave, which was in opposition to the stillness that permeated the early sections, for me Alpha Beta wasn’t quite so engaging as the previous work.

Scene from Alpha Beta in the Quantum Leap program Subject to Change. QL2 Dance, 2024. Photo: © Olivia Wikner

The final work was Osborne’s Voyage, which in true Osborne fashion was clearly structured in terms of a strong and varied use of the stage space and a constantly changing arrangement of groupings of dancers. Performed to music by long-term collaborator with QL2, Adam Ventoura, Voyage examined the experience of change, often in an emotionally moving way. It was probably the most clearly understandable of the three works in terms of giving an insight into the overarching theme. This was most apparent when on a few occasions the dancers came together in a single line across the stage and appeared to be examining their individual responses to change.

Scene from Voyage in the Quantum Leap program Subject to Change. QL2 Dance, 2024. Photo: © Olivia Wikner

Voyage was enhanced by some exceptional film footage created by WildBear Entertainment and used as a kind of backcloth. What made it special was that it had been edited in an engaging manner to be seen not as a series of single frame shots, but sometimes as a collection of two or three different moments of footage placed side by side, or as a series of mirror images of one particular section of footage.

Costumes were by Cate Clelland. also a long-term collaborator with QL2 Dance. As with her previous costumes for Quantum Leap programs, they were simple but effective in design and in the use of colour.

Subject to Change was one of Quantum Leap’s strongest productions and a fitting farewell to Ruth Osborne who has been at the helm of QL2 Dance since the beginning of its existence some 25 years ago. The list of alumni that Osborne has taught and mentored and who have gone on to make a career in dance is quite simply incredible and some of those who danced in Subject to Change are very likely to join the list.

Michelle Potter, 18 May 2024

Featured image: Scene from Kaleidoscope in the Quantum Leap program Subject to Change. QL2 Dance, 2024. Photo: © Olivia Wikner

Études/Circle Electric. The Australian Ballet

15 May 2024 (matinee). Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Études and Circle Electric—it is hard to imagine two more different ballets (or perhaps dance works is a better expression than ballets). But they were the two works that shared the Australian Ballet’s Sydney program in May.

Danish-born Harald Lander choreographed Études in 1948 for the Royal Danish Ballet. It is essentially a non-narrative work (an unusual departure for the Danish company at that time) and is based on the structure of a ballet class. It begins with exercises at the barre and moves on to centre work building up to various, often complex, aspects of a class. There are many moments when we can see the relationship between class work and the art of ballet as it appears onstage. This happens as the choreography develops patterns and groupings of dancers, and also in references to other well-known productions, including the Danish classic, August Bournonville’s La Sylphide.

Circle Electric, on the other hand, is a newly commissioned work from recently appointed resident choreographer for the Australian Ballet, Stephanie Lake. The official synopsis says that the work ‘starts as a microscopic investigation of the intricate and the intimate, ultimately expanding to encompass a telescopic view of humanity.’

Circle Electric opened the program and for a moment it looked promising as two lines of dancers, positioned close together and wearing startling costumes (designer Paula Levis), held their arms to the front with fingers dramatically stretched out, then lifted the arms skywards, heads looking up expectantly.

A moment from the opening scene of Circle Electric. The Australian Ballet 2024. Photo: © Daniel Boud

But suddenly the dancers leaned forwards/downwards and engaged in a weird set of shivers, shakes and odd poses. They reminded me of animals in a zoo to tell the truth. Then they stretched upwards again, and dropped down again. This would not have been so bad had there only been one or two iterations of the up/down construction. But it went on and on and on. It was, admittedly, broken up between repeats with duets from other dancers (costumed quite differently) coming out from the wings but then rushing back before the up/down bit began again. Why repeat so many times? It was just frustrating to see it over and over and over again.

The frustrations continued as the work progressed. The many sections that followed seemed not to relate to each other and, when we got past the ‘intricate and intimate’ bit, crowds of dancers came together as a group of some kind and shouted across the stage to each other. Then they turned on the audience and shouted at us. Why?

Then there was the length of the piece. After a 1:30pm start, interval came at about 2:45pm. That’s 70+ minutes of what seemed like disconnected material. It was just too long and much repeated material could easily have been removed. A 30 minute piece perhaps?

The best part of Circle Electric was the outstanding dancing. The bodies of the highly trained dancers of the Australian Ballet can adapt pretty much to any style and they did adapt beautifully to Lake’s individualistic contemporary style.

After Circle Electric, Études was blessed relief. It has an engrossing beginning with its choreography reflecting exercises at the barre made to look so theatrically engaging with shaded lighting and moments when only feet, or some other sections of the body, are lit up. What follows is equally engrossing as it leads us through more examples of ballet technique put side by side with reflections on what makes it to the stage. It is a technically demanding work and there were times when a few wobbles occurred. But basically it was a thrill to watch. All I want to say is, ‘What a relief!’.

I find it hard to understand how David Hallberg would appoint a resident choreographer whose creative impulses can deliver something like Circle Electric, even more so when looking back at the choreographers who have held the position of resident choreographer over the past decades (going way back to Maina Gielgud’s tenure as director). Dance must move ahead for sure, but 70 minutes of dance that seems composed of sections and sections of movement that appear not to have any overall coherence just doesn’t cut it for me (especially when I paid $215 for my ticket).

Michelle Potter, 17 May 2024

Featured image: Artists of the Australian Ballet in an early moment from Etudes, 2024. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Swan Lake revisited. Royal New Zealand Ballet

Production by Russell Kerr, staged by Turid Revfeim—alternate casts in continuing Wellington season
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

I have been privileged to see the three casts of the Wellington season of Swan Lake, in Russell Kerr’s pedigree production (and note there is also a fourth cast, though not performing in the capital). It’s impressive that a relatively small ballet company can field that number of Principals since ours is half or a quarter the size of major world companies who would stage a Swan Lake.

We might also score as the world’s most widely nationally touring company. That dates back to 1950s when Poul Gnatt took ballet to 156 towns throughout the country each year. In part the geography of Aotearoa New Zealand allowed that, provided you could find the stamina, but it was also Gnatt’s intent to take ballet to the people, to the farming community, to schools, to local towns where billets were forthcoming and the provision of suppers became a thing of some local competition—in contrast with his own homeland where people had to travel to Copenhagen to see their national company. Gnatt’s vision seems to have worked since sell-out shows of Swan Lake around the country are still happening, and the zeitgeist of the Company today is causally connected to those beginnings.

I said in my review of this production’s opening night that the corps de ballet of swans are making a particularly beautiful line-up, and that is impressive since most of them would not have danced Swan Lake before. Also noteworthy is that none of the Odette/Odile-Siegfried casts has ever danced these full-length roles before either. And what’s more you can spy last night’s Swan Queen in the line-up of Princesses dancing at court tonight, and here amongst the corps de ballet tonight, as a fragile and beautiful but anonymous swan, is tomorrow’s Odette/Odile. Perhaps it is the freshness of so many premiere performances that is contributing to the rich and committed quality of this production. That, and the staging by Turid Revfeim.

Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Joshusa Guillemot-Rodgerson with corps de ballet and von Rothbart in Swan Lake. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2024. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Kate Kadow as the Swan Queen uses her statuesque physique to real effect and gives a striking performance particularly as Odile. Her Siegfried, Branden Rainers, is a strong and secure partner.

Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson make another fine pairing in the title roles, again spectacular in the Odile-Siegfried liaison. The solo of the melancholy prince alone on stage between acts is a poignant and beautiful performance I will long remember.

Ana Gallardo Lobaina as Odile and Joshusa Guillemot-Rodgerson as Siegfried in Swan Lake, Act III. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2024. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

It is quite a moment when after the matinee performance Ty King-Wall, the Company’s artistic director, takes the stage to announce that both Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson are being promoted to the rank of Principal.

A ballet stage is usually full of beautiful things many, many times rehearsed and then impeccably delivered. Improvisation and spontaneity are not normally on offer, so it is quite wonderful to watch Gallardo Lobaina overwhelmed at the surprise announcement. ‘Is she laughing or crying’ is the 4 year old’s urgent whisper beside me in the dark. The answer is ‘yes’ since she is a quivering, laughing, crying dancer who hasn’t rehearsed this bit, but eventually, after several minutes, finds a fist punch to say ‘OK. Yes. I accept.’

The Jester in that cast, Dane Head, is a truly mischievous character with impeccable timing throughout (echoes of a Mercutio or a Harlequin in some other ballet). Von Rothbart, here played by Zacharie Dun, also has the week’s edge of that role in his scheming duplicity and evil intent (reminding me of the Devil in Denis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle, that tour de force of the theatre). Paul Mathews, returning from retirement to play the somewhat bumbling old Tutor Wolfgang, of course wears the same costume by Kristian Fredrikson as did the late Jon Trimmer who created the role, and we welcome the reminder of that.

Russell Kerr’s catch-cry was always ‘There’s no such thing as a small part’ and that would explain why every performer in his productions makes the stage their own. The Spanish, Hungarian and Italian entertainers at court, in von Rothbart’s thrall, are delivered with exceptional panache. Catarina Estevez-Collins has a stand-out quality, but it’s always Kirby Selchow who steals my eye. She is the character who acts before she dances, whereas in ballet is mostly the other way round. Calum Gray continues to impress, and he will likely be a Siegfried in years to come.

