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 March 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

Ballet Rambert in Australia, c. 1948. Collection of Pamela Vincent

Ballet Rambert in Australasia 1947–1949

Early in July I gave a brief presentation in Melbourne at the Cecchetti Ballet conference for 2018. The conference included a session relating to Marie Rambert and the tour made by Ballet Rambert to Australia and New Zealand between 1947 and 1949. Other speakers for this session were Jonathan Taylor, Audrey Nicholls and Maggie Lorraine who spoke about their experiences with the company after the Australasian tour. As we each had just 10 minutes each my introductory talk was necessarily brief. Nevertheless, I am posting it here.

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Ballet Rambert, led by the irrepressible Marie Rambert, came to Australia in 1947 for a tour that lasted until January 1949. On this slide you can see two of the dancers who made a particular impact in Australia, Belinda Wright and John Gilpin, both very young at this stage in their careers. In many respects the Rambert tour has been somewhat neglected compared with the attention that has been given to the Ballets Russes companies whose tours to Australia took place largely in the mid to late 1930s and in 1940. Today I only have 10 minutes to talk to you about the Rambert tour, which I delved into while writing my biography of Dame Margaret Scott. Maggie, as you most likely know, first came to Australia with the Rambert company and then made her subsequent career in Australia.

On this slide I have listed the towns and cities visited by the company. Unfortunately, the information for the New Zealand leg of the tour is not complete. I didn’t investigate that side of the company’s activities in great detail because Maggie Scott didn’t go to New Zealand. She was lying in bed in a plaster cast in St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. So, the New Zealand leg of the tour needs a bit more research.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the tour is a visit to Broken Hill, a three-night stand made in January 1948. It was made possible by sponsorship from several mining companies in the area. A local newspaper, Barrier Daily Truth, reported that Marie Rambert had introduced each ballet. ‘She was almost a star turn in herself, for she made no weary speeches but tickled the audience’s fancy by her humorous and witty remarks and explanations of the ballets’. But I’m sure it was a somewhat remarkable experience for the dancers to go to Broken Hill. This is what Broken Hill looked like then in a photo, sadly badly faded, from the private collection of one of the dancers.

And the weather was enervating. It was well over 100⁰ Fahrenheit in the shade each day and the dancers were sometimes performing in costumes that were heavy and very hot to wear. Those for The Fugitive for example were made of heavy English felt. But Cecil Bates, an Australian member of the company, recalls that they were well looked after. ‘The local people kept a running chain of iced orange juice in huge metal ice cream containers. They just kept a continuous line of it and as we came off stage we would have a glass of icy cold juice and then go back on. We would have passed out otherwise’.

But the tour was extensive and, on this slide, I give you Mme Rambert herself.

You see her on the left in Brisbane in 1948 looking very smart as she signs some document or other, while on the right you see her accepting applause for the opening night performance, the first performance in Australia in Melbourne. I know that other speakers will have more to say about Mme Rambert so I will simply let you heart her voice. She is speaking from Adelaide in 1948 giving the interviewer her thoughts on the success of the tour. And you’ll hear Ron Sullivan, the interviewer, attempting to get a word in every so often….but failing! Voice of Marie Rambert.

Not only was the tour extensive in terms of cities visited and time spent in Australia, the repertoire was also interesting.

This page from the souvenir program gives you an idea of the variety of fare that Australian audiences saw. There were classics of course but also works from English choreographers who were in the early stages of their careers—Frederick Ashton and Antony Tudor, for example—as well as female choreographers such as Andrée Howard and Ninette de Valois, as well as others from within the company including Walter Gore and Frank Staff.

And I’d like to play you some comments about the tour by Australian designer Kenneth Rowell. Rowell was an emerging designer at the time and for him major commissions were few and far between in Australia. He was offered the commission to design Winter Night, a ballet by Walter Gore, which was the only work created in Australia by the Rambert company. Voice of Kenneth Rowell

And on the next slide I have some photos taken by two Australian photographers who did much to document the tour: Jean Stewart with some portraits of dancers, and Walter Stringer with a variety of performance shots.In the top row you see Sally Gilmour in Peter and the Wolf, Joyce Graeme in Peter and the Wolf, Margaret Scott in Gala performance, and Brenda Hamlyn in Soirée musicale.

One aspect of the tours that I found quite fascinating was the extra-curricular activities of the dancers and support staff. It was quite well known that, while in Australia, the Ballets Russes dancers engaged in all manner of socialising with visits to koala sanctuaries, swimming parties, dinners given by fans and sponsors and so on. But so did the Rambert dancers. And in this next slide are two images from the personal scrapbook and album of Pamela Vincent, a Rambert dancer who incidentally married an Australian musician, Douglas Whittaker. I was lucky enough to have access to Pamela Vincent’s material at the Rambert Archives in London. So, the Rambert dancers also had good times on their days off.

And when in Sydney, the dancers frequented a bohemian establishment called Merioola, home to artists, photographers, poets, and writers. Here you see Walter Gore at Merioola and the big house itself (now demolished) which was in Woollahra. And if you think back to the repertoire list I showed earlier, that page and much of the souvenir booklet was designed by Loudon Sainthill who was part of the Merioola group,

Another extra-curricular activity that is quite interesting relates to the ballet Simple Symphony, which was created in England by Walter Gore during World War II when on leave from duty in France with the armed forces and which was created largely on Sally Gilmour and Margaret Scott. It premiered in Bristol, England, in November 1944 and was performed throughout the Rambert Australasian tour. A note in Rambert Australian programs says it was ‘a thank-offering created by Walter Gore … a few months after he was twice torpedoed on D-Day’. It was also filmed during the Australian tour at Sandgate, a beachside suburb north of Brisbane. It was anticipated that the film would be distributed to schools in Queensland, although I am not sure whether this ever happened. The photo you see was taken on location during the filming in September 1948 and a copy of the film is now in the National Film and Sound Archive.

So, thank you. There is so much more to say, listen to and watch of course but I hope this has given you a glimpse of the Ballet Rambert tour. Should you be interested in more, you may like to read my biography of Dame Margaret Scott, which is still available through the website of Text Publishing here in Melbourne. Thank you.

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Dame Maggie Scott cover

Follow this link for information on how to order Dame Maggie Scott’. A life in dance via the Text website.

Here is a taster of what Maggie and her friend Sally Gilmour experienced on their first day in inner city Melbourne: ‘The first day we woke up I heard this noise, a commotion outside. You really wouldn’t believe it but there were some sheep dogs rounding up a flock of sheep outside the hotel—getting them out of the doorways, running along their backs. It was really quite extraordinary.’

See also an article published in December 2002 by the National Library in their monthly magazine (now defunct unfortunately) National Library of Australia News. Here is a link to that article. https://michellepotter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Ballet-Rambert-creates-a-splash.pdf

Michelle Potter, 24 July 2018

Featured image: Ballet Rambert in Australia, c. 1948. Collection of Pamela Vincent. Marie Rambert in the sulky perhaps?

Ballet Rambert in Australia, c. 1948. Collection of Pamela Vincent

Ruth Galene (1929–2016)

Ruth Galene. Born Berlin, 10 January 1929; died Sydney, 17 May 2016

Ruth Galene, who has died in Sydney aged 87, had an extraordinarily diverse career in dance. Born Ruth Helfgott in Berlin of Polish-Jewish parents, she came to Australia in 1938. The family settled in Sydney and Ruth’s first formal dance experience was with Viennese émigré, Gertrud Bodenwieser. After a successful audition, when she wore, as she recalled, a white silk dress that floated as she moved, Ruth began modern dance training under two of Bodenwieser’s leading dancers, Evelyn Ippen and Bettina Vernon. Shortly afterwards, Ruth began taking ballet classes in Sydney with Estelle Anderson and a little later with Lorraine Norton and then Leon Kellaway.

Ruth performed briefly with the Borovansky Ballet, where she counted star dancer Kathleen Gorham as one of her closest friends. She then joined the English company, Ballet Rambert, during its Australasian tour of 1947–1949, as indeed did Gorham. With Rambert, Ruth danced under the name Ruth Boker. Boker was a family name and Ruth chose it in preference to Marie Rambert’s suggestion of ‘Sylvia Sydney’. Her most successful role with Rambert was the principal one of the Italian Ballerina in Antony Tudor’s Gala Performance, which she performed in the company’s final season in Perth in 1949.

image

Australian corps de ballet dancers with Ballet Rambert, 1947. Ruth is sixth from the left at the barre. Source: Ballet Rambert: the tour of Australia and New Zealand. Program book edited by Harry Tatlock Miller, p. 51. Photo: Alec Murray

While performing with Borovansky and Rambert, Ruth continued working towards the Royal Academy of Dancing examinations and passed Advanced with Honours in 1948 and then successfully completed the Solo Seal exam.

When Ballet Rambert left Australia for London in 1949, Ruth and Gorham travelled with the company and, on her arrival, Ruth continued her ballet training with esteemed teachers, including Vera Volkova in London and Olga Preobrajenska and Victor Gsovsky in Paris. Speaking of Volkova’s classes Ruth recalled:

‘The classes had become a showcase for visiting directors of dance companies who were looking for new talent. One week after my arrival in London, Roland Petit, director of Les Ballets de Paris, walked into the studio to watch. Petit chose two dancers for his company: Kathleen Gorham and me.’

In Europe, as well as dancing with Roland Petit’s company, Ruth performed with Le Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas. It was choreographer and ballet master of the de Cuevas company, John Taras, who suggested she change her name (again). She consulted with renowned dance writer Cyril Beaumont and chose Galene after the Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova. With de Cuevas she had the opportunity to dance the works of some of the twentieth-century’s most exciting choreographers, including Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, Jean Babilée, George Skibine and George Balanchine.

Eventually, Ruth decided she needed to return to Australia to contribute to the development of dance in Australia. She joined the Melbourne-based National Theatre Ballet where she danced a varied repertoire, which included Beth Dean’s 1950 production of Corroboree in which Ruth danced the role of the Thippa Thippa Bird. It was while dancing Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, in Giselle for the National, however, that she met her husband, Peter Frank. Ruth recalled the event:

‘I met my husband to be, Peter Frank, through an incident that was sheer coincidence. On crossing Collins Street in Melbourne, Peter encountered a mutual friend (we were later to realise). The question posed to Peter by his friend was “are you coming to the ballet tonight?” He decided to do so. The role in which Peter saw me for the first time was the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle: an unrelenting, stern character. Not exactly an inviting introduction to his future wife.’

Back in Sydney Ruth began teaching, having bought a school in Northbridge. She also began to branch out into choreography in a major way. She created The Tell-tale Heart, with a commissioned score by Nigel Butterley, for the inaugural performance of the Sydney-based choreographic ensemble, Ballet Australia, in 1961 and went on to make several more works for this company. They included Adagio Albinoni in 1967, which she always regarded as a breakthrough work in which she was able to combine classical and contemporary vocabulary. Adagio Albinoni was subsequently taken into the repertoire of the English company, Ballet Caravan.

In 1969 Ruth began formulating her system of dance training, Dance Dynamics, which she worked on for some thirty years until 2000 when she felt it had developed into a comprehensive system. She described it as having a movement vocabulary that was ‘integrated with key elements pertaining to the Australian natural environment’. During this time she established the New Dance Theatre, renamed in 1989 as Red Opal Dance Theatre. With this company she aimed to create works that demonstrated a distinctive, Australian identity. She created over 100 works for her company, often using original scores by Australian composers. Red Opal Dance Theatre and its predecessor performed across various Sydney venues and in regional areas in New South Wales from 1967 up until 2005.

Ruth Galene is survived by a son and daughter-in-law, Robert and Christina Frank, and three grandchildren.

Michelle Potter, 20 May 2016

Featured image: Ruth Galene and Ross Hutchison in The First Sunrise (detail). The New Dance Theatre, 1970. Source: Ruth Galene, Dance Dynamics, p. 61

Sources:

  • Ruth Galene, Oral history interview recorded by Michelle Potter, 1999. National Library of Australia, Oral History and Folklore Collection, Keep Dancing Collection, TRC 3490
  • Ruth Galene, Dance Dynamics. Australian contemporary Dance Training System (Sydney, n.d [1998?])
  • Papers of Ruth Galene, National Library of Australia, MS Acc.10.140
  • Carmel Bendon Davis, The Spirit of the Dance: The Story of Ruth Galene, revised edition 1998
  • Records of Ballet Australia, 1956-1976. National Library of Australia, Keep Dancing Collection, MS 9171
  • Ballet Rambert: the tour of Australia and New Zealand, 1947–1948. Program book edited by Harry Tatlock Miller, photographed by Alec Murray, designed and decorated by Loudon Sainthill (Sydney: Craftsman Bookshop, [1947]

The Listeners. A ballet by Joanna Priest

Towards the end of research for my forthcoming publication, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance, an item relating to Joanna Priest’s ballet The Listeners emerged, quite unexpectedly. I had briefly looked into The Listeners as it was one of the ballets performed during the opening season by the National Theatre Ballet in Melbourne in September 1949. This was the occasion when Dame Margaret Scott made her return to the stage, following a lengthy stay in St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, during the 1947—1949 Australasian tour by Ballet Rambert.

