Out of the Frame. Canberra Dance Theatre

22 October 2022. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Once again the National Portrait Gallery has hosted a dance event associated with a current exhibition, the Gallery’s Who are you? Australian Portraiture. The aim of the performance, which was composed of six short works, was ‘to animate emotions and situations reflected in the portraits, expanding on still moments captured in the frames.’

Perhaps the main feature that characterised the performance as a whole was diversity. We watched a diverse range of dance practices for a start—from K-Pop to ballet and various other dance genres, and saw performances from dancers from a range of age groups and a range of abilities. Some works appealed to me more than others, of which more shortly. But the aspect of the show that was instantly appealing (for non dance reasons) was the need to clear the floor after Gretel Burgess’ Today I am, a work dealing with life’s journey. The cleaning up was needed after the dancers released into the air handfuls of small blue squares of what looked like cellophane. Those bits of paper defied the brooms that were trying hard to sweep them up after the dancers had left the performance space and, in the end, members of the audience set about helping by picking up the bits of paper by hand. A scene from this small break in actual performance is the featured image for this post.

But to the dancing. The show opened with a performance of a new work from Miranda Wheen called A dance for the ages. Wheen was interested in creating small danced portraits of the performers, portraits that captured their dancing backgrounds. The work began with an introduction to each of the seven dancers in the form of a short pre-recorded interview. We were then able to watch as each dancer, separately and then together, gave us a physical insight into their manner of dancing. The standout dancer was Cameron Ong whose energy was unmatched and who threw himself into every movement with gusto. He stole the show I have to say and Wheen’s very thoughtful work would have had more appeal with more dancers who were able to make visible the kind of energy and commitment that Ong showed.

Of the rest of the works, two stood out for me. Firstly there was the K-Pop style The Feels with choreography from Kiel Tutin and danced by eight young female dancers. What was enticing about The Feels was the joy in moving expressed by these young women. Not being K-Pop expert myself, I have no idea whether or not the dancers were experts in the style. But I loved watching them, loved the way they were dressed, and loved how they grouped, regrouped and generally moved separately and together.

Scene from The Feels. Out of the Frame (Canberra Dance Theatre), 2020

Then there was Carol Brown’s Imperium, rehearsed by Philip Piggin and performed by Cathy Coombs and Canberra’s GOLD dancers. Imperium was a strong work examining power and authority, and the use and abuse of those concepts in our everyday lives. In her program notes Brown uses the words pomp, ceremony, arrogance, sycophancy, political exile, gang warfare, domestic violence and factional plotting. Those concepts were all there in the choreography and the acting. Costuming, which I have to assume came from the wardrobes of the dancers, added to the strength of the work as did the selection of music (another example of diversity this time within one work)—excerpts from Prokofiev’s score for Romeo and Juliet and On the acceptance of imperfections (The Rite of Stravinsky) by Milos Sofrenovic. The GOLD dancers were absolutely outstanding in drawing us into the concepts Brown was examining and were exceptional at maintaining character from beginning to end.

Scene from Imperium. Out of the Frame (Canberra Dance Theatre), 2020

Two other works on the program were In likeness and movement choregraohed by Josh Freedman on the relationship between portraiture and ballet, and Rachael Hilton’s Opsimath never stop.

I’m not sure how closely or effectively some of the works connected with the exhibition, or indeed with the concept of portraiture. But it was more than interesting to speculate on how life experiences affect performance. The young women in the K-Pop work were clearly part of present day society and culture and took on the dance style involved with ease. On the other hand the GOLD dancers, who are part of a dance group of older individuals, have most likely experienced many of the ideas of power and authority being examined in Carol Brown’s Imperium and were thus able to give a stirring performance.

Michelle Potter, 23 October 2022

Featured image: Scene from Out of the Frame (Canberra Dance Theatre), 2020

Big Little Things. QL2 Dance

14 October 2022. Canberra College Theatre. The Chaos Project, 2022

The Chaos Project for 2022 had some features that were a little different from previous Chaos seasons. The most obvious difference, and one that had an effect on how the show appeared (at least to me), was the age range of the dancers. In 2022, QL2 Dance opened its classes to a new, young age range—those aged 5 to 8—and some of the dancers in Big Little Things looked very young. Not only that, the oldest dancer was about 18 whereas on previous occasions dancers in their early twenties had appeared. I have nothing but praise for the way all the dancers performed—and there were many moments of interaction between the age groups. In fact some of the very young ones were extraordinarily theatrical in the way they approached the performance. But the performance definitely had a different feel. Although the Chaos Project has never been regarded as a pre-professional event, there has always been a feeling that some dancers performing in the project were destined to move ahead. That feeling didn’t emerge so strongly on this occasion and I couldn’t help wondering why?

Big Little Things was in seven sections, although the performance, as it always is with Chaos, was a continuous one with beautifully smooth and logical connections between the end of one section and the beginning of the next. Each section looked at different ways in which we all connect with each other and choreography was by five different artists—Ruth Osborne, Alana Stenning, Patricia Hayes Kavanagh, Stephen Gow and Lilah Gow—always in collaboration with the dancers.

