Scene from Loughlan Prior's 'The appearance of colour.' Bespoke, Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

Bespoke 2019. Queensland Ballet

9 November 2019. Brisbane Powerhouse

Bespoke is the generic name given to an initiative started by Queensland Ballet a few years ago to encourage new choreography. This year, which is the first year I have managed to catch the show, the selected choreographers were Lucy Guerin, Amy Hollingsworth and Loughlan Prior. Briefly, Guerin is a well-established artist working out of Melbourne, Hollingsworth has recently been appointed artistic director of Brisbane’s Expressions Dance company, taking over from Natalie Weir, and Prior is an Australian-born dancer/choreographer currently working with Royal New Zealand Ballet as that company’s resident choreographer. Dancers in the Bespoke program were from Queensland Ballet’s main company along with the company’s Jette Parker Young Artists.

Prior’s work, The appearance of colour, opened the program. It began with the dancers, dressed in skin-coloured, body-hugging costumes by William Fitzgerald, grouped tightly together in a circle of light that grew in size over the first few minutes. The choreography was fast and full of sharp movements. At first there was little use of the stage beyond the circle but gradually a wider area of the stage was used and the dancers began to manipulate small square blocks of white, and later coloured, light, which they occasionally used to form geometric patterns in the darkness that surrounded them.

The second section, the most exciting choreographically, began with a duet between a man and a woman and was distinguished by slow motion lifts and movements where bodies drifted across and around each other. The two dancers were later joined by a third, another man, giving more capacity for bodies to be transferred across, around and over each other. As the section came to an end, the woman was left alone on the stage and we witnessed quite suddenly the arrival of coloured light washing across the stage floor.

In the third section the space was filled with colour in clear contrast to the first two sections where black and white light predominated. The choreography once again returned to faster movement, and we again saw a larger cast of dancers.

The arrival of colour was an interesting idea that Prior says was inspired by thoughts of ‘human responses to colour emerging from darkness’. The lighting, designed by Cameron Goerg, was quite mesmerising and for me overpowered the dancing much the way the use of film footage so often does when used as part of a dance work. Prior’s choreography for the duet/trio in the second section gave most insight into his choreographic talents, but I hope he can avoid having certain features of a work overpowering the choreography.

Guerin’s pointNONpoint occupied the middle part of the program. Whatever Guerin might have written about it, I could only think, throughout the entire piece, of the subtitle of Peter Oswald’s biography of Vaslav Nijinsky—A leap into madness.

pointNONpoint began with a single female dancer wearing a simple translucent grey dress/overshirt and moving her fingers. Progressively she was joined by more and more dancers, some on pointe (including some of the male dancers), others barefoot. Their movements were usually highly eccentric, and often included odd hand and finger movements. Some dancers had red-coloured fingers. But the choreography was also often predictably balletic—échappés to second position, simple retirés, arabesques and other easily recognised on pointe ballet vocabulary. To say it was a mish-mash of movement is something of an understatement.

John Paul Lowe in Lucy Guerin’s pointNONpoint from Bespoke, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

The costumes, designed by Andrew Treloar, got more complicated as each group of dancers joined in. Various kinds of trailing items were attached to the back of the overshirts, while collars, some stiffened and heightened so they almost obscured the dancer’s face, were added. On one or two occasions the stage and dancers were suddenly engulfed by red light, and just as suddenly the red light was removed. To me this work was about accumulation and the progressive arrival of dancers into the group, and the build up of items to the costumes both developed this idea. But there were may facets of pointNONpoint that seemed not to add to anything other than eccentricity.

Hollingsworth’s contribution, From within, occupied the closing section of the program. After struggling with the vagaries of pointNONpoint it was a relief to see something that was a little easier to watch. It was meant to be an immersive experience and the unoccupied white chair, complete with its own spotlight, situated in an upstage corner was (I assume) meant to be for us, the audience. From within also contained the best performance of the entire program, a beautiful solo from Vanessa Morelli. It was danced almost on the spot but Morelli’s exceptionally smooth, flowing dancing was an absolute joy to watch as it coursed through her body.

Choreographically, however, I have to say From within reminded me a lot of what we see from Sydney Dance Company, where movement is meant to evoke emotion. Hollingsworth worked with Sydney Dance under Rafael Bonachela for a number of years as a dancer and then as Dance Director. But despite what seemed like a strong choreographic connection with Bonachela’s style, Hollingsworth’s directing experience is perhaps why From within looked so focused, so beautifully rehearsed and so easy to watch, with its lovely bursts of humour as Siri, everyone’s assistant, was called upon at various times.

Dancers in Amy Hollingsworth’s From Within. Bespoke 2019. Photo © David Kelly

Bespoke 2019 was not the most exciting dance event I have been to this year (or any year). But it’s a great initiative and deserves applause for what it might achieve—if not this time.

Michelle Potter, 12 November 2019

Featured image: Scene from Loughlan Prior’s The appearance of colour. Bespoke, Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

Scene from Loughlan Prior's 'The appearance of colour.' Bespoke, Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly
Jake McLarnon as the Host with Josephine Weirse, Jag Popham, Isabella Hood and Bernhard Knauer in 'The Dinner Party'. Expressions Dance Company 2019. Photo © Kelly

The Dinner Party. Expressions Dance Company

21 June 2019. The Q, Queanbeyan

The Dinner Party has had a couple of manifestations. Choreographed by Natalie Weir for Expressions Dance Company, it was shown in 2015 as The Host. I suspect, however, that the inspiration for it can be traced back much further to 1989 when Janet Karin commissioned Weir to make a short work for the National Capital Dancers, which was also called The Host. The current production, which opened in Brisbane in May and is now on a national/regional tour, is probably somewhat different in impact from the 2015 showing, given that Weir no longer directs Expressions. The company is now under the directorship of Amy Hollingsworth and her dancers are a quite different group, which definitely adds a new feel to the company.

I was a little taken aback by The Dinner Party. The storyline, or theme, explores the manipulative side of human beings. The character of the Host (Jake McLarnon) attempts to wield power over his four guests, although not all of them wish to be manipulated. The work thus lends itself to a choreographic display of power, and power is what we get. One of Weir’s strengths as a choreographer has always been an ability to combine movement in unexpected ways, especially in duets or with other small combinations of dancers. We saw those unexpected movement combinations in The Dinner Party, not only between dancers but also between dancers and the table and chairs that made up the set. There was a lot that was acrobatic, hugely energetic, and definitely powerful.

It was a thrill to see Bernhard Knauer, whose work with Sydney Dance Company I had admired over several years before he moved on. He played the role of the Rival and his solo on the table, and his duet with McLarnon towards the end of the work, were highlights.

Bernhard Knauer in The Dinner Party. Expressions Dance Company, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

But overall I was taken aback because for me the exploration of the human psyche through choreographed interpersonal relations between the cast members seemed, in the end, to be the least important part of the work. There seemed just to be a lot of gymnastic-type dancing around or on a table, which didn’t advance the theme. I did, however, enjoy the costumes by Gail Sorronda, which captured the intrinsic qualities of each of the characters, and the lighting by Ben Hughes, which cast great light and shadow at appropriate times.

Michelle Potter, 22 June 2019

Afterthought: it would have been helpful had there been a cast list (at least) somewhere in the theatre foyer, if no handout was being offered. The program was available online (with a character listed who did not appear in Queanbeyan), which I looked up after the show. But not everyone goes to the company’s website prior to or after the show.

Featured image: Jake McLarnon as the Host with Josephine Weirse, Jag Popham, Isabella Hood and Bernhard Knauer in The Dinner Party. Expressions Dance Company 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

Dance diary. December 2018

All good wishes for 2019 and my grateful thanks to all who have visited this site over the past year, especially those who have taken the time to comment. And of course special thanks to my co-contributor, Jennifer Shennan, who throughout the year opened our eyes to what was happening in the New Zealand dance world.

  • New artistic directors

Both Expressions Dance Company and Chunky Move have announced the appointment of new artistic directors. In Brisbane Amy Hollingsworth is the new director of Expressions Dance Company replacing Natalie Weir. Hollingsworth’s immediate past position was ballet mistress and creative associate with Queensland Ballet

Amy Hollingsworth. 2018. Photo: Transit Dance

Amy Hollingsworth, 2018. Photo: © Transit Dance

In Melbourne Antony Hamilton and Kristy Ayre will jointly lead Chunky Move following the resignation of Anouk van Dijk. They will be joined by Freya Waterson who will be responsible for the company’s national and international touring program.

Antony Hamilton, Kristy Ayre and Freya Waterson. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

I look forward to seeing how the companies develop in 2019.

  • Padma Menon

In Canberra it is interesting news that Padma Menon has decided to take up teaching once more. She says: ‘After almost a decade, I am offering classical Indian dance classes again! The classes will focus on teaching choreography and the technique of Indian dance. However, I always like to highlight the emotional heart of Indian theatre, and how these ancient traditions can be meaningful to us in our lives today. These classes are for adult beginners looking for a contemporary approach to an ancient tradition.’ Contact Moving Archetypes for more information: Moving Archetypes <info@movingarchetypes.com.au>

  • December reading

While relaxing over Christmas I had the luxury of reading a few books, including two dance books. Eileen. Stories from the Phillip Street Courtyard, newly published, is a kind of memoir in which Eileen Kramer, former Bodenwieser dancer, recalls her life in Sydney in the 1930s. To be frank, it is not a well edited publication, but the glimpse it gives of Sydney is interesting and Kramer’s illustrations, done in the style of naïve art, are a delight.

Douglas Wright’s ghost dance is a book that has been sitting, unread, on my bookshelf for a long time. Wright’s death earlier this year was my cue to get on with reading it. In his author’s note he writes: ‘ghost dance is not a conventional autobiography with a linear progression through life, but a faithful record of the journeys I felt compelled to make into my own past and that of a close friend.’ What an eye-opener some of those journeys were! And I must say I learnt a lot about New York, where Wright lived while a dancer with Paul Taylor—things from the 1980s about which I had absolutely no inkling. But what was incredibly striking was his beautiful, often startling use of language. It almost outdid the creativity of his choreography.

The rest of my reading concerned Indonesia … and Dances of Bali by Kartika D. Suardana awaits.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2018

Scene from 'Project Rameau'. Photo: Justine Walpole

Project Rameau. Sydney Dance Company & Australian Chamber Orchestra

12 September 2013, Canberra Theatre

As the curtain went up on Project Rameau in Canberra, with the Australian Chamber Orchestra seated on a platform at the back of the stage space and the dancers of Sydney Dance Company lined up in front of the platform, I wondered whether this collaboration would in fact work. One or two companies have been critical of the Canberra Theatre space because of its relatively small performing area (compared with some stages in Sydney and Melbourne), and there before my eyes were two companies sharing the stage. Well I need not have worried. Project Rameau was one of those made-in-heaven collaborations and the size of the stage seemed of little consequence and, after all, exceptional artists are always adaptable.

Musically Project Rameau consisted of nineteen selections of music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, two by Antonio Vivaldi and a single piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. Sydney Dance Company’s director, Rafael Bonachela, responded choreographically to this musical selection with a varied series of dances ranging from duets and trios to pieces for larger groups, at times for his entire ensemble of dancers. Occasionally within these group pieces, we saw short, mesmerising solos.

Scene from 'Project Rameau'. Photo: Justine WalpoleCharmene Yap and Bernhard Knauer in a duet from Project Rameau. Sydney Dance Company, 2013. Photo: © Justine Walpole

Several pieces stood out. I especially admired the dance made to the presto movement from ‘Summer’’ in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. This trio for one female and two male dancers overflowed with energy as Janessa Dufty was tossed through the air between her two partners. In contrast was a slow, intimate duet for two men danced to a section from Rameau’s Castor and Pollux.

But the true colours of Sydney Dance Company shone in the dances made for the full company. Here Bonachela created a sense of hierarchy and formality looking back to the courtly nature of Baroque dance, with the odd wiggle of the backside thrown in. And the precision of those dancers as they moved together was absolutely stunning. Dance director Amy Hollingsworth take a bow for magnificent skills in the rehearsal room. Moving in unison creates perfection in patterns and that was what we got.

I never tire of watching Chen Wen. I admire the sense of shape and space in his every movement, not to mention his athleticism and his beautifully stretched extensions. The other individual dancer who stood out for me in Project Rameau was Andrew Crawford, dancing with exceptional fluidity. He makes a great partner too for Juliette Barton. But it is with reservation that I single out any one dancer. They are such a wonderful ensemble of movers and it is an absolute joy to watch them.

Ben Cisterne’s lighting added a very contemporary element to the show but also realised ingeniously that sense of perspective that marked Baroque stages.

Project Rameau was nothing short of an enthralling collaboration with a thrilling final sequence to a contra danse from Rameau’s Les Boréades that turned into a choreographed curtain call.

Michelle Potter, 14 September 2013

Read my preview story on Project Rameau published in The Canberra Times, 31 August 2013, at this link. (UPDATE 12/11/2019 link no longer available)