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.

Talking to Loughlan Prior

While in New Zealand to see Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Cinderella, I had the pleasure of engaging in an extended conversation with choreographer Loughlan Prior. Not unexpectedly, much of the conversation focused on his production of Cinderella, a production dense with allusions of various kinds.

One aspect of the production that intrigued me was the references to Swan Lake that were noticeable during the show. The first was not enormously obvious, but perfectly clear to anyone who had seen Swan Lake multiple times. It happened quite early in the first act when the image of a bird flew across the digital backdrop. Prince Charming, who was somewhat frustrated by his domineering mother, the Queen, gathered up his hunting gear and set off, clearly with the intention of shooting the bird. Shades of Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake as he sets off after his birthday celebrations to shoot swans! But Prior’s Cinderella changes the story when the Queen, in an act that demonstrated her overbearing behaviour, shot the bird first. I learnt later that the bird was a magpie and, to emphasise the Queen’s reaction and her overbearing behaviour, a black and white magpie decoration was layered onto the dress she wore to the ball in Act II.

Laurynas Véjalis as the Royal Messenger and Clytie Campbell as the Queen wearing her magpie decorated dress in Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

A much more obvious reference to Swan Lake appeared in the second act of Prior’s Cinderella, when guests at the ball were dancing and generally cavorting.

The Step-Sisters at the ball in Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

The two Step-Sisters, whose behaviour became more and more outrageous as the night wore on (swinging from chandeliers for example), linked arms and performed steps in a manner that was instantly recognisable. If the arms and movements weren’t recognisable to some then the music (performed in this production by a brass band) certainly would have been. Those Step-Sisters were dancing (or trying to dance) the so-well-known Dance of the Little Swans from Swan Lake. Why I wondered?

Prior tells me he had Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake in his mind and also Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in which Wheeldon had the Queen of Hearts parody the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. But he also added that the Little Swans in this case also referred back to the Stepmother who, he said, was ‘an ultra stage-mum’ who had had her daughters taught a fabulous dance that they were not capable of doing properly.

‘This show is quite irreverent,’ Prior explains. ‘It pokes fun at various things.’ He also uses the words ‘eclecticism’, ‘flamboyant’, ‘many cultural references’ and ‘set in a world of excess’. As I wrote in my review, one viewing is definitely not enough to absorb everything about this multi-faceted production.

Prior also spoke of his admiration for and ongoing collaboration with Claire Cowan, composer of the score for Cinderella. ‘Claire is not afraid to use unusual instruments,’ he says. ‘She loves percussion, and there are also four recorders in the orchestra [for Cinderella] giving a medieval feel at times.’ With Cowan he has also established a company called Lo Co Arts and the first full-length work from Lo Co Arts will premiere at New Zealand’s next Tempo Festival.

Prior, now a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand, plans to work across Australasia (and beyond). To date his major works have been in New Zealand but he is quite clear that he has to be able to work elsewhere as well. ‘It’s crucial for me to be working around Australasia,’ he says. ‘There’s not enough work to be choreographing full-time if I’m just in New Zealand.’ But, going back to Cinderella, he remarks, ‘My real passion is in storytelling. I’m really pleased with what the company has let me do. They trusted me to follow a particular journey.’

Loughlan Prior’s journey is one to follow I suggest. See my review of Cinderella at this link.

Michelle Potter, 20 August 2022

Featured image: Loughlan Prior rehearsing Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson and Shae Berney for Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet

10 August 2022. Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Auckland

Choreographer Loughlan Prior was born and educated in Australia before moving to New Zealand for further dance training. He is now a dual citizen of those countries and his latest work for Royal New Zealand Ballet, where he has been choreographer in residence since 2018, is a production of Cinderella. But it is Cinderella in a whole new guise.

Many of the basics of the storyline we know from traditional productions of Cinderella, even from a few more up-to-date productions, are still there. Cinderella is still subject to bullying and other poor behaviour from the two Step-Sisters and is pushed into compliance by the Stepmother. She still goes to the ball aided by a Fairy Godmother, and the shoe (a pointe shoe as it happens) that is left behind after the ball finds its way to her home (and fits, of course).

