Dance diary. March 2022

  • Anna Karenina. The Australian Ballet

During March I watched a streamed showing of Anna Karenina from the Australian Ballet. Choreographed by Ukrainian-born choreographer (currently resident in the United States) Yuri Possokhov, this production of Anna Karenina premiered in 2021 in Adelaide with just a few performances, but its presentation in other States had to be cancelled, and cancelled, until March 2022 when it opened in Melbourne.

I was struck more than anything by the spectacular set design (Tom Pye), which for the most part was quite minimal but nevertheless evocative, and which frequently moved seamlessly to new features as locations changed. But I found the lighting (David Finn) quite dark for most of the production, with the major exception being the peasant-style ending, which I’m not sure was an essential part of the story to tell the truth. I’m not sure either if the consuming darkness was more a result of the streaming situation or part of the overall production. But the darkness was annoying.

There were some strong performances from Robyn Hendricks as Anna and Callum Linnane as Vronsky but perhaps the strongest characterisations came from Benedicte Bemet as Kitty and Brett Chynoweth as Levin. But I am not sure that this production is ideal for streaming and I am looking forward to seeing it live in Sydney in April.

Bendicte Bemet and Brett Chynoweth in Anna Karenina. The Australia Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Jeff Busby

But on the issue of the history of productions based on the Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina, I recently came across a ’Stage Direction’ article by Stephen A. Russell published on the website of the Sydney Opera House. It gave an interesting, short introduction to the variety of ways in which the novel has been used in a theatrical manner. The article is currently available at this link, although may not be there for the long term.

  • Henry Danton (1919-2022)

The death of leading dance personality Henry Danton was announced back in February. Read the obituary by Jane Pritchard published in The Guardian at this link.

Henry Danton also played a significant role in the growth of professional ballet in Australia. He was a guest artist with the Melbourne-based National Theatre Ballet over several years and during that time consistently partnered Lynne Golding, including in the National’s full-length production of Swan Lake and in Protée, staged for the company by Ballets Russes dancer Kira Bousloff before she moved to Perth to establish West Australian Ballet.

  • Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra Dance Theatre recently announced the departure from the company of three dancers, wonderful artists who have given audiences so much pleasure in recent productions. Baden Hitchcock, Rika Hamaguchi and Bradley Smith have left the company to pursue other options. All three are beautiful dancers and I’m sure their future careers will continue to give us pleasure.

Rika Hamaguchi in the final scene from SandSong. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Other news from Bangarra is that the company’s children’s show Waru—journey of the small turtle, cancelled last year due to COVID, will be coming to the stage later this year. Conceived and created by Stephen Page and Hunter Page-Lochard, along with former Bangarra dancers and choreographers Sani Townson and Elma Kris, Waru tells the story of Migi the turtle who navigates her way back to the island where she was born. Waru is on in Sydney from 24 September to 9 October 2022 in the Studio Theatre at Bangarra’s premises at Walsh Bay.

  • Russell Kerr (1930-2022)

Prominent New Zealand dance personality Russell Kerr died in Christchurch earlier this month. Read an obituary with a great range of images at this link. I am expecting an obituary from his close friend and colleague Jennifer Shennan shortly and will publish it on this site when received. For further material on Russell Kerr and his activities on this website follow this tag.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2022

Featured image: Robyn Hendricks as Anna and Callum Linnane as Vronsky in Anna Karenina. The Australian Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Wudjang—not the past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company

12 February 2022, Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney

Ever since I began watching productions by Bangarra Dance Theatre (around three decades ago), the aspect of their shows that I have most admired has always been the way in which a story is told through movement. Of course I have loved the fabulous visual and musical aspects of the productions as well—costumes, sets, lighting and score have all contributed beautifully. But dance prevailed as the strongest force. 

With this latest production, made jointly with Sydney Theatre Company, somehow dance didn’t prevail any longer. There was some terrific dancing for sure. It was constantly energetic and came from committed dancers. Two performers stood out in particular: the seemingly ageless Elma Kris as Wudjang (‘mother’ in Yugambeh language but with a wider meaning as spirit of Country in this case), and the relatively new artist Lillian Banks as her contemporary manifestation, Gurai. They built up a powerful relationship over the course of the show. But the strongest element in the show to my mind was the spoken and sung word, at times in English and at others in Yugambeh—the latter being the language spoken in the area that Stephen Page, choreographer of the work, recognises as the Country of his ancestry. 

Wudjang—not the past was Page’s last production as artistic director of Bangarra. It began with the discovery, by workmen engaged in excavation for the construction of a dam, of ancestral bones, those of Wudjang. It then followed a journey to honour Wudjang with burial in a traditional resting place. Along the way there were scenes where the past was recollected and the present generation was encouraged to move forward with pride and resilience.

Some scenes were confronting, such as that in which one of the characters, Maren, tells of rape and her determination to make those who rape pay for their violence towards Indigenous women. Other characters expressed anger at the raising of a flag claiming territory for ‘the Royal pigsty’. Others showed Indigenous people as curious about the sheep that were being raised by the colonists. 