Katherine Minor, the ‘fourth’ Odette/Odile (with Kihiro Kusukami as Siegfried) is the cast I didn’t see. Minor is in the corps of swans each night in Wellington, they are all immaculate and identical but there’s an aura of Olga Spessivtseva about Minor that uncannily marks her out from the rest (and what’s more she is a dead ringer lookalike of former Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer, Fiona Tonkin— now there’s New Zealand ballet history for you).

We have already seen Minor as Odile in a recent Tutus on Tour program so we know she can do it, but it’s always the matter of how evenly and convincingly Odette and Odile will play off the double sides of that single role that takes us back to the next performance. In this season and by my reading, it is Mayu Tanigaito who plays both aspects equally and deeply, right from the get-go—the subtle and anguished Odette, equally with the sparklingly duplicit Odile (possibly the somewhat ‘easier’ role to smash out? Who knows? Ask the dancers). Tanigaito appears as each of these persona before she even starts dancing. How that mystery, that alchemy works is another reason we go back to the ballet. So sadly, I’ll just have to imagine how Minor is playing out her double character in the role of a lifetime.

Of course, what Swan Lake is ‘really about’ is the emotional stamina required to continue living when your beloved partner has had to leave—in other words, it’s an essay on grief, how to live with the memory of someone after von Rothbart has stolen her away. That’s ‘really’ why we go to back to see Swan Lake, and why Russell Kerr’s quiet mastering of the layered and ambiguous ending is so very consoling, so very finely wrought.

Jennifer Shennan, 12 May 2024

Featured image: Kate Kadow as Odile with Branden Reiners as Siegfried in Swan Lake Act III. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2024. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

60th Anniversary Showcase. The Australian Ballet School

12 May 2024. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opéra House

The Australian Ballet School’s 60th Anniversary Showcase began with a spectacular work, Grand Défilé, choreographed by Paul Knobloch to excerpts from Alexander Glazunov’s Scènes de ballet Opus 52. I was expecting an interesting display of dancers at various stages of their training moving on and off stage, culminating in a presentation of the senior, graduating students, similar to what we have become used to seeing from schools (and companies) across the world. But I was not prepared for the absolutely spectacular staging that came from the Australian Ballet School. Knobloch’s choreography was thrilling to watch—fast moving with a great use of space (even on the much maligned stage of the Sydney Opera House), and filled with movingly beautiful patterns and groupings of dancers. Besides that, the dancers did themselves and their teachers proud as they carried out the choreography with great skill and a passion that coursed, from beginning to end, through every inch of their bodies. The media image gives no idea of what the real life event was like. What an opening!

Grand Défilé was followed by the grand pas de deux from Le Corsaire performed by guest artists (and Australian Ballet School alumni) Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo. Both Kondo and Guo performed pretty much faultlessly in a technical sense, with Guo carrying out his incredible jumps, turns and manèges and Kondo displaying her beautiful balance and fluid limbs and upper body. But they had a hard act to follow and somehow their performance lacked the strong characterisation that they usually display.

Then followed Camino Flamenco choreographed by Areti Boyaci, teacher of the Spanish dance program at the Australian Ballet School. It was danced by Level 8 dancers from the School to a score by flamenco guitarist Werner Neumann playing live onstage. They were joined at one point by guest artists (and alumni) Hugo Dumapit, Nathan Brook and Jake Mangakahia. Boyaci herself also made a brief appearance. The costumes, including the gorgeous scarves manipulated by the women, were an exceptional addition to this work but I would have loved a little more theatricality to have been visible in the dancing.

From the printed program: Rehearsal for Camino Flamenco. The Australian Ballet School, 2024. Photo: © Frederick Mutswagiwa


Closing the first half of the evening’s program was Paul Knobloch’s Degas Dances in which a young boy (Ruito Takabatake) finds inspiration in a Degas sculpture that comes to life. The work also includes roles for a cross section of students, including a bevy of children who are not always behaving as expected and whom an art teacher (India Shackel) tries to keep under control. It is astonishing too to see the stillness that the dancer (Lilly Keith), who plays the Degas sculpture, is able to maintain as she stands on her pedestal until she is brought to life. But the work is crowded with action and people and I would love to see it stripped back a little.