Ana Gallardo Lobaina as the Stepmother and Mayu Tanigaito as Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

But Prior has looked beyond and beneath the well-worn narrative and has created a ballet that investigates the notion of having the courage to follow one’s dreams and desires in whatever form they may take. Cinderella (Mayu Tanigaito) doesn’t marry Prince Charming (Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson). He has found love elsewhere with another Prince, Prince Dashing (Shae Berney) from a neighbouring kingdom. The question of sexual orientation is probably the major change Prior has made to the storyline. As for Cinderella, she finds her happiness with the Royal Messenger (Laurynas Véjalis), whom she first meets when he comes to her home with invitations to the ball.

Prior’s Cinderella moves the audience well into the present day, and not simply with the focus on sexual orientation. There are moments when present day fashions for living and entertainment are introduced. In a scene where Cinderella chooses a ball gown we meet the Fab Five, five outrageously garbed gentlemen who act, in a way, as influencers. But perhaps the move to the present is nowhere more apparent than in the final scene at the ball where by the end of the evening alcohol and drugs have been consumed to the extent that some, the Step-Sisters (Sara Garbowski and Kirby Selchow) for example, are somewhat the worse for wear.

The Fab Five with Kate Kadow as the Fairy Godmother. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

And yet there are times too when Prior asks us to look to the past. Before the ballet begins the stage space (with curtain raised) is occupied by a large structure representing a tapestry weaving machine. There three adult dancers and eight or so young children (child labour?) are busy at the machine. We are reminded that in times past stories were told on large tapestries that filled the walls of stately homes. ‘Cinderella’ is the the word being woven and we see this as the house lights go down and the ballet begins.

Prior’s choreography for this ballet covers a range of styles from classical (or perhaps neo-classical is more appropriate) to the crazed disco-style movement that we see in the final ‘Happily ever after’ scene. Highly memorable were the four duets between Cinderella and the Royal Messenger, which grew in intensity as their relationship blossomed. Similarly the duets between Prince Charming and Prince Dashing showed, in choreographic terms, an equality between the two men. Each had moments of partnering and being partnered.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson as Prince Charming and Shae Berney as Prince Dashing. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

One of the great strengths of the work was the way in which Prior has developed the various characters so strongly, and how, as a result, the way the dancers rise to the occasion with extraordinarily believable performances. Véjalis stood out for me as the Royal Messenger. He held his body proudly and there was just a subtle lift of the chin and a lilt in his walk that gave him a charm that was somehow quite seductive. No wonder Cinderella fell for him. I also enjoyed the performance by Paul Mathews as Cinderella’s father. The role of the father is often not well-developed in productions of Cinderella but here we understood his plight and rejoiced when Cinderella came to his rescue and allowed him the freedom to be a well and happy man once more. Ana Gallardo Lobaina was a vindictive Stepmother and her performance drew out a spiteful, hateful nature.

I enjoyed the full-of-fun scene when Cinderella chose the dress that she was to wear to the ball and the final moments when she was lifted off the floor and rose into the space above wearing the magnificent, Spanish-style, golden gown of Emma Kingsbury’s design. Kingsbury’s design was an absolute highlight throughout and was as diverse as Prior’s choreography and character development.

But perhaps the most moving scene was that when Cinderella and Prince Charming were alone on stage, each dancing separately and each recalling the lives into which they had been drawn and from which they longed to escape. It was not only beautifully and movingly danced but was lit by Jeremy Fern so that the two dancers were seen as separate people but, as we could see from the projections that appeared in the background, with similar problems that they needed to overcome.

The score for this Cinderella was commissioned from Claire Cowan, who has worked before with Prior and with whom he shares a strong collaborative aesthetic. It too was diverse in musical styles and influences. It had a strong percussion component and a lot of brass, but at times looked back to medieval sounds, Baroque court dances and a host of other new and old musical allusions.

Prior calls this work ‘maximalist’ and it certainly wasn’t minimalist, not choreographically, not musically, not thematically, not in design which included some great visual effects from POW Studios, not in any way. I found some parts of the work, especially the way the Step-Sisters were portrayed, somewhat overdone, and audiences need to be prepared for the unexpected. Audience reaction on opening night in Auckland varied and included spontaneous clapping along with the music and dancing at various times, as well as a few people not returning after interval. Only several viewings would allow us to appreciate and follow fully the extraordinary diversity of ideas that fill the work. There is no doubt that we will never see another Cinderella like this one.

MIchelle Potter, 13 August 2022

A shortened version of this review appeared in Dance Australia. Follow this link.

Featured image: Mayu Tanigaito as Cinderella and Laurynas Véjalis as the Royal Messenger. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

El Abrazo. The Embrace—Argentine Tango Moments. Neville Waisbrod

Book review by Jennifer Shennan

This impressive book contains close to 200 photographs, culled from some 3000, taken by Neville Waisbrod, tango dancer-turned-photographer of Wellington.

Evident throughout is Waisbrod’s deep feeling and respect for the dance form in milonguero style. This is not tango for display or spectacle, for competition or ambition, for innovation or experiment, for the money or the bag, but rather for the intimate unspoken communication that builds between partners, between steps, between movement and music. It’s both in time and across time, and as you close the book you feel you have been dancing too.

Several pithy quotes, catching what a writer, poet, philosopher, teacher or dancer has penned about tango, or wider dance ideas, are scattered throughout the book. These are few in number but that restraint only makes them more evocative since we all know that less is more. Sources of quotes range from renowned tanguero and teacher, Carlos Gavitos,

The tango is not in the steps.
The tango is between one step and another.
There, when you do nothing,
you can see whether you dance tango.

Alicia Pons, a revered teacher regularly visiting New Zealand from Argentina, Tango is a journey not a destination.

JL Borges, The tango was having its way with us.

and from Waisbrod himself, The memory of an embrace will last a lifetime, while the steps will be forgotten by the end of the night.

There are further quotes from Jacques d’Amboise, Martha Graham, Wendy Whelan, Omar Khyyám, William Shakespeare, TS Eliot, Albert Einstein. These, as well as the Introduction and the Endnotes, are given in both English and Spanish.

The photographs are black & white or grained grey, with the focus on the mutual embrace of a dancing couple—upper body, head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands (for all of which, read ‘hearts and minds’). An image typically shows the face or profile of one dancer and thus the back of the head of the partner. We can read the facial expression of the one and, from the angle of head or neck, handhold raised or shoulder embraced, can imagine that of the partner. The concentration is intense. You’re not eavesdropping on these dancers, but looking and listening with your eyes and limbs.

A man and a woman hold each other and we hold our breath—they’ve probably been married for 45 years and we can tell their life story from the enchanted eyes of the one who faces the camera, and from the inclined and trusting head of his partner. It’s a love sonnet. Another couple, possibly three decades apart in calendar age, who may never have met before this milonga, are here not counting the years so much as sharing them. One tanguera is wearing a plaster cast on a broken arm and her partner carries its weight for her. The back of one head reveals hearing aids ‘the better to hear the music with, my dear’. One couple is dreaming, eyes closed, a hint of a smile hovering. A young couple shares an explosive laugh and we can only guess at what caused their mirth. Another couple, both males, are dancing more than just the steps their teacher taught them. A sadness etched into one woman’s face is lifted by the sense that her partner is allowing the dance to be bigger than any individual dancing it. Another image echoes that rapport, though with the gender roles reversed. Perhaps the memory of an earlier now departed life partner is nurtured by the physical proximity of a dance partner. One quote, ‘Dancing is cheaper than therapy’, could be the caption of several of these images, or perhaps of them all.

There are in fact no captions to individual photographs so the dancers remain anonymous. Although they have given their permission for reproduction, they are not posing for the camera and will be unaware they were being captured in that moment. The prime place given to the visuals within this book evokes for me the classic works of director Carlos Saura, who devoted entire feature-length films, with very few if any words, to the subject of just one dance form—Sevillanas, let’s say, or his fabled flamenco trilogy, Blood Wedding: the rehearsal—Carmen: the performance—El Amor Brujo: the dénouement.

JL Borges, Argentinian writer & poet, famously wrote…Tango can be debated, and we have debates over it, but it still encloses, as does all that which is truthful, a secret. This book borrows that notion to tell its own unspoken truth.

Waisbrod did not need to travel across continents in search of these dancers. They are all in New Zealand. His credit to Belinda Ellis for editorial help and design of the book is heartfelt. Search further and you find another modest little credit, ‘proudly supporting the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’. This is a book of considerable humane and artistic merit, and, at $75.00, is cheaper than therapy.    

www.theembracebook.com
ISBN 978-0-473-59266-0

Jennifer Shennan, 10 August 2022

All photos: © Neville Waisbrod