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.

8 thoughts on “Dance diary. December 2023

  1. Michelle — we should all thank you for the huge amount of work you put in to maintaining On Dancing website, with fastidious care of images associated with the writing.
    I feel closer to Australia because of what I learn from reading your reviews and interviews.

    Happy New Year to dancers everywhere.
    We are all dancers.
    (It’s worth reading Sam Neill’s memoir — Did I Ever Tell You this? for his description of himself as a dancer. Priceless. )

  2. Oh I must read the Sam Neill memoir!

    Since we started to work together I have become so aware of the strength of the dance connections between Australia and New Zealand. At this point in time Alice Topp and Ty King-Wall are the standout examples. But the connections have been there for decades and I know will continue for decades more.

    Thanks for your input.

  3. Hello dear Michelle and Jennifer Shennan has emailed me on this beautiful information on our recent Canberra interview! Your questions are always to the point, totally relevant and as you know, I’m very passionate of all art forms but especially Teaching and coaching classical ballet and painting. I’m very blessed and honored to hear that our interview reached tops reader wise 2023! I’m so happy but wish my congratulations on your incredible way of writings and highly inspiring critics and open evaluations such as! It is a privilege to know you Michelle! All the very best for your endeavors for 2024 from myself! Martin James.

  4. Sorry Michelle! Of course I meant 2024 year!

    From Michelle: Martin, I just fixed the previous comment so now it says 2024 not 2924! Easy to press 9 instead of 0. I do it often! Thanks for your very kind comments! Michelle

  5. Thank you for your generous comment regarding my comments Michelle, it’s much appreciated.

    2024 as regards The Australian Ballet is going to be weird for me. The Regent is inaccessible for my disabled elderly mother (and others!) so she will only come for Alice in the Arts Centre’s company swansong. With all its limitations the Opera House will be easier for her so for the first time since about 1978 we’ll be seeing nearly all our ballet there.

    I saw the prototype version of Circle Electric on the “National Regional Tour” aka Dancers’ Company and don’t really see why it needs expansion for the main stage, especially as that main stage will be Sydney. Tweaks, maybe…but I liked it small.

    The Wheeldon may be interesting, Lander will demonstrate just how much improvement has taken place under Hallberg, and of course my Christmas favourite for which despite the smaller stage I’ve already booked half a dozen shows. I found my recording off the ABC (later released as a DVD) from eight or nine years ago, and the cadets at the party include Marcus Morelli and Brett Chynoweth. Lovely!

  6. Hello Michelle. Thank you for including the video celebrating Li Cunxin’s contribution to the Queensland Ballet in your December Dance Diary.

    Never having had the opportunity of seeing Li and Mary dance together, I found the footage of them dancing together particularly illuminating.

    Also agree that the appointment of Leanne Benjamin as the successor to Li as QB’s next Artistic Director is both imaginative and interesting.

  7. A very interesting point you make Anna about the Lander work. The most noticeable change to the Australian Ballet so far in my opinion is the development of technique. The Lander is about technique so it should or could be a terrific showcase for Hallberg’s input so far.

  8. Thanks for this comment Bill. Yes, Li and Mary were made for each other I think. It is great to see footage of them performing but they also work so well together when rehearsing and coaching the dancers of Queensland Ballet. There is so much commitment and passion for what they are doing in all situations.

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