Olivia Fyfe in 'Symbiosis' (4) Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter

Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party

10 March 2021, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Symbiosis was Australian Dance Party’s contribution to Canberra’s Enlighten Festival for 2021. Made in true ADP style as a site-specific work, it took place in various parts of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. It was in fact a guided tour through the Gardens with snippets of dance, music and poetry, and even instruction about various plants, inserted at various points. Again in true ADP style, the work had political overtones, on this occasion issues associated with the environment. True to its title, it explored both conflict and interference, as well as fusion between species (including the human species) in the world in which we live, the natural world that is.

We set off with a guide (Liz Lea dressed as a kind of outback botanist) and began our journey with a walk through the lush rainforest area. There we encountered, at first individually, members of the Canberra-based group Somebody’s Aunt. As we made our way through the gully, we could hear them breathing and see them gently moving as we passed by. Eventually we reached a higher point and could look down at them as they came together to embrace each other, and perhaps the environment (?).

Dancers from Somebody's Aunt in 'Symbiosis'. Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter
Dancers from Somebody’s Aunt in Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Further along the rainforest gully we were asked to pause and looked up to see Ryan Stone moving across a ridge of trees and plants to sounds of a human voice created by Stone and poet Melinda Smith. And so we continued with the botanist-figure naming various plant species and explaining various matters about other species and their place in nature. We encountered Levi Szabo engaging acrobatically with a tree and its spreading branches, and with the benches that were on the ground close to it. At various points we also noticed Alison Plevey as a kind of lizard/dragon lurking in the bushes and on the paths.

The standout item for me was a section featuring Olivia Fyfe performing to a soundscape by Alex Voorhoeve on electric cello. Fyfe dramatised thoughts about the fate of a tree, with those thoughts ranging from the idea of protection to horror at what was the eventual fate of the tree. Voorhoeve made those changing thoughts audible in stunning fashion. It was an extraordinarily moving section, made especially so by the collaborative blend of movement and music.

The most obviously political section came towards the end when Alison Plevey played the part of some kind of leader attempting to convince her audience (of plants) that ‘the bigger picture’ was being considered, while the ‘green’ organisation she represented moved along (or didn’t) with its environmental plans (or lack thereof).

Alison Plevey in 'Symbiosis'. Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter
Alison Plevey in Symbiosis Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

In addition to the moving performance from Voorhoeve and Fyfe as they contemplated the destruction of a tree, an exceptional performance came from the Gardener, danced and acted by Elizabeth Dalman. So immersed was she in her character and so beautifully disguised in her costume, especially that soft-brimmed hat, that it took me a while to realise that it was in fact Dalman. She appeared and re-appeared several times as a kind of ‘extra’ until the very end when she led the concluding dance. She began by setting up the shape of a star, made from bark pieces, on the ground at the final venue. Accompanied by the words of Melinda Smith, which were often difficult to make out in the very open space of the Gardens, one by one the performers we had watched came together. Maintaining her distance from the others, Dalman soothed and comforted, calmed and regenerated. She showed her true colours as an extraordinary artist throughout.

Elizabeth Dalman in 'Symbiosis'. Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter
Elizabeth Dalman in Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Symbiosis lasted for 90 minutes, which was, at least for me, about 30 minutes too long given the small amount of performance we saw. Did we really need all that botanical information? A little was fine but announcing all those Latin names of various plant species was pretty much unnecessary. We can go on a special Botanic Gardens tour if we need to get to know that kind of information.

Symbiosis was in essence an after-dark show, although I ended up seeing it in the early evening, which gave me lots of pleasure. Looking at published images taken during evening shows, I am glad I had the opportunity to see it in an ‘enlightened’ situation where the performance skills of the artists involved were clearer. The pleasures of carrying lanterns during the late evening shows, as I believe was the case, and the fairy lights that decorated the pathways, may have been fun but I prefer to have a clear view of how the artists are performing.

Perhaps the final note is to say that the event was constantly permeated by the sound of the wind in the trees and the birds calling each other. Even a hungry magpie hopped across the grass looking for scraps for its dinner as Fyfe and Voorhoeve were at work. From the point of view of the ambient sound, and the slow change of light as dusk began to fall, the show was very special.

Michelle Potter, 13 March 2021

Featured image: Olivia Fyfe in Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Olivia Fyfe in 'Symbiosis' (4) Australian Dance Party 2021. Photo Michelle Potter
Australian Dance Party in 'Lake March', Canberra 2020.

