Dance diary. April 2024

This month’s dance diary is distinguished by two appointments to major dance organisations—the Australian Ballet School and the Royal Academy of Dance—and one major move by a dancer from Queensland to Switzerland.

  • Megan Connelly appointed as director of the Australian Ballet School

Megan Connelly has been announced as the next artistic director and head of school at the Australian Ballet School. She takes over from Lisa Pavane, who will retire shortly. Connelly will begin her role at the end of May 2024 and will initially work alongside Pavane so that a smooth transfer can occur.

The Australian Ballet School announcement reads in part:

The Artistic Director & Head of School is a strategic and creative leadership role responsible for artistic and educational excellence and student wellbeing. This key role requires deep experience within the art form, an understanding of ballet trends, strong national and international networks and expertise in elite ballet instruction and performance.

Connelly’s career to date has been extraordinarily diverse and her qualifications and experience, as set out in the media release from the Australian Ballet School, suggest she is the ideal person to take on the role.

  • Alexander Campbell appointed to lead RAD

Sydney-born Alexander Campbell, who received his early dance training at Academy Ballet in his home town, and who then went on to dance with Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet, has been appointed to lead the Royal Academy of Dance in London. He succeeds Gerard Charles who retired in 2023. Campbell began his tenure this month, April 2024.

Read more from the Royal Academy at this link.

  • Joel Woellner to join Ballet Zürich

Joel Woellner, principal dancer with Queensland Ballet since June 2021, has accepted a contract with Ballet Zürich, which is currently directed by Cathy Marston. He will start with his new company in August 2024 and will give his last performance with Queensland Ballet in Greg Horsman’s Coppélia in June. In a contribution to the just-released media statement Woellner comments, ‘It’s with mixed emotions I make this career change, but I look forward to the new challenges. This is not goodbye, but rather see you again soon.’

Portrait of Joel Woellner. Photo: © David Kelly

Woellner’s work with Queensland Ballet has always been eminently watchable. I especially enjoyed his recent performance as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But there are lots of other roles where he has shone. See this tag for my comments on Woellner’s work over several years.

  • International Dance Day 2024. The Message

Marianela Nuñez, principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, delivered this year’s message for International Dance Day. See this link for the English version of the short message and this tag for comments about Nuñez on this website.

  • Recent Reading

The latest dance book I have read has been Deborah Jowitt’s biography of Martha Graham—Errand into the Maze. The Life and Works of Martha Graham, published early in 2024. I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the extensive research that went into this book. Jowitt, as a former dancer, understands the technical side of dance and describes so well each of the many dances that she includes in the book. But I have to admit that I found the going hard. Somehow the descriptions started to get tiresome to read as one followed another, followed another, followed another, and I longed for more about Graham’s personal life. That life made an appearance now and then but it just wasn’t a strong component. It could have added a less technical note to what is quite a long book.


Michelle Potter, 30 April 2024

Featured image: Portrait of Megan Connelly. Photo: © Pierre Toussaint

Dance Week 2024. Ausdance ACT


Ausdance ACT prides itself on having Australia’s most extensive program for Dance Week, and the ACT branch of Ausdance has, in fact, been building up its approach for over 30 years (if I remember correctly). This year’s program, which runs from 29 April to 5 May, illustrates the quite extraordinary diversity of dance that characterises Canberra these days.

The program for 2024 includes studio classes, workshops, and activities for all, including a range of free classes. At the end of this post there is a link to the complete program, but this post will highlight just a few of the events.

The activities begin on Monday 29 April, International Dance Day, a celebratory day that was initiated by the Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute in 1982. The date, 29 April, was chosen as it is the birth date of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), esteemed teacher and historian who is regarded by many as the creator of modern ballet. Ausdance ACT’s opening event, which will be addressed by Minister for the Arts, Tara Cheyne MLA, will feature a performance of Co_Lab:24 from Canberra’s professional dance company, Australian Dance Party (ADP). This is a 2024 iteration of an event that has been part of ADP’s repertoire for a number of years. The idea behind Co_Lab is one of collaboration and experimentation with a diverse range of artists. The 2024 version will feature dancers Alison Plevey, Sara Black and Melanie Lane and musician Alex Voorhoeve (cello), with sound/voice from Sia Ahmad and visuals from Nicci Haynes.

In addition to being featured at the opening celebration, Co_Lab:24 will have two public performances at the Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre on 30 April and 1 May.

Olivia Wikner and Alison Plevey in a Co_Lab performance. Photo: © Andrew Sikorski

Also as part of the opening program there will be the opportunity to watch some short dance films from Dance.Focus and Danceology, along with the premiere of the film Hillscape. As a live work, Hillscape was given just one performance, and that was a year ago as part of the 2023 Canberra International Music Festival. It was performed outdoors in the amphitheatre of the National Arboretum and I am hoping that, with a film version, we will have the opportunity to get a closer view of Ashley Bye’s choreography. See my review of the live show at this link.

Scene from the live performance of Hillscape, 2023. Photo: © Peter Hislop

There is also an astonishing number of workshops and classes to try over the week. They include a workshop with Jazida exploring dancing with silk fan veils; an adult beginner ballet class with Matthew Shilling (former dancer with Sydney Dance Company now director of MAKS Ballet Studio); taster classes in the ZEST: Dance for Wellbeing program; an open class in hip-hop with Fresh Funk; an outdoor performance SHOW US YOUR FACE in Garema Place from the Jam Cabinet (a street dance community); and lots more.

Dance for Wellbeing Class. Photo: © Lorna sim

Delve into what’s on this year at this link where you will find dates, times and how to RSVP or apply (necessary for some but not all events). There is something for everyone.

