Dance diary. November 2022

  • Sydney Dance Company in 2023

2023 marks Rafael Bonachela’s fifteenth year as artistic director of Sydney Dance Company and he has announced that he will continue in the role for another five years. The 2023 season will open with a triple bill called Ascent co-commissioned by the Canberra Theatre Centre. As such it will have its opening performances in Canberra followed by a season at the Sydney Opera House as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the House.

Ascent will feature a brand-new work by Bonachela, the return of Forever and Ever by Antony Hamilton, first shown in 2018, and a world premiere by Spanish choreographer Marina Mascarell. Of the program Bonachela says, ‘After the challenges of the past few years, I am so pleased to again be commissioning an international artist whose works have garnered critical acclaim around the world, alongside showcasing the work of a brilliant Australian choreographer.’

Scene from 'Forever & Ever', Sydney Dance Company 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig
Scene from Antony Hamilton’s Forever and ever. Sydney Dance Company, 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig

And I am so pleased that Canberra will be the city hosting the premiere of Ascent. Sydney Dance Company has been touring to Canberra pretty much annually (last year, 2021, is the only exception that stands out in my mind) since the 1970s. It is great to see this initiative, for which we must acknowledge the Canberra Theatre Trust for its co-commission.

Further information on the 2023 season is available on the Sydney Dance Company website. It includes information on the company’s regional tour, and its season of Up Close, a new venture to bring the company and audiences closer together and which will include a new work from Bonachela called Somos (meaning ‘we are’ in Spanish).

  • Launch of Glimpses of Graeme

Hobart, more specifically the Battery Point Community Hall, was the site for the launch of my latest book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy. The event was beautifully hosted by the Hobart Bookshop and it was a full house for the conversation between Graeme and me, which was moderated by Lucinda Sharp. Also featured were two short excerpts from works created for MADE by Murphy and danced by Sue Pickard and Laura Della-Pasqua, the official launch by Shirley Gibson from MADE, and a book signing.

In the image below, taken at the end of the event, see (l-r) Lucinda Sharp, dancer Susan Pickard, Michelle Potter, Graeme Murphy, Bronwyn Chalke (owner of Hobart Bookshop), dancer Laura Della-Pasqua (at rear), Shirley Gibson from MADE who did the official launch, and Janet Vernon.

Copies of Glimpses of Graeme are available from FortySouth online book store at this link.

  • Eileen Kramer turns 108

Early in November Eileen Kramer, once a dancer with Gertrud Bodenwieser, celebrated her 108th birthday. These days she works closely with film maker Sue Healey and a group of close friends in Sydney, where she currently lives.

See this tag for posts about Kramer on this site. My favourite is a link to a film made by Healey in 2017, which won an Australian Dance Award. Happy returns to Eileen Kramer.

Eileen Kramer, 2021. Photo: © Sue Healey
  • News from James Batchelor

James Batchelor’s Shortcuts to familiar places premiered in Berlin in October and was toured to Bangkok in November. Batchelor has recently shared two comments on the work, including one from Australian dance artist Alice Heyward. Heyward’s essay is beautifully and thoughtfully written and constructed and so worth reading. Here is the link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2022

Featured image: Publicity shot for Sydney Dance Company’s 2023 season. Photo: © David Boon


Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards (Dance) 2022

22 November 2022, Canberra Museum and Gallery

Dance in Canberra showed its current and growing strength in the annual awards given by the Canberra Critics’ Circle. Five recipients were honoured with a dance award, the most for a single year (at least as far as I can recall) in the 32 year history of the CCC awards, which celebrate originality, excellence, energy and creativity across the arts. Here are the dance recipients, with citations.

ALI MAYES

For a performance that was both technically and theatrically strong, and in which characterisation of a leading role was maintained in an exceptional manner throughout. To Ali Mayes for Juliet in the Training Ground’s Unravel.

Read my review at this link.