Dance diary. August 2020

  • Lake March. Australian Dance Party

Canberra’s dance companies, large and small, have always been good at making site specific works, especially in outdoor venues. The city lends itself well to such events. Canberra dance-goers will remember exceptional performances in outdoor venues from past companies such as Meryl Tankard Company and Paige Gordon and Performance Group.

Canberra’s current professional company, Australian Dance Party led by Alison Plevey, has continued the tradition with many of Plevey’s productions taking place outdoors. August saw ADP’s Lake March, a response over several weekends to the difficult situation dance companies find themselves in at present. Performing as part of the Where You Are Festival around three of Canberra’s lake areas, Lakes Burley Griffin, Ginninderra, and Tuggeranong, eight dancers and two musicians (Michael Liu on violin and Alex Voorhoeve on cello) moved in a line around the edges of the lake areas, observing social distancing as they proceeded. They paused occasionally and engaged in spontaneous expressive movement before continuing the march until they reached a final destination.

Lake March attracted an interested audience of cyclists, kids on scooters, joggers and Canberrans enjoying the outdoors. A few performances in mid-August were postponed, however, when the weather was less than warm. It was snowing in some parts of Canberra!

Australian Dance Party in Lake March, Canberra 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim.
  • Jacob’s Pillow: the name

Regular visitors to my website will know that I have a great fondness for Jacob’s Pillow, that amazing dance venue (and it’s more than a performance venue) in Massachusetts. I have just recently posted reviews of two of the Pillow’s 2020 digital offerings—a program from the Royal Danish Ballet, and Borrowed Light from Tero Saarinen Company and Boston Camerata. Both were terrific performances.

I have, however, occasionally wondered why the site was called Jacob’s Pillow and so I was interested to discover (somewhat belatedly given that I was at the Pillow in 2007!) the history behind the name.

The YouTube link above shows Norton Owen, Director of Preservation at the Pillow, explaining the origins of the name.

  • Freeman. A new documentary to watch

The ABC has produced a documentary to mark the 20th anniversary of Cathy Freeman’s historic win in the 400m sprint at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The film is co-directed by Stephen Page and features Bangarra dancer Lillian Banks as a young Cathy Freeman. The documentary includes archival footage, interviews and dance sequences. It will be available on ABC iview from 13 September.

  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. Some reviews and comments

In addition to the review of my recent publication, Kristian Fredrikson. Designer, written by Jennifer Shennan and posted on this site, here are some reviews and a comment made during August.

Australian Arts Review (this review also appeared in Canberra CityNews)

Sydney Arts Guide

And from Sir Jon Trimmer, esteemed former dancer with Royal New Zealand Ballet in a note to Unity Books in Wellington:

What a magnificent book this is. Michelle Potter has been able to bring Australia and New Zealand close together by including all of Kristian’s work in both countries. Our own ballet company’s history is brought to life in a very special way… and there’s even mention of the Chez Lily, that Dixon Street coffee bar where we spent so much time talking about our dreams and our work, back in the day. I thought I was the only person who remembered it. We are very lucky that Michelle has produced this special book. It is one to treasure.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2020

Featured image: Australian Dance Party in Lake March, Canberra 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim.

Australian Dance Party in 'Lake March', Canberra 2020.
Ryan Stone in Australia Dance Party's 'From the Vault', 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. November 2019

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards (Dance)

The Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards for 2019 were announced on 19 November at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. Four dance awards were given, as follows:

Australian Dance Party for the company’s production of From the Vault, choreographed and directed by Alison Plevey in collaboration with dancers, Olivia Fyfe, Stephen Gow, Eliza Sanders, Alana Stenning, and Ryan Stone. With live music and sound by Alex Voorhoeve and Andy McMillan, along with evocative lighting by Mark Dyson, costumes designed by Imogen Keen, and dramaturgy by Karla Conway, From the Vault was an outstanding collaborative endeavour. Brilliantly conceived and executed, it was the [Canberra] dance highlight of the year.

Zara Bartley and Daniel Convery of Bravissimo Productions for their initiative in attracting outstanding national and international dancers to Canberra for a gala production, World Stars of Ballet. The enterprise demonstrated courage and resourcefulness, along with a determination to put Canberra forward as a venue for world-class ballet productions.

Ryan Stone for his committed performance in Australian Dance Party’s From the Vault. His outstanding dancing, with its freedom and fluidity within the set choreography, displayed a remarkable mastery of how the body moves through and in space, which is at the heart of all dancing.

Nathan Rutup for his high-energy choreography for the musical Heathers directed by Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg for Dramatic Productions. Rutup’s dance numbers were so polished and in-tune with the material that it is difficult to imagine these songs done any other way.

  • Shaun Parker & Company

Shaun Parker & Company has recently announced its program for 2020, the company’s 10th anniversary year. Some of the works for the season focus on Parker’s interest in social issues affecting young people. They include The Yard with its anti-bullying message, which will be restaged and will tour areas across Sydney and regional New South Wales beginning on 9 March 2020.

Also during 2020 the company will present In the Zone, which had its premiere earlier this year, and which will be performed at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre, Sydney, from 16–19 September 2020. Developed in collaboration with musician Alon Ilsar, who co-designed the AirSticks that are pivotal to the work, In The Zone combines hip-hop dance with gaming technology to showcase the importance of stepping away from our screens and experiencing the real world. In The Zone will feature Western Sydney hip-hop dancer Libby Montilla.

Study for Bubble, Shaun Parker & Company, 2019.

The company will also develop three new works in 2020 including one with the working title of Bubble. It is a collaboration with Taiwanese bubble performance artist, Mr Su Chung Tai, and will explore such issues as global warming.

More about Shaun Parker & Company is on the company’s website at this link.

  • Site news

As the end of the year approaches I am always interested in which post has received the most views over the year. Although we are not quite at the end of the year yet, I checked the January–November stats to find that the review of Liam Scarlett’s Dangerous Liaisons, as danced by Queensland Ballet, topped the list by a very big margin. Deservedly so. It was a brilliant production and performance. It was so far ahead of everything else in terms of statistics that I can’t imagine it will be knocked out of first place once December stats are added. In case you missed the post here is the link.

Laura Hidalgo and Alexander Idaszak in Dangerous Liaisons. Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly
  • Press for November 2019

‘A pleasingly old-school Cinderella.’ Review of Queensland Ballet’s Cinderella on tour to Canberra. The Canberra Times, 7 November 2019, p. 16. My expanded review is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2019

Please consider supporting my Australian Cultural Fund project to help Melbourne Books publish Kristian Fredrikson. Designer in a high quality format. Donations are tax deductible. See this link to the project, which closes on 31 December 2019.

Featured image: Ryan Stone in Australia Dance Party’s From the Vault, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Ryan Stone in Australia Dance Party's 'From the Vault', 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Ryan Stone (centre) with Olivia Fyfe (left) and Alana Stenning in From the Vault, 2019. Photo: Lorna Sim

From the Vault. Australian Dance Party

20 September 2019. A ‘secret vault’, Dairy Road Precinct, Canberra

Dairy Road Precinct, on the edge of Canberra’s industrial suburb of Fyshwick, may be the least likely venue imaginable for a dance performance. A largely uninviting area, it is filled with buildings in hard-edged contemporary architectural style; there is little adequate signposting; and the precinct is difficult to navigate and to find the building one wants, even in daylight let alone at night. It is home to various organisations and start-up companies and seems to be filled with warehouses and vehicle yards. But a large warehouse, once used as a storage bunker by the Australian Mint, was the somewhat surprising venue for From the Vault, the latest production staged by Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party.

From the Vault looked at personal values that the Party thought were significant in our current society. The ideals that topped the list during research for the work were Safety, Freedom, Wealth, Individuality, Truth and Connection. Each of these ideas was examined in a distinct section with one particular dancer leading each part. While the values being put forward were not instantly recognisable (I later read the program notes), From the Vault was clearly about people’s emotions, thoughts and personal ideals. It was a work with which we, the audience, could immediately identify and it really didn’t matter if one’s thoughts strayed from what was written in the program (especially if it wasn’t read prior to the performance). I saw the Wealth section, for example, as being about greed and even gambling, and of course related it instantly to the original function of the performance space, especially when coins rained from above and were exchanged and tossed between the dancers. But, with its emphasis on people and their values, however one perceived what those values were, From the Vault was by far the best work I have seen from the Australian Dance Party.

Of course to be the best work I had seen from Plevey and her Party, From the Vault also needed to be expertly staged and well danced, costumed and lit. The five dancers, Stephen Gow, Olivia Fyfe, Eliza Sanders, Alana Stenning and Ryan Stone, all performed with the power and commitment we have come to expect of them.

