Culture Cruise. Australian Dance Party

5 November 2022. Lake Burley Griffin and Canberra cultural institutions

There it was waiting as we arrived at Canberra’s Lawson Crescent Viewing Dock, a wharf at the edge of the site of the National Museum of Australia. It was a small orange boat holding 28 passengers and named ‘The Gull’. Formerly a fishing boat and now captained by the capable and knowledgeable Jim Patterson, it was to take us on a ‘Culture Cruise’, a four hour journey, which began and finished on Lake Burley Griffin, and which was the brainchild of the ever-adventurous Australian Dance Party.

The first leg of the trip took us across the calm and peaceful waters of the lake to Queen Victoria Wharf not far from Canberra’s Reconciliation Place. It was a relaxing ride of 20 minutes or so and it was a pleasure to see the buildings that we in Canberra know well but mostly see from a different vantage point. For those who may not know the buildings that dot Canberra’s lake shores, Captain Jim had a number of stories, historical and sometimes humour-filled, to tell.

The dancing began as we walked up to and through Reconciliation Place and continued as we crossed to the Portrait Gallery. Yolanda Lawatta danced solo during this part of the journey. She was a powerful figure in the quite simple choreography, which sometimes was performed around the structures making up the Place, and sometimes in the surrounding grassy and tree-filled landscape. Her strength had an emotional underpinning and gave rise to thoughts on the Indigenous aspects of the land on which she was dancing, and across which we were walking, Ngunnawal land.

From Reconciliation Place we walked on to the National Portrait Gallery where a row of seats outside the Gallery entrance awaited us. The performance began with music from jazz vocalist and composer Creswick (aka Liam Budge) who was soon joined by dancer Levente Szabo and then Lawatta. Szabo’s dancing was quite acrobatic while Lawatta’s had something of a Hispanic feel to it. They danced together and separately and their dancing, especially their interactions (sometimes also with Creswick), was always stimulating to watch. After this section of dancing we entered the Portrait Gallery and were given some time to see the art works on show, especially in the current exhibition, Who are you: Australian portraiture. Amongst a huge range of art works in the exhibition one stood out on this occasion for me, a charming head and shoulders portrait, which I had not seen before, of Dame Margaret Scott created by Kenneth Rowell in 1949.

Perhaps my favourite part of the journey came as we left the Portrait Gallery and headed in the direction of the National Gallery. We were led on this part of the journey by Levente Szabo who danced across the plaza in front of the High Court and over the bridge linking the the two well-known ‘brutalist’ buildings, the High Court itself and the National Gallery. He used the structures surrounding the buildings, and the space they occupied, in an interactive and skilful manner, and worked in a similar way as we moved past the Gallery and towards our lunch stop.

Levente Szabo on the bridge between the High Court and the National Gallery of Australia. Canberra 2022

Lunch was served at the Jetty Kiosk before we took to the boat again, with a glass of local wine, for another relaxing journey on water back to our starting point. The adventure ended in the amphitheatre at the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Museum where we were entertained again by Creswick before being invited to experience the Museum’s newest space the Great Southern Land Gallery.

Liam Budge performing at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra 2022

Culture Cruise was created and presented by the Australian Dance Party as part of the Canberra Art Biennial. It was an extraordinarily memorable experience led by Stefanie Lekkas, a guide with a strong theatrical background, and with Indigenous cultural input from Ngunnawal advisors Aunty Caroline Hughes and Tara Hughes. It brought together over half a day so many aspects of Canberra’s cultural life—art, architecture, dance, music, food and wine and more—as well as giving an opportunity to take in the immediate landscape, the expansive lake and the beautiful surrounding mountains, the Brindabellas. While it would be an exceptional experience for visitors to Canberra, I (having lived in Canberra for 50+ years now) found so much to enjoy and think about. There are plans for Culture Cruise to continue in 2023. Do take the opportunity to join a cruise. You won’t be disappointed.

Michelle Potter, 8 November 2022

Featured image: ‘The Gull’ moored at Lawson Crescent Viewing Deck.

All photos: Michelle Potter

Out of the Frame. Canberra Dance Theatre

22 October 2022. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Potter, 23 October 2022

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

Big Little Things. QL2 Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Potter, 16 October 2022

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

Savage. Australian Dance Theatre

29 September 2022. Canberra Theatre Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2022

Featured image: Advertising poster for Savage

Nureyev. Legend and Legacy. Marquee TV

Marquee TV is streaming for a limited time a ticketed program, for which I paid just over AUD 10, called Nureyev. Legend and Legacy. As a live show it happened in London early in September at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Reproduced to honour Rudolf Nureyev, it was directed by former Royal Ballet principal Nehemiah Kish and included works in which Nureyev performed, and some that he had restaged or choreographed for various companies. The dancers who appeared in the show came from various companies, with a strong contingent from the Royal Ballet.

The program opened with the Entre’Acte solo from The Sleeping Beauty Act II, as interpolated into the ballet by Nureyev, as he did on other occasions in other ballets when he felt more choreography was needed for male dancers. Somewhat hesitantly danced by Guillaume Côté from the National Ballet of Canada, it made me feel that Nureyev was not such a good choreographer. The choreography seemed quite static and as a result the performance was a little underwhelming. But things got better and the dances that preceded interval included a lovely performance of the pas de deux from Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano performed by Francesco Gabriele Frola and Ida Praetorius and the pas de six from Laurencia (which I had never seen before) showcasing an inspired Natalia Osipova and a dramatically stunning Cesar Corrales, along with Yuhui Choe, Marianna Tsembenhoi, Benjamin Ella and Daichi Ikairashi. The flamboyance of Laurencia with its Spanish flavoured choreography from Nureyev after Vakhtang Chabukiani contrasted well with the gentle beauty of Flower Festival.

Francesco Gabriele Frola and Ida Praetorius in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano, 2022. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

The second half of the program included the grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty performed by Natascha Mair and Vadim Muntagirov, a moving performance of the pas de deux from Act II of Giselle from Francesca Hayward and William Bracewell, and an excerpt from John Neumeier’s Don Juan danced by Alina Cojacaru and Alexander Trusch.

The program closed spectacularly with the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, a work that is undeniably connected to Nureyev’s astonishing career in the West. It was danced by the beautiful Yasmine Naghdi, whose work I have admired for a number of years, and the simply astonishing Cesar Corrales. In particular, Corrales’ solo demonstrated the extraordinary way he uses his body. He sweeps the floor at times as he leans into a step, but then reaches skywards at other times. His manège of grand allegro steps flies high and is perfection in performance, and his turns, in whatever position his legs are held, are just breathtaking in speed and execution. Then, the way he engages with his partner is thrilling, as is the pride he shows throughout in the way he holds his body. The coda was distinguished by brilliant dancing and a series of fouettés from Naghdi was filled with doubles, not just one every so often but often a single was followed by three consecutive doubles. My one complaint is that Corrales stretches his thumbs so that they look overly dominant. But astonishing work really from both dancers.

Yasmine Nahgdi and Cesar Corrales in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, 2022. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

Australian audiences of a certain age were fortunate enough to see Nureyev perform in the 1960s and 1970s when he was here on various occasions. I can still remember his entrance in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire and the thrill that ran through my body even from my standing room position way at the back of the ’gods’ at the old Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown (Sydney). So watching this program, despite the odd moments that did not resonate well, was an absolute delight. And how I hope I will get to see Cesar Carroles perform live one of these days. He gives me the same thrill as I got from watching Nureyev.

Nureyev. Legend and Legacy, which includes short interviews with some who worked with Nureyev (including Monica Mason), is available on Marquee TV as a ticketed offering until 26 September only.

Michelle Potter, 21 September 2022

Featured image: Natalia Osipova in Laurencia pas de six. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Explicit Contents. Rhiannon Newton

9 September 2022. QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra

The title of this work may give the impression that is about violence, abusive content, or any other of the somewhat damaging notions that are contained in the more common, singular phrase ’explicit content’. This was not the case with Explicit Contents, the dance work, as I understood it, although a certain sensuality was made clear at various times. Made on two dancers, Ivey Wawn and David Huggins, by the Sydney-based choreographer Rhiannon Newton, the work for me was calming, contemplative and mesmerising, at least for most of the time and in certain respects.

The work had begun as we entered the performing space with Wawn and Huggins moving to and fro with Newton’s quite simple but nicely performed choreography—introductory moments. The main body of the work began shortly afterwards when the space was plunged into darkness and we watched the dancers moving, occasionally and subtly, while stretched out on the floor, upstage. There were quite long periods of stillness and the darkness made it hard to make out what was happening. In some respects though it reminded me of the Merce Cunningham concept of ‘body time’ as without any obvious score at this stage (the noise we heard was from cars driving up and down the road outside the Arts Centre), the two dancers were aware of each other and seemed mostly to be working in unison with slight, individual variations.

As this dark and slowly moving section continued, it began to be interrupted by drops of water falling on the floor (lit so they were visible as they landed). From there the work unfolded in a number of episodes, to a sound score by Peter Lenaerts and in which the two dancers engaged in a series of activities. They sat on the ground in front of us and ate a piece of fruit, Wawn had a passionfruit, Huggins a mango. They picked up a glass bowl half filled with water and manipulated the water level before balancing it on their bodies. In an unexpected moment they tipped the water on the floor and sat down and swirled around in that seated position. Another earlier episode had the dancers taking geometrical-style poses, sometimes mirroring each other, at other times taking separate stances

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins with glass bowls of water in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: © Lucy Parakhina

Choreographically, however, the work was not really outstanding. While Wawn and Huggins reacted beautifully to Newton’s style, they hadn’t really been given hugely challenging movement. It was more about a concept on which Newton had based the work, ‘how bodies are are not separate from but inextricably connected to their environments’. Although I found the work calming and mesmerising, I think this feeling came from non-choreographic aspects of the work, aspects that were visually interesting rather than choreographically challenging—water dripping to the floor, eating fruit, balancing bowls of water on the body, and the incredible lighting from Karen Norris, especially those moments when her lighting allowed the dancers bodies to be reflected mirror-like onto the floor.

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
David Huggins eating a mango in Explicit Contents. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

I recall a colleague saying once ‘Dance is a visual art form’, to which another colleague replied, ‘No it’s not, it’s much more than that.’ This is the first work from Newton that I have seen. I look forward to seeing more and will be curious to see how/if she balances the various aspects that make a work a dance one. The balance was not convincing in Explicit Contents.

Michelle Potter, 10 September 2022

Featured image: Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet

10 August 2022. Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Auckland

Choreographer Loughlan Prior was born and educated in Australia before moving to New Zealand for further dance training. He is now a dual citizen of those countries and his latest work for Royal New Zealand Ballet, where he has been choreographer in residence since 2018, is a production of Cinderella. But it is Cinderella in a whole new guise.

Many of the basics of the storyline we know from traditional productions of Cinderella, even from a few more up-to-date productions, are still there. Cinderella is still subject to bullying and other poor behaviour from the two Step-Sisters and is pushed into compliance by the Stepmother. She still goes to the ball aided by a Fairy Godmother, and the shoe (a pointe shoe as it happens) that is left behind after the ball finds its way to her home (and fits, of course).

Ana Gallardo Lobaina as the Stepmother and Mayu Tanigaito as Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

But Prior has looked beyond and beneath the well-worn narrative and has created a ballet that investigates the notion of having the courage to follow one’s dreams and desires in whatever form they may take. Cinderella (Mayu Tanigaito) doesn’t marry Prince Charming (Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson). He has found love elsewhere with another Prince, Prince Dashing (Shae Berney) from a neighbouring kingdom. The question of sexual orientation is probably the major change Prior has made to the storyline. As for Cinderella, she finds her happiness with the Royal Messenger (Laurynas Véjalis), whom she first meets when he comes to her home with invitations to the ball.

Prior’s Cinderella moves the audience well into the present day, and not simply with the focus on sexual orientation. There are moments when present day fashions for living and entertainment are introduced. In a scene where Cinderella chooses a ball gown we meet the Fab Five, five outrageously garbed gentlemen who act, in a way, as influencers. But perhaps the move to the present is nowhere more apparent than in the final scene at the ball where by the end of the evening alcohol and drugs have been consumed to the extent that some, the Step-Sisters (Sara Garbowski and Kirby Selchow) for example, are somewhat the worse for wear.

The Fab Five with Kate Kadow as the Fairy Godmother. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

And yet there are times too when Prior asks us to look to the past. Before the ballet begins the stage space (with curtain raised) is occupied by a large structure representing a tapestry weaving machine. There three adult dancers and eight or so young children (child labour?) are busy at the machine. We are reminded that in times past stories were told on large tapestries that filled the walls of stately homes. ‘Cinderella’ is the the word being woven and we see this as the house lights go down and the ballet begins.

Prior’s choreography for this ballet covers a range of styles from classical (or perhaps neo-classical is more appropriate) to the crazed disco-style movement that we see in the final ‘Happily ever after’ scene. Highly memorable were the four duets between Cinderella and the Royal Messenger, which grew in intensity as their relationship blossomed. Similarly the duets between Prince Charming and Prince Dashing showed, in choreographic terms, an equality between the two men. Each had moments of partnering and being partnered.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson as Prince Charming and Shae Berney as Prince Dashing. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

One of the great strengths of the work was the way in which Prior has developed the various characters so strongly, and how, as a result, the way the dancers rise to the occasion with extraordinarily believable performances. Véjalis stood out for me as the Royal Messenger. He held his body proudly and there was just a subtle lift of the chin and a lilt in his walk that gave him a charm that was somehow quite seductive. No wonder Cinderella fell for him. I also enjoyed the performance by Paul Mathews as Cinderella’s father. The role of the father is often not well-developed in productions of Cinderella but here we understood his plight and rejoiced when Cinderella came to his rescue and allowed him the freedom to be a well and happy man once more. Ana Gallardo Lobaina was a vindictive Stepmother and her performance drew out a spiteful, hateful nature.

I enjoyed the full-of-fun scene when Cinderella chose the dress that she was to wear to the ball and the final moments when she was lifted off the floor and rose into the space above wearing the magnificent, Spanish-style, golden gown of Emma Kingsbury’s design. Kingsbury’s design was an absolute highlight throughout and was as diverse as Prior’s choreography and character development.

But perhaps the most moving scene was that when Cinderella and Prince Charming were alone on stage, each dancing separately and each recalling the lives into which they had been drawn and from which they longed to escape. It was not only beautifully and movingly danced but was lit by Jeremy Fern so that the two dancers were seen as separate people but, as we could see from the projections that appeared in the background, with similar problems that they needed to overcome.

The score for this Cinderella was commissioned from Claire Cowan, who has worked before with Prior and with whom he shares a strong collaborative aesthetic. It too was diverse in musical styles and influences. It had a strong percussion component and a lot of brass, but at times looked back to medieval sounds, Baroque court dances and a host of other new and old musical allusions.

Prior calls this work ‘maximalist’ and it certainly wasn’t minimalist, not choreographically, not musically, not thematically, not in design which included some great visual effects from POW Studios, not in any way. I found some parts of the work, especially the way the Step-Sisters were portrayed, somewhat overdone, and audiences need to be prepared for the unexpected. Audience reaction on opening night in Auckland varied and included spontaneous clapping along with the music and dancing at various times, as well as a few people not returning after interval. Only several viewings would allow us to appreciate and follow fully the extraordinary diversity of ideas that fill the work. There is no doubt that we will never see another Cinderella like this one.

MIchelle Potter, 13 August 2022

A shortened version of this review appeared in Dance Australia. Follow this link.

Featured image: Mayu Tanigaito as Cinderella and Laurynas Véjalis as the Royal Messenger. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

El Abrazo. The Embrace—Argentine Tango Moments. Neville Waisbrod

Book review by Jennifer Shennan

This impressive book contains close to 200 photographs, culled from some 3000, taken by Neville Waisbrod, tango dancer-turned-photographer of Wellington.

Evident throughout is Waisbrod’s deep feeling and respect for the dance form in milonguero style. This is not tango for display or spectacle, for competition or ambition, for innovation or experiment, for the money or the bag, but rather for the intimate unspoken communication that builds between partners, between steps, between movement and music. It’s both in time and across time, and as you close the book you feel you have been dancing too.

Several pithy quotes, catching what a writer, poet, philosopher, teacher or dancer has penned about tango, or wider dance ideas, are scattered throughout the book. These are few in number but that restraint only makes them more evocative since we all know that less is more. Sources of quotes range from renowned tanguero and teacher, Carlos Gavitos,

The tango is not in the steps.
The tango is between one step and another.
There, when you do nothing,
you can see whether you dance tango.

Alicia Pons, a revered teacher regularly visiting New Zealand from Argentina, Tango is a journey not a destination.

JL Borges, The tango was having its way with us.

and from Waisbrod himself, The memory of an embrace will last a lifetime, while the steps will be forgotten by the end of the night.

There are further quotes from Jacques d’Amboise, Martha Graham, Wendy Whelan, Omar Khyyám, William Shakespeare, TS Eliot, Albert Einstein. These, as well as the Introduction and the Endnotes, are given in both English and Spanish.

The photographs are black & white or grained grey, with the focus on the mutual embrace of a dancing couple—upper body, head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands (for all of which, read ‘hearts and minds’). An image typically shows the face or profile of one dancer and thus the back of the head of the partner. We can read the facial expression of the one and, from the angle of head or neck, handhold raised or shoulder embraced, can imagine that of the partner. The concentration is intense. You’re not eavesdropping on these dancers, but looking and listening with your eyes and limbs.

A man and a woman hold each other and we hold our breath—they’ve probably been married for 45 years and we can tell their life story from the enchanted eyes of the one who faces the camera, and from the inclined and trusting head of his partner. It’s a love sonnet. Another couple, possibly three decades apart in calendar age, who may never have met before this milonga, are here not counting the years so much as sharing them. One tanguera is wearing a plaster cast on a broken arm and her partner carries its weight for her. The back of one head reveals hearing aids ‘the better to hear the music with, my dear’. One couple is dreaming, eyes closed, a hint of a smile hovering. A young couple shares an explosive laugh and we can only guess at what caused their mirth. Another couple, both males, are dancing more than just the steps their teacher taught them. A sadness etched into one woman’s face is lifted by the sense that her partner is allowing the dance to be bigger than any individual dancing it. Another image echoes that rapport, though with the gender roles reversed. Perhaps the memory of an earlier now departed life partner is nurtured by the physical proximity of a dance partner. One quote, ‘Dancing is cheaper than therapy’, could be the caption of several of these images, or perhaps of them all.

There are in fact no captions to individual photographs so the dancers remain anonymous. Although they have given their permission for reproduction, they are not posing for the camera and will be unaware they were being captured in that moment. The prime place given to the visuals within this book evokes for me the classic works of director Carlos Saura, who devoted entire feature-length films, with very few if any words, to the subject of just one dance form—Sevillanas, let’s say, or his fabled flamenco trilogy, Blood Wedding: the rehearsal—Carmen: the performance—El Amor Brujo: the dénouement.

JL Borges, Argentinian writer & poet, famously wrote…Tango can be debated, and we have debates over it, but it still encloses, as does all that which is truthful, a secret. This book borrows that notion to tell its own unspoken truth.

Waisbrod did not need to travel across continents in search of these dancers. They are all in New Zealand. His credit to Belinda Ellis for editorial help and design of the book is heartfelt. Search further and you find another modest little credit, ‘proudly supporting the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’. This is a book of considerable humane and artistic merit, and, at $75.00, is cheaper than therapy.    

www.theembracebook.com
ISBN 978-0-473-59266-0

Jennifer Shennan, 10 August 2022

All photos: © Neville Waisbrod

Bespoke. Queensland Ballet

30 July 2022. Talbot Theatre, Thomas Dixon Centre, Brisbane

Bespoke for 2022 comprised Tethered by Petros Treklis, Biography by Stephanie Lake and A Rhapsody in Time by Greg Horsman. All three had lighting by Cameron Goerg and costumes by Zoe Griffiths. Choreographically it was a highly diverse program and continues Queensland Ballet’s annual, and admirable, program of promoting new choreography.

Treklis’ work, danced to a score by James Brown, left me somewhat cold I have to say. Treklis says in program notes that his work explores ‘the idea of the unknown and our other selves’. For me it focused on darkness with a bit of light thrown in for good measure. The cast of fifteen was mostly dressed in dark grey garb, a kind of boiler suit but with (I think) some kind of monster-style head covering—it was hard to see in the darkness just exactly what comprised the costume. Those dressed this way were programmed as Shadows. Then there were two figures, a Man and a Woman, who at times interacted with the main group of Shadows. They were dressed in costumes that were light coloured, and much less all-encompassing. Choreographically the Shadows had mostly group poses and movements to perform whereas the Man and the Woman had more freedom. But I’m not sure what was the outcome of the relationship between the light and the dark. The work was danced strongly by Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists who deserve credit for making Tethered watchable.

Scene from Tethered, Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

Stephanie Lake’s Biography sat at the other end of the spectrum really. Danced to a mixture of music from J. S. Bach to Robin Fox, it was lighter and brighter, sometimes even amusing. Lake describes it as ‘the subterranean forces that shape out lives’ and choreographically the work provided us with some fascinating structures—some were strongly and geometrically grouped, others less so. The dancers showed off the different ‘forces’ with more than a spark of individuality. I have to say though that it reminded me rather too much of Alexander Ekman’s work. Cacti comes immediately to mind. But still it was entertaining in an especially quirky way..

Scene from Biography, Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

The absolute standout work was the closing item, Greg Horsman’s A Rhapsody in Motion danced to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43. It began with a reference (perhaps) to Harald Landers’ Etudes with the dancers performing various movements at the barre—or a series of barres (they were quite short in length) spread out across the stage. But it was just a passing reference as Horsman used the barres as a prop for the dancers who moved them, slid under them and used them in a variety of ways. Once the barres were taken away, leaving an empty performing space, we saw some beautifully complex, vibrant and diversely structured classical choreography, stunningly performed (as ever) by the artists of Queensland Ballet.

Dancers of Queensland Ballet in the opening scene from A Rhapsody in Motion. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: ©David Kelly

While it is hard to single out any one dancer, I was completely bowled over by the exceptional performance at the matinee I attended from Laura Tosar, who was recently promoted to soloist and was partnered on this occasion by David Power. Tosar has such a beautifully fluid body and technically could scarcely be faulted. But what was just brilliant was the way she was able to express her pleasure at performing. Yes, there was a smile on her face, but it was not a forced smile, just an expression of emotion and pleasure at being onstage, and that expression coursed through her whole body. I am so looking forward to seeing her perform again.

Laura Tosar and Patricio Reve in a pas de deux from A Rhapsody in Motion. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: ©David Kelly

This triple bill was a mixed bag and it is always a thrill to watch Queensland Ballet take on the challenges that Bespoke offers. A program of works from Treklis, Lake and Horsman provides a panoply of challenges

Michelle Potter, 7 August 2022

Featured image: Dancers of Queensland Ballet in Greg Horsman’s A Rhapsody in Motion, Queensland Ballet 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

Unravel. The Training Ground

22 July 2022, Erindale Theatre, Canberra

‘Two households both alike in dignity …’ So goes the opening line of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, referring as it does to the Montagues and the Capulets, two families whose life, and their longstanding feud with each other, unfold in the play. There’s not much dignity, however, between the Montagues and the Capulets as they are portrayed in Unravel, the latest work from Canberra’s Training Ground company. But there is a lot of aggression both in gesture and facial expression and in the choreography. The Montagues are a family of ‘corporate tycoons’ and the Capulets are ‘common delinquents’, and their behaviour reflects these lifestyles.

This is clearly not the Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare created but an imagining (or unravelling) by Bonnie Neate and Suzi Piani, Training Ground’s directors. In addition to moving the story into the present (a world of tycoons and delinquents?), Paris, normally a male character seeking marriage to Juliet, is a woman, danced with suitable overkill by Hollie Teer, soon to be betrothed (she hopes) to Romeo. The significant scene of the ball where Romeo first encounters Juliet is a ‘Montague Masquerade Ball’ rather than one held by the Capulets. There is no priest to marry the couple and to dispense a potion. And Juliet eventually commits suicide in her bathtub (unable to manage the feuding situation, which remains from Shakespeare, and the interference by Paris?).

Romeo sees Juliet for the first time at the Montague Masquerade Ball in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Choreographically there were moments to remember, especially some of the groupings of dancers—I especially remember an undulating line of dancers towards the end—and the whole was beautifully rehearsed and strongly performed. But there is no doubt in my mind that the duets between Romeo and Juliet were the highlights. Ali Mayes (Juliet) has exceptional fluidity, and extraordinary line in all her movements as a result of her beautifully proportioned limbs. Her duets with Joshua Walsh (Romeo) were choreographed to exploit that line and her ability to move her body to fill the space around her.

Romeo and Juliet dance together in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Film by Cowboy Hat Films was nicely incorporated on several occasions. Footage set the scene to explain the nature of two households, for example. The Montagues at one point appear in a modern office setting (Canberra’s Brindabella Business Park perhaps) where they are directed to work by Mrs Montague, a role performed with appropriate belligerence by Imogen Addison, while the Capulets are seen making their way along an alley filled with rubbish bins, detritus and graffiti (no doubt one of many in Canberra’s Civic Centre). Less confrontational but nevertheless especially powerful, was the watery footage that followed Juliet’s suicide.

The aspect of the production that I found the least satisfying was its episodic nature. Of course there are many episodes in the R & J story that need to be shown whatever the context, but it was annoying when one episode finished and another started without some kind of linking mechanism. It was often too abrupt. A similar situation arose with the changes to the music. One musical excerpt would stop suddenly, there would be silence, and then another, quite different in mood, would start. Similarly with some of the footage and the very bright (overbright I think) lighting of some scenes.

But despite these gripes, the work was well produced and performed and moved Canberra dance in a new and unusual direction. The Training Ground is an initiative of Neate and Piani to give performance opportunities to pre-professional and advanced contemporary dancers in the ACT and surrounding regions.

Michelle Potter, 25 July 2022

Featured image: Ali Mayes as Juliet and Joshua Walsh as Romeo in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi