‘Fjord Review.’ First issue

It is always good to see new dance writing. There are too few outlets for the kind of dance writing that arouses interest and generates debate. That’s why it was a pleasure to see Fjord Review, a new magazine, beautifully designed, make its appearance out of Melbourne at the end of 2009. Shrouded in mystery too! All the articles appear to be written by the one author, who is also the editor/business owner of the publication, it seems. Or at least that’s what one surmises. The initials ‘FR’ appear at the bottom of most articles. No hint of price or frequency though, just a note on the back cover:

Submissions and subscription requests can be made by writing to fjordreview@gmail.com

In terms of content, Fjord Review covers a good, wide field—ballet, contemporary, film, historical writing, works of art on paper, poetry and exhibitions. I disagree with many of the opinions expressed I have to say. The editorial, for example, is called ‘Ballet: a eulogy’. It expresses the opinion that ballet has been in decline for some time and its decline has been exacerbated by the economic downturn. Ballet does have its ups and downs but to my mind they are more to do with the quality of artistic direction and leadership than anything else and a good leader can emerge at any time and in any circumstances. Decline does not necessarily follow an evolutionary pathway either.

I found the reference to how unfortunate it was that Canberra was the sole Australian host of the Degas exhibition gratuitous and unnecessary and simply an example of ‘Canberra bashing’ in which so many Australians love to engage. But I admired the descriptions of what many thought was the highlight of the show, Degas’ Little dancer of fourteen years. FR writes: ‘She waits for something bright and her forehead, nose and collarbones are lustrous’. Similarly engaging writing surfaced in ‘(Re)Construct: one night in Frankston’, a review of Tanja Liedtke’s work Construct.

I also loved the short piece about Gillian Lacey’s film ‘Play: on the beach with the Ballets Russes’ and look forward to seeing it at some stage. But being more than familiar with the footage that forms the basis of Lacey’s work, I thought it was a shame that the name of the amateur cinematographer who shot the raw footage, and to whom we owe so much, was spelt incorrectly. It was a slight error, and not an uncommon one, but enough to grate.

Which leads on to the editing of Fjord Review. If this magazine wants to be taken seriously, its editor needs to engage a second eye to do a critical copy edit of future issues. There are just too many errors, inconsistencies, awkward use of words and structures and some meaningless sentences in this first issue. I hope the editor wil also apply for an ISSN number, freely available from the National Library in Canberra http://www.nla.gov.au/services/issn.html, so the magazine will be able to be properly catalogued.

But I thank Fjord Review for sending me a copy and I look forward to watching its future growth.

Michelle Potter, 24 February 2010

15 thoughts on “‘Fjord Review.’ First issue

  1. Thank you for the alert about this new journal. It would be good if the editor/publisher could post a contact address for purchase or a list of Melbourne outlets. Your personal comment about the supposed decline in Ballet is spot on.

  2. I found they have a website at http://fjordreview.com/ there isn’t much there right now, just contact information. I would really like to read the piece ‘Ballet: a eulogy’ as it is a subject that greatly intrestes me. I am currious if by “to my mind they are more to do with the quality of artistic direction and leadership than anything else” you are refering to global leadership in dance or just Australia. During my career as a dancer I listen to people debate endlessly the subject of why interest in ballet was in decline, almost all the arguments I heard centered around ballet’s elite status in the arts world. Implying that it had failed to make itself more accessible to the general public. I would also like to say that I am really enjoying reading your weblog.

  3. I have had most experience with the situation in Australia where, in my opinion, the Australian Ballet over its almost 50 years of existence has had exceptional leaders and not so exceptional leaders. But I suspect this is a global phenomenon.

    I find the argument about accessibility and elitism both fascinating and frustrating and in the end it is part of the leadership debate. For me ballet can be as accessible as anything else. The simple ballet gesture for love is just as easy to understand as the gesture made by a sports’ umpire to indicate he has to consult the video referee! Strong, intelligent leadership (a rare thing) will find ways of addressing the issue. What I really dislike is the idea that addressing this issue means that the dancers’ have to be photographed as if they are skimpily clad pop (or soft porn) stars. It’s a really interesting debate that perhaps needs its own thread?

  4. You are certainly right about the dance photography issue. Apart from the cheapening of the dancers, no one seems interested in trying to capture the style and choreographic interest of specific ballets nowadays. Everything seems directed towards the flesh and athleticism angle.And the current obsession at the Australian Ballet to link themselves with the fashion world is my pet peeve. A perusal of their inhouse Blog is littered with pretty mindless fashionista talk. I am deeply interestd in the design aspects of ballet but not at the level the current marketing/promotions people there are operating on.

  5. I have just read FJORD REVIEW (Vol.1, no. 1 Spring 2009). Whilst nicely bound with a good clean line, I was disappointed with, as Michelle refers to, the ‘mystery’ of the author/s. I preceded the reading of this publication with a briefing on the redevelopment of the Arts Centre – in this case Hamer Hall, followed by a delightful sojourn at Permisson, Victorian Art Gallery. Soaking in the 25 cel. autumn day within the populated arts precinct brought recollections and joy for the development of the arts (including dance) in our country. Hence, the extremely negative views in this publication left me cold. I wondered if the author/s had at all been to the vast lectures, discussions, publications, conferences etc on the Ballets Russes. The last over the past years in which I have partcipated being as recent as 12th March at the Faculty of the VCA and Music, The University of Melbourne. The reference to ‘myth’ can be strongly argued.

