Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in 'Devolution', 2006. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

Devolution. Australian Dance Theatre. ADAPT Season 2020

The first thing I did after watching Garry Stewart’s Devolution (created in 2006) was go to the dictionary to check exactly what ‘devolution’ meant. In its most straight forward meaning, the dictionary (The Macquarie Dictionary is my go-to hard copy source) says ‘the transfer or delegation of power or authority’. But it appears to have a biological meaning, that is ‘degeneration, retrograde evolution’. Both are interesting, or perhaps relevant, with regard to Devolution. Looking on the list of credits, too, Stewart lists Steve Griffiths as ‘Biology Consultant’.

Looking at the work, however, it is impossible not to be instantly overwhelmed by the huge mechanical devices that populate the stage space—robotic structures created by Louis-Philippe Demers. They lurch forward and backward, up and down, and often dominate the choreography (or the choreography for humans that is). Some smaller structures take over the humans somewhat and become prosthetic appendages, although that they need to be attached to a cable hooked up to something backstage limits the dancing possibilities and detracts from the overall image they generate when attached to a dancer.

Tim Ohl in Devolution. Australian Dance Theatre, 2006. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

As for performances by the human dancers, it is in the mode we have come to expect from Stewart. The dancers have no fear (or so it seems) as they throw themselves through the air and fall the the floor, only to get up again and continue their adventurous foray through space. Daring physicality is the hallmark of the dancing. We also see headstands held for a long time, and an incredible solo that is a series of variations while in a backbend. It’s extreme movement to put it mildly.

Costumes by Georg Meyer-Wiel someteimes had the dancers looking like insects given that the material was layered, shell-like and protective, although they also revealed the dancers’ backsides. No protection there.

But what of the connections between people and robots? What of devolution? Who is delegating power to whom? What is the biological process? Are the humans falling into some kind of degenerative state as the robotic structures march forward? I didn’t see Devolution during its premiere season so it was an experience to see it during this streaming season. But it isn’t my favourite piece by Stewart.

The most gentle aspect of Devolution came from video artist Gina Czarnecki with her beautiful images that floated through the space at the beginning and end of the work. They looked initially to me like abstractions of dancers’ limbs, but later they seemed more like the insects that were suggested by the dancers’ costumes. Whatever, they had a calming effect.

I watched Devolution between streamings of Giselle from the Australian Ballet and La Fille mal gardée by the Royal Ballet. Such different ends of the dance spectrum!

Michelle Potter, 13 June 2020

Featured image: Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in Devolution, 2006. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

Libby-Rose Niederer in a moment from her 'Arohanui'

60 dancers: 60 stories. Queensland Ballet. Week 1

Art must prevail

In something of a pioneering move, Queensland Ballet has set up a project called 60 dancers: 60 stories to manage the COVID-19 situation. It is in part a fund raising move and a field requesting donations is present at various stages—and why not? The arts have been badly hit in more ways than one and 60 dancers: 60 stories is Queensland Ballet’s pledge to its dancers and other personnel to keep working as hard as possible to keep everyone employed for as long as possible—’to keep the magic alive’.

But the project also has a strong creative underpinning. In the company’s 60th year, Queensland Ballet has asked its 60 dancers to choreograph and film a short dance work (most are between 2 and 3 minutes) to screen to audiences. Each day in the month of June, two of these creations are being release via the company’s website. Week one has just finished and the variety, in terms of choreography, approach to the theme of love, filming techniques, use of music, pretty much everything, has been astonishing. ‘Art must prevail’ is part of the introductory text. And so it must, and does with this project.

I have truly enjoyed watching every one of the 14 works screened in the first week, although one work really stood out for me—Libby-Rose Niederer’s Arohanui. Niederer is a New Zealander by birth and initial training and joined Queensland Ballet in 2017 as a Jette Parker Young Artist. She is currently a Company Artist. In her introductory text to Arohanui she writes:

Aroha is Maori for ‘love’ and Arohanui loosely translates to ‘big love’ meaning beyond that for a person or community. This word describes how I feel towards nature, especially the wild beauty of my homeland Aotearoa. It reminds me to live life in gratefulness and with amazement for the natural world which brings me love and joy.

Arohanui takes place outdoors (as you might expect from Niederehr’s comments)—in a beautiful fern-filled forest, which you can see in the featured image to this post; on an isolated beach; in the entrance/exit to a large rock-cave; and amazingly on a stony stretch between land and water. Niederer’s performance is magic from the moment we see her unfold her leg to the side while using the trunk of a tree as a barre. Her body just flows along with the Puccini music she has chosen and every step is filled with joy and beauty.

I also enjoyed the camera work in Prelude danced by Lucy Green and Sam Packer to music composed and played by Peter Wilson. There were some lovely camera angles and fade-in/fade-out moments.

Lucy Green and Sam Packer in a moment from Prelude

Then there was a sophisticated piece, Caricias, from Yanela Piñera and Camilo Ramos and a rather jaunty work, En-counter, from Kohei Iwamoto and Isabella Swietlicki. But these are simply my preferences and I take nothing away from the artists of Queensland Ballet who have given so much.

If you log in to the website to watch, don’t miss the quite fascinating item I love to turn, which is inspired by Li Cunxin’s pirouette coaching classes. It begins with a dancer showing a very carefully prepared and executed single pirouette. Then follows a variety of turns, multiple turns, from several dancers finishing with Li demonstrating his ‘Unvingtuple’. But don’t switch off before you have read the concluding credits.

A moment from I love to turn

I’m looking forward to next week’s surprises. The link to ‘60 dancers: 60 stories’ is here.

Michelle Potter, 7 June 2020

Featured image: Libby-Rose Niederer in a moment from Arohanui

Libby-Rose Niederer in a moment from her 'Arohanui'
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