After interval, the program featured Four Seasons, a work commissioned by Lisa Pavane, outgoing director of the Australian Ballet School, in honour of the School’s 60 years of existence, and in celebration of its future. It was danced to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and each section was choreographed by a graduate of the School, with each having trained under one of the four (to date) directors. Spring was choreographed by Kevin Jackson, who trained under Gailene Stock; Summer by Lucas Jervies, who trained under Marilyn Rowe; Autumn by Serena Graham, who trained under Lisa Pavane; and Winter by Graeme Murphy, who trained under Dame Margaret Scott.

I especially enjoyed Autumn and Winter. Serena Graham’s choreography for Autumn reminded me at times of Balanchine and the way he connected people in a work. Graham had her dancers linking hands with others and then changing a pairing by unlinking and linking up with someone else. She used space carefully and thoughtfully and her groupings of dancers were sometimes unusually positioned in the space. 

But it was Winter that attracted my attention most strongly. It closed the program with an excitement that had characterised the opening, if in a quite different way. Here was Graeme Murphy making us wonder what would happen next. Seven dancers, clad in white and silver unitards, were often wrapped (or hidden) in white cloaks, which looked a bit like doonas. Were they spirits of coldness, or people keeping themselves warm? And who was that eighth figure, mysteriously cloaked and hooded in white? There were surprise moments, such as when one of the dancers became a skater in red boots, and it was then that the ‘doonas’ were discarded and the dancing warmed up. It was recognisably Murphy creating the choreography. His propensity to line bodies up in curving, undulating lines was there, as were his lifts that continued on as bodies were carried around the stage. But most of all it was the narrative of cold that we (or I) could imagine that characterised this Winter. Then at the last minute the mysterious, hooded figure revealed himself. It was esteemed ‘older artist’ Simon Dow who linked the Winter work to the ‘older’ period of the School. Many other thoughts emerged while watching Winter and that’s what I have always loved about Murphy’s work. It always opens our imagination.

There was some beautiful lighting at various stages during the evening especially from Damien Cooper throughout Four Seasons. There was also a large crowd of supporters who cheered, clapped and stamped their feet unreservedly. And rightly so. The evening was a triumph.

Michelle Potter, 13 May 2024

Featured image: Media image for Grand Défilé

Liminal. New Zealand School of Dance

3rd Year Contemporary Dance students choreographic season
10 May 2024. Te Whaea Theatre, Wellington
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

We are seated in the round which proves the right choice for this attractive program, and effective use is made of the four aisles that serve as overflow performance space, or entrances and exits to and from the central area. There is stylish costuming in shades of white, designed in an impressive collaboration with student colleagues in the Design course at Te Whaea.

Liminal comprises eight works individually choreographed but linked into a continuous sequence that moves forward but also allows echoes back to images in earlier sections. This pleasing continuity is partly due to the same costumes being worn throughout—smart upstanding collars, a layer added here or removed there, masks worn (though a pity perhaps that the golden rule never to actually touch a mask while it’s being worn onstage, since that immediately destroys illusion, is not followed).

In the dances there are themes of friendship and camaraderie, with a good opener, In The Making, by Anna Hosking, followed by Please Let Me Remain with thoughts on sisterhood by Aylin Atalay (with music by Sibel Atalay, presumably a sibling?).

Natural? by Lila Brackley takes on themes of unease and uncertainty, with masks involved. Primo by Sophie Sheaf-Morrison invokes the atmosphere of an airport with people coming and going in chaotic haste.

Anya Down continues with an urgency of atmosphere in Hardly Working. A/Effect by Audrey Stuck leads into Accidental Renaissance by Aleeya McFadyen-Rew, with stronger bouts of competition growing out of play.

In the closing piece by Trinity Maydon, Worn Shoe, determined strides are taken by all the dancers in all directions, wave after wave of walking patterns that build to a committed cadence of the program.

These dancers are clean and clear movers, with open and varied facial expressions so we feel we meet them all in turn as they move through the light. Although there are no specific references to the time and places of life in Aotearoa New Zealand, the performance is impeccably prepared and each piece segues easily into the next. Overall the effect is gained of a group of friends, enjoying each others’ company, playing then competing, aware of possible danger but in the end uniting as a single supportive group. Holly Newsome as choreographic mentor has made a flowing and attractive sequence of the students’ work, with welcome collaboration with Design department.

One wonders if there could be further collaboration with the Classical Dance stream at the same school, since Ballet too needs to encourage new choreography. These emerging dance -makers are earning their school’s motto—Kia kōrero te katoa o te tinana. Make the whole body do the talking.

Jennifer Shennan, 12 May 2024

Featured image: Aleeya McFadyen-Rew and Sophie Sheaf-Morrison in In the Making. New Zealand School of Dance Choreographic Season, 2024. Photo: © Stephen A’Court