Alan Alder as Hakuryo in Robert Helpmann's 'Yugen'. The Australian Ballet 1965. Photo: Walter Stringer

Alan Alder (1937–2019)

Alan Alder, who has died in Perth at the age of 82, was born in Canberra of Scottish/Australian parentage. In Canberra he initially studied tap and Scottish highland dancing with June Hammond. Later, while at Canberra High School, he took ballet lessons with Barbara Todd, a former Sadler’s Wells Ballet soloist who had come to Canberra when her husband took up an appointment at the Australian National University.

Winning a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in 1957, he studied there for a short time, largely with Harold Turner, before joining the Covent Garden Opera Ballet, where he worked for the next twelve months. His experiences with that company included dancing in productions featuring artist such as Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas. ‘It was an incredible education I had in that one year,’ he recalled in an oral history interview conducted in 1999.

In 1958 Alder joined the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet. He was promoted to soloist and toured extensively with the company throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Africa over the next four years. His touring schedule included the 1958-59 tour to Australia and New Zealand. Of his experiences on tour in Australia he recalled, in addition to the variety of roles he performed, a total blackout in Sydney’s Empire Theatre. ‘There was John Field onstage with hurricane lamps rehearsing the swans in the second act of Swan Lake,’ he said. He also remembers ‘Midnight Matinees’ towards the end of the Australian tour, which were fundraisers for victims of bush fires that devastated areas of Australia in 1958.

Alan Alder in Coppelia. Royal Ballet Australasian tour, 1958. Photo: Walter Stringer

At the invitation of Peggy van Praagh, Alder returned to Australia in 1963 to join the Australian Ballet as a senior soloist. He was promoted to principal artist in 1969, and later was a guest artist with the company from 1978 to 1980. With the Australian Ballet Alder danced many principal roles in a wide selection of ballets. He scored particular success as Alain in La Fille mal gardée, a role he danced initially with the Royal Ballet in 1961, and again with the Australian Ballet on many occasions from 1968 onwards. But other works, new and old, in which he took leading roles included Melbourne Cup, ThresholdSebastianGisellePineapple Poll, Lady and the FoolOthelloRomeo and JulietYugen, and Carmen.


Alan Alder as Jasper the Pot Boy with Maria Lang in Pineapple Poll. The Australian Ballet, 1976. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia

Alder married fellow dancer Lucette Aldous in 1972. In the mid 1970s both Alder and Aldous were invited by the Russian ministry of culture to study teaching methods in the USSR. In St Petersburg they studied Boris Kniaseff’s floor barre and the Vaganova system of training. The opportunity to visit Russia came at a time when the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had just signed a cultural agreement with the USSR and Alder and Aldous were the first Australians to go to Russia under that agreement. Alder recalled:

‘We gained tremendous insight into the ideology of Agrippina Vaganova and also, in the short amount of time we had, we crammed as much as we could into learning on our bodies how to pass on that system, not necessarily just the choreography of the actual exercises, the enchainments, but the reason behind doing them.’

Following his departure from the Australian Ballet in 1980, Alder took up part-time teaching with Dame Margaret Scott and Anne Woolliams. In 1983 he was appointed to head up the dance department at the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University, a position he held until 1991. He then took up a teaching position at the Perth Graduate College of Dance. His involvement with Ausdance (WA) began in 1987 and his contribution to that organisation was recognised with a life membership.

In 2004, Alder and Aldous were jointly recognised as State Living Treasures by the Government of Western Australia. The citation included the words ‘outstanding contribution to dance’ and ‘dedication as advocates for the development of dance in Western Australia.’

Alan Richard Alder. Born Canberra, 14 September 1937; died Perth, 15 July 2019

Featured image: Alan Alder as Hakuryo the Fisherman in Yugen. The Australian Ballet, 1965. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia.

Alan Alder as Hakuryo in Robert Helpmann's 'Yugen'. The Australian Ballet 1965. Photo: Walter Stringer

Michelle Potter, 15 July 2019

Robert O'Kell as Santa Claus, 2018

Dance diary. February 2019

  • Robert O’Kell

Do you recognise the Santa Claus in the featured image for this post? No? Well it’s Robert O’Kell, former dancer with the Australian Ballet, West Australian Ballet and several overseas companies, who each year delights children as Santa Claus in a department store in Victoria. Following a request from a former pupil of O’Kell, and with the generosity of one of O’Kell’s former dance partners, I was able to contact O’Kell and put his former student in touch with him. He also sent me some information about his career, including some Santa photos.