Scene from Big Little Things. The Chaos Project 2022, QL2 Dance. Photo: © Lorna Sim

I especially enjoyed the opening section ‘Ripples in the Pond’, choreographed by Osborne. Its beautiful circular patterns gave real momentum to the section. But Stephen Gow’s ‘Broken Telephone’, made on the male dancers only, was also a highlight. It focused on ‘Truthless speculations, diminishing or exaggerating facts. Rumours’. It had some interesting groupings as dancers moved together and whispered to each other. It was subtle and yet obvious and contained some exceptionally fluid and expressive arm movements. I was not so thrilled with the section made for the female dancers only. Called ‘I have something to say’, it was inspired by protest and the ‘power of the voice’. A commendable subject for sure, but the very loud shouting of the sentence ‘I have something to say’ went on for too long. The point was made instantly and more dancing and less shouting would have been preferable. Ruth Osborne created the finale cum curtain call section, which was, and always is, great entertainment.

Despite a few frustrating aspects to this year’s Chaos Project, I always come away with the thrill of seeing young dancers being initiated so well into techniques of stage performance. They are always beautifully trained in how to enter and leave the stage, in how to work as a group, in how to acknowledge each other, and so on. They are always a real credit to those who work with them to produce the show.

Michelle Potter, 16 October 2022

Featured image: Scene from Big Little Things. The Chaos Project 2022, QL2 Dance. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Glimpses of Graeme now available and launch date set

My latest book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, is now available at the FortySouth online store. This is a ‘niche book’ and only 350 copies have been printed. Buy your copy soon. Here is the link to the FortySouth store.

Glimpses of Graeme will be launched in Hobart on 18 November at which MADE (Mature Artists Dance Experience) will perform excerpts from works created for them by Murphy. For more information about the launch follow this link. Scroll down to find news of the event.

See below for a short video, created by Philippe Charluet, showing snippets from several of the works discussed in the book. In addition to showcasing the dancers from Sydney Dance Company, the footage includes music and performance by Synergy musicians.

Michelle Potter, 4 October 2022. Updated 22 October 2022

Dance diary. September 2022

This month’s dance diary has, with one significant exception, a Canberra focus, from news about writing by Canberra-based authors (including me) to performances generated, or soon to be performed from within the ACT.

  • Glimpses of Graeme

My book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, is currently being printed and will be available shortly from the Hobart-based company FortySouth Publishing. The book is a collection of articles and reviews I have written over several decades about Murphy’s career. The writing is arranged according to themes I think are noticeable in Murphy’s output, including ’Music Initiatives’, ’Crossing Generations’, ’Approaches to Narrative’ and ’Postmodernism’.

Cover for Glimpses of Graeme designed by Kent Whitmore with a detail from an image by Branco Gaica showing Murphy during the production of his 1995 work, Fornicon

This month’s featured image shows Murphy and cast taking a curtain call following a performance in 2014 of Murphy’s Swan Lake. The image, shot by Lisa Tomasetti, fills the inside cover (front and back) of the book. More information on how to secure your copy will appear shortly.

UPDATE, 4 October 2022: The book is now for sale at the FortySouth online shop. Only 350 copies have been printed so buy your copy soon at this link.

  • Parijatham from the Kuchipudi dance repertoire

Canberra’s Sadhanalaya School of Arts is bringing Parijatham, a timeless, iconic dance drama in the classical Indian dance style, Kuchipudi, to the stage in early November. It tells the story of conflict created between two of Lord Krishna’s consorts, Queen Rukmini and Queen Satyabhama. It is set to classical South Indian music and is one of 15 dance dramas from the admired choreographer, Dr Vempati Chinnasatyam.

Divyusha Polepalli and Vanaja Dasika in a scene from Parijatham. Photo: © Sanjeta Sridhar

In the image above, Lord Krishna, played by Divyusha Polepalli tries to pacify the enraged Queen Satyabhama, played by Sadhanalaya School of Arts Director Vanaja Dasika, after she discovers Krishna has given his favourite consort Queen Rukmini a divine parijatha (jasmine) flower instead of giving it to her.

The work will have two performances only on 6 November at the Gungahlin College Theatre. Book at this link.

  • Daphne Deane

Canberra writer, John Anderson, has been researching for a number of years the life and career of Daphne Deane, an Australian with extensive experience in the presentation of theatrical activities around the world in the first half of the 20th century. I first came across the name Daphne Deane when researching the history if the Ballet Russes companies and their visits to Australia between 1936 and 1940 but very little appeared to have been written and published about her life and activities.

John Anderson’s book is nothing short of an eye-opener! We have much to learn about a woman who was all but written out of most of the historical accounts of the visits to Australia by the Ballets Russes companies, but whose activities during and beyond those visits were extensive. Anderson notes, for example, that Arnold Haskell’s book, Dancing round the world, which has become ’the putative history’ of the 1936-1937 tour to Australia simply ignores Deane by not mentioning her once. Anderson writes, ‘Deane effectively became a woman who never was, written out of the record of the tour’ and later ’In Haskell’s significant omission, we can see the beginnings of a man-made amnesia about Deane’s part in the tour.’

