‘Once a dancer, always a dancer’ is a phrase that springs to mind when looking at how David McAllister is managing retirement after serving for two decades as artistic director of the Australian Ballet. Since leaving that directorship role at the end of 2020, McAllister has published Soar, his autobiography; created a new Swan Lake for the Finnish National Ballet; been honoured with various awards; and taught for many organisations and dance schools across Australia (amongst a variety of other activities).
But the most recent news is perhaps the most interesting of all his recent engagements. In a commission that he has described as ‘an exciting retirement opportunity’, he will act as interim artistic director for the Wellington-based Royal New Zealand Ballet until a replacement is chosen to take over from Patricia Barker, who has announced her retirement. McAllister will take up the role early in March. Barker will return to the United States following the regional tour, Tutus on Tour, which concludes on 12 March.
Barker’s retirement comes at a significant point in RNZB’s history. The year 2023 is the 70th anniversary of the company’s foundation in 1953 by Poul Gnatt. Over those 70 years, and looking at the book The Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60 (edited by Jennifer Shennan and Anne Rowse), it is clear that the company has appointed directors from around the world. But was the last New Zealander to hold the post really Bryan Ashbridge in 1971? One wonders if, in celebration of the company’s stellar history, it is an appropriate time to appoint once more a New Zealander as director? Time will tell and, in the meantime, I’m sure McAllister will do a terrific job and will be admired by all involved. Interesting times for dance in New Zealand.
At the end of December it is always interesting to look back on statistics for the year. During 2022, Jennifer Shennan and I have posted 58 items on the website (just over one per week) and we have received around 46,000 visits over that period. Melbourne tops the list of cities from which our readers have come, but the website attracts visitors from around the world, especially (apart from Australia and New Zealand) from the United States and the United Kingdom. May our statistics continue to improve over the year to come and I wish all our friends and colleagues a happy new year. May 2023 be filled with dance, in whatever form that may currently be for you.
In the meantime, below are some news items that emerged during December 2022.
In a recent ‘Behind Ballet’ post, the Australian Ballet has explained why I have not seen Joseph Romancewicz onstage for some time. I have admired his dancing, and his strong stage presence, since 2018 when I thoroughly enjoyed his performance in a small role in a production of The Merry Widow, but had been a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen him recently. Well an injury in 2021 has kept him out of performances but it seems, with the help of the Australian Ballet’s health team and some surgery, he has recovered. He was an excellent Tybalt in the recent production of Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet and I look forward to seeing him again in 2023.
Melanie Lane, whose recent work in Canberra was Metal Park for QL2 Dance’s annual Quantum Leap show, has been named Choreographer in Residence 2023-2024 by Melbourne’s Chunky Move. The Choreographer in Residence initiative will invest $120,000 in Lane’s practice over the two years including a direct contribution of $50,000 in artist fees and $70,000 towards the commission of a major work in the second year of the tenure.
Lane has previously been commissioned by Sydney Dance Company, where she showed her unforgettable workWOOF, and by Australasian Dance Collective, Dance North, Chunky Move, Schauspiel Leipzig and West Australian Ballet. She was the recipient of the 2018 Keir choreographic award and the 2017 Leipziger Bewegungskunstpreis in Germany.
I interviewed Lane earlier this year while she was preparing Metal Park. See this link for what I wrote as a result of the interview. I am very much looking forward too to seeing what eventuates from Lane’s work with Chunky Move.
La Nijinska. A new book by Lynn Garafola
How little I knew about Bronislava Nijinska before reading Lynn Garafola’s latest, intensively researched book La Nijinska. It is a very dense book but, from the countless research elements, stories and anecdotes, one or two stand out for me, largely for personal reasons. I was interested to read about the genesis of Les Noces for example: it has a whole chapter to itself. It reminded me of a performance in Canberra way back in 1982 when Don Asker, then directing the city’s resident dance company, Human Veins Dance Theatre, choreographed a version of Les Noces for a Stravinsky Festival. Asker collaborated with the Canberra School of Music and, perhaps ‘for the first time ever’, so the media reported, had the music performed as Stravinsky envisaged it. The orchestra, including four grand pianos, soloists and chorus, shared the stage with the dancers. It was a monumental undertaking and one not to be forgotten.
