Dance diary. January 2021

  • Garry Stewart to leave Australian Dance Theatre

I have to admit to being slightly taken aback when I heard that Garry Stewart would relinquish his directorship of Australian Dance Theatre at the end of 2021. He leaves behind an incredible legacy I think. My first recollection of his choreography goes back to the time in the 1990s when he was running a company called Thwack! I recall in particular a production called Plastic Space, which was shown at the 1999 Melbourne Festival. It examined our preoccupation with aliens and I wrote in The Canberra Times, ‘[Stewart’s] dance-making is risky, physically daring and draws on a variety of sources….’ I also wrote program notes for that Melbourne Festival and remarked on three preoccupations I saw in his work. They were physical virtuosity, thematic abstraction and technology as a choreographic tool. Most of Stewart’s work that I have seen with ADT has continued to embody those concepts.

Although since the 1990s I have seen fewer Stewart works than I would have liked, the three that have engaged me most of all have been G (2008), Monument (2013), which I regret was never seen outside Canberra, and The Beginning of Nature (2018), which won the 2018 Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Performance by a Company.

At this stage I don’t know where life will lead Garry Stewart after 2021 but I wish him every success. His contribution to dance in Australia has been exceptional.

  • Marguerite and Armand. The Royal Ballet Digital Season

The last time I saw Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, made in 1963 for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, was in 2018. Then I had the good fortune to see Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli leading a strong Royal Ballet cast. It was in fact the standout performance on a triple bill. I also remember seeing a remarkable performance by Sylvia Guillem as Marguerite when the Royal visited Australia in 2002, although I was not so impressed with her partners. (I saw two performances with different dancers taking the male role on each of those occasions).

Zenaida Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle in Marguerite and Armand. The Royal Ballet, 2017. From the Royal Ballet website

The streamed performance offered by the Royal Ballet recently featured Zenaida Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle. It was filmed in 2017 and was Yanowsky’s farewell performance with the Royal Ballet. She is a strong technician and a wonderful actor and her performance was exceptional in both those areas. Yet, I was somewhat disappointed. Bolle was perhaps not her ideal partner. Yanowsky is quite tall and seemed at times to overpower Bolle. But in addition I found her take on the role a little cold. She was extraordinarily elegant but I missed a certain emotional, perhaps even guileless quality that I saw in Ferri and Guillem.

  • La Fille mal gardée. The Royal Ballet

The Royal Ballet is once more streaming a performance of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, this time featuring Steven McRae and Natalia Osipova in the leading roles. But, as I was investigating the streaming conditions and watching the trailer, I came across a twelve minute mini-documentary about the ballet, focusing especially on its English qualities. It is a really entertaining and informative twelves minutes and includes footage of the beautifully groomed white pony, called Peregrine, who has a role in the ballet. We see him entering the Royal Opera House via the stage door and climbing the stairs to the stage area. Isn’t there a adage that says never share the stage with children or animals? Well Peregrine steals the show in this documentary! But there are many other moments of informative and lively discussion about the ballet and the documentary is worth watching. Link below.

  • The Australian Ballet on the International Stage. Lisa Tomasetti’s new book

Lisa Tomasetti is a photographer whose work I have admired for some time. She has a great eye for catching an unusual perspective on whatever she photographs. Late in 2020 she issued a book of photographs of the Australian Ballet on various of its international tours, including visits to London, New York (and elsewhere in the United States), Beijing, Tokyo and Paris. This book of exceptional images is available from Tomasetti’s website at this link.

  • Coming in April: The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet

The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet has been a long-time in production but it will be released in April. The book is extensive in scope with a wide list of contributors including scholars, critics and choreographers from across the world. Here is a link to information about the publication. The list of contents, extracted from the link, is at the end of this post.

  • Sir Robert Cohan (1925-2021)

I was sorry to hear that Sir Robert Cohan had died recently. He made a huge impact on contemporary dance and its development in the United Kingdom, and his influence on many Australian dancers and choreographers, including Sydney-based artists Patrick Harding-Irmer and Anca Frankenhaeuser, was exceptional. An obituary in The Guardian, written by Jane Pritchard, is at this link.

  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments

The Canberra Times recently published a review of Kristian Fredrikson. Designer in its Saturday supplement, Panorama. The review was written by Emeritus Professor of Art History at the Australian National University, Sasha Grishin. Here is the review as it appeared in the print run of the paper on 16 January 2021.

The review is also available online at this link and is perhaps easier to read there.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2021

Featured Image: Garry Stewart. Photo: © Meaghan Coles (www.nowandthenphotography.com.au)

Photos by www.facebook.com/meaghancoles.nowandthenphotography

CONTENTS FOR THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF CONTEMPORARY BALLET

