Dance diary. May 2022

  • The Johnston Collection. On Kristian Fredrikson

My talk for Melbourne’s Johnston Collection, Kristian Fredrikson. Theatre Designer Extraordinaire, will finally take place on 22 June 2022 just one year later than scheduled. No need, I am sure, to give a reason for its earlier cancellation. I am very much looking forward to presenting this talk, which will include short extracts from some of the film productions for which Fredrikson created designs, including Undercover, which tells the story of the founding of the Berlei undergarment brand.

Further information about the talk is at this link: The Johnston Collection: What’s On.

  • Australian Ballet News

The Australian Ballet has announced a number of changes to its performing and administrative team. In May, at the end of the company’s Sydney season, ten dancers were promoted:

Jill Ogai from Soloist to Senior Artist
Nathan Brook from Soloist to Senior Artist
Imogen Chapman Soloist to Senior Artist
Rina Nemoto from Soloist to Senior Artist
Lucien Xu from Coryphée to Soloist
Mason Lovegrove from Coryphée to Soloist
Luke Marchant from Coryphée to Soloist
Katherine Sonnekus from Corps de Ballet to Coryphée
Aya Watanabe from Corps de Ballet to Coryphée
George-Murray Nightingale from Corps de Ballet to Coryphée

George-Murray Nightingale and Lucien Xu in Graeme Murphy’s Grand. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Kate Longley

In administrative news, the chairman of the board of the Australian Ballet has announced that Libby Christie, the company’s Executive Director, will step down from the position at the end of 2022, after a tenure of close to ten years.

But the Australian Ballet will also face a difficult time in 2024 when the State Theatre at the Arts Centre in Melbourne, where the Australian Ballet performs over several months, and which it regards really as its home, will close for three years as part of the redevelopment of the arts precinct. Apparently David Hallberg is busy trying to find an alternative theatre in Melbourne. But then the company faced similar difficulties a few years ago in Sydney when the Opera Theatre of the Sydney Opera House was unavailable as it too went through renovations. It was perhaps less than three years of closure in Sydney but the company survived then and I’m sure it will this time too.

  • And from Queensland Ballet

Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists, along with artistic director Li Cunxin, a group of dancers from the main company, and Christian Tátchev from Queensland Ballet Academy, will head to London any day now. The dancers will perform in the Linbury Theatre of the Royal Opera House from 4-6 June as part of a cultural exchange between Australia and the United Kingdom. They will be taking an exciting program of three works under the title of Southern Lights. Those three works are Perfect Strangers by Jack Lister, associate choreographer with Queensland Ballet and a dancer with Australasian Dance Collective; Fallen by Natalie Weir, Queensland Ballet’s resident choreographer; and Appearance of Colour by Loughlan Prior, resident choreographer with Royal New Zealand Ballet.

In addition to the performances, Li will be joined by Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare and dancer Leanne Benjamin for an ‘In Conversation’ session, and Tátchev will conduct open classes for dancers from the Royal Ballet School

  • Not forgetting New Zealand

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has also announced a retirement. Katherine and Joseph Skelton will give their last performance with the company in June. It has been a while since I saw Royal New Zealand Ballet perform live but I have especially strong memories of Joseph Skelton dancing the peasant pas de deux with Bronte Kelly in Giselle in 2016. Both dancers are mentioned in various posts on this website. See Katherine Skelton and Joseph Skelton.

RNZB is filming the pair in the pas de deux from Giselle Act II and the film will be made available on RNZB’s Facebook page on 1 June.

  • Street names in Whitlam (a new-ish Canberra suburb)

There has been discussion at various times about naming streets in Canberra suburbs after people who are thought to be distinguished Australians. There was quite recently discussion about abandoning the process completely with complaints being made that the process was not an inclusive one, and that in particular men outnumbered women (along with several other issues). Well not so long ago I joined Julie Dyson and Lauren Honcope in helping the ACT Government select names of those connected with dance to be used as street names in the new-ish suburb of Whitlam. The suburb was named after former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and the decision was to name the streets after figures who had been prominent in the arts (given Whitlam’s strong support of the arts). I looked back at what was eventually chosen (and it was for an initial stage of development of the suburb), and its seems to me that the argument that diversity was lacking is not correct (at least not in this case). The names selected for this stage included men, women, First Nations people, and people known to belong to the LGBTI… community. Some have a lovely ring to them too—Keith Bain Crest, Laurel Martyn View, Arkwookerum Street for example. I’m looking forward to what the next stage will bring.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2022

Featured image: Still from Undercover, Palm Beach Pictures, 1982

Talking to Melanie Lane

My first encounter with the choreography of Melanie Lane was in 2019 when her work WOOF was part of a Sydney Dance Company triple bill called Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane. WOOF, which two years earlier had been a hit in Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed program, was for me the outstanding work on the 2019 triple bill. I had also seen Lane perform, along with Lilian Steiner, in Lucy Guerin’s SPLIT in 2018. But really I was way behind the times. Lane had already established herself as a choreographer and performer well before I had the chance to see her productions.

Lane was born in Sydney but grew up in Canberra and undertook intensive training with Janet Karin at the National Capital Ballet School. Lane recalls with pleasure and admiration the influence Karin had on her development and remembers in particular a program Karin staged in 1989 for the school’s National Capital Dancers. It featured newly choreographed works by Joe Scoglio (Midstream), Natalie Weir (The Host) and Paul Mercurio (A Moment of Choice). ‘Janet was so supportive of new choreography,’ Lane says. ‘I really got connected with contemporary movement as a result.’

