On View: Icons. Sue Healey and collaborators

16 January 2024. Neilson Studio, Walsh Bay. Sydney Festival

Sue Healey’s latest dance film, On View: Icons, looks at six artists who have contributed remarkably to the growth of dance in Australia. Seen in the featured image, they are (left to right) Eileen Kramer, Nanette Hassall, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Lucette Aldous, Elma Kris and Shirley McKechnie. I was privileged to be invited to attend the launch of this latest work from Healey at which the four artists who are still with us (Dalman, Hassall, Kramer and Kris) were present and performed briefly for us. On View has been an ongoing project from Sue Healey and her collaborators for a number of years and in this current iteration some of the footage has been shown publicly before, some has been slightly expanded from previous showings, some is new to this version of On View.

I especially enjoyed the section devoted to Nanette Hassall, which I had not seen previously. Hassall’s exceptional career has included work as a dancer, choreographer and director in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Her achievements have included performing with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the establishment of the Melbourne-based Danceworks in the 1980s, and the leadership of the dance area of West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in Perth. Some of the most interesting footage in the Hassall section was filmed by drone cinematographer Ken Butti and showed multiple images of Hassall as a tiny figure twirling and weaving through space.

Nor had I seen the section featuring Elma Kris, whose work I have admired immensely during the period in which she danced with Bangarra Dance Theatre. In On View: Icons we see Kris, a Torres Strait Islander woman, engaging within the landscape and showing us through dance her relationship with earth and water.

I also loved seeing again Elizabeth Cameron Dalman dancing on the dry lakebed of Weereewa (known to many as Lake George), which is no longer dry but, following recent climate events, is now quite full. The section in which she dances in a white, ‘winged’ costume, reminiscent of that worn on one occasion by dance pioneer Loie Fuller, continues to be quite mesmerising.

But all six sections were full of beauty and inspired dancing and filming. Healey continues to pay respect to those who have influenced her film making and who, in some cases, have shaped her own career (she danced for example with Hassall’s Danceworks, and her work with Eileen Kramer over the past few years has been extraordinary). Her work with cinematographer Judd Overton and composer Darrin Verhagen has always been a close and exceptional collaborative activity and this version of Icons was no exception.

On View: Icons was a featured event at the 2024 Sydney Festival. Below is a teaser.

Michelle Potter, 20 January 2024

Featured image: Promotional image for On View: Icons.

5 thoughts on “On View: Icons. Sue Healey and collaborators

  1. Bravo to Sue Healey. What a stunning project with those heroic dancers.

    I am much consoled by it, since I always flinch at the wasteful readiness with which dancers are expected to retire from performance and disappear because they no longer want to stick one leg high in the air above their head and hold it there for no reason other than that they can. Some of them have so much more to give — which is exactly what Sue has given us here.

    i danced in Russell Kerr’s Swan Lake Act 2 in 1962, when Sue’s mother, Judith Allemann, danced Odile. (I was a cygnet, and in swan heaven…). The production was on a thrust stage on the lake at Western Springs, stars and moon overhead each night, real swans swimming back and forth around us. Russell Kerr had such vision. I suspect there is no film of Judy dancing but I can see her yet, as clear as last evening’s performance.

  2. Thanks for this comment Jennifer. Yes, Sue is doing a terrific job and we have much to thank her for. I especially like the way she has chosen such a range of dance artists. Ballet, contemporary, Indigenous and so on.

    Given your remarks about Judy Healey and Swan Lake I am sure you will be interested in a Vimeo recording from Sue with a section about a production of Swan Lake, which may well be the one you mention in your comment. You may even recognise yourself (if very briefly)?

    Here is the link:

    I didn’t mention in the post my particular interest in the six icons but I have connections one way or the other with five of them. Nanette Hassall and I went to the same High School and ballet school in Sydney, although she is about 2 years younger than I am. I also danced with Ballet Australia when she was involved, although I didn’t dance in the same works. But I especially remember her first choreographic work, Solus, which won her the first Ballet Australia Choreographic Award and set her on her overseas study and performance activities. I have also interviewed four of those icons (as well as Sue Healey herself) for the National Library’s oral history program, and Shirley McKechnie interviewed me for that program! And so on …

    As a final remark, I think that the Russell Kerr Lecture series, with which you are so strongly involved, is doing a similar job in remembering dance artists who have made a major contribution to dance in New Zealand (and elsewhere of course).

  3. Thank you so much for sending this link — and to Sue for making it.

    That’s absolutely the Judy I knew — and yes I am the cygnet on the left.
    I had forgotten entirely about the float in the street parade that the Arts Festival arranged, but there I am again on the left
    Real treasure, is the curtain call of New Zealand Ballet in 1959 — Poul Gnatt, Graeme Pickering, Russell Kerr – in Dream Visions from Denmark.

    What a fine way to document a dancing life, a woman, wife, mother, grandmother.

  4. Is it possible to see the full video somewhere? I loved the part with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman it inspired me so much and I would love to see that again.

  5. I don’t think the full video is available unfortunately. At least not yet. I’ll check further and let you know if it is. But you are right the section with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman is inspiring. And she has just celebrated her 90th birthday!

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