Michelle Potter, 21 April 2024

Featured image (cropped, full image below): Promotional image for a workshop to be held on 4 May 2024, ‘Fabulous Fan Dancing with Jazida’. Photo: © Captavitae Photography

Dance diary. March 2024

  • Johan Inger’s Carmen

Coming in April from the Australian Ballet is a production of Carmen by Swedish choreographer Johan Inger. Recent discussions about the background to the work, which was first created in Madrid in 2015, always mention the appearance of a child as a character in the work. One British reviewer has written that the child ‘represents the wider fall out of abuse’. This Carmen, apparently, is dramatically sexual and has a focus on violence towards women. It is described by the same reviewer as ‘uncomfortable to watch’, although she admits that those words are not a reason to stay away from the show!

The work is set to Rodion Shchedrin’s 1967 Carmen Suite, an adaptation of Georges Bizet’s score for the opera Carmen. The Shchedrin score is also frequently mentioned in reviews, especially for its use of percussion instruments. But what especially struck home to me was that Shchedrin’s wife was the acclaimed ballerina Maya Plisetskaya. The score was written for her when she was preparing to dance a version of Carmen choreographed for her (at her request) by Alberto Alonso. The story of the creation of the score appears as a whole chapter in I, Maya Plisetskaya, Plisetskaya’s autobiography published in 2001 by Yale University Press.

It is worth noting too that the same score was used by Natalie Weir for her exceptional work Carmen Sweet, made in 2015 for her Brisbane-based Expressions Dance Company (now no longer in existence).

In the brief clip below, Inger talks about his Carmen, while behind him a rehearsal for a section of the production takes place in London. In addition to Inger’s words, the clip is interesting from the point of view of the choreography, which is classically based to a certain extent, but which has a powerful contemporary feel/look to it. Some dancers from the Australian Ballet also appear in the rehearsal, which was basically for English National Ballet’s performances, which began in February 2024 at Sadler’s Wells.

The Australian Ballet’s production of Inger’s Carmen plays in Sydney 10–24 April.

  • On dramaturgy

I recently received a private comment on my review for Canberra City News of Catapult’s show Awkward. The comment included the suggestion that the show might have been stronger had a dramaturg been employed to develop a more focused approach. Well, I couldn’t agree more. Even if a dramaturg might not always do a stellar job (as was also suggested in the comment), it’s worth making the effort. One of the most remarkable shows I have seen over the past several years has been Liz Lea’s production, RED. Lea employed Brian Lucas as dramaturg for the show and, while the content of RED was highly complex, it ended up being a brilliantly focused production.

A slightly expanded version of my City News review of Awkward is at this link.

  • Press for March 2024

‘Awkward performance dances on too long.’ Canberra City News, 28 March 2024. Online at this link.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2024

Featured image: Jill Ogai of the Australian Ballet in a study for Johan Inger’s Carmen. Photo: © Simon Eeles

Dance diary. February 2024

  • Russell Kerr Lecture 2024

The annual Russell Kerr Lecture for 2024 took place in Wellington on Sunday 25 February. The lecture honoured Sir Jon Trimmer, esteemed artist who made a huge contribution to ballet in New Zealand, and who died last year. I was to give a short talk in which I planned, by focusing on images including some costume designs, to show how Jonty, as he was familiarly known, was able to inhabit a role so magnificently. Unfortunately there was an issue with the plane that was taking me to Wellington from Sydney late on Saturday. The issue was not so much the plane itself but the weather in Wellington as we attempted to land. We were in fact diverted to Auckland (at around midnight) and a situation developed where we were told to wait in the transit lounge until the plane could take off to Wellington (the next morning). Well, without going into the highly unpleasant details, I ended up flying back to Sydney on the Sunday thus missing the lecture!

One of the most interesting parts of the proposed talk, at least for me, concerned a work called Tell Me a Tale choreographed by Gray Veredon in 1988 in which Jonty played the role of the Teller of Tales. In an interview I did with Jonty in 2018 he told me he was ‘a really “outback” character’ in the work. In a earlier interview (2012) with Royal New Zealand Ballet’s former wardrobe manager, Andrew Pfeiffer, I heard that ‘Jon was dressed in a Driza-Bone with a bit of silver fern wrapped through his hat and that emblem printed all over the top of his Driza-Bone.’ Below is Kristian Fredrikson’s design for the Teller of Tales alongside a photo of Jonty dressed in that outfit.

Andrew Pfeiffer also gave a very succinct outline of the story saying, ‘It was basically a storyteller telling a young boy the story of New Zealand in terms of the relationships between the Māori people and the colonists. Jonty was often just standing there with a young boy sitting at his feet. He was miming to the boy throughout the ballet with the ballet taking place on the side.’

And another aspect of that part of my talk was Veredon’s discussion of how the work came to be called Tell Me a Tale. Here is the audio link:

I was really disappointed not to have been able to give the talk and may work out later how to add the PPT to this site.

  • Hannah O’Neill

It is always good to hear about Hannah O’Neill’s ongoing success with Paris Opera Ballet. Here is a link to the latest news.

  • Lifeline Book Fair Canberra

The Lifeline Book Fair is a regular event in Canberra and has been for many years now. The most recent fair was in February 2024 and I ended up with seven dance-related items even though I had decided I have enough dance books for the rest of my life and wasn’t intending to buy anything this time. All in all the seven items cost me $27, which will go to helping Lifeline Canberra keep its crisis telephone service operating in the local area. I am currently reading the autobiographical I, Maya Plistetskaya, perhaps the most unusually written book I have ever come across. Next on the list is The Official Bolshoi Ballet Book of Swan Lake by Yuri Grigorovich and Alexander Demidov, whose chapters include ‘The Inside Story’, ‘Concerning One Delusion’, ‘A Painful Dilemma’ and other such fascinating titles. It promises to hold many matters that will be new to me I think.