After completing her school studies at Canberra’s Stirling College, Lane went to Perth to study at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) from where she graduated with a Diploma of Performing Arts, and where she developed further her interest in contemporary dance and choreography. Between 2000 and 2014 she worked with a range of companies and in a range of cities and venues in Europe as both a performer and choreographer. Now Lane is back in Canberra and her newest work, Metal Park, will be performed by Quantum Leap, Canberra’s youth dance company, in a triple bill named Terra Firma.

After the opening in Vienna in April of The Trojan Women, a theatre piece directed by Australian Adena Jacobs with choreography by Lane, and following a brief stint in Heidelberg doing preliminary work on a dance theatre piece due to open next year, Lane arrived in Canberra just two weeks before Metal Park’s opening night. I wondered how she would go about teaching the new work, and preparing the dancers of Quantum Leap for the experience.

‘I began working with Quantum Leap on Metal Park, which is the first work I have created in Canberra, in January of this year,’ she says. ‘We had an intensive two and a half weeks of development time. It was a little challenging because of the pandemic, which was at a peak. We had dancers in lockdown, dancers zooming in and a number of other difficulties. Then I had to go back to Europe. But now I’m here and I am looking forward to getting back to work in person with the dancers. I find working with young people quite inspiring. There is something magical about the sense of imagination and creativity they have, and their level of enthusiasm and energy is thrilling.’

Quantum Leap dancers rehearsing Metal Park, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Metal Park is an extension of aspects of some of Lane’s earlier works in which she has examined links between the body and objects or props. ‘It’s about zooming in on everyday reactions we have with materiality,’ she explains, ‘and using those reactions to question how we relate to our environment. It is a way too of encouraging the dancers to work with materials—objects of various kinds— as part of their practice.’ Metal Park will be performed to a sound composition by Lane’s partner, Christopher Clark, and will have lighting by Mark Dyson.

We can look forward too to further work from Lane in Canberra. In June she will be appearing at the National Gallery of Australia with Jo Lloyd (details to be confirmed). Also in June the Brisbane-based Australasian Dance Collective will present her work Alterum at the Canberra Theatre Centre as part of a triple bill, Three. She will also shortly start preliminary work on a future production in collaboration with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. Stay tuned.

Terra Firma, which will include works by Cadi McCarthy and Steve and Lilah Gow in addition to Lane’s Metal Park, is at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, from 26 to 28 May 2022.

Michelle Potter, 15 May 2022

Featured image: Melanie Lane conducting a summer intensive for her new work Metal Park, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. April 2022

  • Australian Dance Week 2022

Ausdance ACT has welcomed the beginning of Dance Week with an opening event held at Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra, on International Dance Day, 29 April.

Following this celebratory opening, the ACT organisation has programmed a varied selection of events over the week until 8 May. The program reflects the current focus in the ACT on community dance and dance for people with varying skills and interests throughout that community. There is a strong focus in the 2022 program on classes to try and workshops to experience. One of the most fascinating to my mind happens on 1 May and is the Chinese Tiger and Lion Dance Workshop—not something that is offered often! See the full program at this link.

In addition, QL2 Dance launched, also on 29 April, a 12 minute film, Unavoidable casualty. This film examines ways in which young dancers might express how they have felt and managed difficult, even traumatic events they have experienced, or seen others experience. Unavoidable casualty is available to watch until 8 May at this link. Watch to the end to see a beautiful finishing section in which some of the dancers are introduced one by one. Choreography is by Stephen Gow and Ruth Osborne.

Scene from Unavoidable casualty. QL2 Dance, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim
  • A story from my past

In 2019 I was in New York briefly for the celebration of 75 years of the Dance Division of the New York Public Library. As part of the event I was asked to talk about the acquisitions I especially remember from my time as curator there. It brought back memories of a rather amazing visit I made to a gallery in downtown Manhattan in 2007.

A small but significant collection of posters from the 1960s to the 1980s for performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was being prepared for sale in the gallery. They were the work of some of those truly exceptional artists who collaborated with MCDC during those decades: Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Morris Graves, Jasper Johns and others. The suggestion came that I should go down to this gallery and see if there was any material I would like for the Dance Division. So off I went. There I was met by Julian Lethbridge, himself a fine artist. Julian introduced me to the gentleman who was hanging the show. There he was up a ladder in his jeans. ‘Oh Michelle,’ Julian said. ‘I’d like you to meet Jasper Johns.’ Only in New York, I thought to myself.

But apart from the shock that the man up the ladder in jeans was Jasper Johns, the material was amazing and every poster was signed by Merce. And the escapade was also an example of the philanthropic generosity that keeps the Dance Division running. The items I selected were bought for the Division by Anne Bass and were appropriately hung in the Division’s 2007 exhibition INVENTION Merce Cunningham and collaborators.

I was reminded of this acquisition and the meeting I had with Jasper Johns when just recently I noticed, via Google Analytics, that views of the obituary on this website, which I wrote for Anne in 2020, had been steadily rising (around the second anniversary of her death).

  • Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina live (as opposed to the streamed version) left me a little underwhelmed, so I decided not to do a full review but simply to make a few comments. Despite the so-called ’rave reviews’ that have appeared in various places, I found it interesting but not a great production, despite some exceptional design and projections, and some fine dancing. It was highly episodic, which is hardly surprising given the length and depth of the book on which it was based. But for me that episodic nature meant that there was no strong through line to the production. My mind flicked back to Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet. It was also episodic in nature as it skipped from place to place, era to era. But one of its great strengths was the addition to the work of the symbolic figure of Death, powerfully performed by Adam Bull. Death constantly hovered in the background and drew the episodes together.