  • Australian Dance Awards

Earlier in February Ausdance National released the news that the Australian Dance Awards for 2019 have been cancelled. This is a hugely regrettable situation but one that reflects an overall reduction in support for dance, which has been building momentum for some time now. Read the media release at this link.

  • Oral histories

In February I had the pleasure of recording two more oral history interviews. I interviewed Li Cunxin in Brisbane for the National Library of Australia. We focused largely on his career in Australia, picking up where Mao’s Last Dancer finished.

Later, while in Wellington, I interviewed Jennifer Shennan for the Oral History Project of the National Dance Archive of New Zealand.

Jennifer Shennan Wellington 2019 Photo Michelle Potter
Jennifer Shennan, 2019. Photo: Michelle Potter

Both were fulfilling experiences in so many ways and what was recorded in both instances reflects the energy and determination of the people who push the boundaries of dance and whose achievements create our dance history.

Here is a link to the list of oral histories I have conducted for various organisations, now stretching back over more than three decades.

  • Press for February 2019

Critics’ survey 2018. Dance Australia, February–March 2019, pp. 38–40. Online link

‘A powerful yet wordless narrative inspired by dreams.’ Review of Christopher Samuel Carroll’s Icarus. The Canberra Times, 28 February 2019. Online only at this stage. [UPDATE: The print and digital version of this review appeared in The Canberra Times, 1 March 2019, p. 29 as ‘Dreams of flight from a world at war.’]

Michelle Potter, 28 February 2019

Australian Dance Awards 2018

The 2018 Australian Dance Awards, the 21st since the current format was introduced in 1997, were held in Brisbane on 8 September. Initially they were held annually in Sydney and followed on from the Dancers’ Picnic initiated by Keith Bain to celebrate International Dance Day (29 April). Now they are more inclusive in terms of where they are held with the venue changing each year.

There were some interesting performances during the evening and also a challenging forum, Spring Fling, on the Saturday morning of the awards in which four dance folk—Adrian Burnett, Jana Castillo, Matthew Lawrence and I—discussed, with excellent audience participation, a range of issues associated with the existence (or not) of an Australian ‘style’.

'Elements', Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, Australian Dance Awards 2018. Photo: Morgan Roberts Photography
Elements, Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, Australian Dance Awards 2018. Photo: Morgan Roberts Photography

Nominations for 2019 open in December 2018 and close at the end of February 2019. Consider nominating! Check out the procedure via the new website designed as a sponsorship by Designfront.

In the meantime here is a link to the list of winners. Katrina Rank says it all!

Kathrina Rank, Services to Dance 2018
Katrina Rank, Australian Dance Awards, Services to Dance Education, Brisbane 2018. Photo: Lauren Sharman

Michelle Potter, 13 September 2018

Katie Senior and Liz Lea in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

That extra ’some. Liz Lea & Katie Senior

3 December 2017, Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra

It took me a while to work out what the ‘some’ in this very brave and beautiful work meant. It premiered a few months ago as part of Escalate II, an Ausdance ACT mentoring program. I didn’t see it then but kept noticing that the ‘some’ of the title was occasionally written with an apostrophe before it, but at other times without. As one watches the work, however, which I finally had the pleasure of doing, it is perfectly obvious that the ‘some’ should indeed have an apostrophe before it. It stands for the last syllable of ‘chromosome’. The work is performed by Liz Lea and Katie Senior and, as a person with Down Syndrome, Katie Senior carries an extra chromosome in her genetic makeup.

Katie Senior in ‘Tha extra ‘some’, 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim
Katie Senior in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Lea is a wonderfully creative and theatrical director/choreographer and in That extra ‘some, along with movement of various kinds, she has brought together surprises, colour, props, audio, and footage to produce a portrait of Senior that ultimately is one of the most moving works of dance I have seen.