Stephen Gow (centre) with dancers from the Australian Dance Party in From the Vault, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Stone was the standout performer. He led the section that represented Individuality (although to me it seemed more like gentle dominance). The section began with a kind of Mozartian flourish as dancers performed a dance built around a very eighteenth-century reverence. But then, accompanied by Alex Voorhoeve on his magical electric cello, and with a sound design from Andy McMillan, Stone began some of the most beautiful (and I should add individualistic) dancing I have seen for a long time. His limbs seemed to have no restrictions at all, such was the fluidity and freedom with which he moved. His speed and elevation were a joy to watch, and I loved the way he covered the space with his larger movements. I was also impressed with the way in which his body, and every part of his body, filled the immediate space around him. Nothing was a mindless gesture and he seemed totally absorbed in his execution of the choreography. He was a dancer possessed.

Mark Dyson’s lighting design added much to the atmosphere with a strong use of colour, down lighting and contrasts of light and darkness. There was mystery there, and the large space available in the ‘secret vault’ allowed dancers to appear and disappear throughout the performance. Costumes by Imogen Keen, with a mix of fabric from denim to patchwork splendour, were distinctive, attractive and quite chic.

Scene from From the Vault. Australian Dance Party, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Alison Plevey directed From the Vault and did not perform herself, as she usually does. With Karla Conway as dramaturg, focused direction from Plevey, and an exceptional creative input from the whole team, this work had power and coherence and was an immersive experience for the audience. Four and a half stars.

Michelle Potter, 22 September 2019

Featured image: Ryan Stone (centre) with Olivia Fyfe (left) and Alana Stenning in From the Vault. Australian Dance Party, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Ryan Stone (centre) with Olivia Fyfe (left) and Alana Stenning in From the Vault, 2019. Photo: Lorna Sim
2017 weave hustle and halt. Australian Dance Party

weave, hustle and halt. Australian Dance Party

2 September 2017, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery has done it again—commissioned a short, totally captivating dance piece in conjunction with one of its current exhibitions. This time the company involved was the Australian Dance Party, led by Alison Plevey. She gathered together a great mix of young (and not so young) dancers to present an outdoor work on the gently sloping walkway leading to the gallery entrance. The dancers were accompanied by two musicians guesting from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Tim Wickham and Alex Voorhoeve, who at times sheltered in an alcove on the side of the building but who, at others, strolled around the dancers and were incorporated into the choreography.

The inspiration behind weave, hustle and halt was Dempsey’s People: A folio of British street portraits 1824–1844, a show of miniature portraits in watercolour by British artist John Dempsey of those who plied their wares, or who engaged in other activities, in the streets of London and elsewhere in Britain in the nineteenth century. Plevey has not tried to replicate the portraits in any way but has set out, successfully indeed, to give the audience a feel for the way people might interact with others on the streets today, or at any time really. Yes, there was weaving of bodies, a bit of hustling and some halting as people stopped to observe others.

2017 'weave, hustle and halt' Australian Dance Party
'weave, hustle and halt', 2017. Australian Dance Party

The sound score was an exciting accompaniment with the major part being played on an electric violin and an electric cello. But along with this part of the score there were various street sounds—including the sound of cars in the street and the noise of car horns. In addition the score began with the sound of Big Ben chiming, a beautifully evocative sound and a link back to the original portraits.

Plevey goes from strength to strength with her innovative ideas and her commitment to using Canberra as a backdrop for her work. Her performers did her proud and we can only continue to thank the National Portrait Gallery for coming to the party and bringing us such an enticing presentation.

Michelle Potter, 3 September 2017

Featured image: A moment from weave, hustle and halt, Australian Dance Party, 2017

2017 weave hustle and halt. Australian Dance Party

All photos: Michelle Potter

Dancers of Australian Dance Party in. 'Weave hustle and halt', 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dance diary. August 2017

  • Weave, hustle and halt

Alison Plevey’s Australian Dance Party has a commission from the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra to create a work in conjunction with the Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of British street portraits from the early 19th century, drawn by John Dempsey. The portraits are beautiful miniatures of working class people in a variety of situations. Plevey’s work, called weave, hustle and halt, is on show at the National Portrait Gallery on Saturdays 2 & 9 September at various times and will reflect the activity, characters and rhythms of the modern-day streetscape. The short work will have a sound score and ‘live busking’ by two musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Tim Wickham and Alex Voorhoeve. I look forward to seeing how Plevey can capture the inherent, down-to-earth beauty of these portraits.