Apart from the problem of the work’s episodic nature, I still find it hard to understand why the ending, which followed Anna’s suicide, was so, so long and featured (and ended with) two secondary characters, Kitty and Levin. Wasn’t the ballet about Anna Karenina?

  • A new Swan Lake?

As part of a Mothers’ Day promotional email, I discovered that the Australian Ballet is planning a new production of Swan Lake for 2023! I was a little surprised I have to say but will wait to hear more before further comments.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2022

Featured image: Poster for Ausdance ACT Dance Week 2022

Russell Kerr (1930–2022) Scripting the Dreams

This is an expanded version of an obituary written by Jennifer Shennan and published in The Dominion Post online on 2 April 2022.

Russell Kerr, leading light of ballet in New Zealand, has died in Christchurch aged 92. The legendary dancer, teacher, choreographer and producer influenced generations of New Zealand dancers. Kerr’s hallmark talent was to absorb music so as to draw out character, narrative, human interest, emotion, poetry and comedy that ballet in the theatre can offer. Thrusting your leg high in the air, or even behind your head, just because you can, is the empty gesture of perfunctory performance that he found exasperating. Shouting and sneering at dancers, telling them they are not good enough, was anathema to him. One dancer commented, ‘Mr Kerr always treated you as an artist so you behaved like one.’

Born in Auckland in 1930, the younger of two sons, Russell was already learning piano from his mother, a qualified teacher, when a doctor recommended dance classes to strengthen against the rheumatoid arthritis that ailed the child. Did that doctor follow the remarkable career that ensued from his advice?  Years later Russell was asked if it was difficult, back then, to be the only boy in a ballet school of girl pupils? He chuckled, ‘Oh no, it was marvellous—there I was in a room full of girls and no competition for their attention. It was great fun.’

Kerr made impressive progress both in dancing and piano, achieving LTCL level, then starting to teach. He could have been a musician, but dancing won out when in 1951 he was awarded a Government bursary to study abroad. In London he trained at Sadler’s Wells, with Stanislaw Idzikowski (a dancer in both Pavlova’s and Diaghilev’s companies), and also Spanish dance with Elsa Brunelleschi. Upon her advice and just for the experience, he went to an audition at the leading flamenco company of José Greco. Flamenco would be one of the world’s most demanding dance forms, both technically and musically. Remarkably, he was offered the job, providing he changed his name to Rubio Caro! How fitting that Kerr’s first contract was as a dancing musician. When asked later how he’d managed it he replied, ‘Oh, I just followed the others.’

Russell Kerr in 1951 shortly before leaving for England

After a time, Sadler’s Wells’ leading choreographer, Frederick Ashton, declared Russell’s body not suitably shaped for ballet. ‘I’ll show you’ he muttered to himself, and so he did. In a performance of Alice in Wonderland, he scored recognition in a review (‘Kerr’s performance as a snail was so lifelike you could almost see the slimy trail he left behind as he crossed the stage.’ As he later pointed out, ‘not many dancers are complimented in review for their slimy trails’). A sense of humour and irony was always hovering.

Kerr danced with Ballet Rambert, and was encouraged towards choreography by director Marie Rambert. Later he joined Festival Ballet, rising to the rank of soloist, earning recognition for his performances in Schéhérazade, Prince Igor, Coppélia, Petrouchka among others. Nicholas Beriosov had been regisseur to choreographer Fokine in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Kerr’s work with him at Festival Ballet lent a pedigree to his later productions from that repertoire as attuned and authentic as any in the world.

The investment of his Government bursary was exponentially repaid when Russell, now married to dancer June Greenhalgh, returned to New Zealand in 1957. He told me he spent the ship’s entire journey sitting in a deck chair planning how to establish a ballet company that might in time become a national one. Upon arrival he was astonished to learn that Poul Gnatt, formerly with Royal Danish Ballet, had already formed the New Zealand Ballet and, thanks to Community Arts Service and Friends of the Ballet since 1953, ‘…they were touring to places in my country I’d never even heard of. So I ditched my plans and Poul and I found a way to work together.’

Kerr became partner and later director of Nettleton-Edwards-Kerr school of ballet in Auckland. (I was an 11 year old pupil there. It was obvious that Mr Kerr was a fine teacher, encouraging aspiration though not competition. We became friends for life). Auckland Ballet Theatre had existed for some years but Kerr built up its size and reputation, staging over 30 productions. Perhaps the highlight of these was a season of Swan Lake on a stage on Western Springs lake. He produced a series, Background to Ballet, for Television New Zealand in its first year of broadcasting, and also choreographed many productions for Frank Poore’s Light Opera Company.

In 1959, New Zealand Ballet and Auckland Ballet Theatre combined in the United Ballet Season, involving dancers June Greenhalgh, Rowena Jackson, Philip Chatfield, Sara Neil and others. The program included Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor to Borodin’s sensuous score, and Prismatic Variations, co-choreographed by Kerr and Gnatt, to Brahms’ glorious St Anthony Chorale. Music as well as dance audiences in Auckland were astonished, and the triumphant season was repeated with equal success the following year in Wellington, when Anne Rowse joined the cast.