Lea and Senior begin the work sitting on chairs sharing a variety of gestures. They move on to watch film footage together, and they listen as Senior discusses her favourite things. The props we noticed on two small tables as we entered the space are gathered up by Lea and given to Senior to wear and hold—a gorgeous pink hat and a pink sculpture of a cockatoo among them—as Senior tells us what she loves, what is her favourite colour and the bird she likes best. And, what seem at the beginning of the show to be pink decorations tucked inside the neckline of the black outfits they both wear, turn out to be pink rubber gloves. Senior likes washing up!

Senior announces that she is learning Reggaeton, a kind of Latin American Hip Hop, and she and Lea dance together.

Liz Lea and Katie Senior in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim
Liz Lea and Katie Senior in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

More dancing and more conversation follow. The text of the conversation, which is played over the footage, is extraordinary. It is Senior’s own, hesitant voice and occasionally our expectations are shattered. A discussion of how Down Syndrome affects those who live with it is followed by sentences such as ‘I feel fabulous!’ As the work ends we watch Senior, dressed in beautiful clothes, strolling through a Canberra landscape. Feeling fabulous; looking fabulous.

This one-off performance at Belconnen Arts Centre was in celebration of the International Day of People with a Disability. But what Lea and Senior showed was that living with a disability does not remove a person’s humanity. No wonder we were reduced to tears at times during this very moving work.

Michelle Potter, 5 December 2017

Featured image: Katie Senior (left) and Liz Lea in That extra ‘some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Katie Senior and Liz Lea in That extra 'some, Belconnen Arts Centre, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim
James Batchelor on board the RV Investigator, 2016

Ausdance National. Where to now?

It is devastating news that Ausdance National will no longer receive operational funding from the Australia Council to continue its very significant activities in dance advocacy and support, activities that it has pursued with such commitment for close to forty years. A link to the press release from Neil Roach, acting CEO of Ausdance National, is here.

In the press release, Ausdance National President, Brian Lucas, rightly notes that it would be virtually impossible to find anyone—’dancer, choreographer, dance teacher, dance student, dance academic, or dance audience member’ (and I could add other categories)—whose work or life, or both, have not been impacted by the activities of Ausdance National. Among the many projects I could mention, I was closely involved with two that I consider advanced our understanding of the role of dance in our society and that provided (and continue to provide) significant resource material for researchers in Australia and across the world.

An Australian dance collection

Ausdance National was a partner in a project called Keep Dancing! It was a collaboration, funded by the Australia Council, between Ausdance, the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) and the National Library of Australia (NLA). I was the project manager for Keep Dancing! and I was located at the NFSA between 1997 and 2001, and then at the NLA in 2002. In 2003 the Library took financial responsibility for the project and created the position of Curator of Dance, the first such position in Australia I believe. I held that position until 2006 when I went to New York to lead the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library.

The focus of Keep Dancing! was to acquire dance films and videos for the NFSA collection, to ensure that they were preserved and transferred from old formats to current broadcast quality ones, and to have them catalogued and made accessible. As a collecting partner, the NLA commissioned many oral history interviews, in particular with those who were represented in some way in the moving image material acquired by the NFSA, or unearthed from the NFSA’s existing collections. In addition, paper-based collections were acquired by the NLA, again especially as they related to the other material arriving as part of Keep Dancing! The NLA also assisted with the creation of a database linking material across the institutions.

When the NLA took over the lead role, the database that had developed in the early stages became the dance portal, Australia Dancing. It was meant to be a virtual collection linking dance items from the NFSA and the NLA. It also had provision to have audio and moving image embedded into the entries, although this was never exploited to any extent. In many respects Australia Dancing was way ahead of its time, and it never reached its potential. Ausdance National remained involved with the project and was a member of the NLA project management committee, which met regularly, at least in the early years, to keep the project moving along its established guidelines

Sadly, there is no longer a dance curator at the NLA, and sadly too Australia Dancing is no longer available in the format that it was meant to have. An archived version is available on PANDORA and some material is available on Trove, although the entries are no longer being updated, nothing new is being added, and errors are not being corrected. But this incredible project, which began as a result of an Ausdance initiative to save dance on film, has resulted in the existence of a major national dance collection at the NLA, albeit scattered across formats with no overarching portal to draw it together and identify the material as a discrete Australian dance collection. Nevertheless, a significant proportion of the NLA’s dance material is available online as the result of the Library’s strong commitment to digitisation.

I know that this material is used, even though I am no longer employed by the Library on an ongoing basis. I am surprised at how often I am contacted by researchers, in Australia and from overseas, who have questions about the dance material housed in Canberra. As an example, just in the past week I had a long conversation with a researcher looking into Viennese émigrés in Australia and the notion of modernity. She was, of course, interested in Gertrud Bodenwieser and was spending some time in Canberra examining the Bodenwieser collection. Almost without exception, the extensive Bodenwieser material in both the NLA and the NFSA, which includes oral histories, paper-based items, film and video, ephemera and so forth, came to both institutions as a Keep Dancing! acquisition.

Brolga: an Australian journal about dance

In 1996 I began discussing with Meg Denton in Adelaide the need for an Australian dance journal that could publish writing of various kinds that otherwise would have no Australian outlet. Denton generously donated some start-up money and Brolga began to fly, with the first issue being published in December 1996. I was its editor until 2006 and over that time two issues each year were published, 24 issues in all. Under other editors Brolga was a print publication until 2011 when it became an online journal. The subject areas addressed over the years have been wide-ranging and its focus has changed under various editors, but it has remained a significant publication for the dissemination of Australian dance research.

Ausdance National was the auspicing agent for Brolga. It handled the start-up donation from Meg Denton, published the journal, maintained the list of subscribers and handled monies, did the mail outs and generally dealt with all day-to-day business associated with it. More recently Ausdance National has skilfully handled the design of the journal as well.

****************************************************

Keep Dancing!, with the subsequent growth of an Australian dance collection at our national cultural institutions, and the establishment and the ongoing publication of Brolga are just two of Ausdance National’s achievements that fall a little outside what the practising dance community might think of as the role of Ausdance National. But both have attracted international attention. Both were extraordinary initiatives and I wonder whether there is any realisation of the diversity of the contribution Ausdance National has made to the arts in Australia? I wonder, too, if there is any understanding that so much of what has been achieved will have a lasting impact?

Where to now? Neil Roach says in the email that accompanied the distribution of the media release that Ausdance ‘is not going to go away’ but that time is needed to rethink the organisation’s future. Choreographer James Batchelor, seen in the featured image, set sail to the Antarctic with a research team early in 2016. His aim was to find new ways of working in his chosen profession and the image suggests it would not have been without its difficulties. We await the outcome of his adventure as we also await a new pathway for Ausdance National.

Michelle Potter, 14 May 2016

Featured image: James Batchelor on the RV Investigator, 2016. Photo courtesy of the University of Tasmania.

James Batchelor on board the RV Investigator, 2016

The Eternal Lovers. A ballet by Paul Grinwis

In its Treasures Gallery, the National Library of Australia currently has one display case devoted to a production by the Borovanksy Ballet, Les Amants eternels (The Eternal Lovers). When I looked a few days ago the display contained the notated score (Laban) for the ballet, the work of Meg Abbie Denton; a Borovansky Ballet program giving details of performers and creative personnel; a double page spread from The Australian Women’s Weekly published in the issue of 12 March 1952; and on the wall above the display case a costume design by William Constable for the character of Romeo in the ballet, and a drawing in pastel and charcoal on velvet paper by Enid Dickson of Paul Grinwis as Romeo. The Constable design is to be removed shortly (for preservation reasons) and will be replaced by photographs. The rest of the material will remain for a few more months.

'Eternal Lovers' display case, National Library of Australia, 2015
Eternal Lovers display case. National Library of Australia, 2015

The Eternal Lovers was created by Grinwis, a dancer with the Borovansky Ballet in the 1950s. It received its world premiere in Melbourne in December 1951 and remained in the Borovansky Ballet repertoire until 1960. As Alan Brissenden has recorded in his and Keith Glennon’s Australia Dances:

Paul Grinwis conceived this ballet as a continuation of the story of two lovers, called for the sake of convenience Romeo and Juliet, when they awake in after-life. Its focal point is a struggle between the spirits of Love and Death, Love being finally victorious.*

At the premiere, Grinwis danced the role of Romeo, Kathleen Gorham that of Juliet, with Bruce Morrow taking the part of the Spirit of Death and Helene Ffrance the Spirit of Love. The ballet was danced to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

Sadly, the National Library no longer has a dance curator. It has an extensive and wide-ranging dance collection, built up as a result, firstly, of the Esso Performing Arts and Oral History Archive Project (1988–1991); then Keep Dancing! a collaborative venture with the Australia Council, Ausdance and the National Film and Sound Archive (1997–2001); and between 2002 and early 2013 as a result of having an in-house dance curator. So it is good to see that at least a small gesture is being made to give a very tiny part of the material some visibility. The current display reveals, again in a very small way, the kinds of areas in which the dance material is held—art works, ephemera, notated scores, popular magazines are present, and photographic material is coming. The captions refer to interviews, although there is no sound capture from the interviews.

The dance collection at the National Library is incredibly rich, crosses eras and dance styles, and is supported by extensive material from other art forms and by organisational records, all held by the Library across its many formats. I can but hope that more material will be displayed, and even that eventually someone will take the trouble to add to out-dated records—at the very least a few dates of death need to be added to Trove records.

As an aside, in 2005 I had the pleasure of visiting Grinwis and his beauitful, ever-vibrant wife, Christiane Hubert, also a dancer with the Borovansky Ballet for a few years from 1954. I had hoped to record an oral history interview with Grinwis, but at the time he was not amenable to the idea. Another occasion never arose and Grinwis died about a year later in 2006. Hubert, I believe, moved back to Paris but I am not sure if she is still alive.

With Paul Grinwis and Christiane Hubert, Gent, January 2005
With Paul Grinwis and Christiane Hubert, Gent, January 2005

 Michelle Potter, 10 January 2015

* Alan Brissenden and Keith Glennon, Australia Dances. Creating Australian Dance 1945–1965 (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2010), p. 20

Giselle in the news

It seems that the Australian Ballet will be bringing back Maina Gielgud’s production of Giselle in 2015. Gielgud’s web page indicates that she will be in Australia from late 2014, firstly teaching in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne and then working on staging Giselle for the Australian Ballet.

This news sent me looking at some of my favourite, easily available online images from Giselle. I didn’t have the opportunity to see Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov in the Ballet Victoria production of 1975. But some of my favourite Giselle photos come from that production, an amazing event when one considers that Makarova defected in 1970 and Baryshnikov did so in 1974 and here they were in Australia in 1975 so early in their careers in the West. Walter Stringer’s photos are often slightly blurry but I think he has captured something of the quality of the performance.

Mikhail Baryshnikov as Albrecht in 'Giselle', Ballet Victoria 1975. Photo: Walter Stringer

In the meantime, Graeme Murphy has been in South Korea workshopping a new version of Giselle. It seems that we won’t see this production in Australia, at least not in the short term. The idea of a Murphy reworking is tantalising and I can’t help wondering why a ballet company in South Korea had the prescience to commission it rather than the Australian Ballet.

I love to see a high quality ‘traditional’ version and still sigh over the Paris Opera Ballet’s production we saw in Australia in 2012. But the most moving production I have ever seen was created by Sylvie Guillem in 1998 for the Finnish National Ballet, which I saw in 2001. On the surface it certainly wasn’t a traditional Giselle, as the photo below indicates, although anyone familiar in the slightest degree with the ballet will recognise the dance sequence from Act I shown here. Below the surface though, I found that not only did it pull at the heart strings but it was deeply and intellectually satisfying as well.

Artists of Finnish National Ballet in 'Giselle', 1998. Photo: © Kari Hakli
Artists of Finnish National Ballet in Giselle, 1998. Photo: © Kari Hakli

I wrote about the Guillem Giselle in 2001 for Brolga, then an old-fashioned print journal. I declined to give permission for it to be digitised by Ausdance when they began digitising back issues, but here is a section from it.