Michelle Potter, 29 February 2024

Featured image: Jon Trimmer as Captain Hook in Russell Kerr’s Peter Pan. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1999. Photo: © Maarten Holl

Hilary Trotter (1933–2024)

Hilary Trotter, whose influence on the role of dance in society, especially in Australia, is almost without measure, has died in Canberra in her 91st year. From a personal point of view, she helped me for several years with the establishment of Brolga. An Australian Journal About Dance. And from the point of view of the growth of professional dance in the ACT, her input was remarkable. Below is an outline of Hilary’s career in dance written by her close colleague Julie Dyson, and published here with her permission.

Hilary Trotter, dance writer, advocate and activist
b. 13 June 1933; d. 18 February 2024

Hilary and her family moved to Canberra in the 1960s, where she was dance critic for the Canberra Times from 1972–90. She was an early advocate for dance in the ACT as a writer and parent of young children at the then Bryan Lawrence School of Ballet where she herself—determined to learn the intricacies of ballet—joined the classes as an adult beginner. In 1977 she became a founding member of the Australian Association for Dance Education (now the Australian Dance Council—Ausdance), and was its first ACT President from 1977–1981, and National President from 1981–84. 

Hilary helped to draft Ausdance’s first Constitution in 1978, wrote its monthly newsletter Dance Action, managed ACT dance projects such as Sunday in the Park, initiated the annual ACT Summer School of Dance, the ACT Dance Festival, and then successfully lobbied for the establishment of the ACT’s first professional dance company, Human Veins Dance Theatre (HVDT). 

In the early 1980s she was elected to the Gorman House establishment committee, ensuring that there would be workable and accessible dance spaces there with sprung floors, high ceilings and adequate office and green room spaces. Since then there have been permanent professional dance companies in residence in Gorman House [now Gorman Arts Centre]: HVDT, the Meryl Tankard Company, Sue Healey’s Vis-à-vis Dance Canberra, the Australian Choreographic Centre, and now QL2.

Funding for all Ausdance ACT projects were the direct result of Hilary’s skills as a grant application writer and advocate. When Ausdance National received its first Australia Council funding in 1984,  Hilary became its co-director until her retirement in 1991, co-managing many projects for Ausdance National including the establishment of a national dance database, partnerships with the Media Arts & Entertainment Alliance (MEAA) to produce the Dancers’ Transition Report (1989), and the National Arts Industry Training Council to produce the first Safe Dance Report (1990) as its skilled project designer and editor, and inventing the now internationally-recognised term ‘Safe Dance’, with implications for dance practice world-wide. She also designed Brolga—an Australian Journal About Dance and Asia-Pacific Channels for many years, and was the writer, editor and designer of all Ausdance National publications throughout the 1990s.

Hilary’s vision for Ausdance was to see a network of funded Ausdance organisations throughout the country, and her work to realise that vision led to a real growth in Australians’ understanding of dance as an art form, as a vital part of every child’s education, as a health imperative and as a serious area of tertiary study. The national coordinators toured the country every year throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, visiting each Ausdance office, holding meetings with companies, studio teachers, students, tertiary institutions, local arts councils and funding bodies, and endeavouring to link all their activities to meaningfully connect the industry with a voice that would be heard by decisions makers at all levels, but most particularly in the federal Parliament.

Hilary’s passing sees the end of an advocacy era, where leadership that provides action and a national overview is respected, validated and acted upon by all in the greater interest of dance across political and state boundaries. Recent national and state funding decisions have greatly undermined this effort, a situation that saddened Hilary in her later years.

Hilary’s approach was gently persuasive, always backed by written evidence and supported by others with whom she worked. Hilary was made an Honorary Life Member of Ausdance in 1991, and was further honoured at the 2018 Australian Dance Awards for Services to Dance.

Vale Hilary! 

—Julie Dyson, 18/2/24

Julie Dyson has reminded me also of an oral history that Hilary Trotter recorded in 1988 with Don Asker director of Human Veins Dance Theatre at the time, which is part of the oral history collection of the National Library of Australia. She also reminded me of a series of articles (five to be exact) regarding a 1982 tour made by Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), then led by Jonathan Taylor. The articles, with the title ‘Dustbins and Taffeta’, appeared in Brolga, issues 10–14 (1999–2001). Looking back at them they provide an exceptional record of that tour, which started at Sadler’s Wells in London and then continued at a range of festivals in Germany, Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece. I randomly opened up the first article and read the following paragraph, which concerns Taylor’s work While we watched:

The deep impression made by the high energy level of the dancing is a hallmark of the piece. But the rake and small size of the Sadler’s Wells stage have caused problems of pace and timing in rehearsal. In Adelaide the dancers had to run at full speed to make their stage crossings in time, but here people keep finding themselves arriving at designated points in the pattern too early. Nevertheless I hear the stagehands behind me talking in low voices, ‘See the energyit’s staggeringpeople zipping about all over the place—God, what stamina!

All five articles are well worth reading. (Brolga is unfortunately no longer in production but it is held in print form in most major state libraries around Australia.)

Vale Hilary indeed!

Michelle Potter, 19 February 2024

Featured image: Hilary Trotter receiving her Honorary Life Membership from Ausdance President Keith Bain in Perth in 1991. Photographer not identified

Tribute to Jon Trimmer

2 February 2024. Opera House, Wellington
by Jennifer Shennan

Sir Jon Trimmer, dancer extraordinaire and leading artist of the Royal New Zealand Ballet for decades, died in October 2023. Yesterday a Tribute to the man and artist was presented in Wellington to a capacity audience at the Opera House. Guest of Honour was Jacqui, Lady Trimmer, also a dancer with RNZB, who was at Jon’s side throughout his 60 year performance career 

The event was designed and prepared by Turid Revfeim, former dancer with Company, and more recently artistic director of her independent Ballet Collective Aotearoa.