Acknowledgments
About the Contributors
Introduction
On Contemporaneity in Ballet: Exchanges, Connections, and Directions in Form
Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel and Jill Nunes Jensen
Part I: Pioneers, or Game Changers
Chapter 1: William Forsythe: Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and the Forsythescape
Ann Nugent
Chapter 2: Hans van Manen: Between Austerity and Expression Anna Seidl
Chapter 3: Twyla Tharp’s Classical Impulse
Kyle Bukhari
Chapter 4: Ballet at the Margins: Karole Armitage and Bronislava Nijinska
Molly Faulkner and Julia Gleich
Chapter 5: Maguy Marin’s Social and Aesthetic Critique
Mara Mandradjieff
Chapter 6: Fusion and Renewal in the Works of Jiří Kylián
Katja Vaghi
Chapter 7: Wayne McGregor: Thwarting Expectation at The Royal Ballet
Jo Butterworth and Wayne McGregor
Part II: Reimaginings
Chapter 8: Feminist Practices in Ballet: Katy Pyle and Ballez
Gretchen Alterowitz
Chapter 9: Contemporary Repetitions: Rhetorical Potential and The Nutcracker
Michelle LaVigne
Chapter 10: Mauro Bigonzetti: Reimagining Les Noces (1923)
Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel
Chapter 11: New Narratives from Old Texts: Contemporary Ballet in Australia
Michelle Potter
Chapter 12: Cathy Marston: Writing Ballets for Literary Dance(r)s
Deborah Kate Norris
Chapter 13: Jean-Christophe Maillot: Ballet, Untamed
Laura Cappelle
Chapter 14: Ballet Gone Wrong: Michael Clark’s Classical Deviations
Arabella Stanger
Part III: It’s Time
Chapter 15: Dance Theatre of Harlem: Radical Black Female Bodies in Ballet
Tanya Wideman-Davis
Chapter 16: Huff! Puff! And Blow the House Down: Contemporary Ballet in South Africa
Gerard M. Samuel
Chapter 17: The Cuban Diaspora: Stories of Defection, Brain Drain and Brain Gain
Lester Tomé
Chapter 18: Balancing Reconciliation at The Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Bridget Cauthery and Shawn Newman
Chapter 19: Ballet Austin: So You Think You Can Choreograph
Caroline Sutton Clark
Chapter 20: Gender Progress and Interpretation in Ballet Duets
Jennifer Fisher
Chapter 21: John Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet: A Legacy
E. Hollister Mathis-Masury
Chapter 22: “Ballet” Is a Dirty Word: Where Is Ballet in São Paulo?
Henrique Rochelle
Part IV: Composition
Chapter 23: William Forsythe: Creating Ballet Anew
Susan Leigh Foster
Chapter 24: Amy Seiwert: Okay, Go! Improvising the Future of Ballet
Ann Murphy
Chapter 25: Costume
Caroline O’Brien
Chapter 26: Shapeshifters and Colombe’s Folds: Collective Affinities of Issey Miyake and William Forsythe
Tamara Tomić-Vajagić
Chapter 27: On Physicality and Narrative: Crystal Pite’s Flight Pattern (2017)
Lucía Piquero Álvarez
Chapter 28: Living in Counterpoint
Norah Zuniga Shaw
Chapter 29: Alexei Ratmansky’s Abstract-Narrative Ballet
Anne Searcy
Chapter 30: Talking Shop: Interviews with Justin Peck, Benjamin Millepied, and Troy Schumacher
Roslyn Sulcas
Part V: Exchanges Inform
Chapter 31: Royal Ballet Flanders under Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Lise Uytterhoeven
Chapter 32: Akram Khan and English National Ballet
Graham Watts
Chapter 33: The Race of Contemporary Ballet: Interpellations of Africanist Aesthetics
Thomas F. DeFrantz
Chapter 34: Copy Rites
Rachana Vajjhala
Chapter 35: Transmitting Passione: Emio Greco and the Ballet National de Marseille
Sarah Pini and John Sutton
Chapter 36: Narratives of Progress and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal
Melissa Templeton
Chapter 37: Mark Morris: Clarity, a Dash of Magic, and No Phony Baloney
Gia Kourlas
Part VI: The More Things Change . . .
Chapter 38: Ratmansky: From Petipa to Now
Apollinaire Scherr
Chapter 39: James Kudelka: Love, Sex, and Death
Amy Bowring and Tanya Evidente
Chapter 40: Liam Scarlett: “Classicist’s Eye . . . Innovator’s Urge”
Susan Cooper
Chapter 41: Performing the Past in the Present: Uncovering the Foundations of Chinese Contemporary Ballet
Rowan McLelland
Chapter 42: Between Two Worlds: Christopher Wheeldon and The Royal Ballet
Zoë Anderson
Chapter 43: Christopher Wheeldon: An Englishman in New York
Rachel Straus
Chapter 44: The Disappearance of Poetry and the Very, Very Good Idea
Freya Vass
Chapter 45: Justin Peck: Everywhere We Go (2014), a Ballet Epic for Our Time
Mindy Aloff
Part VII: In Process
Chapter 46: Weaving Apollo: Women’s Authorship and Neoclassical Ballet
Emily Coates
Chapter 47: What Is a Rehearsal in Ballet?
Janice Ross
Chapter 48: Gods, Angels, and Björk: David Dawson, Arthur Pita, and Contemporary Ballet
Jennie Scholick
Chapter 49: Alonzo King LINES Ballet: Voicing Dance
Jill Nunes Jensen
Chapter 50: Inside Enemy
Thomas McManus
Chapter 51: On “Contemporaneity” in Ballet and Contemporary Dance: Jeux in 1913 and 2016
Hanna Järvinen
Chapter 52: Reclaiming the Studio: Observing the Choreographic Processes of Cathy Marston and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Carrie Gaiser Casey
Chapter 53: Contemporary Partnerships
Russell Janzen
Index

Rika Hamaguchi and Tyrel Dulvarie in a section from 'to make fire'. 30 Years of sixty-Five Thousand, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Australian Dance Awards 2018 and 2019

The recipients of Australian Dance Awards for 2018 and 2019 were announced on 8 December. The announcement was streamed by Ausdance National in order to manage the various restrictions on travel, gatherings of people and the like as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But it was relaxing at least to be able to watch from the comfort of one’s lounge room, or at a small ‘watch party’.

The two recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award were Jill Sykes (2019) and Janet Karin (2020). As is the usual practice, the Lifetime Achievement Awards were announced prior to the other awards and this information has been on the Ausdance National website since late November.

Both awardees have had astonishing careers for well over the forty years that is a requirement for nominations in this category, and their love for and commitment to dance is exceptional. Read the citations that accompany their award at the following links: Jill Sykes; Janet Karin.

Below is the list of awardees in other categories with just one or two personal comments, some photographs, and links to my reviews, where available:

Services to Dance
Valerie Lawson (2018)
Philippe Charluet (2019)

The work of filmmaker Philippe Charluet crosses many boundaries from documentaries to the addition of film sequences in dance works (remember, for example, his black and white footage in Nutcracker. The Story of Clara). He has worked with many Australian companies including Sydney Dance Company, Meryl Tankard Company, and the Australian Ballet and his contribution to Australia’s dance heritage is inestimable. His website, Stella Motion Pictures, is at this link. Below is a trailer for his documentary on Meryl Tankard.

Services to Dance Education
Karen Malek (2018)
Sue Fox (2019)

Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance
Tracks Dance for In Your Blood (2018)
Fine Lines for The Right (2019)

Outstanding Achievement in Youth Dance
FLING Physical Theatre for Body & Environment (2018)
QL2 Dance for Filling the Space (2019)

Filling the Space was a triple bill program comprising Proscenium by James Batchelor, Naturally Man-Made by Ruth Osborne, and The Shape of Empty Space by Eliza Sanders. It was performed by QL2’s Quantum Leap group, the senior group at QL2.

Quantum Leap dancers in Ruth Osborne's 'Naturally Mad Made'. Filling the Space, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Quantum Leap dancers in Ruth Osborne’s ‘Naturally Man-Made’. Filling the Space, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Outstanding Achievement in Choreography
Narelle Benjamin and Paul White for Cella (2018)
Garry Stewart for South with Australian Dance Theatre (2019)

Outstanding Performance by a Company
Australian Dance Theatre for The Beginning of Nature (2018)
Bangarra Dance Theatre for 30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand (2019)

Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in 'The Beginning of Nature', 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy
Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in Garry Stewart’s The Beginning of Nature, 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy

Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance
Vicki van Hout for plenty serious TALK TALK (2018)
Laura Boynes for Wonder Woman (2019)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer
Narelle Benjamin for Cella (2018)
Marlo Benjamin in Stephanie Lake’s Skeleton Tree (2019)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer
Kimball Wong for The Beginning of Nature (2018)
Tyrel Dulvarie in Bangarra Dance Theatre’s 30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand (2019)

Scene from 'Unaipon'. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud
Tyrel Dulvarie as Tolkami (the West Wind) in Frances Rings’ Unaipon from 30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Outstanding Achievement in Commercial Dance, Musicals or Physical Theatre
The Farm for Tide (2018)
Strut Dance for SUNSET (2019)

Outstanding Achievement in Dance on Film or New Media
RIPE Dance for In a Different Space (2018)
Samaya Wives for Oten (2019)

Congratulations to the awardees and to those who were short listed as well. Some of the short listed items that I especially admired included the work of West Australian Ballet, especially the production of and dancing in Giselle and La Sylphide; Liz Lea’s RED; the performance by Anca Frankenhaeuser in MIST; and Alice Topp’s Aurum. Some results were very close.

Michelle Potter, 8 December 2020

Featured image: Rika Hamaguchi and Tyrel Dulvarie in a section from ‘to make fire’. 30 Years of Sixty Five Thousand, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Rika Hamaguchi and Tyrel Dulvarie in a section from 'to make fire'. 30 Years of sixty-Five Thousand, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud


Marlo Benjamin, Kimball Wong and Jana Castillo in Tanja Liedtke’s construct. Australian Dance Theatre, 2017. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

Construct. Australian Dance Theatre. ADAPT Season 2020

Tanja Liedtke’s Construct, a streamed performance from 2017, was an eye-opener. I had not, for various reasons, seen the work before and, while I had heard a lot about it, I really had no idea what to expect. Well, it was funny, it was sad, it was revealing, it was complex, it was about life (and at one stage about death).

Danced with great panache and skill by Marlo Benjamin, Jana Castillo, and Kimball Wong, it examined from so many points of view the notion of construction, as the name implies. The stage space was filled with various items used in building construction, a saw horse, items of timber, power tools, a ladder at one stage, and other such items. The construction of a house was intended as further items were added, and as the basic shape of a house took place. But on a different level the work was also about the ‘construction’ of relationships and often this was indicated by the touching (or not) of index fingers (à la Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling painting). Sometimes the human element was intense, at other times distant, but Liedkte managed to move from one situation to another with ease, often rapidly but, remarkably, without creating any confusion in one’s mind while watching.

Marlo Benjamin, Kimball Wong and Jana Castillo in Tanja Liedtke’s construct. Australian Dance Theatre, 2017. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions
Kimball Wong and Jana Castillo in Tanja Liedtke’s construct. Australian Dance Theatre, 2017. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

Choreographically Construct was entirely different from anything I have seen before. Sometimes the movement seemed quite simple. There was walking, simple jumping, and lying on the floor. But most of the movement was complex and required extreme flexibility, even acrobatic skills from the dancers. But to me it never looked acrobatic or overly physical—just fluid, remarkable and unique.

The work opened with a very funny sequence in which Wong made a largely unsuccessful effort to balance Benjamin and Castillo in an upright position. The two women were as immobile as the strips of wood that became such an inherent feature of the rest of the work. As Construct progressed those strips of wood became windows, roofs, doorways, even a toilet seat at one stage. But looking back, the immobile ladies perhaps represented certain aspects of human relationships, the inability to control another person perhaps?

Construct is an astonishing work created by a choreographer who had a hugely inventive mind. I wish I had seen more of her work.

Michelle Potter, 9 August 2020

Featured image: Marlo Benjamin, Kimball Wong and Jana Castillo in Tanja Liedtke’s construct. Australian Dance Theatre, 2017. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

Artists of Australian Dance Theatre in ‘The Age of Unbeauty’. Photo: Chris Herzfeld

The Age of Unbeauty. Australian Dance Theatre. ADAPT Season 2020

The Age of Unbeauty goes back to 2002 when, as a work in progress. it was performed at the Adelaide Fringe. After that it played across Australia and around the world and won a number of awards. I am not sure of the date of the performance that was streamed as part of ADAPT, and by the time I thought to try to find out the streaming had closed. I’m not sure that it was ever revealed in the closing credits anyway

I hadn’t seen The Age of Unbeauty before and several words came straight to mind as I watched: violence, hatred, cruelty, intimidation, shame, vulnerability—words like that. It dealt with man’s inhumanity to man and certainly the relationships between the characters were mostly inhumane, and related, or so I understand, to artistic director Garry Stewart’s thoughts on the horrific treatment of refugees. Choreographic violence was clear. The dropping of pants was a constant image. There were references to medical issues, to imprisonment, to abuse. And there was a heart-stopping moment when two naked figures were visible behind a glass door unable to get out.

The Age of Unbeauty. Australian Dance Theatre. Photo:Chris Herzfeld
The Age of Unbeauty. Australian Dance Theatre. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld Camlight Productions

As we have come to expect from Australian Dance Theatre under Stewart’s direction, the performers were astonishing. Their gymnastic skills seem to know no bounds. They threw themselves through the air. They tumbled and turned. They balanced in positions that defy belief. But despite their incredible physical skills, somehow they are beginning to remind me of circus performers rather than dancers. It was, thus, with a sense of pleasure that I watched a quite beautiful video clip, the work of David Evans, towards the end of the work. In black and white, it consisted of individual headshots of men and women making simple, calm, unhurried moves. They turned their heads, or moved their gaze, nothing much more. Humanity at its most moving. Relief!

Michelle Potter, 13 July 2020

Featured image: Artists of Australian Dance Theatre in The Age of Unbeauty. Photo: © Alex Makayev

Artists of Australian Dance Theatre in ‘The Age of Unbeauty’. Photo: Alex Makayev

HELD. Australian Dance Theatre. ADAPT Season 2020

I have been a fan of Lois Greenfield’s dance photography for some years now. As a matter of fact, three of her images hang in my study and I also had the pleasure of visiting her in her New York studio and buying a small selection of her work for the Jerome Robbins Dance Division when I was working there. One of my favourite shots is of former Australian Ballet dancer Annabel Bronner Reid caught by Greenfield amidst a sweeping length of fabric while executing a quite breathtaking grand jeté. So HELD, in which Lois Greenfield takes an integral role, holds a special place in my thoughts.

HELD, in a recording dating from the work’s premiere in Adelaide in 2004, was streamed for 48 hours in June as part of Australian Dance Theatre’s streaming initiative, ADAPT. In essence it examines dance and live photography for what together they might tell us about time and perception, for example, or motion and stillness. Greenfield is onstage for most of the hour-long performance, and captures on camera what she sees in front of her. Her images are shot at the astonishing speed of 1/2000 second and are projected within seconds onto onstage screens—usually two, one on either side of the stage space.

Stewart’s choreography is ideally suited to this kind of process. His dancers move at speed and in an explosive fashion. They put themselves into shapes that not many other dancers do. So what we see captured by Greenfield’s camera is startling. In fact we see dancers making unexpected shapes, taking twisted poses, showing intertwined bodies, which all add to a vision, a still image that would be unknown to us without Greenfield. Time passes, dance is ephemeral, and movements between movements are often unseen by the human eye, or not extracted by us from the vision ongoing movement. Greenfield gives us something of that ephemerality, and a lot of what we never perceive.

Beyond the astonishing mid-air moves that the dancers are so adept at performing, and that Greenfield captures so well, there are other sections that are also startling for their apparent lack of physical virtuosity. One section consists of groups of dancers posing almost motionless while a video plays on a screen placed centre stage. The video shows mostly close-up views of dancers’ faces. Emotional moments perhaps? Another fascinating section shows Greenfield’s ability to engage in a series of very fast takes so that a single resulting image transforms the dancer into a Shiva-like figure with multiple arms radiating from the torso.

It was a real treat to see HELD and to recall the talent of Greenfield as a dance photographer; the ADT dancers for their absolutely ballistic movement; and Stewart as a choreographer dealing with conceptual issues, and one who is also able to introduce diversity in both movement and concept. It sent me back to my photographs and the enjoyment they give.

A glimpse of my study in 2008 shortly after arriving home from New York, hence the sparseness of the surroundings. It is now jam-packed (and messy) with books, photos, essential devices and other such items, as well as the Greenfield photos

Michelle Potter, 27 June 2020

Featured image: A moment from HELD, Australian Dance Theatre, 2004. Photo: © Lois Greenfield

Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in 'Devolution', 2006. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

Devolution. Australian Dance Theatre. ADAPT Season 2020

The first thing I did after watching Garry Stewart’s Devolution (created in 2006) was go to the dictionary to check exactly what ‘devolution’ meant. In its most straight forward meaning, the dictionary (The Macquarie Dictionary is my go-to hard copy source) says ‘the transfer or delegation of power or authority’. But it appears to have a biological meaning, that is ‘degeneration, retrograde evolution’. Both are interesting, or perhaps relevant, with regard to Devolution. Looking on the list of credits, too, Stewart lists Steve Griffiths as ‘Biology Consultant’.

Looking at the work, however, it is impossible not to be instantly overwhelmed by the huge mechanical devices that populate the stage space—robotic structures created by Louis-Philippe Demers. They lurch forward and backward, up and down, and often dominate the choreography (or the choreography for humans that is). Some smaller structures take over the humans somewhat and become prosthetic appendages, although that they need to be attached to a cable hooked up to something backstage limits the dancing possibilities and detracts from the overall image they generate when attached to a dancer.

Tim Ohl in Devolution. Australian Dance Theatre, 2006. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

As for performances by the human dancers, it is in the mode we have come to expect from Stewart. The dancers have no fear (or so it seems) as they throw themselves through the air and fall the the floor, only to get up again and continue their adventurous foray through space. Daring physicality is the hallmark of the dancing. We also see headstands held for a long time, and an incredible solo that is a series of variations while in a backbend. It’s extreme movement to put it mildly.

Costumes by Georg Meyer-Wiel someteimes had the dancers looking like insects given that the material was layered, shell-like and protective, although they also revealed the dancers’ backsides. No protection there.

But what of the connections between people and robots? What of devolution? Who is delegating power to whom? What is the biological process? Are the humans falling into some kind of degenerative state as the robotic structures march forward? I didn’t see Devolution during its premiere season so it was an experience to see it during this streaming season. But it isn’t my favourite piece by Stewart.

The most gentle aspect of Devolution came from video artist Gina Czarnecki with her beautiful images that floated through the space at the beginning and end of the work. They looked initially to me like abstractions of dancers’ limbs, but later they seemed more like the insects that were suggested by the dancers’ costumes. Whatever, they had a calming effect.

I watched Devolution between streamings of Giselle from the Australian Ballet and La Fille mal gardée by the Royal Ballet. Such different ends of the dance spectrum!

Michelle Potter, 13 June 2020

Featured image: Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in Devolution, 2006. Photo: © Chris Herzfeld/Camlight Productions

The Darling Portrait Prize, 2020

Portrait of Elizabeth Cameron Dalman by Anthea da Silva, 2019. National Portrait Gallery
Portrait of Elizabeth Cameron Dalman by Anthea da Silva, charcoal and oil on canvas, 2019. National Portrait Gallery

The winner of the Inaugural Darling Portrait Prize is Anthea da Silva with a portrait of Dr Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, OAM. The prize is a new national award for portrait painting. It honours Gordon Darling, AC, CMG, whose philanthropy was responsible for the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

Dalman is well-known throughout the dance community. She was founding artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide, which she led from 1965 to 1975, and 30 years ago founded Mirramu Creative Arts Centre and Mirramu Dance Company located at Lake George, near Bungendore, NSW. Her energy seems inexhaustible, an aspect of her personality which was recognised by da Silva in her portrait, and commented on by Karen Quinlan, director of the Portrait Gallery:

Anthea da Silva’s Elizabeth 2019 is a gentle, beguiling portrait that reveals the fragile, fluid nature of the human body. Here is a woman who has spent her life moving and while she is captured here sitting, she looks ready to leap.We were struck by the deliberate power of the seemingly unfinished elements of the work because, like Elizabeth, the complete picture is yet to be filled in—there is much yet for her to do.

Elizabeth Dalman and Anthea da Silva at the National Portrait Gallery, 2020. Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Dalman was Canberra City News Artist of the Year in 2015 and her recent performances in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s acclaimed Loch nahEala/Swan Lake between 2016 and 2019 attest to her determination to take every opportunity at every stage of one’s life.

Anthea da Silva, who lives and works in Griffith, New South Wales, received her $75,000 award from Marilyn Darling, AM, founding patron of the National Portrait Gallery.

Anthea da Silva’s website is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 5 March 2020

Featured image: (anti-clockwise from top left) Anthea da Silva, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Marilyn Darling, and Karen Quinlan. National Portrait Gallery, 2020. Photo: National Portrait Gallery

Portrait of Jonathan Taylor. Photo © Grant Hancock

Jonathan Taylor (1941–2019)

I’ve never done anything else but dance … *

Jonathan Taylor, dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre from 1976 to 1985, has died in Melbourne at the age of 77.

Taylor was born in Manchester, England, where he began tap and ballet lessons as a very young boy. As a teenager he was taught in London by Andrew Hardie at the International School of Dancing. His professional career began when he danced in musicals and pantomime shows in London. At that stage he was asked to change his name for theatrical purposes from John (his birth name) to Jonathan—a union representative discovered there was another John Taylor, a juggler, on the circuit. 

In 1959 Taylor joined a company started by Leonide Massine with which Harry Haythorne was also involved, the Nervi International Ballet, before joining Amsterdam Ballet (later Dutch National Ballet), again with the involvement of Haythorne. In Amsterdam Taylor met his wife-to-be, Ariette van Rossen, also a dancer with Amsterdam Ballet, and shortly afterwards they moved to England. In England they joined Ballet Rambert, where Marie Rambert was fond of referring to Jonathan as ‘Jack’. Taylor toured extensively with the Rambert company, and also began his choreographic career with Diversities, made for Ballet Rambert in 1966, ‘Tis Goodly Sport in 1970, and Listen to the Music in 1972. He left Rambert in 1972 and took up a freelance career in 1973.

Taylor first came to Australia in 1975 to work with Ballet Victoria, then directed jointly by Garth Welch and Laurel Martyn. He was to stage his Listen to the Music, much admired by Peggy van Praagh, and create a new work. The new work turned out to be Star’s End and it was a huge hit in Melbourne. As a result, Taylor was invited back to Australia to be interviewed for the position of artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide. He was subsequently offered the position and arrived in Australia in 1976 with his wife and three children. He also brought with him Joe Scoglio and Julia Blaikie, close friends from his Rambert days, who joined him and Ariette Taylor to make up a foursome who would go on to make Australian Dance Theatre one of the most remarkable companies in the Australian contemporary dance world. Scoglio acted as assistant director, Blaikie as ballet mistress. Both also performed as dancers with the company.

Julia Blaikie and dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in Flibbertigibbet, 1978. Photo: © Jeff Busby.

Under Taylor the repertoire of Australian Dance Theatre included works from choreographers with whom Taylor had worked in England, in particular Christopher Bruce and Norman Morrice, as well as new works of his own. Some of his own works had Australian themes that drew on an English approach to Australian manners and attitudes—Incident a Bull Creek for example. Others, such as Wildstars, reflected his background in London with popular entertainment—many thought I’d sold my soul to the devil, he has remarked.** The company also had a strong emphasis on workshops and works for children, the latter led by Ariette Taylor who had begun working with children in London before the move to Australia. The company was initially jointly funded by the South Australian and Victorian governments. It toured widely in Australia and internationally.

Alan Israel (left) and John Nobbs in Christopher Bruce’s Black Angels. Australian Dance Theatre, c. 1980. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia.

Taylor left Australian Dance Theatre, unhappily, at the end of 1985. He and his family moved to Melbourne shortly afterwards. There he worked freelance, which included (at the invitation of Anne Woolliams) a brief period as choreographer in residence at the Victorian College of the Arts. He also worked in Holland with Netherlands Dance Theatre, as well as in a variety of other countries, and with several Australian companies including Kai Tai Chan’s One Extra Company and Maggie Sietsma’s Expressions Dance Company. In 1988 he was appointed Dean of the Victorian College of the Arts and in this capacity led both the tertiary and secondary schools until 1997. During those ten years he continued to choreograph, including in New Zealand where, in 1992, he created Hamlet for Harry Haythorne then directing the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

In the years following his work with the Victorian College of the Arts, Taylor again worked freelance, often in collaboration with Ariette Taylor with Handspan Theatre, where he was a board member from 1993 to 1998, and the Keene-Taylor Theatre Project.

In his recent oral history interview for the National Library of Australia, Taylor spoke of the one regret he had in life, which was that he had never been asked to choreograph for the Australian Ballet. But he also spoke emotionally of what he had especially enjoyed.

I enjoyed coming to Australia and having the ability to be in charge of my own company. It also allowed me not only to choreograph and be a creative person, and when I left the company in 1985 I don’t think they realised they were cutting off creativity as well as a job. I’m sure they didn’t, and that was a great blow. But it was wonderful to not set a standard, but set my standard—the standard of the dancing, the standard of the choreography, and the presentation of the performance.*** Listen to this quote

Jonathan Taylor is survived by his wife Ariette, their children, Ingmar, Juliet and Rebe, and their families.

John (Jonathan) Taylor: born Manchester, England 2 May 1941; died Melbourne Australia, 27 March 2019

Michelle Potter, 3 April 2019

Featured image: Portrait of Jonathan Taylor (detail), n.d. Photo:
© Grant Hancock

All images and oral history extracts used with permission

* Jonathan Taylor, Oral history interview recorded by Michelle Potter, September 2018, Oral History and Folklore Collection, National Library of Australia, TRC 6977
** Ibid.
*** Ibid

Kailin Yong and Anca Frankenhaeuser in MIST. Photo: Art Atelier Photography

2018—Australian Dance Year in Retrospect

In Canberra

Below is a slightly expanded version of my year-ender for The Canberra Times published as ‘State of dance impressive and varied’ on 24 December 2018. I should add that The Canberra Times‘ arts writers/reviewers are asked to choose five productions only for their year-ender story.

Looking back at 2018 I find, thankfully, that I don’t have to complain too much about the state of dance in the ACT. In 2018, in addition to work from a variety of local companies and project-based groups, dance audiences in Canberra were treated to visits from the Australian Ballet, the Australian Ballet School, Australian Dance Theatre, Bangarra Dance Theatre, the Farm and Sydney Dance Company. Most performances were in traditional venues, but one or two were site specific (notably Australian Dance Party’s production of Energeia performed at the Mount Majura Solar Farm) and, in addition, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia offered their venues for dance performances. Beyond performance, it was exceptional news that Rafael Bonachela, artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, had agreed to become a patron of QL2 Dance, Canberra’s youth organisation. In a casual conversation with me he mentioned that he had always been impressed with those ex-QL2 dancers who had gone on to perform with Sydney Dance Company and also that he regretted that he had not had a strong mentor himself during his early training. Both thoughts fed into his decision to take on the role of patron.

I have arranged my top five events chronologically according to the month in which they were performed.

RED. Liz Lea Productions

In March Liz Lea presented RED, a work that won her a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award later in the year. It was a powerful, courageous, autobiographical work that touched on Lea’s struggle throughout her career with endometriosis. But beyond that it was distinguished by outstanding choreography from four creators, all of whom highlighted Lea’s particular strengths as a dancer. In addition to Lea herself, choreographic input came from Vicki van Hout, Virginia Ferris and Martin del Amo. There was also stunning lighting by Karen Norris; a range of film clips that added context throughout; and strong dramaturgy by Brian Lucas, which gave coherence and clarity to the overall concept. It was a highly theatrical show, which also presented a very human, very moving message.

The Beginning of Nature. Australian Dance Theatre

In June Australian Dance Theatre returned to the national capital after an absence of more than a decade. The Beginning of Nature, choreographed by artistic director Garry Stewart, focused on the varied rhythms of nature. It was compelling and engrossing to watch. The dancers seemed to defy gravity at times and their extreme physicality was breathtaking. But the work was also an outstanding example of collaboration between Stewart, his dancers, an indigenous consultant familiar with the almost-extinct Kaurna language of the Adelaide Hills, and composer Brendan Woithe, who created a remarkable score played live onstage by a string quartet.

Cockfight. The Farm

The Farm, featuring performers Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson, arrived In September with Cockfight. Set in an office situation, and dealing with interpersonal relations within that environment, Cockfight was an exceptional example of physical theatre. Both Webber and Thomson gave riveting performances and the work presented a wide range of ideas and concepts, some filled with psychological drama, others overflowing with humour. It was totally absorbing from beginning to end.

Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson in Cockfight. Photo:

Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson in Cockfight. Photo: © Darcy Grant

World Superstars of Ballet Gala. Bravissimo Productions

This Canberra-only event early in October showcased a range of outstanding dancers from across the world in a program of solos and duets, mostly from well-known works from the international ballet repertoire. It belongs in the list of my dance picks for 2018 on the one hand because the artists showed us some spectacular dancing. But it also belongs here because Bravissimo Productions (a newly established Canberra-based production company) had the courage to take on the task of defying convention and certain ingrained ideas about Canberra, including the perceived notion that Canberra equals Parliament and the Public Service and little else, and the constant complaints about performing spaces in the city. Bravissimo brought superstars of the ballet world not to Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, but to Canberra. The international stars that came were not the worn-out, about-to-retire dancers we so often see here from Russian ballet companies, but stars of today. I hope Bravissimo Productions can keep it up. Canberra is waiting.

MIST. Anca Frankenhaeuser and Kailin Yong

MIST was the standout performance of the year for me. It was one item in Canberra Dance Theatre’s 40th anniversary production Happiness is…, which took the stage in mid October. As a whole, Happiness is… was somewhat uneven in the quality of its choreography and performance, but MIST, listed as a duet in the form of a pas de deux between a dancer and a musician, was simply sensational. And it really was a pas de deux with violinist Kailin Yong moving around the stage, and even lying down at times as he played and improvised, and with dancer Anca Frankenhaeuser involving herself with his playing in a way that I have never seen anywhere before. With choreography by Stephanie Burridge, an ex-Canberran now living in Singapore, it also carried an underlying theme about relationships between people. It was an exceptional concept from Burridge, beautifully realised by Frankenhaeuser and Yong.

I hope we can keep moving forward in Canberra in 2019 with dance that is inclusive and collaborative, and also theatrically and intellectually satisfying. A varied program of dance in 2018 showed us the possibilities.

Beyond Canberra

I had the good fortune to see quite a lot of dance outside of Canberra including in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane as well as outside of Australia in London and, briefly, in Wellington, New Zealand. Leaving London and Wellington aside since I am focusing on dance seen in Australia, the standout show for me was the La Scala production of Don Quixote, staged in Brisbane as part of Queensland’s outstanding initiative, its International Series. Apart from some seriously beautiful dancing, especially from the corps de ballet who seemed to understand perfectly how to move in unison (even in counterpoint) and how to be aware of fellow dancers, I loved that extreme pantomime was left out. As I wrote in my review it was a treat to see a Don Quixote who actually presented himself as a quixotic person rather than a panto character.

I was also intrigued by Greg Horsman’s new take on La Bayadère for Queensland Ballet. Horsman set his version in India during the British occupation. The story was cleverly reimagined and beautifully redesigned by Gary Harris, yet it managed to retain the essence of the narrative and, in fact, the story was quite gripping as it sped along.

But for me the standout production/performance from outside Canberra was Alice Topp’s Aurum for the Australian Ballet and performed in their Verve season in Melbourne. It was filled with emotion from beginning to end, sometimes overwhelmingly so. In one section it had the audience so involved that all we could do was shout and cheer with excitement. Choreographically it was quite startling, moving as it did from surging, swooping movement to a final peaceful, but stunningly realised resolution. A real show-stopper.

May we have more great dance in 2019!

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2018

Featured image: Kailin Yong and Anca Frankenhaeuser in MIST. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography

Kailin Yong and Anca Frankenhaeuser in MIST. Photo: Art Atelier Photography
Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in 'The Beginning of Nature', 2018. Photo: Chris Herzfield

The Beginning of Nature. Australian Dance Theatre

14 June 2018, Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre

Below is a slightly expanded version (with different images) of my review of Australian Dance Theatre’s The Beginning of Nature. The Canberra Times review is available online at this link. In addition, I was lucky enough to be contacted by the composer, Brendan Woithe, after my review appeared. In the ensuing correspondence he explained in some depth how the score could often sound as if it were a powerful electronic soundscape when on stage there were just four string players performing on two violins, a viola and a cello, along with two singers.

It appears, if I understand Woithe correctly, that the sound produced by the string players is manipulated in real time by a computer system, built and pre-programmed by Woithe so that no human intervention is required. The sound produced in this way is combined with the vocals and a small amount of pre-recorded backing at times to produce what we hear during the performance.

As I suggested in my review, the remarkable sound that emerged from this process varied in what it suggested and, as such, made an inestimable, collaborative contribution to the overall work.

The Beginning of Nature. Australian Dance Theatre. Choreographer: Garry Stewart. Composer: Brendan Woithe. Lighting: Damien Cooper. Costumes: Davis Browne. Indigenous consultant: Jack Buckskin. The Canberra Theatre. June 14 and 15

Garry Stewart has been artistic director of the Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre for almost two decades now. During that time, he has built up a reputation for choreography that pushes the human body in directions that at times look almost impossible. He often also works with ideas that stretch the imagination to its limits. The Beginning of Nature, his latest work, is no different.

Thematically the work examines rhythms in nature. Sometimes this happens in a gentle way. Stewart’s nine dancers create undulating patterns with their arms, or swirling movements with their hands, or they use their bodies in mesmerising swaying movements. At other times those rhythms are more violent and the dancers throw themselves into moves that are wild and free. Sometimes animal or bird actions are evoked as bodies swarm as one, or tidal patterns emerge as the dancers course across the stage together. There are connections of all kinds, including a moment where two dancers are locked together at the mouth. Some spectacular moves are performed with a dancer balancing on a single part of the body—the head or the hand for example. Other movements find the dancers springing suddenly from a prone position on the floor into the air. There they seem to pause momentarily, execute a cabriole while parallel to the floor, and then return to a prone position. It’s like a sudden explosion from a volcano.

Chris Mills, Harrison Elliot, Zoe Dunwoodie. Kimball Wong, Matte Roffe, David James McCarthy in 'The Beginning of Nature', 2018. Photo: ©
(from front) Chris Mills, Harrison Elliot, Zoe Dunwoodie. Kimball Wong, Matte Roffe in The Beginning of Nature, 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy
Thomas Fonua in 'The Beginning of Nature', Australian Dance Theatre 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy
Thomas Fonua in The Beginning of Nature, Australian Dance Theatre, 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy

I also felt there was an atavistic element to the work. The dancers wear their hair in somewhat unkempt styles and, where the hair (or wig) is long, they fling it from side to side as they move. They are also completely involved facially and bodily in expressing the rudimentary forces that are at the heart of the work.

Musically the work is transfixing. A score by Brendan Woithe evokes the sounds of a huge range of natural forces from rain and wind to more gentle aspects of the world and its seasons. It is played onstage by string players from the Zephyr Quartet, with two other actors speaking and singing in the Kaurna language of the Adelaide Hills. A consultant, Jack Buckskin, and his team are responsible for the powerful Indigenous aspect of the work, which highlights a language that had all but disappeared until work began to restore it from a kind of phonetic dictionary assembled by German missionaries. Costumes by Davis Browne are a greenish blue, although the colour changes with the lighting. They are quite simple in design and cut, and can be added to (and subtracted from). Sometimes the dancers appear to be wearing a toga-style dress, while at other times costume is reduced to just a pair of trunks. Lighting by Damien Cooper, with its occasional hazy effects contrasting with patches of brightness and an emphasis on green highlights, is another spectacular feature of a work that is, all in all, a remarkable collaborative endeavour.

Many adjectives come to mind to describe the overall effect of The Beginning of Nature. It is poetic, elemental, ritualistic, and even operatic in the intense theatricality that pervades it. But more than anything The Beginning of Nature is absolutely compelling and engrossing to watch. It simply takes over and sweeps us along. And how beautiful it looks on the stage of the Canberra Theatre with its wide proscenium, giving what Stewart himself referred to as a ‘panoramic feel.’ The panorama of nature is before us.

Michelle Potter, 17 June 2018

Featured image: Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in The Beginning of Nature, 2018. Photo: © David James McCarthy

Dancers of Australian Dance Theatre in 'The Beginning of Nature', 2018. Photo: Chris Herzfield