Guillem as producer and choreographer (after Coralli-Perrot-Petipa according to the program), reconceived the ballet according to her wish for it to be a work that would evoke both the past and the present, and that would be meaningful to contemporary audiences. In program notes she stated:

‘Giselle’s story is a timeless one. To die of love, not so much for a man as for loss of love. Naturally the texts by Théophile Gautier and Heinrich Heine clearly laid down the basic intentions. Over the years, these intentions have been buried beneath set choreographic habits, mainly with regard to gesture, thereby becoming a sort of incoherent language expected to “speak” the story … I wanted to rediscover Giselle and make the blood flow again in the veins of the various protagonists’.*

And elsewhere she is quoted as saying: ‘Even if Giselle hadn’t had a heart attack, the ballet was dying by itself. It was becoming more and more stupid, without any sense’.**

Strong words from Guillem. We know the Gielgud production. As for the Murphy version … we will have to wait.

Michelle Potter, 15 June 2014

NOTES:

* Sylvie Guillem, ‘Waiting for curtain-up’. Program for Giselle, Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris 2000–2001, p. 12.

**Debra Crane, ‘Made for fame’. Dance Now, vol. 9 (No. 4, Winter 2000–2001), p. 16.

I am working on making available in full my article from Brolga and will include it in my dance diary for June.

Canberra dance. A professional company?

Canberra hasn’t had a professional dance company for some time now and, as Dance Week 2012 approached, an article appeared in The Canberra Times in which Neil Roach, director of Ausdance ACT, suggested that the city should aspire to have an ‘emerging professional dance company … like those already being successfully funded by the Australia Council—Kate Champion, Lucy Guerin, Chunky Moves [sic]’. Well to put it bluntly, there is no reason why we in Canberra should expect to have a funded dance company. It is not a right.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to one of course. Nor that we don’t want one. But Canberra isn’t Sydney or Melbourne. It’s an unusual place and those who have watched several professional companies come and go in Canberra since 1980, when Don Asker’s Human Veins Dance Theatre became Canberra’s first professional dance company, will all have an opinion as to what suits Canberra.

Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised when I say that for me the most vibrant time for dance in Canberra was 1989 to 1992 when the Meryl Tankard Company was the city’s resident dance company. The place was buzzing then—art attracts art—and if we look back to that period there is much upon which we can draw to make a case for what will inspire the Canberra population to embrace a dance company.

I have always been taken by the words of Stefanos Lazaridis, who directed Orphée et Eurydice for Opera Australia in 1993, which Tankard choreographed after she had left Canberra. He said on an Imagine program on SBS Television in ca. 1994:

The word ‘choreography’ did not apply as far as I am concerned. I wanted this dimension [of the opera] to be dealt with by somebody who has the demonic dance talent of Meryl Tankard, who is a woman of total theatre.

Tankard brought to Canberra something more than ‘just dance’. She brought that ‘total theatre’ that Lazaridis was smart enough to recognise and to declare in such a public forum.  In my opinion that’s just what a small city needs. The population of Canberra at the moment is just 360,000. With that number of people, if  a dance company aspires to be ongoing and viable it needs to be able to attract an audience from across the visual, literary and performing arts. A company that doesn’t aspire to attract, or isn’t capable of engaging audiences beyond the confines of the local dance community, will never make an impact.

Court of Flora. Photo Regis Lansac
Tuula Roppola as the Rose in Court of Fora, Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Australia, 1991. Photo: © Régis Lansac. Courtesy Régis Lansac

Tankard was always proud that her 1989 work  Banshee, shown at the National Gallery of Australia in conjunction with an exhibition of Irish gold and silver, largely Celtic jewellery, attracted a small punk audience. And I can never forget Court of Flora first staged in 1990 at Floriade, Canberra’s annual outdoor spring event. It drew large crowds, who delighted in Anthony Phillips’ spectacular costumes and in the ability of Tankard’s dancers to imbue the floral characters they represented with human characteristics. The work was repeated many times in a variety of Canberra venues between 1990 and 1992. Marion Halligan wrote about Tankard’s work. The Embassy of France and the Goethe Institute in Canberra supported the company.

But what was also interesting about those years was that Tankard and her partner in art and life, Régis Lansac, embraced the Canberra community, its institutions, its landscape and its resident artists. They lived in the city. Lansac exhibited his photographs with other local artists. Tankard made a short film in the Federal Highway Park Quarry just out of the city. Lansac incorporated photographs of a local landmark, Mount Ainslie, in projections that accompanied Two Feet. Lansac received a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award for ‘his constant searching for, and discovery of, new frontiers in stage design’. And ultimately Tankard was made ACT Citizen of the Year in 1992 for having ‘brought the arts in Canberra to both national and international attention’ and for ‘enriching [Canberra’s] reputation as one of great diversity and creativity’. It was a heady time for dance in the ACT and one that has not been equalled since in my opinion.

So yes, I too would love there to be a professional dance company in Canberra. But I don’t think it should be an experimental, contemporary company with interests that attract only a minority of dance aficionados. Leave that to larger cities. Canberra needs a dance company that the wider community can feel belongs to Canberra, not just to dance.

Michelle Potter, 28 April 2012.

Kristian Fredrikson, designs for 'Undercover' (Bright Young Things and Eastern Corset Dancers). National Library of Australia

Dance diary. November 2011

  • SAR Fellowship: National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA)

In 2012 I will be taking up a SAR Fellowship, SAR being the acronym for Scholars and Artists in Residence, for two months at the National Film and Sound Archive. This Fellowship will enable me to investigate a lesser known aspect of the career of designer Kristian Fredrikson, namely his commissions for film and television. In addition to designing costumes for one or two televised ballets in the late 1960s, in the 1980s Fredrikson worked on at least three feature films, Undercover, Sky Pirates, and Short Changed, and three mini-series for television, The Shiralee, The Dirtwater Dynasty and Vietnam. I’m looking forward to delving into this aspect of Fredrikson’s multi-faceted career.

The SAR program aims to promote the NFSA as a centre for scholarly activity, to encourage and facilitate research relating to the NFSA collections and programs and to bring new ideas and expertise to the NFSA.

  • Houston Ballet

In addition to my meeting with Stanton Welch while in Houston recently, which was the subject of a recent post, I spent half a day with Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet’s wardrobe manager. Laura spoke to me at length about Kristian Fredrikson’s designs for ‘Pecos’, part of a Houston Ballet evening length program called Tales of Texas, and Fredrikson’s last work, a new version of Swan Lake. Both works had choreography by Stanton Welch and his Swan Lake, which premiered after Fredrikson’s death, was dedicated to Fredrikson. We also visited the HB warehouse, a little out of town, to have a look at the costumes themselves.

Rack of costumes for Houston Ballet's 'Swan Lake'
Rack of costumes for the Houston Ballet production of Swan Lake. Photo: © Michelle Potter
  • Miranda Coney Barker

Most readers of this site will remember Miranda Coney, a much-loved principal of the Australian Ballet during the 1990s. Miranda is now living in New York with her husband, conductor Charles Barker, and their two young sons. I caught up with her while in New York and was more than delighted to know that she has been giving class to young dancers in the current Broadway production of Billy Elliot—‘quite a challenge’ she says!

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2011

In November the Canberra Critics’ Circle met to discuss nominations for its annual awards, which were presented on 29 November. Two dance awards were made. Liz Lea received an award for her creative use of archival material from Canberra collecting institutions in her solo production of 120 Birds. Lea showed 120 Birds as a work for a small company at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 but reworked it as a solo show for presentation in February 2011 as an event associated with the National Gallery of Australia’s Ballets Russes exhibition. She drew on material from the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia bringing it all together to pay homage to those intrepid artists who toured to and from Australia when communications were not the instant experience we know today.

Photos from Lea’s Gallery performance are at this link.

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman received an award for her poignant and moving show Sapling to Silver, which was the story of a vibrant life—her own life in dance. I recall in particular from that show a duet between Dalman and Albert David in which two cultural heritages were juxtaposed, as were two lives lived in different generations. The citation for Dalman’s award also mentioned the seamless way in which the various sections of the work were put together to deliver a beautifully produced whole.

  • ‘The fire and the rose’

The link to my tribute to Valrene Tweedie, an article originally published in Brolga. An Australian journal about dance in December 2008 and posted on this site in July 2009, is not currently available as it was previously via the Ausdance website. The National Library of Australia’s web archiving service, Pandora, came to the rescue however and the tribute is now available at this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2011

Featured image: Kristian Fredrikson, designs for Undercover (Bright Young Things and Eastern Corset Dancers). National Library of Australia

Kristian Fredrikson, designs for 'Undercover' (Bright Young Things and Eastern Corset Dancers). National Library of Australia