Joshua Walsh and Ali Mayes in a scene from Unravel, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

AUSDANCE ACT

For its initiative in bringing together dance filmmakers from the ACT and South Australia in October 2021 and September 2022 in which 9 short films were commissioned and shown, thus widening knowledge and understanding of Canberra’s dance culture beyond the ACT. To Ausdance ACT for their two collaborative programs of Dance.Focus.

Scroll down through this link to read my comments from the September season.

Dance.Focus 2022 montage

JAKE SILVESTRO

For an exceptional full-length solo performance choreographed using a variety of physical genres combined with a strong visual arts component and an underlying focus on issues concerning the disastrous bushfires that ravaged parts of Australia in December 2019. To Jake Silvestro for his production of and performance in December.

Read my review at this link.

Jake Silvestro in December, 2022. Photo: © Mark Turner

AUSTRALIAN DANCE PARTY

For an adventurous site-specific work that explored a Canberra sculpture and its surrounding watery setting through innovative dance, and exceptional lighting and sound design, to give the audience a highly immersive experience. To Australian Dance Party for LESS.

Read my review at this link.

Scene from LESS, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

DANNY RILEY

For his charismatic, athletic performance in his self-choreographed work Similar, Same but Different, based on a piece choreographed by Ruth Osborne for Riley’s brother, and performed against a film of Osborne’s work. Similar, Same but Different was performed with a calm assurance that was as captivating as it was moving.  To Danny Riley for Similar, Same but Different.

Scroll through this link to read my comments on the 2020 production of Similar, Same but Different.

Danny Riley in Similar, Same but Different. Hot to Trot, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Danny Riley in Similar, Same but different, 20220 Photo: © Lorna Sim

Congratulations to those five awardees for moving Canberra dance forward during 2022.

Michelle Potter, 23 November 2022

Featured image: Ali Mayes and Joshua Walsh in rehearsal for Unravel, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Dance diary. October 2022

  • Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2023

Bangarra’s 2023 season will see the revival of the Dance Clan series for the first time in ten years. The series began in 1998 and fostered new work by choreographers, dancers and designers, most of whom were emerging artists in those fields. Artists whose careers were advanced by appearances in Dance Clan performances have included Deborah Brown, Tara Gower, Yolande Brown and Frances Rings, who will shortly take on the artistic directorship of Bangarra. In 2023 Beau Dean Riley Smith, Glory Tuohy-Daniell, Ryan Pearson and Sani Townson will create new works focusing on their own storytelling. Costume designs will be by Clair Parker, mentored by Jennifer Irwin, lighting by Maddison Craven mentored by Karen Norris, and set design by Shana O’Brien under the guidance of Jacob Nash. Separate scores for each work are being composed by Brendon Boney, Amy Flannery and Leon Rodgers.

Dance Clan choreographers for 2023 (l-r) Ryan Pearson, Glory Tuohy-Daniell, Sani Townson and Beau Dean Riley Smith. Photo: © Daniel Boud

The major production for 2023 by the main company will be Yuldea being created by Frances Rings in collaboration with Jennifer Irwin (costumes), Jacob Nash (set), Karen Norris (lighting) and Leon Rodgers (score). The show will premiere at the Sydney Opera House on 14 June as part of the 50th anniversary season before touring across Australia including to Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Bendigo. The work is inspired by the story of the Anangu people of the Great Victorian Desert. Rings says:

Within my family lineage lie the stories of forefathers and mothers who lived a dynamic, sophisticated desert life, leaving their imprint scattered throughout Country like memories suspended in time. Their lives were forever changed by the impact of colonial progress.

Further details on the Bangarra website.

  • A new work by Meryl Tankard

Given that Meryl Tankard’s Wild Swans* has long stayed in my mind as an exceptional collaborative work between Tankard as choreographer, composer Elena Kats Chernin and visual artist Régis Lansac, it was more than exciting to hear that this trio will be presenting their latest collaboration, Kairos, as part of the 2023 Sydney Festival. Commissioned and produced by FORM Dance Projects, Kairos will open at Carriageworks on 19 January and will feature dancers Lillian Fearn, Cloé Fournier, Taiga Kita-Leong, Jasmin Luna, Julie Ann Minaai and Thuba Ndibali.

Publicity shot for Kairos. (Thuba Ndibali, In homage to Jack Mitchell from
Alvin Ailey’s Hermit Songs) Photo: © t Régis Lansac

‘Kairos’ in ancient Greek means ‘the right or opportune moment for doing, a moment that cannot be scheduled’. Publicity for the show suggests that the work responds to the current ‘uncertain and challenging times’ in which we currently find ourselves.

  • News from Houston Ballet

News recently announced in Houston, Texas, is that Julie Kent, currently artistic director of Washington Ballet and former principal artist with American Ballet Theatre, will leave Washington Ballet at the end of the 2022-2023 season. She will join Stanton Welch as co-director of Houston Ballet with Welch keen to be able to devote more time to choreography.

  • Barbara Cuckson

In October I had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview with Barbara Cuckson, owner and director of Rozelle School of Visual Arts, whose dance training was largely with Gertrud Bodenwieser. The interview, which will eventually be available online from the National Library of Australia, is not only an exceptional insight into the Bodenwieser heritage and Cuckson’s training within and beyond that heritage, but it also contains a wealth of information about Cuckson’s parents, Eric and Marie Cuckson, and their outstanding contribution to the growth of the arts in Australia.

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2022

* There is no review of Wild Swans on this website as it was produced and performed in 2003, that is before I began …on dancing. But here is a link to a post in which I mention it as a result of a BBC program I heard.

Featured image: Hero image for Bangarra’s 2023 production Yuldea. Photo: © Daniel Boud

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

Shirley McKechnie (1926–2022)

Shirley McKechnie, who has died in Melbourne at the age of 96, was one of Australia’s most influential dance educators. Born Shirley Elizabeth Gorham, she was educated at Albion State School and Williamstown High School. After matriculating from secondary school, and with the prospect of a career in science, began work in Melbourne in the research laboratories of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works.Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Lucy Parakhina

But her interest in dance and movement had begun when she was very young and, while engaged with the Board of Works, she continued her interest by taking dance and composition classes with Hanny Exiner and Daisy Pirnitzer, both of whom were exponents of the European modern dance technique as brought to Australia by Gertrud Bodenwieser. Exiner and Pirnitzer were associated with the Melbourne-based Studio of Creative Dance and McKechnie also began dancing with the performance group attached to that Studio.

In 1945 McKechnie began teaching dance at a small school she established with the encouragement and support of the Ferntree Gully Arts Society. She continued to teach at this school until her marriage to Ken McKechnie in 1948. After the birth of her second child, she established a second school in Beaumaris, Melbourne, in 1955. This school became the foundation for her long career as a teacher, choreographer and dance director.

In 1963 McKechnie founded the Australian Contemporary Dance Theatre, whose dancers were drawn from the older students of her school. McKechnie was the company’s director and main choreographer between 1963 and 1973. During this time she choreographed a number of works for the company including Sketches on Themes of Paul Klee (1964), Earth Song (1965), Vision of Bones (1966), Sea Interludes (1966), Hymn of Jesus (1967), Of Spiralling Why (1967), The Other Generation (1968), Landscape of Dream and Memory (1970), The Finding of the Moon (1972), and Canon for Four Dancers (1973). During this period she also wrote and choreographed a lecture and performance titled The Dancer, the Dance and the Audience.

In the 1970s she worked closely with English dance advocate and educator Peter Brinson on two of the four momentous summer schools that took place at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, between 1967 and 1976. The summer schools were initially an initiative of Dame Peggy van Praagh and the first two had a focus on classical ballet and audience development, and had broadly speaking a lecture/discussion-style emphasis. Those in which McKechnie and Brinson were closely involved highlighted choreography and creativity. More about the Armidale summer schools is at this link.

After graduating from Monash University with an honours degree in English literature in 1974 McKechnie founded and directed the first degree course in dance studies at an Australian tertiary institution at Rusden College, now Deakin University, in 1975. In her role as dance educator and advocate for dance she was also a co-founder of the Australian Association for Dance Education (AADE), now Ausdance, founding chair of the Tertiary Dance Council of Australia, founder of the Green Mill Dance Project, and a member of the research team for Conceiving Connections, a three year-study (2002-2004) building on the research project Unspoken Knowledges. Conceiving Connections aimed to increase an understanding of dance audiences by addressing problems that had been identified by the dance industry as critical to its viability among the contemporary performing arts in Australia.

McKechnie went on to have an acclaimed academic career and received many awards and accolades. Her awards included a Kenneth Myer Medallion for the Performing Arts in 1993, the Ausdance 21 Award for outstanding and distinguished service, and two Australian Dance Awards, including that for lifetime achievement in 2001. She was made an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1998, and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2013. For a more detailed view of her academic career and her awards see Vale Shirley McKechnie AO on the Ausdance National website at this link.

Perhaps what I admired most about McKechnie’s career was her ’never give up’ approach. Dance is an art form in which so many possibilities are available as one moves through life. McKechnie found and explored so many of them. I mentioned this aspect of her life in relation to a film made by Sue Healey in 2015 when I wrote:

McKechnie has influenced many people working in the area of contemporary dance in Australia and, when a stroke left her unable to continue her own practice, she turned to writing, largely in the field of cognition. As a result, this short film is not so much about how to continue to drive the body physically as one ages, but about how to reinvent oneself in order to remain active within the field of dance.

Shirley McKechnie in a still from Sue Healey's short film 'Shirley McKechnie'
Still from Sue Healy’s short film Shirley McKechnie, 2015

McKechnie spent her final years at Mayflower Brighton Aged Care and I recall that she was thinking of donating her dance library to Mayflower when she entered that centre. That way she would continue to have access to what had been written about the art form that she loved so much.

Shirley McKechnie is survived by her two sons, Garry and Graeme, and their families.

Shirley Elizabeth McKechnie, AO: born Melbourne 18 June 1926; died Melbourne 5 September 2022

Michelle Potter, 8 September 2022

Featured image: Portrait of Shirley McKechnie, 2006. Photo: © Julie Dyson

Note on source materials for this obituary: Much of the material in this obituary comes from items held by the National Library of Australia in Canberra, including Papers of Shirley McKechnie (MS 9553), and a short biography from the website Australia Dancing (which was established at the National Library in ca. 2002 but which has not been active since 2012). I have directly taken sections from this biography, which I wrote in 2005. The Library’s material also includes oral histories with McKechnie as interviewee, and many oral histories that she recorded with contemporary dancers and choreographers for various projects in which she was involved, or which she initiated.

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.

Liz Lea in the 'showgirl' sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dance diary. July 2022

  • Liz Lea heads to Edinburgh

Canberra stalwart Liz Lea is taking her much acclaimed show, RED, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month. It opens on 16 August at Dance Base and is being promoted in Edinburgh in the following terms:

Red is fearless, Red is fierce, Red is powerful—a one-woman dance theatre work with a hint of fun and fabulousness. You will laugh, you’ll cry, you won’t forget. A poignant, riotous, glamorous and ultimately triumphant exploration of one woman’s story—an exquisite exploration of female endurance. Described as unforgettable, shattering and hilarious, Red is a soul-baring retelling of one woman’s journey through illness and recovery with an eye to the future. Honest, face-to-face dialogue with the audience, balanced with beautifully framed film and movement.

Read my review of RED from its premiere performance in March 2018 at this link.

Liz Lea in the finale to RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim
Liz Lea in the finale to RED. Canberra 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim
  • United Ukrainian Ballet

The United Ukrainian Ballet is coming to Australia in October. It will present a production of Swan Lake in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide on the dates and at the venues listed below.

Venue: Plenary MCEC, Melbourne
Date: 20-23 Oct 2022

Venue: Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC, Sydney
Date: 28-30 Oct 2022

Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide
Date: 10-13 Nov 2022

The company is made up of around 60 dancers who have escaped the war in Ukraine and who are living and rehearsing together in the Netherlands. Dancers come from various companies including National Opera of Ukraine, Kharkiv Opera Theatre and Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre. The company is led by former prima ballerina of Dutch National Ballet, Inge de Yongh. Prior to bringing Swan Lake to Australia the company will perform in the Netherlands and London bringing to the stage a new version of Giselle by Alexei Ratmansky.

  • Queensland Ballet’s Talbot Theatre

Brisbane’s Thomas Dixon Centre, Queensland Ballet’s home since the 1990s, has been beautifully redeveloped and now contains a small theatre, the Talbot Theatre, where very recently I watched a performance of Bespoke (of which more later). The theatre is a real gem. It has a seating capacity of 351 and is perfect for showings of new choreography, such as Bespoke.. But its best feature is its sightlines. I was sitting on the very end of a row but had a clear view of every part of the stage. Exceptional design I think.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2022

Featured image: Liz Lea in the ’showgirl’ scene from RED. Canberra 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Liz Lea in the 'showgirl' sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dance diary. June 2022

  • Lauren Honcope

I was sorry to miss a recent farewell event for Lauren Honcope, who retired last year, 2021, as President of Ausdance ACT. Honcope joined the Ausdance ACT board in 2009 and became president in 2011.

In addition to her tireless work for Ausdance, including seeing the organisation through some difficult times as far as funding was concerned, Honcope has been one of Canberra’s strongest advocates for dance in the ACT. She has served on the boards of the Canberra Theatre Trust; of Canberra’s first professional dance company, Human Veins Dance Theatre, led by Don Asker; and, perhaps most memorably from that time before her work with Ausdance, of the Meryl Tankard Company. It was, in fact, Honcope who persuaded Tankard to come to Canberra for an interview to take over from Asker after he decided to leave Human Veins to take up a Churchill Fellowship.

As a practising lawyer, Honcope brought strong, professional leadership skills to all her theatrical activities. She was admired by all who had contact with her, and another Canberra resident who was unable to be present at the farewell wrote of her work for Ausdance: ‘She was always generous with her time and wisdom to support the arts, and a true advocate.’

I wish her well as she moves into new endeavours, to which I am sure she will continue to bring that same professionalism and generosity.

  • Impermanence. Sydney Dance Company

Sydney Dance Company has begun an extensive regional tour across New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia of Rafael Bonachela’s 2021 production Impermanence. The tour concludes in Melbourne where it plays at the Arts Centre from 6-10 September. Don’t miss it if it is playing near you. See Sydney Dance Company’s website for details of dates and venues and read my review from 2021 at this link.

Emily Seymour, Jacopo Grabar, and Rhys Kosakowski in 'Impermanence'. Sydney Dance Company and the Australian String Quartet, 2021. Photo: © Pedro Greig
Emily Seymour, Jacopo Grabar, and Rhys Kosakowski in Impermanence. Sydney Dance Company and the Australian String Quartet, 2021. Photo: © Pedro Greig
  • From the past …

During a major clean out of a room in my house I came across a small blue case filled with Leichner products—old sticks of grease paint in numbers 5, 5½, 9 and black, and a container of ‘theatrical blending powder (neutral)’. It was my old (very old) makeup case and, as well as the greasepaint and powder, it also contained a Leichner Make Up Chart no. 16 Ballet, very crumpled and stained. On the back was a list, missing many details, of the first shows I danced in including three Christmas pantomimes, which were the first shows for which I was paid an actors’ equity salary.

Here is the list of those early performances in which I appeared, some of which I had quite forgotten about!
Aladdin Christmas pantomime, 1959
Sydney Ballet Group, Conservatorium 1960
Mother Goose, Christmas Pantomime, 1960
Sydney Ballet Group, Elizabethan Theatre, 1962
Jack and the Beanstalk, Christmas Pantomime, 1962
Musicale, Legion House, 1963
Ballet Australia, Elizabethan Theatre, 1964
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 1
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 2
Recital, Australian Academy of Ballet, 1965
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 3

And below is that crumpled and stained chart. Does anyone use greasepaint these days?

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2022

Featured image: Lauren Honcope speaking at a recent Ausdance ACT event.