We were reminded of the extraordinary range of Jonty’s roles in spoken tributes, photo images, film excerpts of him dancing, and live performances by current members of RNZB. Jon had danced in all the classics—(his favourite was Albrecht, and we also saw film of him as the visionary poet in Les Sylphides). In dramatic roles there were so many favourites but let’s mention Friar Lawrence and Duke of Verona in Christopher Hampson’s Romeo and Juliet; the debauched King in André Prokovsky’s Königsmark; Dr Coppélius in Russell Kerr’s Coppélia; the stunning Swan in Bernard Hourseau’s Carmina Burana; a compelling toa/warrior in Gaylene Sciascia’s Moko; the enigmatic Man in Ashley Killar’s No Exit; and the poignant Leopold in Gray Veredon’s Wolfgang Amadeus—in a duet-minuet with the inimitable Eric Languet. In comedy roles Jon relished Stepmother in Cinderella, Pantalone in Veredon’s The Servant of Two Masters, The Matron in Gary Harris’ The Nutcracker, and goofing through the title role in Harris’ Don Quixote.

Jon Trimmer as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in 'A Servant of Two Masters'
Jon Trimmer (left) as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in A Servant of Two Masters. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Martin Stewart, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. PACOLL-8050-36-04

All those memories are worth gold, but it’s apparent to anyone who thinks about it that Gray Veredon was/is New Zealand’s exceptional choreographer with a unique imagination, style and sensibility. Jon was 41 when he first danced the outrageously wonderful solo as The Entertainer in Veredon’s Ragtime Dance Company. No one on the planet ever did or could match that performing. At age 80 Veredon is still active on the international choreographic stage, with recent successes in Warsaw and Venice, and now in Mexico. How fine and fitting it would be for RNZB to re-stage some of his stellar works—perhaps Firebird and Tell Me A Tale for starters.    

In 2006 Peter Coates directed and produced a wonderful documentary of Jon’s career from which excerpts were screened. How wonderful to see and hear Russell Kerr in such good voice analysing Jon’s talents. The film will be a valuable resource for years to come. 

Tributes were received from former artistic directors of RNZB—Harry Haythorne (by proxy from Mark Keyworth), Ashley Killar, Patricia Rianne, Gary Harris, Matz Skoog, Ethan Stiefel and Francesco Ventriglia—and were read by Anne Rowse, former director of New Zealand School of Dance.

Breathing stopped when Helen Moulder started a cameo from her poignant play, Meeting Karpovsky, that she and Jon performed many times. How could she do that with half the cast missing? But suddenly there was Kim Broad who quietly appeared from the shadows in a miraculous summoning of Jon’s presence. That was the true moment of theatre in the whole event.

The next Russell Kerr Lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, the sixth in the annual series, to be held in Wellington on Sunday 25 February 2024, will be all about Jon Trimmer. Turid Revfeim is the main presenter, with a number of other contributors, and we will also screen the complete Coates’ documentary. For those readers able and interested to attend, please email jennifershennan@xtra.co.nz for an invitation.

We are already thinking ahead that 2025’s lecture will be on Gray Veredon. Perhaps the year after that might be Eric Languet?

Jennifer Shennan, 3 February 2024

Featured image: Jon Trimmer in Helen Moulder’s Meeting Karpovsky. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Dance diary. January 2024

  • BOLD Bites

The BOLD Festival started as a biennial event in 2017 but it suffered in terms of being biennial as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will, however, be back in a mini form in March 2024. BOLD24 will be a ‘Bite Size’ initiative and will feature a series of events celebrating International Women’s Day 2024. It will anticipate the next major BOLD festival in 2025. BOLD Bites will, as is the focus of all BOLD activities, honour intercultural, inclusive and intergenerational dance. 

The program will take place over three days, from 8 to 10 March, in various venues in Canberra. Further information shortly on the BOLD website. Stay tuned. UPDATE: Here is a link to the schedule.

I will be involved in three conversation sessions:

BOLD critique with author Emma Batchelor on writing about dance in reviews, articles and other formats. Our conversation will be followed by an open Q & A session.

BOLD Moves with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman focusing on the foundations of Mirramu on Lake Weereewa, and on the inspiration Dalman finds in nature. It will be a prequel to the premiere screening of a new film, Lake Song, choreographed by Dalman, directed by Sue Healey and featuring Canberra’s company of older dancers, the GOLDS.

BOLD Diva with Morag Deyes, former director of Dance Base in Scotland. This conversation will focus on the rich tapestry of Deyes’ career as the leader of Dance Base and as the founder of PRIME, Scotland’s premier dance company of elders.

  • New dancers for Sydney Dance Company

Sydney Dance Company has announced that five new dancers will join the company for its 2024 season—Timmy Blakenship, Ngaere Jenkins, Ryan Pearson, Anika Boet and Tayla Gartner. It was more than interesting to read a brief biography of each of these new dancers. Two have strong New Zealand connections (Jenkins and Boet); Blakenship was born, raised and trained in dance in the United States; and Pearson and Gartner are Australian with Pearson having a strong First Nations background and a memorable early career with Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Sydney Dance Company 2024. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Sydney Dance Company has always been a company of dancers with diverse backgrounds but with the new additions in 2024 that diversity is being strengthened. And from a personal point of view, after watching Ryan Pearson perform so magnificently with Bangarra Dance Theatre, I really look forward to watching him work with Sydney Dance Company. Below are brief biographies of the five new artists (taken from the Sydney Dance Company media release):

American dancer Timmy Blakenship was born on the Lands of the Arapaho Nation/Colorado, and completed his early training in contemporary dance and choreography at Artistic Fusion in Thornton, Colorado and Dance Town in Miami, Florida. He continued his training at the prestigious University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance on scholarship, graduating with a BFA in 2023 where he performed works by William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Merce Cunningham and Yin Yue.