The appearance of this previously unknown item (unknown to me anyway) prompted me to look at The Listeners in a little more depth. My main source for further investigation was a Laban score for the work, part of the small collection of notated scores acquired by the National Library of Australia from Meg Abbie Denton in around 2004. Further information came from Meg’s publication Joanna Priest: her place in Adelaide’s dance history (Adelaide: Joanna Priest, 1993), and Alan Brissenden’s and Keith Glennon’s Australia dances: creating Australian dance 1945–1965 (Adelaide: Wakefield Press,  2010).

The Listeners was first staged for the South Australian Ballet Club in Adelaide on 30 November 1948 at the Tivoli Theatre (later Her Majesty’s). It was inspired by a poem written by Walter de la Mare, and Priest used the poem’s title as the name of her ballet. It was performed to Erno Dohnanyi’s String Quartet No 2 in D flat major, Opus 15, played by the Elder String Quartet, and had designs by Kenneth Rowell, his second commission from Priest.

'The Listeners', South Australian Ballet Company, 1948. Photo: Colin Ballantyne

Harry Haythorne as the Traveller, with Margaret Monson (left) as the Woman who Loved Him and Lynette Tuck as the Woman He Loved in The Listeners, South Australian Ballet Club, 1948. Photo: Colin Ballantyne

In the poem, the only human is a traveller who knocks on the door of a deserted house, deserted except for ‘a host of phantom listeners’ who do not respond to him. For her work, Priest added two women in the traveller’s life—one who loved him, the other whom he loved—as well as the child who was born from the liaison between the traveller and the woman who loved him. They were joined by the force of circumstance represented by four female dancers. Program notes explain:

The traveller arrives at an abandoned house which holds intimate memories…and here among “a host of phantom listeners” the conflict of his relationship with two women is re-enacted in his imagination. Dogged by the relentless interference of circumstance he tries in vain to weave into an enduring pattern his longing for the woman he loves, and his loyalty to the woman who has borne him a child. The harmony of the pattern is perpetually broken by inexorable forces, and, as in life, his struggles against them prove unavailing.

In the original production Harry Haythorne danced the Traveller, Margaret Monson the Woman who Loved  Him, and Lynette Tuck the Woman He Loved.

The ballet entered the repertoire of the National Theatre Ballet in 1949 with Rex Reid as the Traveller, Joyce Graeme as the Woman who Loved Him, Margaret Scott as the Woman He Loved and Jennifer Stielow as the Child. Six extra dancers were added, three men and three women, representing phantom listeners. Kenneth Rowell designed new sets and costumes for this production.

Alan Brissenden’s report of the National’s production has a number of errors, in particular some confusion as to which roles were danced by whom, but of the overall production he says:

The complex choreography followed the melodic structure of the music…and was firmly knit with the development of the story.

What is the unexpected item? It will appear in the plates section of Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance.

Michelle Potter, 14 August 2014

Featured image: Joyce Graeme as the Woman who Loved Him and Jennifer Stielow as the Child in The Listeners, National Theatre Ballet, 1949. Photo: Harry Jay

Dance diary. May 2014

  • Sydney Dance Company. The Heritage Collection

A few months ago I mentioned very briefly a project being developed by film maker Philippe Charluet in conjunction with Sydney Dance Company to preserve the choreography of Graeme Murphy, which he made as artistic director of the company over more than 30 years. Well, the project is now official and has been announced as part of Sydney Dance Company’s 45th anniversary celebrations. Sydney Dance Company says:

‘Sydney Dance Company is excited to announce that work has commenced on the editing and digitising of film and video recordings of some of the major works created by long-standing Artistic Director, Graeme Murphy AO and his Creative Associate, Janet Vernon AM.

The Heritage Collection will include re-mastered films of many full length evening works created by Murphy on the Sydney Dance Company ensemble during his 31 year tenure from 1976 to 2007, in addition to a new documentary resource of Murphy in conversation, interweaving a myriad of interviews filmed over a period of thee decades, with new footage in which he reflects on his body of work’.

What a treasure this will be for us and those who follow us in the future.