June Greenhalgh & Russell Kerr in Prismatic Variations.Choreographed by Russell Kerr and Poul Gnatt. New Zealand Ballet 1960
June Greenhalgh and Russell Kerr in Prismatic Variations, 1960. Photo: © John Ashton

In 1960 a trust to oversee the New Zealand Ballet’s future was formed, and by 1962 Kerr was appointed Artistic Director. His stagings of classics—Giselle, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Les Sylphides, Schéhérazade—were balanced with new works, including the mysterious Charade, and whimsical One in Five. Kerr used compositions by Greig, Prokofiev, Liszt, Saint-Saens and Copland for his own prolific choreographic output—Concerto, Alice in Wonderland, Carnival of the Animals, Peter and the Wolf, The Alchemist, The Stranger. In 1964 he invited New Zealander Alexander Grant who had an established reputation as a character dancer with England’s Royal Ballet, to perform the lead role in Petrouchka, a superb production that alone would have earned Kerr worldwide recognition.

A fire at the company headquarters in 1967 meant a disastrous loss of sets and costumes that only added to the colossal demands of running the company on close to a shoestring budget. Kerr’s health was in an extremely parlous state. In 1969 Gnatt returned from Australia and as interim director, with the redoubtable Beatrice Ashton as manager, kept the company on the road.

Russell had worked closely with Jon Trimmer, the country’s leading dancer, and his wife Jacqui Oswald, dancer and ballet mistress. They later joined him at the New Zealand Dance Centre he had established in Auckland, developing an interesting new repertoire. The Trimmers remember, ‘…Russell would send us out into the park, the street or the zoo, to watch people and animals, study their gait and gestures, to bring character to our roles.’  Kerr also mentored and choreographed for Limbs Dance Company. The NZDC operated until 1977, though these were impecunious and difficult years for the Kerr family. But courage and the sticking place were found, and Russell, as always, let music be his guide.

In 1978 he was appointed director at Southern Ballet Theatre, which proved lucky for Christchurch as he stayed there until 1990, later working with Sherilyn Kennedy and Carl Myers. In 1983 Harry Haythorne as NZB’s artistic director invited all previous directors to contribute to a gala season to mark the company’s 30th anniversary. Kerr’s satirical Salute, to Ibert, had Jon Trimmer cavorting as a high and heady Louis XIV.

His two lively ballets for children, based on stories by author-illustrator Gavin Bishop—Terrible Tom and Te Maia and the Sea Devil—proved highly successful, but there was a whole new chapter in Kerr’s career awaiting. After Scripting the Dreams, with composer Philip Norman, he made the full-length ballet, A Christmas Carol, a poignant staging alive with characters from Dickens’ novel, with design by Peter Lees-Jeffries. (The later production at RNZB had new design by Kristian Fredrikson).

Possibly the triumph of Kerr’s choreographies, and certainly one of RNZB’s best, was Peter Pan, again with Norman and Fredrikson, with memorable performances by Jon Trimmer as an alluring Captain Hook, Shannon Dawson as the dim-witted Pirate Smee, and Jane Turner an exquisite mercurial Tinkerbell.

Study for Captain Hook in Russell Kerr's 'Peter Pan', 1999. © 1998 Kristian Fredrikson
Study for Captain Hook and Peter Pan in Russell Kerr’s Peter Pan, 1999. © 1998 Kristian Fredrikson

His sensitively nuanced productions of Swan Lake became benchmarks of the ever-renewing classic that deals with mortality and grief.

Russell Kerr rehearsing 'Swan Lake'. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1997. Photo: © Maarten Holl
Russell Kerr rehearsing ‘Swan Lake’. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1997. Photo: © Maarten Holl

Leading New Zealand dancers who credit Russell for his formative mentoring include Patricia Rianne, whose Nutcracker and Bliss, after Katherine Mansfield, are evidence of her claim, ‘I never worked with a better or more musical dance mind.’ Among many others are Rosemary Johnston, Kerry-Anne Gilberd, Dawn Sanders, Martin James, Geordan Wilcox, Jane Turner, Diana Shand, Turid Revfeim, Shannon Dawson, Toby Behan—through to Abigail Boyle and Loughlan Prior.

An unprecedented season happened in 1993 when Russell cast Douglas Wright, the country’s leading contemporary dancer, in the title role of Petrouchka. He claimed Wright’s performances challenged the legendary Nijinsky.

An annual series named in his honour, The Russell Kerr Lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, saw the 2021 session about his own life and career movingly delivered by his lifelong colleague and friend, Anne Rowse. The lecture was graced by a dance, Journey, that Russell had choreographed for two Japanese students who came to study with him. It would be the last performance of his work, the more poignant for that.

Russell was writing his memoirs in the last few years, admitting the struggle but determined to keep going. He said, ‘Writing about my problem with drink is going to be a very difficult chapter.’ Russell had told Brian Edwards in a memorable radio interview decades back, of the exhausting time when his colossal work commitments had driven him ‘to think that the solution to every problem lay in the bottom of the bottle.’  He eventually managed to turn that around and thereafter remained teetotal for life—but by admitting it on national radio, he was offering hope to anyone with a similar burden, himself proof that there is a way out of darkness.

He viewed the sunrise as an invitation to do something with the day. He would bring June a cup of tea but not let her drink it till she had greeted the sun. Recently he took great joy in seeing photos of my baby granddaughter, rejoicing to be reminded of the hope a new life brings to a family.

Russell concurred with the sentiment expressed in Jo Thorpe’s fine poem, The dance writer’s dilemma (reproduced in Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60):

… the thing…
which has nothing to do with epitaph
which has nothing to do with stone.
I just know I walk differently
out into  air
because of what dance does sometimes.

Russell Kerr was a good and decent family man, loyal friend, master teacher and choreographer, proud of his work but modest by nature, resourceful and determined by personality, honest in communication, distressed by unkindness, a leader by example. A phenomenal and irreplaceable talent, he was a very great New Zealander. 

He is survived by son David, daughter Yvette and their families.

Russell Kerr photographed in 2007

Russell Ian Kerr, QSM, ONZM, Arts Foundation Icon
Born Auckland 10 February 1930
Married June, née Greenhalgh, one son (David), one daughter(Yvette)
Died.Christchurch 28 March, 2022

Sources: David Kerr, Anne Rowse, Jon Trimmer, Patricia Rianne, Rosemary Buchanan, Martin James, Mary-Jane O’Reilly, Ou Lu.

Jennifer Shennan, 3 April 2022

Featured image: Russell Kerr as director of Southern Ballet in 1983

Dance diary. March 2022

  • Anna Karenina. The Australian Ballet

During March I watched a streamed showing of Anna Karenina from the Australian Ballet. Choreographed by Ukrainian-born choreographer (currently resident in the United States) Yuri Possokhov, this production of Anna Karenina premiered in 2021 in Adelaide with just a few performances, but its presentation in other States had to be cancelled, and cancelled, until March 2022 when it opened in Melbourne.

I was struck more than anything by the spectacular set design (Tom Pye), which for the most part was quite minimal but nevertheless evocative, and which frequently moved seamlessly to new features as locations changed. But I found the lighting (David Finn) quite dark for most of the production, with the major exception being the peasant-style ending, which I’m not sure was an essential part of the story to tell the truth. I’m not sure either if the consuming darkness was more a result of the streaming situation or part of the overall production. But the darkness was annoying.

There were some strong performances from Robyn Hendricks as Anna and Callum Linnane as Vronsky but perhaps the strongest characterisations came from Benedicte Bemet as Kitty and Brett Chynoweth as Levin. But I am not sure that this production is ideal for streaming and I am looking forward to seeing it live in Sydney in April.

Bendicte Bemet and Brett Chynoweth in Anna Karenina. The Australia Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Jeff Busby

But on the issue of the history of productions based on the Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina, I recently came across a ’Stage Direction’ article by Stephen A. Russell published on the website of the Sydney Opera House. It gave an interesting, short introduction to the variety of ways in which the novel has been used in a theatrical manner. The article is currently available at this link, although may not be there for the long term.

  • Henry Danton (1919-2022)

The death of leading dance personality Henry Danton was announced back in February. Read the obituary by Jane Pritchard published in The Guardian at this link.

Henry Danton also played a significant role in the growth of professional ballet in Australia. He was a guest artist with the Melbourne-based National Theatre Ballet over several years and during that time consistently partnered Lynne Golding, including in the National’s full-length production of Swan Lake and in Protée, staged for the company by Ballets Russes dancer Kira Bousloff before she moved to Perth to establish West Australian Ballet.

  • Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra Dance Theatre recently announced the departure from the company of three dancers, wonderful artists who have given audiences so much pleasure in recent productions. Baden Hitchcock, Rika Hamaguchi and Bradley Smith have left the company to pursue other options. All three are beautiful dancers and I’m sure their future careers will continue to give us pleasure.

Rika Hamaguchi in the final scene from SandSong. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Other news from Bangarra is that the company’s children’s show Waru—journey of the small turtle, cancelled last year due to COVID, will be coming to the stage later this year. Conceived and created by Stephen Page and Hunter Page-Lochard, along with former Bangarra dancers and choreographers Sani Townson and Elma Kris, Waru tells the story of Migi the turtle who navigates her way back to the island where she was born. Waru is on in Sydney from 24 September to 9 October 2022 in the Studio Theatre at Bangarra’s premises at Walsh Bay.

  • Russell Kerr (1930-2022)

Prominent New Zealand dance personality Russell Kerr died in Christchurch earlier this month. Read an obituary with a great range of images at this link. I am expecting an obituary from his close friend and colleague Jennifer Shennan shortly and will publish it on this site when received. For further material on Russell Kerr and his activities on this website follow this tag.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2022

Featured image: Robyn Hendricks as Anna and Callum Linnane as Vronsky in Anna Karenina. The Australian Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Jeff Busby

International Women’s Day with Somebody’s Aunt

Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day. This morning I received an email containing a YouTube link to a 3 minute dance creation, ‘Aunts on Scooters by Somebody’s Aunt’, celebrating older women on the move. Somebody’s Aunt has been part of the Canberra dance scene for 17 years and has presented all kinds of work in unconventional spaces while using a variety of dance forms and related activities. With this short film they have set out to show that ‘older people can scoot to many and varied locations for different activities and all the while having fun and scooting safely’.

Here is the link:

The scooters being used are Neuron electric scooters powered in the ACT by electricity from renewable energy. There are some lovely scenes of Canberra in there too!

Michelle Potter, 8 March 2022

Featured Image: Dancers from Somebody’s Aunt. Photo: © Natsuko Yonezawa

Dance diary. February 2022

February’s dance diary is all about what’s coming up in March (and later). What a thrill it is to have events scheduled with a live audience (fingers crossed of course!).

  • BOLD 22

Canberra’s next BOLD Festival—the third in a remarkable series inaugurated and directed by Liz Lea—was scheduled originally for 2021. In fact two attempts were made for it to take place in 2021 and both had to be cancelled. But BOLD has weathered the storm and BOLD 22 will open on 2 March with a launch at the National Film and Sound Archive. In a manner that reflects our present environment as much as anything else, BOLD 22 will be a series of events that are both in person and online. It will feature participants from across Australia and around the world. It continues to have as patron the irrepressible Elizabeth Cameron Dalman.

I will be giving a keynote talk entitled And the dance goes on … which will begin with a discussion of Melbourne Theatre Company’s 1975 production The Revenger’s Tragedy and continue with the surprising dance outcome that resulted from that production.

The program for BOLD 22 is at this link.

  • Redland to Russia

Redlands Museum in Cleveland, Redlands Coast Area, Queensland, will open its latest exhibition Redland to Russia—Lisa Bolte, my ballet career on 12 March. It will continue through April and May and focuses on the career of former Australian Ballet principal, Lisa Bolte, who grew up in the Redlands area. The exhibition will feature a collection of costumes and memorabilia from the Australian Ballet archive, along with footage of Lisa’s life story growing up in the Redlands, and her subsequent career on stage.

I have many great memories of Lisa’s performances over a number of years. She was a standout performer in so many ballets but I was blown away by two productions in particular, Stephen Baynes’ 1914 in which she danced the lead role of Imogen, and a totally brilliant performance as the lead in George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. But below she is seen in the mad scene from Giselle Act Ia photo taken during a guest performance in Russia.

Learn a little more about the exhibition at this link.

  • The Johnston Collection

I was scheduled to give a talk in Melbourne for the Johnston Collection in 2021 but, like so many other events, it too was cancelled due to COVID restrictions. Well that talk has been rescheduled and will take place in Melbourne on 22 June. The talk is called Kristian Fredrikson. Theatre designer extraordinaire. More information and bookings at this link.

Michelle Potter, 28 February 2022

Featured image: Poster for BOLD 22 featuring patron Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: © Jen Brown

Dance diary. January 2022

  • West Australian Ballet

What a pleasure it is to be able to say that West Australian Ballet is turning 70 in 2022. It is the oldest ballet company in Australia and was founded in 1952 by the former Ballet Russes dancer Kira Abricossova Bousloff. The company gave its first performance in 1953 and turned professional when Rex Reid was appointed artistic director in 1969. Since then its directors have included Robyn Haig, Garth Welch, Barry Moreland, Ted Brandsen and Ivan Cavallari. It is currently directed by Aurélian Scanella who has now been at the helm of the company for ten years.

Unfortunately, Western Australia has very strict entry requirements at the moment and it is not an easy place to visit for those who live outside the State. The thought of missing certain parts of the 2022 program is hard to take. I am especially interested that the company is planning its own new production of Swan Lake in late 2022. It will be choreographed by Krzysztof Pastor, will have a distinct relationship to West Australian culture and society, and will incorporate Indigenous material into the production. While this Swan Lake promises to be unique, the focus on the culture of the West is also an exceptional way to honour Kira Bousloff whose early repertoire incorporated reflections on Australian life and culture.

  • La Nijnska. A new book by Lynn Garafola

Esteemed dance historian Lynn Garafola has recently completed a biography of Bronislava Nijinska. As the first in-depth account of the life and career of a dance artist about whom so little has been written, La Nijinska is a publication which we can anticipate with particular interest. The book is being published shortly by Oxford University Press, although its exact publication date seems to vary somewhat according to different sources. Details are on the OUP website.

And on an Australian note, Kira Bousloff, founder of West Australian Ballet as mentioned above, took classes with Nijinska and performed with her company. She talks about her experiences in an oral history conducted with her in 1990 for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. The interview is online at this link.

  • BOLD Festival 2022

The much delayed BOLD Festival (originally planned for 2021) is going ahead in Canberra and online in March. See below for information from the BOLD team on the keynote addresses and the BOLD Lecture. Further information as it comes to hand.

We are thrilled to announce our three Keynote speakers and the 2022 BOLD Lecture. Talks will be in person and live-streamed on the 3rd and 4th March at the National Library of Australia. They will then be available online for 22 days.

Our opening Keynote is Eileen Kramer who, at 107 years of age, continues to create dances, stories, costumes and films, even in the midst of Covid lockdowns. Her tenacity and creativity shine through this difficult time.

In conversation with long time collaborator Sue Healey, Eileen will reveal ideas about longevity of practice and what drives her to keep creating.


ID; Woman with white hair and large earrings holds her newly published book

Our next Keynote is the extraordinary Gary Lang speaking from the heat of Darwin about his life as a Larrakia artist.I will speak of the unique way I, as an Artistic Director and choreographer, use multi cultural dancers to tell my people’s first nations stories on the local, National and International stage through my work with the NT Dance Company. Our work reflects the rich multicultural tapestry of the Territory and collaborates with leading dance companies including most recently, NAISDA Dance College, West Australian Ballet, Northumbria University UK and MIKU Performing Arts from East Arnhem Land.
ID; An indigenous man with silver hair, wearing glasses, white shirt, black trousers and turquoise wrap, sitting barefoot on a chair in a darkened theatre. Theatre lights glow dimly behind him and his left arm and leg are elegantly crossed as he looks directly at the camera. 

Our closing Keynote is Dr Michelle Potter who will discuss ‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’. Revenge tragedies always have a tragic outcome, but Melbourne Theatre Company’s 1975 production of the Jacobean play ‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’ had a surprising and very positive outcome for the future of dance in Australia.

The talk references Dr Potter’s stunning book Kristian Fredrikson; Designer as the designer of the production and acts as a soft launch for the National Library of Australia’On Stage exhibition opening that day, running until the 7th August 2022.


Kristian Fredrikson, costume design for The Duke in The Revenger’s Tragedy, 1975. National Library of Australia
ID; a water paint of a male character throwing his hands in the air wearing a black and white bold patterned cape with brown and dark blue lining, black and white patterned trousers, black boots, intricate chest piece detailed with brown and a high ruffled neck, Elizabethan style.

Our conference closes with the BOLD Lecture given in the memory and spirit of Scotland based Australian dance artist Janice Claxton. Janis worked internationally, she was a hugely talented choreographer, a tour-de-force and front-line fighter for equality in dance. The first BOLD Lecture was given by Claire Hicks, Director of Critical Path. This year we will be joined by Marc Brew, another Scotland based Australian choreographer working internationally. Most recently he was the Artistic Director of AXIS Dance Company, USA.

ID; A photo of a white male, slim build, 6′ 2″ tall, wheelchair user with a shaved head, green eyes and sculpted facial stubble, wearing a black at cap, black jumper and a black & grey scarf around his neck. Poised in front of a grey background. Photo credit; Maurice RamirezMarc is a Disabled choreographer, director and dancer. His lecture titled ‘Point of the Spear’ will share his personal experience of the importance of being an advocate for accessibility and inclusion. How, collectively, we all need to work together to be Inclusive in our thinking and actions to make the world equitable for all.

On a final note applications for The Annie are coming in which is brilliant. Do keep sharing the word so we can support an artist to create work on older dancers with Annie’s inimitable spirit chivvying us on.



Next up we will announce our workshop series which will be offered over the 5 days of the Festival. We have 15 workshops being offered in person in Canberra and on Zoom from around Australia, LA, Canada, Singapore and the US. Be fabulous
Stay Bold
best wishes

The BOLD Team
 
  • New appointments

A range of departures and new appointments to dance and dance-related organisations was announced over the past month or two. In Australia they include the departure after close to twelve years of Anne Dunn from Sydney Dance Company to take on the role of Executive Director and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Sydney Theatre Company. Lou Oppenheim will take on the role of CEO of Sydney Dance Company in mid-February.

Elsewhere in the world they include the appointment of Tamara Rojo as Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet. Rojo leaves English National Ballet in late 2022 to become the first female director of SFB. She replaces Helgi Tomasson.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2022

Featured image: Dayana Hardy Acuna in a publicity shot for West Australian Ballet’s 2022 Swan Lake. Photo: © Finlay Mackay and Wunderman Thompson

Louis Solino (1941–2022)

by Jennifer Shennan

Louis Solino was for years a member of the celebrated José Limón Dance Company of New York. He later staged many works from that company’s talisman repertoire when a tutor at New Zealand School of Dance. Louis was partner of New Zealander Paul Jenden, both of them major contributors to Wellington’s theatre life.

Early drawn to dance, Louis performed in American Bandstand, Philadelphia’s hugely popular tv music and dance show. After studies in New York, he joined the Limón Dance Company in 1968, staying for 11 years. The company toured widely, including South America, Poland and Soviet Russia, encountering interesting audience reactions to the ‘new’ art.

In 1981 Anne Rowse, director of New Zealand School of Dance, on a study tour to establish connections for possible development at the school, had a fruitful and far-reaching meeting with Louis and Paul (who was studying dance and design in New York).  

Choreographies by Mexican-born Limón and fellow-artist Doris Humphrey are classics of American modern dance, timeless works of thematic power and intrinsic musicality. Anne understood the importance of that heritage, and upon learning that Paul was returning home, invited Louis to tutor at NZSD. She recalls, ‘He taught and staged wonderful repertoire, influencing many students into their subsequent careers … Carolyn Lambourn, Kate O’Rourke, Ursula Robb, Daniel Belton, Sarah Lawrey, Alannah Eliot, Alexandra Blair are only a few who come to mind.’

Louis worked at NZSD from 1982 to 1998. Sue Nicholls on the faculty recalls, ’I have a distinct vision of Louis with a very straight back, chin slightly dropped and direct focus. I really admired his care in presenting these works, and the students showed a deep respect for him and this heritage.’ Louis, a disciplined task-master, never handed out praise before it was earned, even if then, but guarded accuracy and integrity of each choreography. These included There is a Time, The Unsung, La Malinche, Concerto Grosso, Choreographic Offering, Dances for Isadora, The Shakers, Day on Earth, Two Ecstatic Themes, Air for the G String. It was phenomenal that Louis had memorised all those works. While the notated dance scores sent from New York were interesting, he scarcely needed to consult them.  Everything was in his head and heart.

Dance studies seminars in Victoria University of Wellington’s Continuing Education program offered studio showings of The Moor’s Pavane—(Louis reprised the role of Iago he had played opposite Limón’s and also Erik Bruhn’s Othello. Jenden danced The Moor, Carolyn Lambourn Desdemona, Claire Martin Emilia) allowing us insight into the jewel in the crown of Limón’s repertoire. (Years later another student Daniel Belton would dance Iago to Irek Mukhamedov’s Othello in Kim Brandstrup’s European company. This is dance lineage of the highest order). 

Equally memorable was Louis’ staging of Limón’s solo Chaconne, impeccably danced by Paul Jenden, the Bach/Busoni music stunningly played by pianist Richard Mapp. Jenden in slimline dark trousers and soft silk shirt, in Adam Concert Room, at a Music Teachers’ symposium and in the Lutheran church in Newtown, filled these bound spaces with consummate control and a noble dance quality. They rank among the most exquisite performances I have witnessed. 

A graduand dancer may never perform professionally again, but from Solino’s stagings they would carry memories for life. Limón’s choreographic style and aesthetic is minimalist, finely honed and paced, character embedded within the choreography, needing no embellishment, strain or added emotion. Just the moves as set. 

Louis and many of his colleagues were devastated when his teaching tenure at NZSD ended. He continued free-lance teaching, working with Fleur de Thier’s Rebound dance company in Christchurch and in a number of films, but his talents were absurdly under-used.

Jenden’s theatrical output was prolific, and he made roles for Louis wherever possible—in the Hairy Maclary shows, The Gay Fandango, musicals and pantomimes at Circa or Bats, seasons of Fairy Stories (with Jon Trimmer also in the cast)—shows laced with biting satire and high-camp naughtiness. Jenden’s legendary Swan Lake and Giselle, 20 minute one-man shows, hilariously mocking perfunctory ballet productions, with Bill Sheat claiming these were the funniest things he’d seen in the theatre.

In 2013, after serious illness with cancer, Jenden created C— The Musical at Circa. Louis played the silent role of Carcinoma and musician Sue Alexander recalls him as ‘an eerie, gaunt, elegant baroque figure, dressed in a long cape which I had to pass as it lay on the floor backstage, the only position from which Louis could put it on. It was about 20 feet long and spread along the floor like a dark, densely textured Venetian corpse.’

Voluminous sky-blue silk capes are worn in Doris Humphrey’s elegaic Air for the G String (Louis left the costumes here when he returned to America, trusting us to choose the appropriate celebratory or commemorative occasions to dance it). One of the costume labels reads ‘Renata’. Renata Donovan subsequently studied nursing, and I happened to meet her in ICU of Wellington Hospital, nursing the dying Paul Jenden. She did her work with care and compassion, sat with Louis in the waiting room, then went back to nurse the patient. Just the moves as set.

Louis returned to America in 2014. Our farewell to him included Air, and a striking rendition of Two Ecstatic Themes danced by Lucy Marinkovich. Grateful students gifted him a pounamu pendant which he wore constantly, ‘a piece of Aotearoa to take with me’ so no surprise to see it still at his throat when former students, led by Michael Long, enterprisingly fund-raised to bring Louis back to Wellington for the school’s 50th anniversary in 2017.  I took him to visit revered kuia, Tiahuia Gray (whose daughter Merenia and son Tanemahuta had both been Louis’ students) to bless the pounamu with a karakia. Tiahuia asked Louis his favourite word so as to name the taonga.  He answered ‘Paul’.

Louis lived his last years with family in New Jersey, and died after a long illness. He is survived by his sisters, Marysue Palen, Joann Fry and their families.

Louis Solino, born 7 February 1941, Philadelphia; died 5 January 2022, New Jersey

An edited version of this obituary first appeared in New Zealand in Stuff Entertainment on 22 January 2022.
Sources: Anne Rowse, Felicity Hamill, Daniel Belton, Sarah Lawrey, Jane Woodhall,  Richard Mapp, Carolyn Lambourn, Sue Nicholls, Sue Alexander

Jennifer Shennan, 29 January 2022

Featured image: Louis Solino in The Nero Show. Circa Theatre, Wellington, 2010. Photo: © Stephen A’Court. Courtesy Circa Theatre photo archive

Dance diary. December 2021

  • Season’s greetings

Thank you to all those who have accessed this website over 2021. Your loyalty is much appreciated and I look forward to your visits, and comments, in 2022. Happy New Year and here’s hoping there will be more live performances for us to see in 2022.

  • Dance and disability

Canberra has long had a strong and diverse dance program for those with a disability. Nowhere was this more clear than on 3 December, the International Day of People with a Disability—Australia. An event held at the National Portrait Gallery, led by Liz Lea, presented short works by various Canberra-based groups including ZEST—Dance for Parkinsons, the Deaf Butterflies Group and Lea’s new group, Chameleon Collective. As a particular highlight, a group of dancers from Canberra’s company of senior performers, the GOLDS, along with dancers from QL2 Dance and elsewhere also gave a performance as part of ON DISPLAY GLOBAL, a ‘human sculpture court’ initiative that began in 2015 in New York as part of a now-world-wide event celebrating the occasion.

A moment from the Canberra contribution to ON DISPLAY GLOBAL, 2021. Photo: Michelle Potter
  • ‘In remembrance of times past’

When writing my post The Best of 2021 I used the phrase ’in remembrance of times past’ (a common translation of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu). I used the phrase in a specific sense, one relating to changes in the way newspapers report (or don’t) on the arts these days. But shortly after using that phrase in my post, I chanced to come across some images taken in 2010 during a day spent in Auvers-sur-Oise in France.  At the time we were there—just for a day to see the town where Vincent van Gogh spent his final days—a community dance group from Brittany was visiting. Here are some photos that date back to that day.

That controversial ballet

Not so long ago I received a message in the contact box for this website about La Bayadère. In my Dance diary. July 2021 I had posted a piece about the ballet and the issues that were arising around the world, in particular in the United States, about the Indian context of that work. Well it seems that similar issues are now arising in Australia. The contact box message came from a member of the Hindu community in Australia and was similar in content to the comments that were circulating elsewhere in the world. In part the message I received said, ‘Hindus are urging “The Australian Ballet” to discard “La Bayadère” performance from its “Summertime Ballet Gala”; scheduled for February 17-19, 2022 in Melbourne; which they feel seriously trivializes Eastern religious and other traditions.’

I am, of course, curious to know if anything will eventuate, but I think it is important to add that it is The Kingdom of the Shades scene that is being presented in Melbourne, not the full-length Bayadère.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2021 

Featured image: Sulphur-crested cockatoos enjoying seeds in a Cootamundra Wattle tree, Canberra 2021