Perhaps the most interesting snippet for me, however, was a brief discussion of Nijinska as a potential director of a second Ballets Russes company for Colonel de Basil, one that would eventually head to Australia. The story goes:
Now, in the summer of 1936, rumours circulated about the likelihood of de Basil forming a second company that would tour Australia, while the main company danced in Germany and the United States. Thomas Armour … wrote to a friend on April 22, “I have been told de Basil really plans this year to have two companies and that Nijinska will be in charge of the second.” (Lynn Garafola, La Nijinska. New York, Oxford University Press, 2022, p. 359).
Well it didn’t happen that Nijinska came to Australia in that role. It was Leon Woizikowsky who headed that 1936 visit to Australia. One must wonder however how different ballet in Australia might have been had it happened!
The Dying Swan
As we begin a new year, enjoy a beautiful performance of The Dying Swan danced by Nina Ananiashvili. It comes from the Jacob’s Pillow playlist, an amazing source of dance on film from works performed over the years at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts. Watch Ananiashvili here.
In 2022 I managed to see more live performances than I did in 2021. I was even able to get to New Zealand to see Loughlan Prior’s Cinderella. There were still a number of online offerings to add to the year’s viewing of course, and online watching has become part of my life I think.
As I did in 2021, I have chosen just five performances as my highlights for 2022, and the pluses and minuses experienced in 2021 were pretty much the same in 2022: difficulties resulting from choosing such a small number, but the advantage of having to focus strongly on what defines for me an outstanding work.
Below are my ‘top five’ productions for 2022, arranged chronologically according to the date of performance. I have included a link to my review in each case and have simply included in this post the main reason why I chose each work. All posts refer to live performances.
LESS (Canberra. Australian Dance Party, March)
LESS was a brilliant collaborative endeavour, and an outstanding site-specific work, the ongoing focus of Australian Dance Party. Here is the link to the review.
(As a Canberra-based writer I also chose LESS as my highlight for 2022 for Dance Australia and my comments should appear in that magazine soon).
Kunstkamer (Sydney. The Australian Ballet, May)
Kunstkamer was an outstanding work that showed the Australian Ballet and its dancers in a totally new light. Here is the link to the review.
Li’s Choice (Brisbane. Queensland Ballet, June)
Li’s choice showed the exceptional diversity of Queensland Ballet’s dancers and the equally exceptional directorship of Li Cunxin and his support staff. Here is the link to the review.
Galileo (Parramatta. Sydney Choreographic Ensemble, June)
Francesco Ventriglia skilfully demonstrated how choreography can convey a huge range of ideas and while doing so make a totally absorbing and focused work. Here is the link to the review.
Cinderella (Auckland. Royal New Zealand Ballet, August)
Loughlan Prior gave his Cinderella a setting and storyline that was a courageous and totally unexpected look at a well-worn story, Here is the link to the review, and another link to an interview with Loughlan Prior in which he talks about Cinderella.
My year’s list of dance highlights seems thinner than usual since a number of productions didn’t make it to curtain-up. There are no lowlights though (why would you write about lowlights?) so I’ll just call them lights.
From a screen viewing I followed with interest the choreographic venture, Journey, by Lily Bones. I remember Lily’s serene sense of line as an unusual individual dancer at both NZSchool of Dance and later in RNZBallet. After a time performing in Europe she is now based in Sydney and is a colleague there of Martin James. Her resilience in surviving serious illness, and her determination to make dances despite zero external resources has given her a maturity and quiet confidence to choreograph themes that speak and that we can hear. No glamour or glitz, just her truth. Refreshing.