Image: Artists of Sydney Dance Company in a promotional shot for Graeme Murphy’s Salomé. Photo © Lois Greenfield

Sydney Dance Company's Salome, choreography by Graeme Murphy. Photo by Lois Greenfield

A teaser for this project is at this link.

  • Pamela Vincent and the Rambert tour to Australasia

Here is another image from the Pamela Vincent album of photographs from the Ballet Rambert’s tour to Australia and New Zealand 1947–1949. Pamela Vincent was courted in Australia by Douglas Whittaker, principal flute player in the orchestra that accompanied the Rambert company. They married in England.

Ballet Rambert in Australia. Horseriding excursion, 1948

  • British Library and Serge Diaghilev

I was interested to find this link to a comment on Serge Diaghilev’s interest, which grew in intensity towards the end of his life, in rare books.

  • Press for May 2014 [Online links to press articles in The Canberra Times no longer available]

‘Fresh flavour but a little flat’. Review of Don Quixote, Imperial Russian Ballet. The Canberra Times, 7 May 2014, ARTS p. 8.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2014

Ballet Rambert in Australia 1948

Dance diary. April 2014

  •   Ballet Rambert Australasian tour

I was delighted to find, during my recent research in the Rambert Archives in London, an album, currently on loan to the Archives for copying, assembled by dancer Pamela Whittaker (Vincent) during the Ballet Rambert’s tour to Australia and New Zealand, 1947–1949. What struck me instantly was the fact that this company enjoyed a similarly social time in Australia and New Zealand as did the Ballets Russes companies that preceded Rambert. I hope to pursue this a little further in a later post but in the meantime the featured image (above) is a photo from Pamela Whittaker’s album. Below is another image from that album.

Ballet Rambert in Australia. Horseriding excursion, 1948

Ballet Rambert on an outing in Australia, 1948. From the personal album of Pamela Whittaker (Vincent)

  • Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship 2014

The Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship for 2014 has been awarded to West Australian designer Alicia Clements. For more about Alicia’s work see her website, but below is a costume for the character of Nishi from The White Divers of Broome staged by the Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth in 2012.

Costume by Alicia Clements for Nishi in 'The White Divers of Broome'. Photo © Cameron Etchells.

Costume by Alicia Clements for Nishi in The White Divers of Broome. Photo © Cameron Etchells.

  • Australian Dance Awards 2014

The long list of nominations for the 2014 Australian Dance Awards was released during April. From a Canberra perspective it is good to see a number of nominations with strong Canberra connections, although I wonder whether any or many of them will make the short lists given the fact that so few people outside Canberra will have seen the productions in the flesh. That concern aside, however, I was especially pleased to see Garry Stewart’s Monument on the list for two awards, an individual award to Stewart for outstanding achievement in choreography and an award to the Australian Ballet for outstanding performance by a company. It was also gratifying to see Life is a Work of Art created by Liz Lea and others for GOLD, the group of mature age performers associated with Canberra Dance Theatre, nominated in the community dance category.

'Richard House, Rudy Hawkes & Cameron Hunter in 'Monument', 2013. The Australian Ballet. Photo © Branco Gaica

Richard House, Rudy Hawkes and Cameron Hunter in Monument, 2013. The Australian Ballet. Photo © Branco Gaica

But I noticed that Janet Karin, former director of the National Capital Ballet School, currently kinetic educator at the Australian Ballet School, and also now president of  the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, is again on the list for services to dance education. Fingers crossed for this one as her contribution to the Australian dance scene has been remarkable over many years and in many areas and she deserves recognition from her peers.

  • Island: James Batchelor

I am looking forward to the opening of James Batchelor’s new work, Island, which premieres tonight at the Courtyard Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre. Batchelor was impressive when I interviewed him earlier his month (see online link below) but seeing in production what one has written about in advance is always challenging. But Canberra needs more dance of the sophisticated variety. So fingers crossed!

James Batchelor in 'Ersatz', Bangkok 2013. Photo © NDEPsixteen

James Batchelor in Ersatz, Bangkok 2013. Photo © NDEPsixteen

  • Press for April 2014 [Online links no longer available]

‘Outstanding skills shown in diversity’. Review of Sydney Dance Company’s Interplay. The Canberra Times, 12 April 2014, ARTS 19.

