Dance diary. May 2024

  • Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship

Given the publication of my book, Kristian Fredrikson. Designer by Melbourne Books in 2020, I am always interested in the winners of the biennial award of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship. My book would never have been published without the generous donations I received via the Australian Cultural Fund, and from royalties owing to Fredrikson during the year I was struggling to assist financially with the book’s publication. The committee that administers the scholarship was hugely supportive throughout all aspects of the book’s production.

The 2024 winner of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship is Charles Davis who graduated from NIDA in 2014, and who has also studied architectural design at Monash University. He has designed for Sydney Theatre Company, West Australian Opera, Opera Queensland, Pinchgut Opera and other theatrical groups. As far as his input into dance productions goes, Davis was set designer for the Australian Ballet’s recent production of Stephanie Lake’s Circle Electric. Incidentally, another recipient of an earlier Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship, Paula Levis, designed the costumes for that same production.

  • Frank van Straten (1936–2024)

This is a somewhat belated comment on the death of Frank van Straten, who died in Melbourne in April 2024. Van Straten was an amazing historian of the theatre across a range of genres and was the first archivist at Melbourne’s Performing Arts Museum (now the Australian Performing Arts Collection). I remember him particularly for his hugely valuable contribution to Graeme Murphy’s Tivoli, a joint production between the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company, which premiered in 2001 to commemorate Australia’s Centenary of Federation. Van Straten acted as historical consultant for the work, which honoured and celebrated the Tivoli circuit and the remarkable nature of its repertoire. His input helped make Tivoli an exceptional ‘dance musical’.

Cover image for Tivoli national tour 2001

Van Straten’s knowledge of theatrical history in Australia was vast and I recall a post on this website in which, in a comment, he helped with identifying a particular Sydney-based teacher working in the 1930s named Richard White. His books on Australian performing arts history, too, have often given me information that I had struggled to find elsewhere. He was a truly generous person.

I can’t call this comment an obituary, but for what I would call an obituary see the article in Stage Whispers. Listen, too, to van Straten discuss the nature of Tivoli performances as recorded by Philippe Charluet on film at this link. Oral historian Bill Stephens has also recorded an interview with van Straten for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. It currently requires written permission for access, but that may change in the near future following van Straten’s death. Here is the current catalogue link.

  • Backstage notes

Jennifer Shennan drew my attention to a recent article in The Guardian called Wings, Wigs and Wonder. It takes the reader backstage during a performance by Birmingham Royal Ballet and is called a ‘photo essay’. It has some interesting backstage images included within the text, which was written by Katie Edwards. Read at this link.

  • Recent Reading

In my dance diary for April 2024 I wrote about Deborah Jowitt’s recent publication Errand into the Maze. The Life and Works of Martha Graham, which to my mind was not always the easiest of reads, despite Jowitt’s extensive research and very strong dance background. As fate would have it, however, while mulling over Jowitt’s publication I came across an interesting article by Marina Harss, whose work I much admire, called On Point: Martha Graham’s Perfect Partnership with Isamu Noguchi. It’s available (at least for the moment) at this link.

Currently I am reading another of the books I bought at the recent Canberra Lifeline Book Fair—Isadora. A sensational life by Peter Kurth (Paperback edition, 2003). In an early page entitled ‘Press for Isadora‘, one comment is, ‘There is never a dull moment in Peter Kurth’s action-packed biography…’. True! Much of what is mentioned does not appear in other books about Isadora, or not nearly to the same extent. Nevertheless, with its different focus it provides another perspective on her life, perhaps with the word ‘sensational’, which appears in the book’s subtitle, emerging as characterising that different focus. Dance is probably not the major focus!

  • Press for May 2024

‘Dancers perform strong farewell to Ruth Osborne.’ Canberra City News, 17 May 2024. Online at this link

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2024

Featured image: Cameron Holmes and Maxim Zenin in Circle Electric. The Australian Ballet, 2024. Photo: © Daniel Boud

4 thoughts on “Dance diary. May 2024

  1. Good to be reminded of Graeme Murphy’s Tivoli — what a brilliant concept that was. It proved more than worth the airfare to fly the Tasman to see the show — all of it but particularly Harry Haythorne’s celebrated tap dancing on roller-skates.
    The cadencing of the choreography into the haunting final image of a static black & white tv set, sitting centre stage and all alone, was poignant in the extreme.

  2. Who could ever forget Harry in Tivoli? We wrote about those performances in our obituaries for him but, for those who perhaps didn’t read them, here is a link to a short post with some footage of Harry, both rehearsing for and performing in Tivoli:

    I am also old enough to have seen some of the very last Tivoli circuit shows performed in Sydney in the 1960s, before the organisation folded, and I continue to be impressed at how Murphy’s Tivoli revived the feeling of those original shows.

  3. Hello Michelle. Thank you for alerting your readers to my oral history interview with Frank van Straten. As you say, he was a generous person. We kept up contact after his interview and would occasionally swap radio interviews which we thought would interest the other. When Frank was writing his book “Tivoli” he was keen to include a CD of rare recordings by various artists mentioned in the book. However when he went looking for a recording of Jenny Howard singing ” A Brown Slouch Hat”, a song written by George Wallace specifically for Jenny, he was unable to find any such recording. He mentioned this to me, and as it turned out I had an archival recording of Jenny singing “A Brown Slouch Hat” accompanied by the Band of the Royal College, Duntroon. It was recorded during a season of “Strike Up The Band” an annual charity gala which I produced and directed in the Canberra Theatre. In 1982 Jenny had guest starred in the show, and sang the song during a segment celebrating her long career. That recording is now included on the CD which is part of the book, and as far as we know it is the only existing recording of her actually singing ” A Brown Slouch Hat”.

  4. I think we need to get the National Library to consider removing the restriction on your oral history with Frank. What a special input (apart from the oral history) you had in his career with the provision of the recording of Jenny Howard singing A Brown Slouch Hat for his book Tivoli.

    For the interest of readers who may not be aware of Frank’s major publications, here is a list of the books he wrote over the course of his life:

    Discovering puppets, 1981.

    Bourke Street on Saturday night: the memories of Charlie Fredricksen “the man outside Hoyts”, 1983.

    National treasure: the story of Gertrude Johnson and the National Theatre, 1994.

    The Regent Theatre: Melbourne’s palace of dreams, 1996.

    Tivoli, 2003.

    Huge deal: the fortunes and follies of Hugh D. McIntosh, 2004.

    Florence Young and the golden years of Australian musical theatre, 2009.

    Her Majesty’s Pleasure: A Centenary Celebration for Adelaide’s Theatre of the Stars, 2013.

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