Ryan Pearson was born and raised in Biripi Country/Taree, New South Wales and is of Biripi and Worimi descent on his mother’s side and Minang, Goreng and Balardung on his father’s side. Ryan began his dance training at NAISDA at age 16, after taking part in the NSW Public Schools’ Aboriginal Dance Company, facilitated by Bangarra’s Youth Program Team in 2012. Ryan joined Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2017 as part of the Russell Page Graduate Program and was nominated in the 2020 Australian Dance Awards for Most Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer for his performance in Jiri Kylian’s Stamping Ground.

Originally from Wadawurrung Country/Geelong in Victoria, Tayla Gartner commenced full-time training at the Patrick Studios Australia Academy program in 2018 before undertaking the Sydney Dance Company’s Pre-Professional Year in 2022, where she performed works by choreographers including Melanie Lane, Stephanie Lake, Jenni Large, Tobiah Booth-Remmers and Rafael Bonachela. In 2022, Tayla worked with and performed repertoire by Ohad Naharin and was a finalist in the Brisbane International Contemporary Dance Prix. 

Born in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Ngaere Jenkins is of Te Arawa and Ngāti Kahungunu descent. Ngaere trained at the New Zealand School of Dance, graduating in 2018. Throughout her studies, she worked with influential mentors including James O’Hara, Victoria (Tor) Colombus, Taiaroa Royal and Tanemahuta Gray. Ngaere represented the school as a guest artist in Tahiti at the Académie de Danse Annie FAYN fifth International Dance Festival and Singapore Ballet Academy’s 60th Anniversary Gala. From 2019 Ngaere was a dancer with The New Zealand Dance Company and was the recipient of the Bill Sheat Dance Award.

Raised in Christchurch, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Anika Boet is of South African and Dutch descent. Moving to Sydney in 2020, Anika completed two years of full-time training at Brent Street School of Performing Arts, receiving her Diploma of Dance (focusing on Contemporary) with Honours. Anika made her professional debut in Sydney Festival in January 2022 performing a work Grey Rhino, choreographed by Charmene Yap and Cass Mortimer Eipper. Anika completed a post-graduate course at Transit Dance, performing works by Chimene Steele Prior, Prue Lang, and Paul Malek. 

  • Ruth Osborne, OAM

Ruth Osborne, outgoing director of Canberra’s QL2 Dance, was honoured with the richly deserved award of a Medal of the Order of Australia at the 2024 Australia Day Awards. Osborne has had a distinguished career over several decades, most recently since 1999 with Canberra’s outstanding youth dance organisation, QL2 Dance. Among her previous awards are an Australian Dance Award (Services to Dance), 2011; a Churchill Fellowship, 2017; and three Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards, most recently in 2023 for her performance and input into James Batchelor’s Shortcuts to Familiar Places. For more about Ruth Osborne on this website see, in particular, this link and, more generally, this tag.

Ruth Osborne, Canberra, 2023. Photo: © Olivia Wikner

  • Meryl Tankard: a new work

My colleague Jennifer Shennan has passed on the news that Ballet Zürich has just premiered a new work by Meryl Tankard. Called For Hedy, it is part of a triple bill called Timekeepers, which looks back to the artistic achievements of the 1920s. Other choreographers represented in Timekeepers are Bronislava Nijinska (Les Noces) and Mthuthuzeli November (Rhapsodies). More information is on the Ballet Zürich website.

  • Press for January 2024

It has been a while since I have been able to add a section called ‘Press …. ‘ in a dance diary, but in January I had two items published in print outlets (which of course also appeared in an online version). The first appeared in Canberra’s City News, the second in Dance Australia for the 2023 Critics’ Choice section.

‘Flatfooted funding threatens company’s future.’ City News, 4-10 January 2024, p. 17. Online version at this link.

‘MICHELLE POTTER, Canberra’. Dance Australia: ‘Critics’ Choice’. Issue 242 (January, February, March 2024), p. 46. The text for this item is quite difficult to read against its black background, even in a blown-up version, so that text is inserted below next to a small image of the page.

Choreographer James Batchelor regards himself as a Canberran, although at this stage in his dance life he works between Australia and the rest of the world. To make a career as a professional, independent artist he goes where work is available for him and most recently has been working in Sweden with Norrdans. But he grew up in Canberra and had his dance training with QL2, Canberra’s youth dance organisation. He returns frequently to his home town and in 2023 presented Shortcuts to Familiar Places, a work that in fact had a significant connection with Canberra. It was a major highlight in the city’s dance calendar.

The work began as an investigation into the transmission of dance from one generation to another. Batchelor was especially interested in his own “body luggage” as passed on to him by his early dance teacher at QL2, Ruth Osborne, whose background had links to the work of pioneering dancer and teacher Gertrud Bodenwieser. Shortcuts to Familiar Places was the end result of this interest and investigation.

Shortcuts began with footage of Osborne giving an insight into the swirling movements of the arms and upper body that she absorbed via her own teacher, former Bodenwieser dancer Margaret Chapple.

As the footage came to an end, Batchelor appeared onstage and performed a shadowy solo that began slowly but that gathered momentum as time passed. From then on there was a beautifully conceived melding of film footage and onstage movement with Batchelor being joined by Chloe Chignell in a series of duets. It was a fascinating experience to watch the movement unfold and to feel a clear connection to what Osborne and others demonstrated and spoke about on film at various moments during the work. In addition to Osborne we saw on film Eileen Kramer, who demonstrated the movements she recalled from Bodenwieser’s Waterlilies, as well as Carol Brown and Shona Dunlop MacTavish. But it was also interesting to see how Batchelor and Chignell moved away from the movement of Bodenwieser and her followers to develop an individual but connected style.

One moment stood out in an exceptional way. It happened when, on film, Osborne stretched her arm forward in a straight line towards Batchelor and Chignell on stage as if reaching to them in a gesture of transmission, which they accepted with arms outstretched towards the footage. There it was, the lineage and its transmission for us all to see.

