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

Dance diary. December 2020

The best of everything to those who have followed this website over the past year. Thank you for your loyalty. And here’s hoping that 2021 will be one that is filled with dance, even live dance perhaps? Stay safe and healthy.

  • Highlights of 2020 (on and off stage)

I was very fortunate to see the opening night performance of Graeme Murphy’s The Happy Prince. It had a short run in Brisbane in February but showings elsewhere were cancelled due to the pandemic. I really would like to see it again as there was a lot there that needed a second look. I hope we will see it again, given that the leadership of the Australian Ballet has changed.

Adam Bull as the Prince in The Happy Prince. The Australian Ballet, 2020. Photo: © Jeff Busby

By mid year we were still not back in the theatre but Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party created Lake March in which, over several weekends in August, eight dancers, accompanied by two musicians, made their way around Canberra’s three lakes. They paused briefly on occasions to engage with each other and with the rather surprised audience of joggers, bike riders and so on who were also using the lakeside for exercise. Lake March won Plevey a Canberra Critics’ Circle award in December. The citation read:

For courageously working within the restrictive conditions generated by COVID-19 to bring an innovative and entertaining production of dance and live music, presented in several outdoor venues, to an audience of dance goers and the wider Canberra community. Alison Plevey for Lake March.

Australian Dance Party in a moment from Lake March. Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim

In October we were able to venture into the theatre for a QL2 Dance program featuring a work called Sympathetic Monsters by Jack Ziesing. It was an absorbing work in terms of its choreographic structure and in its thematic content.

Of course I watched many streamed performances over the course of 2020. It was more than interesting to see close-up images of faces and expressions and also details of costume. Nothing can replace a live performance but I derived much pleasure from streamed performances, especially from companies I wouldn’t normally see. Borrowed Light from Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company in collaboration with Boston Camerata was perhaps the most outstanding example. I was transfixed by this performance and have Jacob’s Pillow to thank for streaming it as part of the Pillow’s Virtual Festival 2020.

Dancers from the Tero Saarinen Company in Borrowed Light. Photo: © Christopher Duggan
  • Sunil Kothari (1933–2020). Indian dance critic

I was saddened to hear of the death of Indian dance writer Sunil Kothari from complications of COVID-19. He visited Australia on a number of occasions and I recall a talk he gave in Canberra for the Canberra Critics’ Circle, several years ago now. He was a passionate advocate for dance and was a mentor to Padma Menon, who performed extensively in Canberra during the 1990s.

  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments

Kristian Fredrikson. Designer featured as the ‘Publishing Spotlight’ in the Summer 2020–2021 edition of the newsletter of the Friends of the National Library of Australia. The review was written by Friends Committee Member and well known Canberra-based arts and craft specialist, Meredith Hinchliffe. Follow this link to read the review.

  • Site news

At this time of year it is always interesting to look back at which posts were most popular over the course of the year. Leading post was the obituary for Athol Willoughy (and 2020 is not the first year that an obituary has taken first place). Following on were Thoughts on Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring (still popular after all these years); Romeo and Juliet. The Australian Ballet; Terrain. Bangarra Dance Theatre; and Moon Water. Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan.

Most visits came from Australia followed by the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and France.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2020

Featured image: Gum blossoms, Canberra, 2007 (detail). Photo: © Nick Potter

Dance diary. September 2020

  • Gray Veredon on choreography

I am pleased to be able to post some interesting material sent to me by New Zealand-born choreographer, Gray Veredon. He has just loaded the first of a series of video clips in which he talks about his aims and ideas for his choreographic output. He uses examples from his latest work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which he mounted recently in Poland. See below.

  • Alan Brissenden (1932–2020)

The dance community is mourning the death of Dr Alan Brissenden, esteemed dance writer and outstanding academic from the University of Adelaide. Alan wrote about dance for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers from the 1950s onwards and was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Australian Dance Awards in 2013.

As I looked back through my posts for the times I have mentioned Alan on this site, it was almost always for his and Keith Glennon’s book Australia Dances: Creating Australian Dance, 1945–1965. Since it was published in 2010, it has always been my go-to book about Australian dance for the period it covers. No gossip in it; just the story of what happened—honest, critical, carefully researched and authoritative information. Very refreshing. Find my review of the book, written in 2010 for The Canberra Times, at this link.

