Ausdance ACT’s new director. Dr Cathy Adamek

Dr Cathy Adamek thinks it is time for regional re-engagement in dance. Adamek, who has had an extraordinarily diverse career across art forms to date, has just been appointed Director, Ausdance ACT. Her long-term vision is for making connections, including eventually establishing touring initiatives, initially between independent artists working in South Australia and the ACT. This aspect of a much wider vision seems very much like a ‘seize the moment’ one. On the one hand there are Adamek’s strong connections with Adelaide and, on the other, in the current COVID 19 situation the Adelaide-Canberra ‘bubble’ already exists even as borders with some other states and territories remain closed. It is also just the kind of initiative Canberra artists need.

Adamek began her dance life learning ballet in Adelaide with Joanna Priest and Sheila Laing. She was accepted into WAAPA to continue dance studies at tertiary level but an injury forced her to move to acting. Adamek eventually continued her training at NIDA and the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London and, with the addition of a strong musical background since childhood, she has pursued a career across dance, physical theatre, choreography, film, and electronic music, and has acted as a voice-over in various situations. She completed her PhD in 2017 at the University of South Australia. Her thesis, entitled Adelaide Dance Music Culture: Late 1980s–Early 1990s, reflected her interest in connecting with new music as well as her experiences on the dance floor in ‘the second summer of love’. A recent residency at Dance Hub SA saw her working on a piece called Open Bliss, a development from her PhD research and one of several of her personal choreographies. She has tutored at various institutions and most recently has been President of Ausdance SA. With her diverse background she describes herself as a ‘creative producer’.

Portrait of Cathy Adamek. Photo: © Meaghan Coles

Along with her interest in establishing regional re-engagement, Adamek says that her aim in her new position in Canberra is basically to serve the needs of Ausdance. ‘I have had 25 years of working in the arts,’ she says ‘now I want to work to help others in the dance community. I also have a particular interest in turning dance works into film and to extending that interest out to schools where there is a need for different perspectives and training.’ She also has a particular passion for ensuring that dance is developed from a dramaturgical point of view. This interest, she says, grew from her background at NIDA in the 1990s. ‘It was a hybrid era,’ she says, ‘when art forms were brought together. I want to present dance in a theatrical way. It has to be a journey in movement and with logic and theatricality.’

Why Canberra I wonder? I suggest to her that it doesn’t always have a strong profile to many outside the city. ‘It’s a lot like “secret Adelaide”, she counters. ‘Besides, I love travelling, I love going to new places. Canberra sits between those beautiful mountains. It has the Gallery and other collecting institutions. I had no hesitation.’

Like many arts organisations, Ausdance ACT has struggled a little in recent times. Cathy Adamek could well be the one to deliver its rejuvenation.

Michelle Potter, 14 October 2020

Featured image: A moment from Open Bliss, 2019. Photo: © Alex Waite-Mitchell

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).

Dancers of Australian Dance Party in 'Mine!', Canberra 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. February 2020

  • Mine! Australian Dance Party

Canberra’s Australian Dance Party (ADP) has begun 2020 in style. They have received program funding for two years rather than having to work from project to project, which has been their means of operating until now. This gives them a chance to plan ahead a little. The company has also just finished its first interstate tour with three performances of Mine! in Brisbane at the Supercell Festival of Contemporary Dance. Just prior to heading to Brisbane, ADP performed Mine! at the Australian National University, where the images on this post were taken.

Olivia Fyfe in 'Mine!', Australian Dance Party, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Olivia Fyfe in Mine!, Australian Dance Party, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Mine! was triggered by a reaction to proposals for mega-mines in Queensland, and by a culture of self gratification that the Party believes characterises much of society today.

Ryan Stone in 'Mine!', Australian Dance Party, 2020 Photo: © Lorna Sim
Ryan Stone in Mine!, Australian Dance Party, 2020 Photo: © Lorna Sim
  • Australian Dance Awards

Ausdance National has announced that the Australian Dance Awards will resume operation after a hiatus during 2019. Ausdance is working towards a double awards night later in 2020. It will recognise outstanding dance across a variety of areas during 2018 and 2019. Further details as they come to hand.

  • News from Liz Lea

Liz Lea has recently been touring her one woman show RED in the United Kingdom. It is good news that this show, which premiered in Canberra in 2018, is receiving the exposure it deserves. Lea has also been appointed Movement Director for a show to take place in Kuwait in April. It is being directed by Talal Al-Muhanna, Kuwaiti director of the documentary On the trail of Ruth St Denis, in which Lea appeared and which she researched.

  • The Fredrikson book

Editing and design of Kristian Fredrikson. Designer is moving into final stages. Pre-order is now available at this link. The media release is also available at the same link by clicking on ‘More information’. (Believe me you will be able to read the title on the front cover once the book is published). And, thanks to those who kindly donated to my various crowd funding projects, the book will be a hardback with a jacket.

  • Other books

And while on the subject of dance-related books, my recent newsletter from Jacob’s Pillow contained a note about a new book (or new-ish, it was published in December 2019) on Ted Shawn. The image below shows on the right the author, Paul Scolieri, standing next to Norton Owen, Director of Preservation at the Pillow. I noticed that the book is available through Book Depository. I am curious to know if Scolieri refers at all to Shawn’s Australian visit and was reminded of the range of comments that came in for a post on Shawn on this site back in 2011.

  • Oral histories

Early in February I had the pleasure of interviewing Douglas Gautier, CEO and Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival Centre. The interview was part of the Australia-China Council Project currently being conducted by the National Library of Australia. Douglas Gautier spent a considerable amount of time in Hong Kong and had many connections with arts organisation in the region. The interview is not yet available online.

My January interview with Chrissa Keramidas is now online, although it currently lacks a timed summary. Coming soon! As well, an interview with Lisa Pavane, recorded a few years ago, was recently made available online. It does already have its summary.

Michelle Potter, 29 February 2020

Featured image: Dancers of Australian Dance Party in Mine!, Canberra 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Andrew Killian and Dimity Azoury in 'Aurum'. The Australian Ballet, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Dance diary. January 2020

Alice Topp’s Aurum

Aurum, choreographed by Alice Topp, a resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet, was first seen in Melbourne in 2018. It was followed by a 2019 season in Sydney, a scene from which is the featured image for this post. Also in 2019 it had a showing in New York at the Joyce Theater. In fact the Joyce was in part responsible for the creation of Aurum. Aurum was enabled with the support of a Rudolf Nureyev Prize for New Dance, awarded by the Joyce. Major funding came from the Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation. Aurum went on to win a Helpmann Award in 2019.

Now Topp will stage her work for Royal New Zealand Ballet as part of that company’s Venus Rising program opening in May 2020. She has recently been rehearsing the work in RNZB studios in Wellington.

Madeleine Graham and Allister Madin in rehearsal for Alice Topp's 'Aurum'. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2020. Photo: © Jeremy Brick
Madeleine Graham and Allister Madin in rehearsal for Alice Topp’s Aurum. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2020. Photo: © Jeremy Brick

I can still feel the excitement of seeing Aurum for the first time in 2018 when it was part of the Australian Ballet’s Verve program. My review from that season is at this link.

Dance Australia critics’ survey

Below are my choices in the annual Dance Australia critics’ survey. See the February/March 2020 issue of Dance Australia for the choices made by other critics across Australia. The survey is always interesting reading.

  • Highlight of the year
    West Side Story’s return to Australian stages looking as fabulous as it did back in the 1960s. A true dance musical in which choreographer Jerome Robbins tells the story brilliantly through dance and gesture.
  • Most significant dance event
    Sydney Dance Company’s 50th anniversary. Those who have led, and are leading the company—Suzanne Musitz, Jaap Flier, Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, and currently Rafael Bonachela—have given Australian audiences a varied contemporary repertoire with exposure to the work of some remarkable Australian choreographers and composers, as well as the work of some of the best contemporary artists from overseas.
  • Most interesting Australian independent group or artist
    Canberra’s Australian Dance Party, which has started to develop a strong presence and unique style and has given Canberra a much needed local, professional company. The 2019 production From the vault showed the company’s strong collaborative aesthetic with an exceptional live soundscape and lighting to add to the work’s appeal.
  • Most interesting Australian group or artist
    Bangarra Dance Theatre. Over thirty years the company has gone from strength to strength and can only be admired for the way in which Stephen Page and his associates tell Indigenous stories with such pride and passion.
Beau Dean Riley Smith (centre) as Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre 2017. Photo: Vishal Pandey
Beau Dean Riley Smith (centre) as Bennelong in Bennelong, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2017. Photo: © Vishal Pandey
  • Most outstanding choreography
    Melanie Lane’s thrilling but somewhat eccentric WOOF as restaged by Sydney Dance Company. It was relentless in its exploration of group behaviour and reminded me a little of a modern day Rite of Spring
Scene from Melanie Lane's 'WOOF'. Sydney Dance Company, 2019. Photo: © Pedro Greig
Scene from Melanie Lane’s WOOF. Sydney Dance Company, 2019. Photo: © Pedro Greig
  • Best new work
    Dangerous Liaisons by Liam Scarlett for Queensland Ballet. Scarlett has an innate ability to compress detail without losing the basic elements of the narrative and to capture mood and character through movement. It was beautifully performed by Queensland Ballet and demonstrated excellence in its collaborative elements.
  • Most outstanding dancer(s)
    Kohei Iwamato from Queensland Ballet especially for his dancing in Dangerous Liaisons as Azolan, valet to the Vicomte de Valmont. His dancing was light, fluid, and technically exact and he made every nuance of Scarlett’s choreography clearly visible

    Tyrel Dulvarie in Bangarra’s revival of Unaipon in which he danced the role of David Unaipon. His presence on stage was imposing throughout and his technical ability shone, especially in the section where he danced as Tolkami (the West Wind).
  • Dancer(s) to watch
    Ryan Stone, dancer with Alison Plevey’s Canberra-based Australian Dance Party (ADP). His performance in ADP’s From the vault was exceptional for its fluidity and use of space and gained him a Dance Award from the Canberra Critics’ Circle.

    Yuumi Yamada of the Australian Ballet whose dancing in Stephen Baynes Constant Variants and as the Daughter in Stanton Welch’s Sylvia showed her as an enticing dancer with much to offer as she develops further.
  • Boos!
    The Australian Government’s apparent disinterest in the arts and in the country’s collecting institutions. The removal of funding for Ausdance National, for example, resulted in the cancellation of the Australian Dance Awards, while the efficiency dividend placed on collecting institutions, which has been in place for years now, means that items that tell of our dance history lie unprocessed and uncatalogued, and hence are unusable by the public for years.
  • Standing ovation
    I’m standing up and cheering for the incredible variety of dance that goes on beyond our major ballet and contemporary companies. Youth dance, community dance, dance for well-being, dance for older people, and more. It is indicative of the power that dance has to develop creativity, health and welfare, and a whole range of social issues.
Scene from Eye to Eye in On course. QL2 Dance, 2019. Photo: © Andrew Sikorski/Art Atelier

New oral history recordings

In January I had the pleasure of recording two new oral history interviews for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. The first was with Chrissa Keramidas, former dancer with the Australian Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Sydney Dance Company. Keramidas recently returned as a guest artist in the Australian Ballet’s recent revival of Nutcracker. The story of Clara. The second was with Emeritus Professor Susan Street, AO, dance educator over many years including with Queensland University of Technology and the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts.

News from James Batchelor

James Batchelor’s Redshift, originally commissioned by Chunky Move in 2017, will have another showing in Paris in February as part of the Artdanthé Festival. Redshift is another work emerging from Batchelor’s research following his taking part in an expedition to Heard and McDonald Islands in the sub-Antarctic in 2016. Artdanthé takes place at the Théâtre de Vanves and Batchelor’s works have been shown there on previous occasions.

Study for Redshift. Photo: © Morgan Hickinbotham

Batchelor is also about to start work on a new piece, Cosmic Ballroom, which will premiere in December 2020 at another international festival, December Dance, in Bruges, Belgium. Below are some of Batchelor’s thoughts about this new work.

Set in a 19th Century Ballroom in Belgium, Cosmic Ballroom will playfully reimagine social dances and the aesthetic relationship they have to the space and time they exist within. We will work with movement as a plastic and expressive language that is formed through social encounters: the passing of thoughts, feelings and uncertainties from body to body. It will ponder the public and private and the personal and interpersonal as tonal zones that radiate and contaminate. How might movement be like a virus in this context? How might space-times be playfully spilling across and infecting one another from the baroque ballroom to the post-industrial club space?

Batchelor will collaborate with an team of Australian, Italian and UK artists on this work.

Liam Scarlett

Not such good news

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2020

Featured image: Andrew Killian and Dimity Azoury in Aurum. The Australian Ballet, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Andrew Killian and Dimity Azoury in 'Aurum'. The Australian Ballet, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud
Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger in 'Six Years Later'. 'Pure Dance, Sydney Opera House, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Dance diary. August 2019

  • Pure Dance

A performance highlight for August was undoubtedly Natalia Osipova’s Pure Dance, a program of six short works curated by Osipova and featuring Osipova and David Hallberg, along with two guest artists Jonathan Goddard and Jason Kittelberger. A link to my review of the show, written for Limelight Magazine, appears below.

Of course Pure Dance reminded me a little of a similar show Sylvie Guillem put together four or so years ago called Life in Progress. Osipova and Guillem, fabulous classical technicians, both have an abiding interest in contemporary choreography and it is an exceptional experience to see how their skills translate into dance works beyond classical ballet.

  • Youth Dance Festival, Canberra

Canberra has long been a centre for youth and community dance and September sees the 35th season of the city’s Youth Dance Festival, or Youth Fest as it is more commonly known. An inclusive, non-competitive dance festival, it brings together dancers from schools across Canberra and surrounding districts for performances staged by Ausdance ACT at the Canberra Theatre Centre. The 2019 program, called Generation Next, is made up of 61 different dance works created by 40 high schools and colleges from the region!

Jamie Winbank, creative director of the show, tells me that 45,000 young dancers have participated since the festival began in 1985, an astonishing number really. Winbank sees Dance Fest as ‘a platform for young people to express their ideas and opinions, and have their voices heard through dance.’ Generation Next runs from 7-13 September and bookings can be made through the Canberra Theatre Centre website.

  • New Breed from Sydney Dance Company

Sydney Dance Company recently announced the four emerging choreographers who have been commissioned to make a work for the 2019 New Breed season. They are Josh Mu and Lauren Langlois, both from Melbourne, and Ariella Casu and Davide Di Giovanni both from Sydney. This will be the sixth New Breed season and takes place at Carriageworks in Sydney from 28 November to 7 December. Book via sydneydancecompany.com

Davide Di Giovanni in Rafael Bonachela’s Cinco. Sydney Dance Company, 2019. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro
  • Demise of Ausdance National

The most distressing dance news for August was the announcement that Ausdance National, the national advocacy body for dance in Australia over the past 42 years, has been forced to close. Ausdance National was responsible for organising the Australian Dance Awards, but its work extended to industry development, conferences, publications, and a host of other initiatives. Decreasing government funding has had a weakening effect over several years and, while state-based offices of Ausdance will continue to operate (at least for the moment), the national body no longer exists to bring broad, national issues to the fore. A huge loss.

  • Oral history: Lloyd Newson

I had the privilege of recording an oral history interview in August with Lloyd Newson, Australian-born choreographer and founder of the London-based company DV8. It will join the National Library’s ever expanding collection of dance-related interviews. As you read this, Newson will be in Europe working towards the opening of Enter Achilles, reworked for Rambert Dance Company. We will see Enter Achilles in Australia next year. Stay tuned for details of when and where.

  • Press for August 2019

Review of Pure Dance. Limelight Magazine (online), 28 August 2019.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2019

Featured image: Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger in ‘Six Years Later’. Pure Dance, Sydney Opera House, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Natalia Osipova and Jason Kittelberger in 'Six Years Later'. 'Pure Dance, Sydney Opera House, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud
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.

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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