A driving, original score from Morgan Hickinbotham was played live and a changing pattern of light and dark came from lighting designer Vinny Jones. With dramaturgy by Bek Berger, Shortcuts was an intelligently thought through show. The idea of embodied transmission is one that is so often mentioned in dance discussions today, but with Shortcuts Batchelor showed the concept to us specifically through dance, and demonstrated in particular how a style from an older period can be developed to suit the current era. Shortcuts to Familiar Places was just brilliant to watch and consider.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2024

Featured image: A moment during the filming of Lake Song, directed by Sue Healey and choreographed by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman (seen in the foreground, coaching from the shore), 2023. Photo: © Sue Healey

Joan Acocella (1945–2024)

Tributes from Michelle Potter and Jennifer Shennan

From Michelle:
It is with immense sadness that I pass on the news that esteemed dance writer, Joan Acocella, has died in New York City aged 78. She was one of the best dance writers I have come across. Why? Her writing style was always eloquent, elegant and engaging. Her research for her writing seemed to know no bounds. And her way of thinking about dance was profoundly different from most dance writers.

In the introduction to her book, Twenty-eight artists and two saints, a collection of essays written initially for other printed sources (largely but not exclusively for The New Yorker), she explains her point of view in relation to the essays included in the book. Her approach addresses what she calls ‘the pain that came with the art-making, interfering with it, and how the artist dealt with this’ rather than what she sees as a common belief that artists endure ‘a miserable childhood and then, in their adult work, to weave that straw into gold’.1

Her 1993 publication Mark Morris also has a beautiful slant on the idea of biography. In her Author’s Note that precedes the biography itself she writes:

My goal was to provide an account of [Morris’] life and a guide to his work, but what I wanted most was to give a portrait of his imagination—an idea of how he thinks, or how he thinks the thoughts that lead to his dances.2

Elsewhere on this site I have written about Mark Morris with the words:

Acocella knew Morris’ background, sexual, emotional, family and otherwise, but didn’t dwell on it as such. Instead she showed us so clearly how that background could give us an insight into his works. I especially enjoyed her chapter on Morris’ time in Brussels. True, she mentioned the dramas, but also the successes so that it became a balanced account of that time. She also set it within a context of European approaches to viewing dance and contrasted these approaches with those she thought were more typical of American thoughts. Her biography of Morris is so worth reading.

Then there is her fabulous editing of Nijinsky’s diaries in which she gives us the real thing, not an expurgated version as did Nijinsky’s wife, Romola.

But I have one personal memory that has always stayed, and always will stay with me. While working in New York I was giving a media introduction to a New York Public Library Dance Division exhibition INVENTION. Merce Cunningham and collaborators. I was about to use a quote from an article by Acocella on the Cunningham production Split Sides. As I looked up and out to the audience, there was Joan Acocella smiling beatifically as her name was mentioned and somehow seeming to stand out from the others in the auditorium. A shining moment and a special memory of an exceptional lover of dance.

From Jennifer:
In 2000 Wellington’s International Festival of the Arts proposed an Arts Writing initiative in which the British High Commission brought out Michael Billington, long-time theatre critic for The Guardian, and Fulbright New Zealand brought Joan Acocella, dance critic from New York.

 (At first the invitation had gone Deborah Jowitt but, as the deadline for her book on Antony Tudor was approaching, she declined. Jenny Gill of Fulbright asked me to suggest an alternative. I had met Joan Acocella in 1980s while studying in New York and many of us were delighted when she accepted the invitation).

I requested that Joan first be taken to Dunedin where RNZBallet were performing a season including halo by Douglas Wright, and Mark Morris’ Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, and her resulting review was full of interest. Then in Wellington Joan conducted a weekend dance-writing workshop—some dozen of us attended NDT’s Mozart program, wrote a review overnight, delivered those to Joan at her hotel before breakfast then met mid-morning to hear her comments on our various reviews. It was a fascinating experience and I stlll use my notes from that weekend.

I also arranged for Joan to give a lecture at NZSchool of Dance where she spoke about Nijinksy. (Joan’s edition of Nijinsky’s Diary reinstates all that his wife Romola had omitted from her early publication of it. Her biography of Mark Morris is also an insightful study of an iconoclastic artist).

In the years of Joan’s sparkling dance and literature writings for the NY Review of Books, and for The New Yorker, there are many classic pieces, but her trip with Baryshnikov on his first return to Riga is probably the most indelibly etched of them all.

A very great dance writer indeed. It was a privilege to have known and worked with her.

Joan Acocella: born San Francisco, 13 April 1945; died New York City, 7 January 2024

Michelle Potter and Jennifer Shennan, 11 January 2024

Featured Image: Joan Acocella photographed in New York. Photo from The New York Review of Books.


1. Twenty-eight artists and two saints (New York: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House) 2007), p. xiii. Not all the subjects in this book are dance artists but those who are include Lucia Joyce, Vaslav Nijinsky, Lincoln Kirstein, Frederick Ashton, Jerome Robbins, Suzanne Farrell, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Martha Graham, Bob Fosse and Twyla Tharp.

2. Mark Morris (New York: Farrer Straus Giroux, 1993), unpaginated.

Various obituaries are available on the internet.

Dance diary. December 2023

  • Li Cunxin’s farewell

Li Cunxin’s farewell as artistic director of Queensland Ballet was celebrated in a gala show over three performances on 12 and 13 December. Below is a tribute to Li from a range of people who worked with him, along with some terrific photos and footage from the decade of his directorship, and earlier. So worth a look!

See more about Li and his incredible input into the growth of Queensland Ballet at this link.

  • Leanne Benjamin and that outback photograph by Jason Bell

Early in her autobiography, Built for ballet, Leanne Benjamin talks about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the photo taken of her in outback Australia, which I have used on this website on occasions and which (not surprisingly) always generates comments of one kind or another.