A moving obituary by Karen van Ulzen for Dance Australia, to which Alan was a long-term contributor, is at this link.

  • Jack Riley

It was interesting to see that Marcus Wills’ painting Requiem (JR) was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Archibald Prize. While Wills states that the painting is not meant to be ‘biographical’, the (JR) of the title stands for dancer Jack Riley. Riley began his performing career as a Quantum Leaper with Canberra’s youth group, QL2 Dance. After tertiary studies he has gone on to work with a range of companies including Chunky Move, Australian Dance Party, and Tasdance.

See the tag Jack Riley for more writing about him and his work on this site.

  • Jake Silvestro

The first live performance in a theatre I have been to since March took place in September at the newly constructed black box theatre space at Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra. It was a circus-style production called L’entreprise du risque. It featured Frenchman Bernard Bru and Australian Circus Oz performer Jake Silvestro, along with two young performers who trained at Canberra’s Warehouse Circus, Imogen Drury and Clare Pengryffyn.

While the show was somewhat uneven in standard, the standout performer was Jake Silvestro, whose acts on the Cyr wheel showed incredible balance and skill in general.

But whatever the standard, it was a thrill to be back watching live theatre again.

  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments

In Wellington, New Zealand, Kristian Fredrikson. Designer is being sold through Unity Books, which presented the publication as its spotlight feature for its September newsletter. Follow this link. It includes Sir Jon Trimmer’s heartfelt impressions of the book, which I included in the August dance diary.

An extensive review by Dr Ian Lochhead, Christchurch-based art and dance historian, appeared in September on New Zealand’s Theatreview. Apart from his comments on the book itself, Dr Lochhead took the opportunity to comment on the importance of archiving our dance history. Read the full review at this link.

Royal New Zealand Ballet also featured the book in its September e-newsletter. See this link and scroll down to READ.

Back in Australia, Judy Leech’s review appeared in the newsletter of Theatre Heritage Australia. Again this is an extensive review. Read it at this link.

  • Press for September

‘Capital company.’ A story on Canberra’s professional dance company, Australian Dance Party. Dance Australia, September-November 2020, pp. 31-32.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2020

Featured image: Giovanni Rafael Chavez Madrid as Oberon and Mayu Takata as Titania in Gray Veredon’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ballet of the Baltic Opera Danzig, 2020. Photo: © K. Mystkowski

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
Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in 'Spear'. Photo Tiffany Parker

Dance diary. November 2018

  • The changing face of Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra Dance Theatre has just announced that the company is saying farewell at the end of the year to six of its dancers: Waangenga Blanco, Daniel Riley, Tara Robertson, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Luke Currie-Richardson and Yolanda Lowatta. Each has made an amazing contribution to Bangarra over recent years. Who can forget Daniel Riley’s remarkable performances in the film Spear, and his equally powerful dancing and acting as Governor Macquarie in Jasmine Sheppard’s Macq? Then it’s hard to forget, again in Spear, Kaine Sultan Babij as ‘Androgynous Man’ stalking through long grass and between trees? And there is a myriad of performances from Waangenga Blanco that stand out. As well as his role in Patyegarang, there is the ‘Angel’ duet, danced with Leonard Mickelo, in Riley, and his powerful performance in Frances Rings’ Terrain. So much more …

I wish them all well for wherever their dancing takes them and look forward to seeing them before they leave in Dubboo, opening shortly in Sydney. And of course there is the thrill of seeing new dancers in 2019.

Waangenga Blanco in 'Patyegarang', Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2014. Photo: Greg Barrett
Waangenga Blanco in Patyegarang, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2014. Photo: © Greg Barrett
  • Robert Helpmann. The many faces of a theatrical dynamo

A new book of essays on Robert Helpmann has recently been published. It contains essays from a range of scholars and performers and is supplemented by a DVD of archival footage, including a documentary on the revival of Miracle in the Gorbals in 2014 by Birmingham Royal Ballet

My chapter, ‘Elektra. Helpmann uninhibited’ considers the origins of Helpmann’s ballet Elektra, Helpmann’s choreographic approach, and the differences, particularly in relation to Arthur Boyd’s designs, between the English production of Elektra in 1963 and that presented by the Australian Ballet at the Adelaide Festival in 1966.

