Queensland Ballet dancers Pol Andrés and Thió-Libby-Rose Niederer. Photo: © David Kelly/Designfront

Dance diary. May 2020

  • Australian Dance Awards

Nominations are now open for the Australian Dance Awards, 2018 and 2019. You may recall that in 2019 the awards for 2018 were cancelled because of funding issues, so the 2020 nominations are in two parts, one for the various categories in 2018, the other for last year’s work.

Ausdance National is collaborating with sponsors and the Ausdance network to manage the double awards ceremony later in the year, but it is not yet clear what format the ceremony will take. This year a nomination fee has been introduced to help cover costs. Ausdance National continues to work without government funding.

Just to remind you of the excitement these awards generate, below is my favourite image from the 2018 ceremony.

Katrina Rank, Services to Dance 2018
Katrina Rank, Services to Dance Education, Brisbane 2018

Nominate via this link. Nominations close on 22 June.

  • Tatiana Leskova

As I read of the horrifying march of COVID-19 into Brazil, my thoughts went straight to dancer Tatiana Leskova who came to Australia on the last of the Ballets Russes tours in 1939-1940. Leskova lives in Rio de Janeiro and I contacted her to see if she was safe and managing the situation. Well, aged 97, she is isolating in her home seeing only a few essential people while maintaining the required distance from them. She says she is well. Great news!

Tatiana Leskova celebrates her 97th birthday, December 2019.

Tatiana Leskova has often helped me identify material I have come across in various situations and I have valued so much the contacts I have had with her. Read more at this tag.

  • Anita Ardell

Way back in 2001 I interviewed Anita Ardell for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program The interview was only very recently put online, complete with a timed summary. The interview is rich in material about Ardell’s own career, at least in its early phases, as well as in Ardell’s observations about Gertrud Bodenwieser, for whom she danced and taught. Unfortunately a second session, which would have taken Ardell’s career into the 1980s and beyond did not eventuate. But what was recorded is well worth a listen.

Anita Ardell as Toinette in Gertrud Bodenwieser's 'The Imaginary Invalid', 1950. Photo: Peter Burden
Anita Ardell as Toinette the Chambermaid in Gertrud Bodenwieser’s The Imaginary Invalid, 1950. Photo Peter Burden. National Library of Australia

Using the audio file below, listen to a tiny (1:07 mins) excerpt from the interview. The full interview is available at this link.

  • Digital seasons

While I have been enjoying watching a range of streamed performances from major companies around the world, and am looking forward to more, I did wonder why American Ballet Theatre was not joining in the streaming arrangements. Earlier in May, however, I read an article by Marina Harss in The New Yorker, which explained why. ABT has no digital archive. In the article ABT’s executive director, Kara Medoff Barnett, is quoted as saying, ‘Our strength is our cohesion and collaborative spirit. Our weakness is not having a library of digital content.’ Later in the article Barnett says, ‘I told my colleagues, the age of the ephemeral is over. From now on we must capture everything that we do, from rehearsals to the stage.’*

The streaming sessions from Australian dance companies show just how lucky we are in Australia. The material we have seen has been professionally filmed and, while there is nothing to compare with a live performance, what we have seen on screen has been a joy to watch.

  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer

My forthcoming book Kristian Fredrikson. Designer is now with the printer. It will be launched later this year, although exactly when depends on further easing of restrictions in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. Updates will be forthcoming. The title page, below, shows Ako Kondo and Juliet Burnett as Guardian Swans in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, revival of 2014. Photo by Jeff Busby, courtesy of the Australian Ballet.

Title page

Pre-orders can be made at this link.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2020

Featured image: Queensland Ballet dancers Pol Andrés Thió and Libby-Rose Niederer. Photo: © David Kelly/designfront

Queensland Ballet dancers Pol Andrés and Thió-Libby-Rose Niederer. Photo: © David Kelly/Designfront

*Marina Harss, ‘Dancing on their own during the coronavirus crisis.’ The New Yorker, 21 May 2020 (digital edition).

Twyla Tharp's 'Bach Partita', opening scene, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theatre in Brisbane

My coverage of American Ballet Theatre’s first Australian visit as part of Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s International Series has just been posted on DanceTabs. Making the most of an expensive trip to Brisbane, I saw two performances on consecutive nights, the last night of Swan Lake and the first night of Three Masterpieces. I would have really liked to have seen Three Masterpieces again, especially Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, which, given its complexity, was difficult to take in on one viewing.

In addition to what I wrote about Bach Partita in the DanceTabs post, I especially enjoyed a solo by Marcelo Gomes, who is seen below with Gillian Murphy. It is quite clear from this image that Gomes has a powerful presence and his solo was strong and controlled and lost nothing of that presence.
Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in Twyla Tharp's 'Bach Partita', American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Glen Schiavone

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Gene Schiavone

The DanceTabs post is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 7 September 2014

Featured image: Opening scene from Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Gene Schiavone

Twyla Tharp's 'Bach Partita', opening scene, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theatre. Fall season 2011

12–13 November 2011, City Center, New York

New York City’s newly refurbished City Center theatre was the venue for American Ballet Theatre’s Fall season, a program of nine, one-act works by contemporary choreographers presented over a short period of a few days. Just three of those works, Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas, Demis Volpi’s Private Light and The Garden of Villandry choreographed by Martha Clarke, Robby Barnett and Felix Blaska, were accompanied by live music. This music was played on stage in each case: a grand piano for Seven Sonatas, four guitars played alternately by one musician for Private Light and a piano trio for The Garden of Villandry. The remaining works were performed to taped music.

The highlight for me was Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas, about which I have written separately. But I was also pleased to see Merce Cunningham’s Duets, originally made in 1980. In this work for six couples Cunningham’s inventiveness was patently clear, especially in the complex partnering that was an essential feature of the work. But there were also moments when his choreography showed its modernist qualities, movement stripped back to essentials with an emphasis on clear shapes filling the space around the body, and with a strong sense of focus and line, albeit often set off centre. There were jarring moments, however, when the dancers seemed unable to detach themselves from a balletic need to project emotion through the face and via bodily embellishments to the choreography. Paloma Herrera, for example, dancing the second duet with Eric Tamm looked a little too much like a swan queen at one stage as she nestled into her partner’s shoulder and wrapped an arm around him at hip level. As beautiful as she looked, it was not quite Cunningham.

Paul Taylor had two works in the season, the classic Company B, always enjoyable, and a new work choreographed in 2011 called Black Tuesday. This latter work, danced to songs from the era of the Great Depression, provided a great showcase for some of the company’s soloists. Misty Copeland for example danced with verve and panache from beginning to end and especially in a solo, ‘The boulevard of broken dreams’, while Gemma Bond gave a gutsy, crowd-pleasing performance in her solo ‘I went hunting and the big bad wolf was dead’. Santo Loquasto dressed the dancers for Black Tuesday in brown, black and grey outfits in 1930s style with an eye catching assortment of fabrics and patterns and a range of accessories: hats, caps, stockings, gaiters, suspenders and the like. While perhaps not world-shattering choreographically with its mix of musical comedy routines and 1930s jitterbug-style movements, it was a fun work, well structured and full of interest from start to finish.

Twyla Tharp had three works on the program. Sadly I missed Sinatra Suite on this occasion but caught two performances of In the Upper Room and one of a duet entitled Known by Heart (‘Junk’) Duet. In the Upper Room was something of a disappointment. I have seen it danced better in Australia and it was unfortunate that the first cast I saw seemed not to be able to last the distance let alone look as though they were dancing together in the same ballet. In the end the remarkable Herman Cornejo looked quite idiosyncratic without a strong backup from his colleagues.

The second performance was, however, distinguished by a spectacular performance from Paloma Herrera as the main pointe girl. She had such assertiveness, such control of those slow turns, and such powerful technique as she handled slides into splits followed by a lift from the floor into a fish dive pose, or when hurling her body through space to be caught in some astonishing position. Misty Copeland danced strongly as the third sneaker girl (a role I can’t help but identify with the former Australian Ballet dancer Katie Ripley). Sascha Radetsky, Blaine Hoven and Patrick Ogle showed how they had lasted the distance when they came on for their curtain calls and each reprised a step from the work.

Known by Heart was new to me. Dating to 1998 and danced to selections from Donald Knaack’s Junk Music, it was performed by an ebullient Gillian Murphy partnered by Blaine Hoven. Basically the work is a variation on the traditional format of the pas de deux with duet, variations and coda, and the scene was set with an explosive opening as a diagonal shaft of light highlighted a generous grand jete from Murphy, who was supported by a finger tip hold from Hoven. There followed a battery of fast paced movements. Murphy at times even seemed to be tap dancing on pointe. Both Murphy and Hoven stylishly carried off the mixed nature of the choreography—a bit of ballroom, a bit of musical comedy, a bit of classical while all the time maintaining a somewhat cheeky partnership.

The Garden of Villandry, a work made in 1979 was very pretty but was without a huge amount of depth, although it was beautifully expressive of the Schubert Trio No 1 in B Flat, Opus 99 to which it was danced. I admired the lilting movements of bodies and the intertwining of arms throughout. As a kind of Edwardian love triangle it was understated and lingeringly melancholic as two men vied for the attentions of one woman. It was given a pleasant performance by a lovely Veronika Part partnered by Roddy Doble and Gennadi Saveliev.

I was least impressed by the Volpi work, Private Light, especially the sections where the choreography seemed to be more classically oriented. Then the dancers seemed almost to be engaging in centre practice and centre practice with little choreographic interest. And there was a lot of lining up and breaking out of line, huddling together and kissing in the dark. Volpi seemed too to be unable to choreograph for the arms, which were often left hanging unimaginatively at the dancer’s side. But one dancer, Simone Messmer, stood out for her beautifully articulated body and her ability to use her chest to project emotion. It was  a shame that the lighting was so dark that it was almost impossible to see her until the lights were raised for curtain calls. Perhaps the darkness was the source of the title?

It is always a pleasure to see a strong company performing a range of works that challenge the dancers stylistically. And is an equal pleasure to be challenged oneself by such a range of contemporary choreography as ABT presented in this short season.

Michelle Potter, 17 November 2011

Alexei Ratmansky. ‘The real thing’

12–13 November 2011, City Center, New York

When I wrote unaffectionately about Alexei Ratmansky’s 2009 work for the Australian Ballet, a new version of the 1933 Massine ballet Scuola di ballo, I received some feedback from friend and colleague David Vaughan. David wrote that he wished I could see work made by Ratmansky for New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. ‘I am sure you would realize’, he wrote ‘that he is the real thing’.

It has been interesting, too, over the two years since I wrote that review to hear comments from dancers and others who worked with Ratmansky on that Australian production. They all found it a huge pleasure and had nothing but praise for Ratmansky. But nothing changes my opinion of his Scuola di ballo, and I had nothing to go on other than what I saw on stage, which is as it should be for any reviewer.

However, I now believe that David was right, at least in the wider scheme of things. I recently had the good fortune to see two performances of Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas during American Ballet Theatre’s recent Fall season at City Center, New York.

Seven Sonatas, also first made in 2009, is danced to keyboard sonatas by Domencio Scarlatti. The work is for three couples who engage with each other in a variety of combinations. They dance with and for each other. At the heart of the work, and centrally in the structure, are three pas de deux. The first and the longest had a note of anguish to it. Maria Riccetto and Blaine Hoven, in the first cast I saw, danced an intense and emotive pas de deux. Was this couple breaking apart? The woman seemed to be wanting to end the relationship as she extended her body away from the man. But it was never clear cut and Ratmansky’s gift to us was to leave us wondering.

The second pas de deux was also the shortest. It was full of unabashed pleasure, in life, dancing and partnership. Of the two casts I saw Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo best managed the spectacular choreography with its sudden changes of direction and its difficult turns. The third was a teasing game in which Julie Kent and Alexandre Hammoudi excelled. I loved Kent’s expressions, both facial and bodily, as she played with Hammoudi’s emotions, leading him on all the time. At one stage he was left alone briefly to dance a solo hoping Kent was watching from the wings. And she no doubt was as she re-entered the game to bring it to a satisfying conclusion with a leap into his arms.

Before and after these pas de deux we were treated to such lyrical movement in which the arms and upper body played a major role. Sometimes the arms and hands seemed very natural—clasped in front or behind the body, although clearly choreographed to be that way. Other times, rather than the palms facing each other in classical mode, the arms were held with the palms facing outwards and the arms opened as if pushing the air away. Sometimes the arm and hand movements were just totally surprising. At one stage Julie Kent executed a set of turns with arms in fifth position. But a closer look revealed that her fists were clenched and her wrists crossed. But diversity and surprise were features across every aspect of the work, especially in the way steps were combined and conceived as part of the work’s structure.

This work also presented every one of the six dancers as individuals. Individuality extended beyond the choreography even to the women’s hairstyles—beautifully braided in some cases but always drawn well off the face showing the elegance of the neck. And mention should be made of Holly Hynes’ costumes. The women wore soft white dresses, reaching well below the knee and with bodices decorated with pinkish brown trimmings, each slightly different. The men were costumed in white tights and short white jackets, again each slightly different in cut and trimming.

Seven Sonatas is a ballet for all. If you want to see a delicious work, which is also somehow very calming, then this is it. You don’t have to work hard to be given a special experience. But if you want more then it’s all there too. It could be watched multiple times and would always keep giving. But perhaps best of all, Ratmansky has made a work that speaks of, and asks questions about life and love through movement. I can think of nothing better or more admirable.

Michelle Potter, 15 November 2011

And to the Australian Ballet: give us the real thing please!