It was a treat indeed to see again an Arts Channel broadcast of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in Rice. Choreographed by Lin Hwai Min in 2013 (and toured to Auckland in 2017), it is talisman to their repertoire, with typically perfect proportion in shaping the cycle of rice growth and harvesting. Like all Lin’s work, there is pacing and spacing through the episodes that deliver at one level of nature at work in the titled theme, and also allegorical layers of reference to human and personal experience. The erotic sensuality in a single central duet in Rice defines the original power of creation. I own a dvd of this work but choose not to watch it alone—so how is that different from sitting alone and watching a broadcast? just a sense that there will be others out there watching ‘with me’, a feeling of being in the audience that is shaped by a performance in time. Cloud Gate’s repertoire has a strength in its Chinese legacy and vocabulary that is yet accessible to the wider world. Riveting.
Another memorable experience on screen was the final sequence by the young boy in the studio, as epilogue to the film The White Crow, the dramatisation by Ralph Fiennes of Nureyev’s defection to the west. Overall I was not as transported by the film as others seemed, but was certainly moved by how that final dance was allowed to speak for itself. Poignant.
Pump Dance Studio’s Roll the Dice also transformed the commitment of young performers into something more than the sum of its parts. Infectious.
From NZSchool of Dance, Loughlan Prior’s Verse, a solo to the Folies d’Espagne played by the consummate ensemble Hesperion XXI, shone with the clarity of a beacon, both in choreography and performance. Luminous.
Two books—by Michelle Potter on Graeme Murphy, and by Ashley Killar on John Cranko—offered insights into those prolific choreographic careers, with welcome reminders of the live performances we have seen by their companies. Revelatory.
Not from this year, but nevertheless shaped by the pandemic term we are still experiencing, the tour de force of Strasbourg 1518 by Lucy Marinkovich and Lucien Johnson, remains the total standout dance season of recent times. Their earlier work, Lobsters, also holds its place on the list of memorable works of the decade. Indelible.
It has been indeed moving to follow the heroic project by Raewyn Hill, artistic director of Co3 Contemporary Dance in Perth, where she re-staged Gloria, the celebrated work by the late Douglas Wright, New Zealand’s visionary choreographer. Immortal.
A dance lives for as long as it is remembered, and can cheat death by a measure. Russell Kerr died earlier this year, and for many people the memory of his production of Petrouchka in which he cast Douglas in the title role, also stands as an indelible milestone in this country’s dance history. Legendary.
We are looking forward to the fifth in the series of the Russell Kerr Lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, in Wellington, late February. The subject will be Patricia Rianne, celebrated dancer, teacher and choreographer whose long career spans years both in New Zealand as well as UK, Europe and Asia. A delight.
Season’s greetings and good wishes to all those who watch dance, who create dances, who perform, who write and who read about dancing. Sprezzatura.
To all those who have logged on to this website throughout 2022, thank you for your interest. I wish you the very best for the holiday season. To me the holiday season means Christmas, and the photographs below are some of my favourite Christmas-related images from years past (with one from this year).
Have a safe and happy holiday season, whichever holiday you may be celebrating.
Michelle Potter, 24 December 2022
Featured image: The Santa Claus on the right was a Christmas present from a little boy in one of my ballet classes way back in the 1980s. On a trip to Scandinavia in around 2006 (perhaps a little earlier?), I bought the other two. The little wood cutter in the centre always sits on top of the quintessentially French bûche de Noël (Christmas log), a dessert I often make at Christmas time.
2023 marks Rafael Bonachela’s fifteenth year as artistic director of Sydney Dance Company and he has announced that he will continue in the role for another five years. The 2023 season will open with a triple bill called Ascent co-commissioned by the Canberra Theatre Centre. As such it will have its opening performances in Canberra followed by a season at the Sydney Opera House as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the House.
Ascent will feature a brand-new work by Bonachela, the return of Forever and Ever by Antony Hamilton, first shown in 2018, and a world premiere by Spanish choreographer Marina Mascarell. Of the program Bonachela says, ‘After the challenges of the past few years, I am so pleased to again be commissioning an international artist whose works have garnered critical acclaim around the world, alongside showcasing the work of a brilliant Australian choreographer.’