Robert Helpmann book cover

Edited by Richard Cave and Anna Meadmore. Published in the United Kingdom by Dance Books in October 2018.
ISBN 9781852731793

Available from Dance Books Ltd and other retailers.

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards, 2018 (Dance)

Canberra Critics’ Circle, now almost 30 years old, held its annual awards in November. This years dance awards went to:

Liz Lea: For the multi-media production RED, which drew together the work of four choreographers, including Lea, in a moving, courageous and dramatically coherent exploration of the medical condition of endometriosis.
My review of RED is at this link.

Alison Plevey and the Australian Dance Party: For Seamless, an innovative, well-considered and theatrically staged comment on the fashion industry, performed with wit and skill at the 2017 Floriade Fringe.
My review of Seamless is at this link.

Seamless, Floriade Fringe 2017. Australian Dance Party. Photo: Lorna Sim
Scene from Seamless, Floriade Fringe 2017. Australian Dance Party. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Emma Nikolic and Karen Brock: For their innovative choreography for the Canberra Philharmonic Society’s production of Strictly Ballroom. Their inventive interpretations of a number of traditional ballroom dance styles allowed the large ensemble of dancers to convince as champion ballroom dance contestants.

Michelle Heine: For her choreography for Free Rain Theatre Company’s production of 42nd Street. Her choreography for the spectacular production numbers successfully captured the authentic Broadway feel of the musical and was exceptionally well danced by the ensemble.

  • James Batchelor

Canberra dance goers will be interested to learn that James Batchelor will be back working in Canberra in 2019. He will be showing his latest work, Hyperspace, at a time and a Canberra venue to be announced. Hyperspace was made in 2018 during residencies in Nottingham, England, and Bassano del Grappa, Italy, and was recently performed in the B.motion festival in Bassano and at La Briqueterie Paris. It will also be part of the Dance Massive 2019 line up in Melbourne.

Batchelor is also looking forward to creating a new full-length work for Quantum Leap. It will premiere as QL2’s major work for the full ensemble at the Playhouse in August.

  • NGA Play. Sally Smart

The National Gallery of Australia has just installed a new children’s play area that highlights aspects of the Gallery’s extensive collection of costumes from the era of the Ballet Russes. It is designed by Melbourne-based artist Sally Smart, one of whose interests is in the juxtaposition of the art of the Ballets Russes with contemporary ideas of assemblage, cut-out items and patchwork-style lengths of fabric.

Dance features in a series of projections of dancer Brooke Stamp improvising in homage to and inspired by the dances of the Ballets Russes era (with a nod to Javanese dance). Stamp performed live (a one-off performance) at the opening of the play area early in November.

Brooke Stamp improvises for 'NGA Play. Sally Smart', 2018
Brooke Stamp improvising at the opening of the National Gallery of Australia’s children’s installation. Photo: Michelle Potter
  • Press for November 2018

’Rudolf Nureyev.’ Program article for La Scala Ballet’s Australian season, 2018. This article contains two very interesting, casual photos of Nureyev (one with Fonteyn), which I have not come across before.

‘Movement and message fail to link.’ Review of Australian Dance party’s Energeia. The Canberra Times, 22 November 2018, p. 20. Online version

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2018

Featured image: Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in Spear. Photo: © Tiffany Parker

Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in 'Spear'. Photo Tiffany Parker

In a flash. Australian Dance Party

18 February 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Have you ever wondered what happens inside (and outside) a film studio? Well Australian Dance Party’s latest show, In a flash, gives a clue. Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, In a flash was made in response to Starstruck, a Gallery exhibition of portraits of Australian film personalities.

Party Leader Alison Plevey assembled four dancers—Adam Deusien, Gabriela Green, Leeke Griffin and Alanna Stenning—to join her for a 25 minute, fast-moving and cleverly thought through piece. The five dancers were joined by photographer Lorna Sim and graphic artist Anna Trundle who, between them, shot and edited live a series of photographs, which were displayed as they were edited on a screen in the performing space.

The piece began in glamorous style, more or less—thongs were the order of the day in the footwear area. The five dancers began outside Gordon Darling Hall and made their way, after peering through the glass panels, inside. Once inside, their dancing was slick and paid homage, music-wise at least, to Strictly Ballroom. Sometimes the early parts of the show had an air of being full-on, over the top Hollywood style. Lots of smiling, lots of make-up, lots of presenting oneself.

Opening number from In a flash. Australian Dance Party 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim edited by Anna Trundle
Early number from In a flash. Australian Dance Party, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle

But the glamour quickly gave way to more down to earth matters—behind the scene processes such as preparatory work, working up a curriculum vitae and the like. And costuming became more down to earth too when the glamorous outfits were discarded for rehearsal clothing or regular dance gear.

Adam Deusien, Gabriela Green, Lekke Griffin, Alison Plevey and Alanna Stenning in a scene from In a flash. Photo: Lorna Sim edited by Anna Trundle
(left to right) Adam Deusien, Gabriela Green, Leeke Griffin, Alison Plevey, and Alanna Stenning in a scene from In a flash. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle

There was some strong dancing too in the form of solos, duets and company pieces. I especially enjoyed a sequence featuring the tall and statuesque Griffin, who danced with a white sheet of fabric (representing a towel?), tossing it, wrapping it around herself, and using it various other ways. Sometimes when she posed, legs together, body lifted tall and slightly arched back, head held high, she reminded me of swimmer and film star Esther Williams or, more appropriately in the circumstances, the Australian swimmer and also a star performer, Annette Kellerman.

As these performances (perhaps they should be called ‘takes’) were proceeding, Lorna Sim was taking photos, with her apparatus linked to a computer. Occasionally the shots from performance were beautifully edited into portrait-style images. Very appropriate given that we were in the National Portrait Gallery.

Portrait of Leeke Griffin. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle
Portrait of Leeke Griffin. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle

It was only at the end, however, when Sim faced us and said ‘thank you’ that I realised how cleverly put together In a flash had been. Alison Plevey thinks outside the box. She puts together shows that attract attention instantly, but in the end they go beyond that instant gratification. Demanding they are, but that’s what the best dance is like. I came away pondering about whether I was meant to be sitting in the Portrait Gallery, or in a film/television studio with Lorna Sim as the link with the audience.

Michelle Potter, 20 February 2018

Featured image: Opening scene, In a flash, Australian Dance Party, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle

Note: For various reasons, this is the first National Portrait Gallery dance commission that I have attended without seeing first the exhibition that was the inspiration for the show. This of course has it drawbacks. But by the same token, it means I came to the show without prejudices. Take it as it is written.

Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in 'Seamless'. Australian Dance Party, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Seamless. Australian Dance Party

21 October 2017, Haig Park, Canberra. Floriade Fringe

This year Floriade, Canberra’s annual floral display in celebration of the arrival of Spring, got an addition—Floriade Fringe. Spread over three days, 19–21 October, it was, like all Fringe Festivals, a mixed bag of offerings across a range of alternative endeavours in the arts, and in assorted other areas. But it also had an artist (or rather artists) in residence—Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party. Australian Dance Party at this stage in its development is still a pickup company with dancers changing from work to work. On this occasion, the company consisted of Plevey, Jack Riley and Eliza Sanders. The specially commissioned work was Seamless and it took a look at the fashion industry.

We have come to see Plevey’s work as an unapologetic comment on those aspects of society and politics that she feels strongly about. Seamless began by taking a look at models and their behaviour, and the stage that was set up in Haig Park was T-shaped in the manner of a catwalk. The dancers wore an amazing assortment of clothing, from grunge to glamour (not to mention underwear). Bouquets to Nina Gbor and Charne Esterhuizen for their contribution here. Plevey was a standout in this section as she strutted down the catwalk, mocking the distinctive walk models use.

Alison Plevey in 'Seamless'. Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Alison Plevey in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But I also enjoyed the slightly supercilious attitude each of the dancers presented as they posed in various ways. Plevey also made a comment on the shape and size of models, and the attention their thinness has attracted recently. She pushed and poked her body and watched it in shadow-form on the back screen as she tried to make herself look as thin as possible.

But the work moved on to comment on other aspects of the fashion industry. Against the background of footage of sewing machines relentlessly and repetitively sewing seams, the three dancers, dressed in white, unadorned pants and tops, danced out a similarly repetitive and relentless series of moves. This section, which seemed overly long (although perhaps with the right intent), I assume was a comment on factories churning out fast fashion. There were other sections, however, that left me a little lost. I wasn’t really sure about the wrapping of Riley in a diaphanous purple cloth, although it was interesting to watch.

Jack Riley (centre) with Eliza Sanders and Alison Plevey in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Towards the end the three dancers ‘engaged’ with an assortment of clothing, dressing themselves with as much as they could fit on and swapping items with each other. This was fun to watch too and I guess had to do with recycling clothing—an op shop experience gone wild.

While I felt not all the sections were clearly articulated, Seamless was an interesting, outdoor, evening event and was wonderfully danced by all three performers. I continue to be surprised at what Plevey and her dancers get up to, and think we in Canberra are lucky to have Australian Dance Party performing as much as they do with so little mainstream funding support. Plevey just picks up opportunities, wherever they may be, and runs with them

Michelle Potter, 23 October 2017

Featured image: (l–r) Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in 'Seamless'. Australian Dance Party, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim
Dancers of QL2 in 'Not like the others', 2017. Photo Lorna Sim

Not like the others. QL2 Dance

13 October 2017, Theatre 3, Canberra

This year the annual Chaos Project from young Canberra dancers aged from 8 to 18 had the theme of difference. Alison Plevey, currently acting artistic director of QL2 Dance while Ruth Osborne is undertaking research overseas with a Churchill Fellowship, writes, ‘…it explores how we are the same, what makes us different, how do we feel about being different, do we feel pressure to do, think and look the same, and ultimately Not like the others celebrates the joy and power in difference. For young people, being able to be themselves and to feel comfortable in doing so, is critical and the dancers, whether they were 8 or 18, and whatever their level of emotional maturity, embraced the seven separate sections that made up Not like the others with gusto. Using dance as an educative tool is one of the great strengths of QL2 Dance

This year the three choreographers working on the show, Alison Plevey, Steve Gow and Jack Riley, made sure that in each section the theme was very clear. The younger group had a strong section, Square Peg, in which there was an exploration of how they saw themselves. ‘I was born in Canberra’ said one young dancer, and all those who identified in this way grouped themselves with her. Another dancer said ‘I can whistle through my teeth’ and the same thing happened, with appropriate accompaniment. And so on. It was a simple, but effective exploration of the theme, and was the work of Plevey.

I especially enjoyed the section by Steve Gow for an older group of dancers. Called ‘Virtual Identity’, it looked at social media as a way of conforming to expected notions about who we are: ‘Get the perfect picture’, ‘Write the perfect post’ and so on. Visually and choreographically Gow made an arresting statement about conformity and I admired the use of masks to get across the idea of conformity and the lighting (Kelly McGannon) of this section. Gow’s use of groups of dancers in constantly changing arrangements made this section simple but powerful.

Dancers of QL2 Dance in 'Virtual identity' from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Virtual identity’ from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Probably the most sophisticated section was Jack Riley’s ‘Allone’. It explored the idea of the power one person can have in society. Riley used probably the most senior of the dancers to examine this idea and made use of long wooden sticks as props to symbolise the roles one might have in society. I have admired Riley’s shorter works on previous occasions. In these situations, he has the ability to structure a work carefully and intelligently, and to use his widely varied movement experience to get his ideas across. ‘Allone’ was admirable and I suspect its relative brevity was to Riley’s benefit.

Dancers of QL2 Dance in 'Allone'. Photo Lorna Sim
Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Allone’ from Not like the others. Photo: © Lorna Sim

As ever, the closing sections of the QL2 show were expertly choreographed as a continuous part of the show. But the highlight of Not like the others was the strength of its message. Having a good idea for a show is one thing. But being able to put it across to an audience with the power that Plevey, her collaborators, and a bunch of young dancers did deserves much respect.

Michelle Potter, 14 October 2017

Featured image: Dancers of QL2 Dance in ‘Square peg’ from Not like the others, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dancers of QL2 in 'Not like the others', 2017. 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