Leanne Benjamin who describes this image with the words ‘flying across the outback in my red chiffon.’ Photo: © Jason Bell, 2006

Benjamin was in Australia in December 2006 as a participant in Advance 100 Leading Global Australians Summit, which she says brought together ‘a diverse group of 100 of the best international  minds in business, science, education, research and the arts’. A photo shoot with English photographer Jason Bell and his team, unrelated to Advance 100, followed. It was specifically for a Royal Ballet series called A World Stage in which artists were shown in images, and sometimes on brief film footage, reflecting their country of origin. Benjamin calls it ‘an advertising campaign … which emphasised the international character of the Royal Ballet, and the Opera House where it has its home.’ Her costume, which she describes as ‘a Chanel lipstick-red dress with a skirt that would flash out behind me as I moved, and catch the breeze if we were lucky enough to get one in forty-degree heat’, was made in London by the costume department of the Royal Opera House.

‘Jason’s idea,’ Benjamin writes, ‘was to go for the centre of the continent, where even the colour of the earth tells you that you are in Australia. We’d hoped to shoot in front of Uluru, the country’s most famous landmark, but we couldn’t get permission to film there. The previous day, the team had been to the iconic domed rocks of Kata Tjuta and I’d had a terrific time, going through my paces on a flat floor, surrounded by looming boulders. It was as if someone had built a perfect set for a shoot.

The next day—the day we actually got the photograph Jason had been dreaming of—the terrain was much rougher, and the weather more overcast. To my surprise, the team had organised for a local ‘truckie’ to drive an authentic Australian road train slowly back and forth behind the shoot for a few hours. ….. This was not a stunt photograph, it was me, launching myself into the sky, in touch with the red, red earth of my beloved country.’

Who can forget that image?

Quotes above are from Benjamin’s book Built for ballet. An autobiography (Melbourne: Melbourne Books, 2021) pp. 21–22.

  • Oral history interview with James Batchelor

My final National Library oral history interview for 2023 was with James Batchelor, Canberra-born performer and choreographer who works between Australia and Europe. Amongst the many topics addressed during the interview was a discussion of his choreographic process, including in relation to two of his most recent works—Event and Short cuts to familiar places—and some information about his trip to the sub-Antarctic, including how it came about and the developments that followed the trip. The interview, once processed, will be available for all to hear.

James Batchelor performing in the Mulangarri Grasslands, Canberra, 2021. Photo: © Andrew Sikorski

  • Stephanie Lake. New resident choreographer at the Australian Ballet

Alice Topp’s term as resident choreographer at the Australian Ballet finished at the end of 2023 and the newly appointed holder of the position is Stephanie Lake. Lake will present her first work for the Australian Ballet, Circle Electric, in Sydney in May 2024 and in Melbourne in October 2024. Circle Electric will share the program with Harald Lander’s Études, which explores the intricacies of the classical ballet technique. The potential is certainly there for audiences to experience two vastly different approaches to dance.

Two of Lake’s recent works (for companies other than her own Stephanie Lake Company), are reviewed on this website at these links: Auto Cannibal (2019) and Biography (2022)

  • Promotions at the Australian Ballet

There were a number of promotions announced as the Australian Ballet’s 2023 season came to an end. Seen below in a scene from Don Quixote are newly appointed principals Jill Ogai and Marcus Morelli.

In addition, Yuumi Yamada is now a senior artist, Maxim Zenin, Aya Watanabe, Katherine Sonnekus, Misha Barkidjija and Cameron Holmes have been newly appointed as soloists, and Montana Rubin, Evie Ferris, Saranja Crowe, Sara Andrion, Hugo Dumapit, Adam Elmes, Larissa Kiyoto-Ward, and Lilla Harvey have been promoted to the rank of coryphée.

Yuumi Yamada has constantly impressed me over recent years and her promotion is definitely worth celebrating, but congratulations to all who were promoted. I look forward to watching their progress in 2024.

  • Some statistics for 2023

In 2023 this website received 48,959 visits, that is just over 4,000 per month. The top five 2023 posts in terms of number of visits were, in order, ”Talking to Martin James … about teaching’, ‘Swan Lake. The Australian Ballet (2023)’, ‘Strictly Gershwin, Queensland Ballet’, ‘Alice Topp’s Paragon’, and ‘David McAllister. An exciting retirement opportunity’. Of posts relating specifically to dance in New Zealand the top five posts accessed, again in order, were ‘(m)Orpheus. New Zealand Opera and Black Grace’, ‘Lightscapes. Royal New Zealand Ballet’, ‘Myth and Ritual. Orchestra Wellington with Ballet Collective Aotearoa’, ‘Platinum Royal New Zealand Ballet’ and ‘Ballet Noir. Mary-Jane O’Reilly and Company’. Top tags accessed, some used largely it seems for research purposes, were Mary McKendry, The Australian Ballet, Vadim Muntagirov, Graduation Ball, and Bodenwieser Ballet

Unfortunately Google Analytics, from which my data is obtained, has changed its format and the ability to access the number of visits from particular cities is limited to just one week prior to the period of each visit! But of overseas cities, London and New York appear every week.


Michelle Potter, 31 December 2023

Li Cunxin, 2023. Farewell image from Queensland Ballet. Photographer not identified.