And I am so pleased that Canberra will be the city hosting the premiere of Ascent. Sydney Dance Company has been touring to Canberra pretty much annually (last year, 2021, is the only exception that stands out in my mind) since the 1970s. It is great to see this initiative, for which we must acknowledge the Canberra Theatre Trust for its co-commission.
Further information on the 2023 season is available on the Sydney Dance Company website. It includes information on the company’s regional tour, and its season of Up Close, a new venture to bring the company and audiences closer together and which will include a new work from Bonachela called Somos (meaning ‘we are’ in Spanish).
Launch of Glimpses of Graeme
Hobart, more specifically the Battery Point Community Hall, was the site for the launch of my latest book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy. The event was beautifully hosted by the Hobart Bookshop and it was a full house for the conversation between Graeme and me, which was moderated by Lucinda Sharp. Also featured were two short excerpts from works created for MADE by Murphy and danced by Sue Pickard and Laura Della-Pasqua, the official launch by Shirley Gibson from MADE, and a book signing.
In the image below, taken at the end of the event, see (l-r) Lucinda Sharp, dancer Susan Pickard, Michelle Potter, Graeme Murphy, Bronwyn Chalke (owner of Hobart Bookshop), dancer Laura Della-Pasqua (at rear), Shirley Gibson from MADE who did the official launch, and Janet Vernon.
Copies of Glimpses of Graeme are available from FortySouth online book store at this link.
Eileen Kramer turns 108
Early in November Eileen Kramer, once a dancer with Gertrud Bodenwieser, celebrated her 108th birthday. These days she works closely with film maker Sue Healey and a group of close friends in Sydney, where she currently lives.
See this tag for posts about Kramer on this site. My favourite is a link to a film made by Healey in 2017, which won an Australian Dance Award. Happy returns to Eileen Kramer.
News from James Batchelor
James Batchelor’s Shortcuts to familiar places premiered in Berlin in October and was toured to Bangkok in November. Batchelor has recently shared two comments on the work, including one from Australian dance artist Alice Heyward. Heyward’s essay is beautifully and thoughtfully written and constructed and so worth reading. Here is the link.
Dance in Canberra showed its current and growing strength in the annual awards given by the Canberra Critics’ Circle. Five recipients were honoured with a dance award, the most for a single year (at least as far as I can recall) in the 32 year history of the CCC awards, which celebrate originality, excellence, energy and creativity across the arts. Here are the dance recipients, with citations.
For a performance that was both technically and theatrically strong, and in which characterisation of a leading role was maintained in an exceptional manner throughout. To Ali Mayes for Juliet in the Training Ground’s Unravel.
For its initiative in bringing together dance filmmakers from the ACT and South Australia in October 2021 and September 2022 in which 9 short films were commissioned and shown, thus widening knowledge and understanding of Canberra’s dance culture beyond the ACT. To Ausdance ACT for their two collaborative programs of Dance.Focus.
For an exceptional full-length solo performance choreographed using a variety of physical genres combined with a strong visual arts component and an underlying focus on issues concerning the disastrous bushfires that ravaged parts of Australia in December 2019. To Jake Silvestro for his production of and performance in December.
For an adventurous site-specific work that explored a Canberra sculpture and its surrounding watery setting through innovative dance, and exceptional lighting and sound design, to give the audience a highly immersive experience. To Australian Dance Party for LESS.
For his charismatic, athletic performance in his self-choreographed work Similar,Same but Different, based on a piece choreographed by Ruth Osborne for Riley’s brother, and performed against a film of Osborne’s work. Similar, Same but Different was performed with a calm assurance that was as captivating as it was moving. To Danny Riley for Similar, Same but Different.
Scroll through this link to read my comments on the 2020 production of Similar, Same but Different.
Congratulations to those five awardees for moving Canberra dance forward during 2022.
Bangarra’s 2023 season will see the revival of the Dance Clan series for the first time in ten years. The series began in 1998 and fostered new work by choreographers, dancers and designers, most of whom were emerging artists in those fields. Artists whose careers were advanced by appearances in Dance Clan performances have included Deborah Brown, Tara Gower, Yolande Brown and Frances Rings, who will shortly take on the artistic directorship of Bangarra. In 2023 Beau Dean Riley Smith, Glory Tuohy-Daniell, Ryan Pearson and Sani Townson will create new works focusing on their own storytelling. Costume designs will be by Clair Parker, mentored by Jennifer Irwin, lighting by Maddison Craven mentored by Karen Norris, and set design by Shana O’Brien under the guidance of Jacob Nash. Separate scores for each work are being composed by Brendon Boney, Amy Flannery and Leon Rodgers.
The major production for 2023 by the main company will be Yuldea being created by Frances Rings in collaboration with Jennifer Irwin (costumes), Jacob Nash (set), Karen Norris (lighting) and Leon Rodgers (score). The show will premiere at the Sydney Opera House on 14 June as part of the 50th anniversary season before touring across Australia including to Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Bendigo. The work is inspired by the story of the Anangu people of the Great Victorian Desert. Rings says:
Within my family lineage lie the stories of forefathers and mothers who lived a dynamic, sophisticated desert life, leaving their imprint scattered throughout Country like memories suspended in time. Their lives were forever changed by the impact of colonial progress.
Further details on the Bangarra website.
A new work by Meryl Tankard
Given that Meryl Tankard’s Wild Swans* has long stayed in my mind as an exceptional collaborative work between Tankard as choreographer, composer Elena Kats Chernin and visual artist Régis Lansac, it was more than exciting to hear that this trio will be presenting their latest collaboration, Kairos, as part of the 2023 Sydney Festival. Commissioned and produced by FORM Dance Projects, Kairos will open at Carriageworks on 19 January and will feature dancers Lillian Fearn, Cloé Fournier, Taiga Kita-Leong, Jasmin Luna, Julie Ann Minaai and Thuba Ndibali.
‘Kairos’ in ancient Greek means ‘the right or opportune moment for doing, a moment that cannot be scheduled’. Publicity for the show suggests that the work responds to the current ‘uncertain and challenging times’ in which we currently find ourselves.
News from Houston Ballet
News recently announced in Houston, Texas, is that Julie Kent, currently artistic director of Washington Ballet and former principal artist with American Ballet Theatre, will leave Washington Ballet at the end of the 2022-2023 season. She will join Stanton Welch as co-director of Houston Ballet with Welch keen to be able to devote more time to choreography.
In October I had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview with Barbara Cuckson, owner and director of Rozelle School of Visual Arts, whose dance training was largely with Gertrud Bodenwieser. The interview, which will eventually be available online from the National Library of Australia, is not only an exceptional insight into the Bodenwieser heritage and Cuckson’s training within and beyond that heritage, but it also contains a wealth of information about Cuckson’s parents, Eric and Marie Cuckson, and their outstanding contribution to the growth of the arts in Australia.
Michelle Potter, 31 October 2022
* There is no review of Wild Swans on this website as it was produced and performed in 2003, that is before I began …on dancing. But here is a link to a post in which I mention it as a result of a BBC program I heard.
My latest book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, is now available at the FortySouth online store. This is a ‘niche book’ and only 350 copies have been printed. Buy your copy soon. Here is the link to the FortySouth store.
Glimpses of Graeme will be launched in Hobart on 18 November at which MADE (Mature Artists Dance Experience) will perform excerpts from works created for them by Murphy. For more information about the launch follow this link. Scroll down to find news of the event.
See below for a short video, created by Philippe Charluet, showing snippets from several of the works discussed in the book. In addition to showcasing the dancers from Sydney Dance Company, the footage includes music and performance by Synergy musicians.
Michelle Potter, 4 October 2022. Updated 22 October 2022
This month’s dance diary has, with one significant exception, a Canberra focus, from news about writing by Canberra-based authors (including me) to performances generated, or soon to be performed from within the ACT.
Glimpses of Graeme
My book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, is currently being printed and will be available shortly from the Hobart-based company FortySouth Publishing. The book is a collection of articles and reviews I have written over several decades about Murphy’s career. The writing is arranged according to themes I think are noticeable in Murphy’s output, including ’Music Initiatives’, ’Crossing Generations’, ’Approaches to Narrative’ and ’Postmodernism’.
This month’s featured image shows Murphy and cast taking a curtain call following a performance in 2014 of Murphy’s Swan Lake. The image, shot by Lisa Tomasetti, fills the inside cover (front and back) of the book. More information on how to secure your copy will appear shortly.
UPDATE, 4 October 2022: The book is now for sale at the FortySouth online shop. Only 350 copies have been printed so buy your copy soon at this link.
Parijatham from the Kuchipudi dance repertoire
Canberra’s Sadhanalaya School of Arts is bringing Parijatham, a timeless, iconic dance drama in the classical Indian dance style, Kuchipudi, to the stage in early November. It tells the story of conflict created between two of Lord Krishna’s consorts, Queen Rukmini and Queen Satyabhama. It is set to classical South Indian music and is one of 15 dance dramas from the admired choreographer, Dr Vempati Chinnasatyam.
In the image above, Lord Krishna, played by Divyusha Polepalli tries to pacify the enraged Queen Satyabhama, played by Sadhanalaya School of Arts Director Vanaja Dasika, after she discovers Krishna has given his favourite consort Queen Rukmini a divine parijatha (jasmine) flower instead of giving it to her.
The work will have two performances only on 6 November at the Gungahlin College Theatre. Book at this link.
Canberra writer, John Anderson, has been researching for a number of years the life and career of Daphne Deane, an Australian with extensive experience in the presentation of theatrical activities around the world in the first half of the 20th century. I first came across the name Daphne Deane when researching the history if the Ballet Russes companies and their visits to Australia between 1936 and 1940 but very little appeared to have been written and published about her life and activities.
John Anderson’s book is nothing short of an eye-opener! We have much to learn about a woman who was all but written out of most of the historical accounts of the visits to Australia by the Ballets Russes companies, but whose activities during and beyond those visits were extensive. Anderson notes, for example, that Arnold Haskell’s book, Dancing round the world, which has become ’the putative history’ of the 1936-1937 tour to Australia simply ignores Deane by not mentioning her once. Anderson writes, ‘Deane effectively became a woman who never was, written out of the record of the tour’ and later ’In Haskell’s significant omission, we can see the beginnings of a man-made amnesia about Deane’s part in the tour.’
Anderson’s book is available, free to read and download, as an e-text via Trove. Follow this link.
Dance.Focus 22—Film Premieres
Dance Hub SA and Ausdance ACT recently partnered to commission five filmmakers to produce a short film to ’challenge, resonate and engage with screen dance.’ The films premiered on five consecutive evenings and are now available to watch via YouTube. More information and links to the five films are here.
I especially enjoyed Son; Like Mother; Like Son danced by Petra Szabo Heath with her son Rowan and filmed by Tim Baroff with music by Rian Teoh. The outdoor setting was stunning and nicely juxtaposed with an indoor one, and the work reminded me of a comment once made by Graeme Murphy, ’We all dance from the moment we are born.’ But there was also rather more dancing in this short film than in most of the others in this series, which made me wonder what screen dance is, or how those who make screen dance conceive of its dance component.
Promotions at Queensland Ballet
And on a non-Canberra note, but one I am really pleased to include, Queensland Ballet has just promoted Mia Heathcote and Patricio Revé to principal artists. Both dancers have been dancing superbly recently and the promotions are well deserved.
As it happens, I have been following Heathcote’s progress since she was at the Australian Ballet School when she appeared in a program called Let’s Dance in 2012. See this link (it includes a gorgeous photo of Heathcote from Tim Harbour’s work, Sweedeedee). See also tags for Heathcote and Revé.