‘Dedicated Batchelor’. Preview story for James Batchelor’s Island. The Canberra Times, 26 April 2014.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2014

Featured image: Ballet Rambert enjoying the Australian bush, 1948. From the personal album of Pamela Whittaker (Vincent)

Ballet Rambert in Australia 1948

 

Dance diary. March 2014

  • Prince of the Pagodas

As a much younger person I remember being fascinated by Svetlana Beriosova. I guess she was the dancer I admired most when I was a ballet student, although I’m not sure why as I had never seen her dance. But she looked so coolly elegant from photographs, and I particularly remember images of her in what sounded from 1950s Sydney, thousands of miles away from London, like a very exotic ballet, Prince of the Pagodas. Beriosova did come to Australia with the Royal Ballet, which visited Sydney in 1958. I was there, autograph book in hand, as these stars from afar came out of the stage door of the old Empire Theatre at Railway Square. That season I finally saw Beriosova dance—as Swanilda in Coppélia.

Svetlana Beriosova in 'The Prince of the Pagodas'
Svetlana Beriosova signature

Prince of the Pagodas, however, remained a mystery. The first production, choreographed by John Cranko in 1957 to a commissioned score by Benjamin Britten, was short-lived. Kenneth MacMillan produced another version in 1989, which was recently restaged by the Royal Ballet. I didn’t have an opportunity to see either the Cranko or the MacMillan version, but I did catch a third version created by David Bintley in 2011. Bintley made his production for the National Ballet of Japan and it has just finished a season in London danced by Bintley’s Birmingham Royal Ballet. Sadly for my childhood dreams, it was one of the most disappointing shows (and it was a show in the more popular meaning of that word) I have seen recently.

Bintley rewrote the narrative and set it in Japan but the story remains as crazy as ever, requiring a suspension of belief beyond belief. There are various reviews available online, along with accounts of the storyline and discussions of the history of the work, but I won’t post the links—they are easy to find. Suffice it to say that in 2014 I find it a little offensive to have characters called ‘Balinese Ladies’ who engage in choreography that vaguely references but basically, in my opinion, denigrates Balinese dancing; or rows of ladies dressed in long, pink gowns twirling pink parasols as if they are performing something called The Cherry Blossom Show. And I am mentioning just two of the more irritating (to me) elements of the production.

Britten’s score might continue to deserve a place in the concert repertoire, especially as an example of the ubiquitous influence of the Balinese gamelan on Western composers of Britten’s generation, largely under the influence of the eminent Canadian ethnomusicologist, Colin McPhee. But as a ballet, Prince of the Pagodas should probably just disappear into the mists of time. I doubt if any amount of tinkering can save it.

Beriosova’s image as a great dancer, however, remains intact for me.

  • More on Simple Symphony

Just a few days ago I had the huge pleasure of encountering first hand the unpublished dance writing of Lionel Bradley, whom I now like to think of as a blogger before the internet, and the word ‘blog’, was invented. Bradley was a librarian at the London Library in the 1940s and a great lover of ballet and dance of all kinds (and of other forms of performance). His handwritten dance texts, Ballet Bulletins 1941–1947 and Ballevaria Miscellanea 1937–1947, which he liked to circulate as he comleted each entry to a small group of friends, are housed in the Department of Theatre and Performance of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Although I was not there specifically to research Simple Symphony, as I had previously posted some thoughts about it it was a bonus to find that in his Bulletins Bradley had spent some time discussing early performances of this ballet by Walter Gore, which was a staple item in the repertoire brought to Australia on the Ballet Rambert tour of 1947–1949. Bradley was enthralled by the ballet. It was ‘a gorgeous success’ he wrote when he saw it for the first time in Torquay in December 1944 during one of Ballet Rambert’s regional tours.

His discussion of the backcloth and costumes by Ronald Wilson is especially interesting as I have never seen colour photographs or colour footage of the work, or even a photograph showing the backcloth. ‘The backcloth for Simple Symphony‘, Bradley wrote, ‘depicts a seashore, somewhat after the manner of Christopher Wood. There are two piles of greenish stones, one tall and narrow, one somewhat shorter, and a suggestion of fish nets. There are two wings [flats] on either side, the one nearer the backcloth being light and blue with some nautical decoration, while the front ones are dark brown and reddish brown. Near the front is a low border showing 2 angels & fish nets’.

Bradley goes on to describe the costumes and to discuss the structure of each of the four sections that make up the work. What wonderful resources Bradley’s writings turned out to be.

My previous post on Simple Symphony is a this link.

  • Jane Pritchard

I was delighted too to learn that Jane Pritchard, curator of dance at the V & A, had received an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list. This is belated news, with which I have only just caught up, but congratulations to Jane. How rare it is for someone working in an archival area to be recognised in such a way.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2014

Dance diary. December 2013

  • The Johnston Collection, Melbourne

I was surprised to be contacted earlier this month by the curator of the Johnston Collection, Melbourne. David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, will be a guest curator there in the first part of 2014 and will be adding some Australian Ballet costumes to the rooms of Fairhall, the house in which the collection of antiques amassed by dealer William Robert Johnston is displayed. I will be presenting a lecture at Fairhall in June—From bedroom to kitchen and beyond: women of the ballet. More later.

  • Fantasy Modern: Andrew Montana

Over the holiday break I enjoyed reading Andrew Montana’s biography of Loudon Sainthill, Fantasy modern: Loudon Sainthill’s theatre of art and life, published in November 2013 by NewSouth Books. There are a few irritating typos and errors (Alicia Markova wasn’t married to Colonel de Basil—at least not as far as I know!) and some odd references in the notes. But, as ever, Montana has researched his topic very thoroughly and, while it is essentially a book written by an art historian, it gives a fascinating glimpse of the cultural background in which Sainthill and his partner Harry Tatlock Miller operated. That background of course includes Sainthill’s commissions for Nina Verchinina during the Ballets Russes Australian tours, as well as his work as a designer for Hélène Kirsova, and his activities during the Ballet Rambert Australasian tour of 1947–1949. In addition it was Harry Tatlock Miller who was responsible (in conjunction with the British Council) for bringing the exhibition Art for Theatre and Ballet to Australia. There is some interesting information too about the 1940s documentary Spotlight on Australian Ballet. So Fantasy Modern is interesting reading for dance fans as well as historians of theatre design.
Fantasy Modern cover

  • Bodenwieser news

I was pleased to hear recently from Barbara Cuckson that Sydney-born Bodenwieser dancer, Eileen Kramer, had returned to her city of birth. Not only that, she has reached the grand old age of 99. She is seen below on her 99th birthday wearing a Bodenwieser costume, which she designed all those years ago. Eileen recorded an oral history interview for the National Library in 2003. It is available for online listening at this link.

Eileen Kramer

  •  Site news

In December I am always interested to know what tags have been accessed most frequently over the preceding year. Here is the list of the 10 most popular tags for 2013:

Hannah O’Neill; Ty King-Wall; The Australian Ballet; Ballets Russes; Paris Opera Ballet; Olga Spessivtseva; Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet; Leanne Stojmenov; Athol Willoughby; Meryl Tankard.

Visitors to the site may also be interested in what is probably the last comment for 2013. I am attaching a link to comments on a book review I wrote in January 2012. The comment queried whether the author of At the Sign of the Harlequin’s Bat, Isabelle Stoughton, is still alive. As you can read, she is.

  • Past and future grace

And finally I couldn’t help but notice a sentence in a roundup of events for 2013 by Fairfax journalist Neil McMahon. Writing of Australian political happenings over the past year he said: ‘The policy pirouettes on both sides were en pointe, but graceless’. I’m not holding my breath for a graceful political scene in 2014. The dance scene might be better odds!
Happy New Year banner

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2013

Simple Symphony. Walter Gore

Earlier this year Rafael Bonachela choreographed a work to Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony for his Sydney Dance Company. As a result, a few questions and comments arose on various websites about the use of this music for dance. Then, more recently, the Dancing Times carried letters about Walter Gore’s ballet Simple Symphony (danced to the Britten score) with some questions about the date of that production. In the course of research for another project, I had occasion to look at some archival material relating to the Ballet Rambert tour of Australia and New Zealand in the National Library of Australia, including the scrapbooks of Australian dancer Charles Boyd. From those sources I can add the following:

Gore’s ballet was created in 1944 and Mary Clarke in her Decca Book of Ballet states that its first performance was in Bristol on 29 November 1944. It was initially performed on Arts Council tours for the troops in England. The ballet was notated in Laban notation by Australian Cecil Bates in 1992 who notes that the work was taught to him by Gore when Bates joined the Rambert company during its Australia tour of 1947–1949. A copy of the notated score is part of the National Library’s music collection. Bates also notes that the version he learnt was unaltered from the 1944 original. Bates restaged it for his South Australian Ballet company in 1963.

Other notes on the Laban score state that the work was created by Gore during World War II during periods of leave from duty in France with the armed forces, and that it was created largely on Sally Gilmour and Margaret Scott. The work was performed throughout the Rambert Australasian tour. Its first Australian performance was at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, on 24 October 1947 with Gore and Sally Gilmour in the principal roles. A note in Rambert Australian programs says it was ‘a thank-offering created by Walter Gore, Rambert’s premiere danseur, a few months after he was twice torpedoed on D-Day’.

It was also filmed during the Australian leg of the Australasian tour at Sandgate, a beachside suburb north of Brisbane, by Alan Denby for the ‘Public Instruction Department’. It was anticipated that the film would be distributed to schools in Queensland, although I am not sure whether this ever happened. Charles Boyd’s scrapbooks indicate that the photo below, taken on location during the filming, appeared in Brisbane’s Courier Mail in September 1948.

Filming Walter Gore's 'Simple Symphony', Sandgate, Queensland,1948
A copy of this film is in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

Michelle Potter, 15 November 2013

Les illuminations. Sydney Dance Company

3o August 2013, Studio Theatre, Sydney Opera House

With his latest program, Les Illuminations, Sydney Dance Company’s Rafael Bonachela has given audiences a new look at his spectacular dancers. This is an intimate program, made so by its venue, the Studio at the Sydney Opera House, and by its setting within that venue. The program, which consists of two short pieces both to music by Benjamin Britten, Simple Symphony and Les Illuminations, is danced on a T-shaped catwalk with the audience seated in the round. On the cross bar of the ‘T’ sits a string ensemble of musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. They are joined in the second part by singer Katie Noonan, who sings the soprano role in Les Illuminations. The dancers perform entirely on the long line of the T.

What struck me instantly as Simple Symphony began was that Bonachela was taking advantage of the restricted performance space and was using more high lifts than usual. ‘Boisterous Bourrée’, the opening duet danced by Janessa Dufty and Andrew Crawford, began with a kind of ‘presage’ lift and continued with some gorgeous partnering, including more lifts. These two dancers set up a lovely partnership not only by dancing so well but also through their emotional connection with each other. Touch, glances, head movements, all played a part in making this duet a wonderful opener. The third part, ‘Sentimental Sarabande’ also stood out for its strong and emotionally engaging dancing by Fiona Jopp and Bernhard Knauer. With Toni Maticevski’s close fitting, light coloured costumes, decorated with pale turquoise trimmings, and the often playful moments in the choreography, Simple Symphony reminded me of a pastoral romp.

 

'Les Illuminations'. Jessica Thompson and Charmene Yap. Photo: Ellis Parrinder, 2013
'Les Illuminations'. Thomas Bradley and Cass Mortimer Eipper. Photo: Ellis Parrinder, 2013

Studies for Les Illuminations. Left: Jessica Thompson and Charmene Yap; right: Thomas Bradley and Cass Mortimer. Photos: © Ellis Parrinder, 2013. Courtesy Sydney Dance Company

There was nothing pastoral about the second section of the program, Les Illuminations. This was a darker side of life and featured just four dancers once more—Juliette Barton, Charmene Yap, Thomas Bradley and Cass Mortimer Eipper. The title Les Illuminations relates to a poem written by the Frenchman Arthur Rimbaud and the choreography seemed to me to have many elements that characterise Symbolism, a movement in the arts that was ‘in the air’ at the time when Rimbaud and his lover Paul Verlaine were writing. Ideas were suggested as dancers prowled around their long, narrow space casting telling glances at each other. Nothing seemed obvious. Maticevski’s costumes, this time sleeveless bodysuits in black with the addition of a black feathered headdress worn by Barton and a black face mask worn by Bradley, suggested a kind of decadence to me, again part of the Symbolist mood.

This second part of the program was certainly striking and as ever beautifully danced but I’m just not sure that the ideas that Rimbaud was writing about can be well portrayed through the medium of dance. It did, however, set up an effective contrast with Simple Symphony.

Michelle Potter, 1 September 2013.

NOTE: A dance work to Simple Symphony was first seen in Australia in October 1947 during a tour by Ballet Rambert. That version was choreographed by Walter Gore. Gore’s Simple Symphony was filmed in Brisbane (outdoors, or at least partly outdoors, if I remember correctly from watching the film some years ago) in 1948. Here is the National Film and Sound Archive’s catalogue record. Although of course Bonachela’s Simple Symphony is quite, quite different, it makes a nice tie-in with the Gore production, given Bonachela’s connections with Rambert Dance.