Bathing Lady by John Dempse

Bathing Lady by John Dempsey

  • Oral history updates

Most of the interviews I have conducted recently for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program have been with people working in various areas of the visual arts. This month, however, I had the pleasure of recording interviews with Mary Li from Queensland Ballet, and of course an outstanding dancer and coach in many situations prior to Queensland Ballet, and with Shaun Parker, director of Shaun Parker & Company. Records should appear shortly on the NLA catalogue.

  • Press for August

‘A leap of faith.’ Preview story for Blue Love, Shaun Parker & Company. The Canberra Times, 5 August 2017, p. 11. Online version. See also this link.

‘Torment laid bare in gripping work.’ Review of Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre. The Canberra Times, 7 August 2017, p. 18. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2017

Featured image: Dancers of Australian Dance Party in weave, hustle and halt, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dancers of Australian Dance Party in. 'Weave hustle and halt', 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim
Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

Strings attached. Australian Dance Party

25 August 2016, Nishi Building, Canberra

Strings Attached, the debut show from Canberra’s new contemporary dance company, Australian Dance Party, is a knockout. The concept behind the show, devised by the ‘Party Leader’, dancer Alison Plevey, sounds simplistic: an investigation of the relationship between music and dance in a collaboration between four dancers and six musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. But as developed in performance it was totally engaging, illuminating and just plain exciting to watch.

The show began with the sounds of breathing, gentle at first but gathering volume as dancers and musicians met in the performing space before taking their positions to begin the show proper. ‘Before people spoke, we moved,’ the program states. ‘We moved to the innate rhythm of our hearts, our breath and the patterns of our lives.’ And so the dance and its musical accompaniment began, starting with some improvised movement and accompanying sound, moving on to a gentle piece with music by Jean-Baptiste Lully and a kind of slow and refined dance for all four dancers. The show continued its pathway through different musical and dancerly episodes—a lament, a tango, on to Jimi Hendrix with the dancers hooked up to iPods, and, finally, to an ‘Electronic Piece’ that became a riotous party/disco dance in which the audience was encouraged, and sometimes specifically invited to participate.

What was especially noticeable throughout was the absolute commitment of dancers and musicians. They were totally engaged with each other and with the sound and movement they were producing. Alison Plevey and Janine Proost both showed exceptionally fluid, high energy movement, Liz Lea was somewhat more restrained but added a way of engaging socially with the musicians that the others didn’t quite have—Lea always uses strong facial expression as a way of engaging. As for Gabriel Comerford, whose dancing I had never seen before, he knocked me for six with his movement that was on the one hand highly disciplined but on the other totally free.

The venue, a pop-up space in Canberra’s trendy Nishi building, was set up a little like a theatre restaurant with tables and chairs placed around a central performing area. Around the edge of the performance space the musicians sheltered under two white canopies of string sculpture crocheted by installation artist Victoria Lees.

Alison Plevey (left) in 'Strings Attached', Australian Dance Party 2016. Photo: © Lorna sim
Dancers and musicians in the final moments of Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Some particular highlights, personal favourites perhaps:

  • Alison Plevey and harpist Meriel Owen improvising in the early stages of the show. Amazing, especially in the second part where Owen had to follow Plevey’s rising and falling movements, which she did as if it were second nature.
Dancer Alison Plevey and harpist in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim
Dancer Alison Plevey and harpist Meriel Owen in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim
  • Gabriel Comerford in ‘March’ (‘Command and Conquer Red Alert Theme—Soviet March’), in which he got totally lost, trance-like, dancing to a stirring, politicised composition by James Hannigan. His long, black hair came loose from its topknot, and his movement was at times absolutely precise and powerful, but at others wildly erratic. Thrilling to watch.
  • A ‘conversation’ between dancer Liz Lea and trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky.
  • The musicians who played more than one instrument throughout, swapping seamlessly between them. And fascinating to look at (as well as to listen to) was Tim Wickham’s white ‘skeleton’ electric violin.

But in many respects it is unfair to single out individuals because everyone in this show gave so much of themselves to make this a standout evening of live music and dance.

I guess my one hope for this brave new venture is that the format of the debut show will not always be the format in the future. Plevey has a rare intelligence as a director and I hope she will find ways of occasionally presenting her work in different spaces, including in more mainstream performing arenas. The party line (as in its celebratory rather than political meaning) is fine for a start but I am hoping for something different as well.

Canberra has been without a professional dance company since Sue Healey left town in the 1990s. If Strings Attached is anything to go by we now have much to anticipate.

Michelle Potter, 27 August 2016.

Featured image: Dancer Gabriel Comerford and cellist Alex Voorhoeve in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim