Dance in Canberra showed its current and growing strength in the annual awards given by the Canberra Critics’ Circle. Five recipients were honoured with a dance award, the most for a single year (at least as far as I can recall) in the 32 year history of the CCC awards, which celebrate originality, excellence, energy and creativity across the arts. Here are the dance recipients, with citations.
For a performance that was both technically and theatrically strong, and in which characterisation of a leading role was maintained in an exceptional manner throughout. To Ali Mayes for Juliet in the Training Ground’s Unravel.
For its initiative in bringing together dance filmmakers from the ACT and South Australia in October 2021 and September 2022 in which 9 short films were commissioned and shown, thus widening knowledge and understanding of Canberra’s dance culture beyond the ACT. To Ausdance ACT for their two collaborative programs of Dance.Focus.
For an exceptional full-length solo performance choreographed using a variety of physical genres combined with a strong visual arts component and an underlying focus on issues concerning the disastrous bushfires that ravaged parts of Australia in December 2019. To Jake Silvestro for his production of and performance in December.
For an adventurous site-specific work that explored a Canberra sculpture and its surrounding watery setting through innovative dance, and exceptional lighting and sound design, to give the audience a highly immersive experience. To Australian Dance Party for LESS.
For his charismatic, athletic performance in his self-choreographed work Similar,Same but Different, based on a piece choreographed by Ruth Osborne for Riley’s brother, and performed against a film of Osborne’s work. Similar, Same but Different was performed with a calm assurance that was as captivating as it was moving. To Danny Riley for Similar, Same but Different.
Scroll through this link to read my comments on the 2020 production of Similar, Same but Different.
Congratulations to those five awardees for moving Canberra dance forward during 2022.
5 November 2022. Lake Burley Griffin and Canberra cultural institutions
There it was waiting as we arrived at Canberra’s Lawson Crescent Viewing Dock, a wharf at the edge of the site of the National Museum of Australia. It was a small orange boat holding 28 passengers and named ‘The Gull’. Formerly a fishing boat and now captained by the capable and knowledgeable Jim Patterson, it was to take us on a ‘Culture Cruise’, a four hour journey, which began and finished on Lake Burley Griffin, and which was the brainchild of the ever-adventurous Australian Dance Party.
The first leg of the trip took us across the calm and peaceful waters of the lake to Queen Victoria Wharf not far from Canberra’s Reconciliation Place. It was a relaxing ride of 20 minutes or so and it was a pleasure to see the buildings that we in Canberra know well but mostly see from a different vantage point. For those who may not know the buildings that dot Canberra’s lake shores, Captain Jim had a number of stories, historical and sometimes humour-filled, to tell.
The dancing began as we walked up to and through Reconciliation Place and continued as we crossed to the Portrait Gallery. Yolanda Lawatta danced solo during this part of the journey. She was a powerful figure in the quite simple choreography, which sometimes was performed around the structures making up the Place, and sometimes in the surrounding grassy and tree-filled landscape. Her strength had an emotional underpinning and gave rise to thoughts on the Indigenous aspects of the land on which she was dancing, and across which we were walking, Ngunnawal land.
From Reconciliation Place we walked on to the National Portrait Gallery where a row of seats outside the Gallery entrance awaited us. The performance began with music from jazz vocalist and composer Creswick (aka Liam Budge) who was soon joined by dancer Levente Szabo and then Lawatta. Szabo’s dancing was quite acrobatic while Lawatta’s had something of a Hispanic feel to it. They danced together and separately and their dancing, especially their interactions (sometimes also with Creswick), was always stimulating to watch. After this section of dancing we entered the Portrait Gallery and were given some time to see the art works on show, especially in the current exhibition, Who are you: Australian portraiture. Amongst a huge range of art works in the exhibition one stood out on this occasion for me, a charming head and shoulders portrait, which I had not seen before, of Dame Margaret Scott created by Kenneth Rowell in 1949.
Perhaps my favourite part of the journey came as we left the Portrait Gallery and headed in the direction of the National Gallery. We were led on this part of the journey by Levente Szabo who danced across the plaza in front of the High Court and over the bridge linking the the two well-known ‘brutalist’ buildings, the High Court itself and the National Gallery. He used the structures surrounding the buildings, and the space they occupied, in an interactive and skilful manner, and worked in a similar way as we moved past the Gallery and towards our lunch stop.
Lunch was served at the Jetty Kiosk before we took to the boat again, with a glass of local wine, for another relaxing journey on water back to our starting point. The adventure ended in the amphitheatre at the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Museum where we were entertained again by Creswick before being invited to experience the Museum’s newest space the Great Southern Land Gallery.
Culture Cruise was created and presented by the Australian Dance Party as part of the Canberra Art Biennial. It was an extraordinarily memorable experience led by Stefanie Lekkas, a guide with a strong theatrical background, and with Indigenous cultural input from Ngunnawal advisors Aunty Caroline Hughes and Tara Hughes. It brought together over half a day so many aspects of Canberra’s cultural life—art, architecture, dance, music, food and wine and more—as well as giving an opportunity to take in the immediate landscape, the expansive lake and the beautiful surrounding mountains, the Brindabellas. While it would be an exceptional experience for visitors to Canberra, I (having lived in Canberra for 50+ years now) found so much to enjoy and think about. There are plans for Culture Cruise to continue in 2023. Do take the opportunity to join a cruise. You won’t be disappointed.
Michelle Potter, 8 November 2022
Featured image: ‘The Gull’ moored at Lawson Crescent Viewing Deck.
Australian Dance Party (ADP) calls itself a site-specific company these days, and its most recent work, LESS, is an exceptional example of how this approach to the company’s productions plays out. Created and performed as part of Canberra’s annual Enlighten Festival and the 2022 BOLD Festival, LESS took place in and around a sculpture created by a Chilean-based architectural practice, Pezo von Ellrichshausen. The sculpture, named LESS, graces a space in the Dairy Road Precinct, an area devoted to mixed and emerging businesses. It is a structure of 36 towering concrete columns and a circular ramp leading to a viewing platform. In front of it is a water feature, which consists of large rectangular ponds of shallow water.
While official descriptions of the sculpture say it is ‘intentionally monotonous’, it might also be seen as looking back to the brutalist architecture that characterises many of Canberra’s best known public buildings. ADP’s use of the site for LESS, the dance work, was something of a remarkable adventure for the audience. Some were seated on the ramp, others dangled their feet in the water while sitting on chairs positioned in one of the watery rectangles.
LESS the dance work begins just as the light of the day is beginning to fade. The movement starts in the watery ponds in front the sculpture, and the dancers, joined by a saxophonist (John Mackey) and a vocalist (Liam Budge), make their way towards the sculpture. Their movement is slow and deliberate and focuses on making right angled turns to change direction. It seems to reflect the upright qualities and lack of any sense of curved lines in the 36 columns. Once they reach the water directly in front of the sculpture, however, their imagination lets fly. They twist, bend, stretch and interact with each other, often splashing water in various directions, before making their way onto the sculpture itself. As the natural light fades away completely, the truly remarkable lighting design by Ove Mcleod takes over.
As the dancers transition from the water onto the sculpture their movement often becomes quite structured. Sometimes it reflects the upright nature of the columns. Sometimes it uses the columns as complete or partial hiding places. Sometimes it ignores that structural quality and becomes quite free and adventurous. And, in a remarkable manner, Mcleod’s lighting design allows what is happening on the floor of the sculpture to be reflected in the water giving a strange sensation of no beginning or no end to the dance.
The performers wore costumes by Aislinn King in colours of white and grey, although this colour scheme, like that of the concrete pillars, changed under the effects of the lighting design. Sound design was by Alex Voorhoeve and, in addition to the sounds of the saxophone, Liam Budge’s vocals, created through a hand-held microphone, were an interesting blend of grunts, moans, shouts, whispers and other assorted sounds that often seemed to reflect the dancers’ movements.
It is a joy to see ADP back in performance mode. The company, directed by Alison Plevey, may have a different approach to dance from many other companies, but LESS was a triumph of collaboration. Every aspect of the production contributed in a theatrical way to give a show that resonates still in my mind. I love being able to think up new ideas about dance and how it relates to us, society, and other art forms. LESS gave me that opportunity.
The 2021 Canberra Critics’ Circle awards ceremony took place on 30 November at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. The awards were presented to recipients by Patrick McIntyre, newly appointed CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive and, as is the custom, were presented across all major art forms including performing, visual and literary genres.
Given the difficult circumstances artists across all performing genres have recently experienced, the Circle’s Dance Panel was pleasantly surprised to have such an exceptional range of dance events to consider when discussing the awards. Below is the list, with citations, of the recipients of dance awards.
LIZ LEA DANCE COMPANY For The Point, a courageous exploration of connection and creativity across different dance styles and cultures through innovative choreography highlighted by outstanding use of music and a remarkable lighting design by Karen Norris.
OLIVIA FYFE and ALEX VOORHOEVE For a collaborative blend of live music and movement that highlighted expressive connections between dancer and musician while dramatising certain effects of climate change in nature in Australian Dance Party’s Symbiosis, during an exploration of the Australian National Botanic Gardens as part of Enlighten 2021.
BONNIE NEATE and SUZY PIANI For their remarkable re-imagining of Giselle, entitled Unveiled, which they produced, directed and choreographed embracing elements of classical ballet, contemporary and commercial dance to create a thrilling evening of impeccably prepared, presented and performed dance to showcase the talents of twenty pre-professional dancers chosen at open audition.
QL2 DANCE For a beautifully structured work, Sympathetic Monsters, that examined concepts of isolation and belonging in a production that juxtaposed the group and the individual through choreography by Jack Ziesing, original music by Adam Ventoura, and a committed performance by the large ensemble.
MICHELLE HEINE For her imaginative, exuberant and brilliantly crafted choreography for Free Rain Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia.
The Dancer. A biography for Philippa Cullen
A new book from Giramondo Publishing was recently brought to my attention. Written by Evelyn Juers, it is a biography of Philippa Cullen or, as the author puts it, ‘for’ Philippa Cullen. On one occasion Cullen said to Juers that if she (Cullen) were to die early, she would like Juers to write about her. Cullen, an Australian dancer with a remarkable approach to dance making, died in India at the very young age of 25. The dancer fulfills Cullen’s wish and becomes a biography for her. I am looking forward to reading it!
10 March 2021, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra
Symbiosis was Australian Dance Party’s contribution to Canberra’s Enlighten Festival for 2021. Made in true ADP style as a site-specific work, it took place in various parts of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. It was in fact a guided tour through the Gardens with snippets of dance, music and poetry, and even instruction about various plants, inserted at various points. Again in true ADP style, the work had political overtones, on this occasion issues associated with the environment. True to its title, it explored both conflict and interference, as well as fusion between species (including the human species) in the world in which we live, the natural world that is.
We set off with a guide (Liz Lea dressed as a kind of outback botanist) and began our journey with a walk through the lush rainforest area. There we encountered, at first individually, members of the Canberra-based group Somebody’s Aunt. As we made our way through the gully, we could hear them breathing and see them gently moving as we passed by. Eventually we reached a higher point and could look down at them as they came together to embrace each other, and perhaps the environment (?).
Further along the rainforest gully we were asked to pause and looked up to see Ryan Stone moving across a ridge of trees and plants to sounds of a human voice created by Stone and poet Melinda Smith. And so we continued with the botanist-figure naming various plant species and explaining various matters about other species and their place in nature. We encountered Levi Szabo engaging acrobatically with a tree and its spreading branches, and with the benches that were on the ground close to it. At various points we also noticed Alison Plevey as a kind of lizard/dragon lurking in the bushes and on the paths.
The standout item for me was a section featuring Olivia Fyfe performing to a soundscape by Alex Voorhoeve on electric cello. Fyfe dramatised thoughts about the fate of a tree, with those thoughts ranging from the idea of protection to horror at what was the eventual fate of the tree. Voorhoeve made those changing thoughts audible in stunning fashion. It was an extraordinarily moving section, made especially so by the collaborative blend of movement and music.
The most obviously political section came towards the end when Alison Plevey played the part of some kind of leader attempting to convince her audience (of plants) that ‘the bigger picture’ was being considered, while the ‘green’ organisation she represented moved along (or didn’t) with its environmental plans (or lack thereof).
In addition to the moving performance from Voorhoeve and Fyfe as they contemplated the destruction of a tree, an exceptional performance came from the Gardener, danced and acted by Elizabeth Dalman. So immersed was she in her character and so beautifully disguised in her costume, especially that soft-brimmed hat, that it took me a while to realise that it was in fact Dalman. She appeared and re-appeared several times as a kind of ‘extra’ until the very end when she led the concluding dance. She began by setting up the shape of a star, made from bark pieces, on the ground at the final venue. Accompanied by the words of Melinda Smith, which were often difficult to make out in the very open space of the Gardens, one by one the performers we had watched came together. Maintaining her distance from the others, Dalman soothed and comforted, calmed and regenerated. She showed her true colours as an extraordinary artist throughout.
Symbiosis lasted for 90 minutes, which was, at least for me, about 30 minutes too long given the small amount of performance we saw. Did we really need all that botanical information? A little was fine but announcing all those Latin names of various plant species was pretty much unnecessary. We can go on a special Botanic Gardens tour if we need to get to know that kind of information.
Symbiosis was in essence an after-dark show, although I ended up seeing it in the early evening, which gave me lots of pleasure. Looking at published images taken during evening shows, I am glad I had the opportunity to see it in an ‘enlightened’ situation where the performance skills of the artists involved were clearer. The pleasures of carrying lanterns during the late evening shows, as I believe was the case, and the fairy lights that decorated the pathways, may have been fun but I prefer to have a clear view of how the artists are performing.
Perhaps the final note is to say that the event was constantly permeated by the sound of the wind in the trees and the birds calling each other. Even a hungry magpie hopped across the grass looking for scraps for its dinner as Fyfe and Voorhoeve were at work. From the point of view of the ambient sound, and the slow change of light as dusk began to fall, the show was very special.
The best of everything to those who have followed this website over the past year. Thank you for your loyalty. And here’s hoping that 2021 will be one that is filled with dance, even live dance perhaps? Stay safe and healthy.
Highlights of 2020 (on and off stage)
I was very fortunate to see the opening night performance of Graeme Murphy’s The Happy Prince. It had a short run in Brisbane in February but showings elsewhere were cancelled due to the pandemic. I really would like to see it again as there was a lot there that needed a second look. I hope we will see it again, given that the leadership of the Australian Ballet has changed.
By mid year we were still not back in the theatre but Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party created Lake Marchin which, over several weekends in August, eight dancers, accompanied by two musicians, made their way around Canberra’s three lakes. They paused briefly on occasions to engage with each other and with the rather surprised audience of joggers, bike riders and so on who were also using the lakeside for exercise. Lake March won Plevey a Canberra Critics’ Circle award in December. The citation read:
For courageously working within the restrictive conditions generated by COVID-19 to bring an innovative and entertaining production of dance and live music, presented in several outdoor venues, to an audience of dance goers and the wider Canberra community. Alison Plevey for Lake March.
In October we were able to venture into the theatre for a QL2 Dance program featuring a work called Sympathetic Monsters by Jack Ziesing. It was an absorbing work in terms of its choreographic structure and in its thematic content.
Of course I watched many streamed performances over the course of 2020. It was more than interesting to see close-up images of faces and expressions and also details of costume. Nothing can replace a live performance but I derived much pleasure from streamed performances, especially from companies I wouldn’t normally see. Borrowed Light from Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company in collaboration with Boston Camerata was perhaps the most outstanding example. I was transfixed by this performance and have Jacob’s Pillow to thank for streaming it as part of the Pillow’s Virtual Festival 2020.
Sunil Kothari (1933–2020). Indian dance critic
I was saddened to hear of the death of Indian dance writer Sunil Kothari from complications of COVID-19. He visited Australia on a number of occasions and I recall a talk he gave in Canberra for the Canberra Critics’ Circle, several years ago now. He was a passionate advocate for dance and was a mentor to Padma Menon, who performed extensively in Canberra during the 1990s.
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer featured as the ‘Publishing Spotlight’ in the Summer 2020–2021 edition of the newsletter of the Friends of the National Library of Australia. The review was written by Friends Committee Member and well known Canberra-based arts and craft specialist, Meredith Hinchliffe. Follow this link to read the review.
Canberra’s dance companies, large and small, have always been good at making site specific works, especially in outdoor venues. The city lends itself well to such events. Canberra dance-goers will remember exceptional performances in outdoor venues from past companies such as Meryl Tankard Company and Paige Gordon and Performance Group.
Canberra’s current professional company, Australian Dance Party led by Alison Plevey, has continued the tradition with many of Plevey’s productions taking place outdoors. August saw ADP’s Lake March, a response over several weekends to the difficult situation dance companies find themselves in at present. Performing as part of the Where You Are Festival around three of Canberra’s lake areas, Lakes Burley Griffin, Ginninderra, and Tuggeranong, eight dancers and two musicians (Michael Liu on violin and Alex Voorhoeve on cello) moved in a line around the edges of the lake areas, observing social distancing as they proceeded. They paused occasionally and engaged in spontaneous expressive movement before continuing the march until they reached a final destination.
Lake March attracted an interested audience of cyclists, kids on scooters, joggers and Canberrans enjoying the outdoors. A few performances in mid-August were postponed, however, when the weather was less than warm. It was snowing in some parts of Canberra!