    My journey through the arts in general, with particular reference to dance, includes training, performance, teaching, choreography, audience viewing and relevant academic degrees. One of the first performances that I observed was the Paris Opera in 1967 with Yvette Chauvire, along with the wonderful early Australian Ballet works. Van Praagh bought out the best modern ballet choreographers of the time – including Ashton and Tudor. She wanted to develop our Australian choreographers – and to this end early works of Rex Reid and Helpmann took place. I would personally like to see ‘Sun Music’ and the Welch/Tahourdin ‘Illyria’ revived – both of which made an impact on me at an early age. Sorry, I won’t go on – where was the void? I felt after reading this publication that the lights had been turned off in Australia, not to mention in Canberra. Pre Ballets Russes is now being explored – the studio of Louise Lightfoot highlights an incredible artistic milieu, for example. As Michelle notes, we need these publications – so bravo, hope they take on board the many comments. I hoped the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ had disappeared. I for one think that Graeme Murphy should be acknowledged whilst he is alive, but fear that publications like this will mean he has to wait til his no longer with us. What a horrid way to be recognised in your country of birth and love.

  6. Thanks for this comment Anne. I remember the stars of the Paris Opera in Australia all those years ago. What an amazing visit that was!

  7. I’d like to say that I strongly agree with Adrian and Michelle’s concerns regarding the Australian Ballet’s promotion of fashion and preoccupation with marketing. The image of ballet that the company has been promoting during the last few years is one that makes me feel quite uncomfortable, especially in terms of the promotion of ballet as a hyper-feminine/girly recreation, largely divorced from real artistic concerns. One cannot help but wonder about the level of influence and leadership being brought to bear by David McAllister and his staff.

    In relation to the commentary in the Fjord Review (which I came across last week), I share Michelle’s view that ballet per se is not in decline. But certainly the verve of the Australian Ballet’s performances has declined as the Fjord Review suggests. My family previously attended every program given by the company, but we have steadily been reducing our attendance over recent years. I speak in generalisations, of course, but there are very few dancers in the company at present who exude much in the way of personality. Many are good, competent dancers, but lack the sort of rock solid technique that allows the dancing to transcend matters of execution and go to a higher level. I also strongly agree with the Fjord Review’s observation about the youth (read ‘lack of maturity’) within the company and the difficulties the AB has had with nailing the right atmosphere for works like Les Sylphides and Suite en Blanc. Even Divergence seemed to lack zing on its last outing, and that’s a work with which the AB should feel at home.

    It will be very interesting to see how the Fjord Review develops. The inclusion of poetry, etc. doesn’t interest me much, but the eulogy piece and ‘A Year in Ballet’ were definitely nice, provocative openers.

  8. I agree with Jessica that the Australian Ballet’s performances have missed the point in so many of the works performed over the past few years. If dancers are asked/told to pose for marketing purposes in the way we have been seeing recently they must slowly absorb the view that ballet is about posing and pouting. ‘The Silver Rose’ was heartbreaking to watch as so much of the choreography seemed beyond their understanding. Graeme Murphy has always had a knack of telling a story through the choreography but that knack was scarcely evident in ‘The Silver Rose’. And I’m not convinced it was the fault of the choreography.

  9. I was hoping Michelle would open a thread about The Silver Rose. I seem to be in a minority in thinking that Murphy acquitted himself well in the enormous task he set himself and his designer in taking on a danced version of Der Rosenkavalier.

  10. Marketing, pre-occupation, flesh youth – Diaghlev’s Ballet Russes were masters of this field.

  11. Anne is certainly correct here. Perhaps it is the patina of time and the aroma of a vanished world which disguises the real contemporary import of a lot of the photographs from the Diaghilev company. Certainly the very early Massine photos for Josephlegende, the Dolin Beau Gosse ones and the Lifar shots taken in the role of Boreas would easily compare to the flesh/youth ones taken today of, say, Gaudiello and Jackson. And I seem to remember ones of early Damien Welch for Divergence which were in the same league. The women seem to have been more “covered up” although by the late twenties there are certainly shots of Nikitina and Doubrovska which are in the same league. And I suppose the whole idea of “covered up” is relative. The early Ida Rubinstein Zobeide shots may have been quite surprising.

    I have always felt that once the de Basil company fell under the influence of Hurok the discrete world of ballet photography collapsed into the mire of Hollywood glamour and the Ballerinas started to look like starlets from B grade studios. There is a distinct change from the early Monte Carlo and London shots. I have to say I much prefer the early Barba and Sasha photography.

  12. As a pendant to the above post, I feel I must always guard myself against confusing the current marketing/publicity aspects of the AB with what I subsequently see on stage. Like the age old maxim : trust the tale not the teller. However Michelle has made a very important point regarding the impact of all the “pouting and posing” in what is carried over onto the stage in performance details.

  13. Many interesting points being made here. Yes, the Ballets Russes companies both that of Diaghilev and those that followed certainly used youth and flesh as a marketing ploy. Why not? And Adrian’s point about the ‘descent into Hollywood’ (my phrase not his) is also fascinating. But I have always liked dance photographs that show the viewer something about dance and in my opinion many promotional shots we are seeing at the moment forget about the art form they are meant to be promoting. Or are they promoting somthing else other than dance? Edwin Denby’s 1943 essay on photographs of Nijinsky is worth re-reading I think and will be the subject of another post soon.

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