Farewell to a year of dance, 2023

by Jennifer Shennan

In Maori custom an address or oratory always opens with acknowledgment of those recently deceased, recognising ‘the mighty totara trees that have fallen.’ That puts Jon Trimmer right up there in the first line since he is/was unarguably the hero of New Zealand dance. Knighted for his unmatched artistry, and the longevity of his fabled performance career, Jon was loved by so many—for all the roles he danced but also for the plain common decency in the man. Fastidiously professional about his own work, he was always interested in the work of others, ever standing by to help should that be needed. Jon may have passed (26 October 2023, aged 84) but the memories of his mighty performance career will never be forgotten, never. Nor will we see his like again, ever. Jon carried the mantle from Poul Gnatt and Russell Kerr to safeguard the Company for decades. That now passes to those performers and directors who lead RNZBallet. One can only wish them courage.  [The Company’s public tribute to Jon will be held in Wellington on Friday 2 February, 2024. See Company’s website for details and reservations. The next Russell Kerr lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, on Sunday 25 February 2024, will be devoted to Jon. Presenters include Turid Revfeim, Anne Rowse, Kerry-Anne Gilberd, Michelle Potter. For details and reservations, email jennifershennan@xtra.co.nz). Links to my obituaries for Jon are at this link and at www.stuff.co.nz

Jon Trimmer as Dr Coppélius in Coppélia. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1996. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

……………………


The Auckland Arts Festival began the year with two striking productions—Revisor, stunning dance-theatre choreographed by Crystal Pite, with dancers playing actors playing dancers. Scored in Silence was a deeply moving film-dance testament to the experiences of the profoundly deaf community of Hiroshima 1945.  

Royal New Zealand Ballet’s mid-year season Lightscapes, had four works with for me the standout Requiem for a Rose by Annabella Lopez-Orcha—a beautiful mysterious meditation, and the powerfully atmospheric Logos by Alice Topp (an RNZB alumna). Their single performance Platinum, was a tribute to 70 years achievement. My enduring memory is of Sara Garbowski dancing exquisitely in the excerpt from Giselle Act II. Sara has since retired from her 15 year performance career, and I for one am sorry we did not see her in the complete ballet. (Perhaps if she finds retirement over-rated she could come back as a guest artist to perform it in a year’s time?). The Company’s year ended with a romping return season of Loughlan Prior’s Hansel & Gretel which the rejuvenated company performed with great gusto.

Sara Garbowski in Giselle, Act II. Platinum season, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2023. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

Mary-Jane O’Reilly’s Ballet Noir, a contemporary treatment of Giselle Act II, was a phenomenal achievement—independent dancers who nevertheless performed as a seasoned company, with flawless technique, integrated design and powerful dramatic effect. We don’t do Dance Oscars, thank goodness, but if we did, this work would probably score. Another memorable season was the dance opera, (m)Orpheus, with direction and choreography by Neil Ieremia of Black Grace dance company. The dancers combined seamlessly with the singers who found nobility in a contemporary urban setting.

It was terrific to hear of Raewyn Hill’s staging Douglas Wright’s exquisite Gloria on her Co3 in Perth. Rumours of other works by Douglas in their planning for re-staging, mean I’d better be saving for an airfare. In Wellington an exhibition, Geist, of Tessa Ayling-Guhl’s photo portraits of Douglas Wright from 2015, was a moving experience. Björn Aslund choreographed a solo, geist dance, accompanied by Robert Oliver on bass viol, in the gallery. It’s always special when a dance enhances an art gallery space, uniting both art forms. A gathering was held at The Long Hall on October 14 to mark Douglas’ birthdate — and an archival screening of The Kiss Inside made compelling viewing. We plan to host a similar event every year on that date, and are grateful to Megan Adams who maintains the Douglas Wright archive with fastidious care.

A capacity audience attended the Russell Kerr lecture, this time focussing on Patricia Rianne’s celebrated career, and viewing her 1986 ballet, Bliss, based on the Katherine Mansfield short story. 2023 marks the centenary of Mansfield’s death and I was honoured to present a paper KM and Dance, at the VUW conference held to mark that.

2023 also marked the centenary of the tragic incident in which a young dancer, Phyllis Porter, was performing in the Opera House in Wellington, when her tarlatan skirt caught on the gaslight in the wings and she was horribly burnt, and died four days later. Shades of Emma Livry in Paris, though no-one here makes a pilgrimage to Phyllis’ resting place.

2023 offered several memorable dance videos—the Arts channel had a repeat screening of the splendid Cloudgate in Lin Hwai Min’s Rice. Firestarter about Bangarra Dance Theatre again made compelling viewing. A doco, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dancing told of Tom Oakley, a young Liverpool boy with serious cystic fibrosis yet who had danced his way to win a scholarship to Rambert Dance school. The outstanding force in German dance, Susanne Linke, sent me an intriguing video of her dance project, Inner Suspension, in which she shares her pedagogy and technique. (Anyone interested to receive the link could email Inge Zysk at info@susannelinke.com).

Several dance books of interest featured in my year. David McAllister was appointed Interim Artistic Director at RNZBallet. His two books, Ballet Confidential and the earlier Solo, provide access to the backstage life of the ballet and proved popular among local readers. The book Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty which Anne Rowse and I co-edited back in 2013, was released in a digital edition by Victoria University Press.

If I had to signal the hour and a half of the year that offered the purest dance pleasure, it would be the RNZB Company class I observed taught by David McAllister. Clarity of physics, and the miracle of anatomy, combined with music and poetry from each dancer, reveals the art, unmarked by choreography, casting, costumes and champagne—all the things we go to the ballet for. Here by contrast is the forge and the chapel where the art of the dancer is daily honed and made good. It’s my favourite thing.

Season’s greetings to all—in happy anticipation of 2024 which will see Akram Khan’s The Jungle Book Reimaginedand mid- year an intriguing project, Bismaya, in which Chamber Music New Zealand are bringing musicians from India to combine with Vivek Kinra’s Mudra dance company in a national tour and workshops. Russell Kerr’s pedigree production of Swan Lake from RNZB comes up in May, and later their mixed bill, Solace which includes a new work by Alice Topp. A return season of Liam Scarlett’s magical Midsummer Nights’ Dream is the work that keeps his talent alive.

Jennifer Shennan, 30 December 2023

Featured image: Jon Trimmer as a Stepmother in Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1987. Photo courtesy Royal New Zealand Ballet