Jacob’s Pillow: the name
Regular visitors to my website will know that I have a great fondness for Jacob’s Pillow, that amazing dance venue (and it’s more than a performance venue) in Massachusetts. I have just recently posted reviews of two of the Pillow’s 2020 digital offerings—a program from the Royal Danish Ballet, and Borrowed Light from Tero Saarinen Company and Boston Camerata. Both were terrific performances.
I have, however, occasionally wondered why the site was called Jacob’s Pillow and so I was interested to discover (somewhat belatedly given that I was at the Pillow in 2007!) the history behind the name.
The YouTube link above shows Norton Owen, Director of Preservation at the Pillow, explaining the origins of the name.
Freeman. A new documentary to watch
The ABC has produced a documentary to mark the 20th anniversary of Cathy Freeman’s historic win in the 400m sprint at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The film is co-directed by Stephen Page and features Bangarra dancer Lillian Banks as a young Cathy Freeman. The documentary includes archival footage, interviews and dance sequences. It will be available on ABC iview from 13 September.
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. Some reviews and comments
In addition to the review of my recent publication, Kristian Fredrikson. Designer, written by Jennifer Shennan and posted on this site, here are some reviews and a comment made during August.
And from Sir Jon Trimmer, esteemed former dancer with Royal New Zealand Ballet in a note to Unity Books in Wellington:
What a magnificent book this is. Michelle Potter has been able to bring Australia and New Zealand close together by including all of Kristian’s work in both countries. Our own ballet company’s history is brought to life in a very special way… and there’s even mention of the Chez Lily, that Dixon Street coffee bar where we spent so much time talking about our dreams and our work, back in the day. I thought I was the only person who remembered it. We are very lucky that Michelle has produced this special book. It is one to treasure.
It was a thrill to hear that Michelle Ryan, currently director of Restless Dance Theatre in Adelaide, has received the Australia Council’s 2020 Award for Dance. The award, whose previous recipients have included Vicki van Hout, Phillip Adams, Stephen Page, Lucy Guerin and Garry Stewart, is to acknowledge an artist ‘who has made an outstanding and sustained contribution to Australian dance’.
Ryan will be especially well known to Canberra and Adelaide audiences for her performances with Meryl Tankard Company in Canberra and with Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Ryan for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection. That interview, recorded in Adelaide in 2014, is now available as an online audio file at this link. It also has a summary and a transcript (uncorrected).
Art, not Apart, 2020
One of the last public dance performances in Canberra before such things were no longer permitted (for the moment we hope) was a joint production between Australian Dance Party and QL2 Dance. It was an outdoor event held on the grassy slope in front of the National Film and Sound Archive.
Called YGen to IGen it explored through cross-generational performance ‘the fears, hopes and imaginings of possible futures’. It was a beautiful Canberra afternoon but in retrospect the topic was more apposite than anyone might have imagined.
National Photographic Prize
After a portrait of Elizabeth Dalman won the inaugural Darling Portrait Prize, another dancer featured in the 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize announced shortly after the Darling award. The portrait of Eileen Kramer by Hugh Stewart was Highly Commended. Read more about Eileen Kramer at this link.
One of the events I had booked to see in London in mid-March, which, like the Scarlett Swan Lake, I didn’t manage to get to (and it was cancelled anyway) was Insights:In Conversation with David Hallberg. But here is the image I was given to use in my discussion of the event.
I am curious about Hallberg’s forthcoming new role as artistic director of the Australian Ballet of course. Here is what he said in a recent article in Dance Magazine:
The dancing is already at a very high standard, the repertoire is solid and the audience base is dedicated. But I want to add certain things to the repertoire that haven’t yet been seen in Australia. I’ve seen such a variety of work in New York—and not just at Lincoln Center—and in Russia and Europe. I have a really broad palette. It’s just a matter of tailoring it to the interests of the dancers and the tastes of audiences in Australia.
I also want to bring the company around the world. I have these amazing contacts I’ve made throughout my career that I want The Australian Ballet to benefit from.
And I want to dive into the company’s responsibility to the greater Australian community. A lot of that has to do with education and really getting into isolated communities in Australia, communities that don’t necessarily make it to the Opera House in Sydney or the State Theatre in Melbourne. I think every cultural organization in this era needs to question what their responsibility is to the greater community, and not just put on a beautiful ballets in a beautiful opera house.
Of course, living in Canberra as I do and knowing the lack of interest the Australian Ballet has in visiting Canberra, I wonder whether the national capital is an ‘isolated community’. Fingers crossed! Here is a link to the Dance Magazine article and a link to writing about Hallberg on this site.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.