Cover design by Paul Anderson

Anderson’s book is available, free to read and download, as an e-text via Trove. Follow this link.

  • Dance.Focus 22—Film Premieres

Dance Hub SA and Ausdance ACT recently partnered to commission five filmmakers to produce a short film to ’challenge, resonate and engage with screen dance.’ The films premiered on five consecutive evenings and are now available to watch via YouTube. More information and links to the five films are here.

I especially enjoyed Son; Like Mother; Like Son danced by Petra Szabo Heath with her son Rowan and filmed by Tim Baroff with music by Rian Teoh. The outdoor setting was stunning and nicely juxtaposed with an indoor one, and the work reminded me of a comment once made by Graeme Murphy, ’We all dance from the moment we are born.’ But there was also rather more dancing in this short film than in most of the others in this series, which made me wonder what screen dance is, or how those who make screen dance conceive of its dance component.

  • Promotions at Queensland Ballet

And on a non-Canberra note, but one I am really pleased to include, Queensland Ballet has just promoted Mia Heathcote and Patricio Revé to principal artists. Both dancers have been dancing superbly recently and the promotions are well deserved.

Patricio Revé and Mia Heathote in Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

As it happens, I have been following Heathcote’s progress since she was at the Australian Ballet School when she appeared in a program called Let’s Dance in 2012. See this link (it includes a gorgeous photo of Heathcote from Tim Harbour’s work, Sweedeedee). See also tags for Heathcote and Revé.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2022

Featured image: Graeme Murphy taking a curtain call with dancers (l-r) Brett Chynoweth, Kevin Jackson, Lana Jones, Rudy Hawkes and Miwako Kubota following a performance of Murphy’s Swan Lake. The Australian Ballet, 2014. Photo: © Lisa Tomasetti

Savage. Australian Dance Theatre

29 September 2022. Canberra Theatre Centre

The various media statements about Savage, Daniel Riley’s first work as artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre, leave us wondering just exactly what the work will be like. How will a dance performance deal with what one media statement says is a ’confronting exploration of the notions of myth and identity, [examining] our fundamental belief systems, and [turning] the spotlight on those who hold the power of storytelling while challenging us to question our blind obedience.’ That’s a lot to examine.

In many respects I think it was the theatre side of Australian Dance Theatre that held the piece together, rather than the dance side, if we can separate the two, which I think in this case is necessary. Dean Cross’ setting was spare and decidedly down to earth. Two large wire mesh screens on wheels (one initially covered by a grey tarpaulin-like cloth) were moved around the stage separating people, sometimes enclosing them, and sometimes being rolled over bodies lying stretched out on the floor.

A collection of white, plastic outdoor chairs also played a major role. They were thrown around the stage, piled up on each other, and used at times as a seat for standing dancers who in acts of coercion were pushed down onto them. At the very end the chairs were thrown into a messy heap located centre stage. One dancer tried to wend his way through the mess as others stood aside and watched. How to find one’s way through the mess of history?

Similarly, the lighting design by Matthew Adey seemed at times to glare brightly into the eyes of the dancers (and the audience) suggesting perhaps exposure and a need to pull away from received ‘wisdom’?

Scene from Savage. Australian Dance Theatre, 2022. Photo: © Sam Roberts

Then there was the dominant black circle in the centre of the performance space. At one stage it was covered by a cloth, which a dancer pulled back slowly to expose the circle. As this was happening another, trapped on the cloth, eventually was able to remove himself from it. The symbolism of escape was obvious (I think).

The six dancers who currently make up the composition of Australian Dance Theatre were augmented in Savage by Riley himself and, in the Canberra performances, by a group of emerging young performers from Canberra’s youth group QL2 Dance, where as it happened Riley received his early dance experience. The dancers were all top class performers in their respective roles and experience and the ADT company members looked especially good in group sections. Riley stood out, as he has always done with whatever company he is performing. His presence on stage has always been outstanding. Of the others I was often transfixed by Zoe Wozniak whose use of the whole body from head to toe was exceptional and whose stage presence was also outstanding. But Savage did not seem choreographically exciting or powerful, at least not often, or not often enough.

In program notes, Riley says he wants Savage ‘to encourage deeper thinking and reflection on the systems and voices who coerce our history to suit a singular vision of our country.’ Perhaps that I found so much of Savage frustratingly confusing and choreographically unexciting as the work unfolded meant that I had to reflect and think? But to tell the truth there have been other dance (and dance film) productions that have had a much greater effect on how I see Australia’s history from an Indigenous perspective, including some in which Riley has been a major player.

Australian Dance Theatre has always been a contemporary company and, especially in the past 20 years under Garry Stewart’s directorship, has pushed boundaries and unravelled complex concepts. Riley is well suited to carry on such a tradition but I’m not sure that Savage has the choreographic strength that is needed to make clear the diverse and theoretical ideas behind the work. There has to be more than the collaborative elements of design.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2022

Featured image: Advertising poster for Savage