Raising the flag to claim land for ‘the Royal pigsty’. Wudjang —not the past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud


But words and song dominated and it wasn’t always easy to hear and understand what was happening. The music by Steve Francis was played live on stage with musicians occasionally becoming a close part of the action, especially but not always violinist Veronique Serret. Befitting the confronting elements of the storyline, the music frequently sounded strident, but to my mind unnecessarily loud. Often it drowned out the words so it was not always easy to follow the story, especially when the English was highly idiomatic and the Yugambeh language was not understood by me (and I imagine most of the audience). If words are to prevail they have to be heard, and as far as the sections in Yugambeh language were concerned perhaps surtitles in translation would have helped. The major exception was provided by the singing of Elaine Crombie as Maren. She sang (in English) about resilience and survival after rape and she was just brilliant. Every word was clear and the delivery was powerful and defiant.

Elaine Crombie in Wudjang —not the past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud


As ever, Jennifer Irwin’s costumes were also just brilliant and hugely diverse. They ranged from the beautiful tie-dyed dress worn by Crombie in certain sections, to the intricate clothing worn by Banks and Kris.

Llllian Banks and Elma Kris in Wudjang —not the past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud


Wudjang —not the past ended with hope in the future as the bones discovered in the opening scene were buried in a traditional manner. But ultimately I was disappointed that the work moved between so many theatrical genres. At times it seemed operatic. At others a bit like musical theatre. I longed for dance to be more powerful, or less dominated by words that were not always comprehensible. Translation was available in the printed program but who can read a program in the dark, not to mention in attempting to do so having to miss what was happening onstage.

Final scene. Wudjang —not the past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud


Michelle Potter, 14 February 2022

Featured image: Elma Kris as Wudjang and Lillian Banks as Gurai in Wudjang —not the past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud

The best of 2021

I did not have the opportunity to see live dance outside Australia in 2021 although I came very close to getting to New Zealand to see Loughlan Prior’s Firebird for Royal New Zealand Ballet (everything was booked but had to be cancelled at the last minute)! But I did see a variety of performances from overseas companies in online screenings, including Firebird. Most of what I saw in this way I did review for this website.

Choosing just five productions was not easy but I decided to stay with that limit, perhaps ‘in remembrance of times past’. Five was the limit in the days when The Canberra Times had a stronger arts coverage. And such a limit does demand a certain degree of focus and serious thought about defining principles in specific situations!

Below are my ‘top five’ productions for the year arranged chronologically according to the date of performance.

Third Practice. Tero Saarinen Company. Helsinki, February 2021. Online screening

I was first introduced to the work of the Finnish company led by Tero Saarinen in late 2020 when I was able to watch Borrowed Light, a collaboration by the company with the singers of Boston Camerata. Borrowed Light dated back to 2004 but was filmed in 2012 at Jacob’s Pillow and the film was screened online in 2021 as part of the Pillow’s response to lockdown. It was an exceptional collaboration and made me want to see more from this company, which I had not encountered before. The opportunity came in February 2021 when I was invited to watch and review the company’s online screening of Third Practice, performed to madrigals by Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, and played and sung by members of Helsinki’s Baroque Orchestra.

Third Practice was another eye-opening production after Borrowed Light. In my review I wrote’, ‘Third Practice is an extraordinary work examining the endless possibilities of cross art form collaboration and the potential of dance to stand at the forefront of new explorations in the arts.’

Scene from Third Practice, Tero Saarinen Company 2021. Photo: © Kai Kuusisto

I was initially intrigued by the title Third Practice. As I discovered when doing some preliminary research, it referred to comments about the nature of Monteverdi’s compositional style and Tero Saarinen’s own approach to choreography. You can read more in my review at this link.

GRIMM. Sydney Choreographic Centre. Sydney, April 2021. Live performance

Starting a new company, and indeed a whole new choreographic venture, is a courageous step to take. GRIMM was the first production from a new Sydney-based venture, the Sydney Choreographic Centre, the brainchild of director Francesco Ventriglia (also the choreographer of GRIMM) and managing director Neil Christopher. GRIMM is courageous too in that it takes a whole new look at characters from the Brothers Grimm (Jacob and Wilhelm), and examines the emotions of those characters as they move from youth to maturity. It is a far cry from the way we usually meet characters like Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and others, in dance form.

But it was also a truly thrilling production in a collaborative sense. Lighting, projections, costumes were stunning in their contemporaneity. Absolutely stunning. It was a terrific start for this new venture and I look forward to seeing more. Read my review at this link.

The Point, Liz Lea Dance Company, Canberra, May 2021. Live performance

Liz Lea Dance Company won a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award for Lea’s production of The Point. The citation read: ‘For The Point, a courageous exploration of connection and creativity across different dance styles and cultures through innovative choreography highlighted by outstanding use of music and a remarkable lighting design by Karen Norris.’

What intrigued me especially about this production was the mix of dance styles, which did not in my mind compromise any one style. My ballet teacher, many years ago now, was Valrene Tweedie, and I recall her saying ‘Ballet is like a sponge. It can absorb anything and everything.’ Well it is quite easy to substitute ‘dance’ for ‘ballet’ in that remark and Lea’s combining of contemporary, Western style movement with Indian styles, with which Lea is more than familiar, suggests strongly that no dance style is beyond being looked at creatively.

Of course, as the citation indicates, the collaboration across media was brilliant and the mix of ideas, which included homage to Marion Mahony Griffin and her contribution to the design of Canberra, was also brilliant. Read my review at this link.

Sandsong. Stories from the Great Sandy Desert. Bangarra Dance Theatre. Sydney, June 2021. Live performance

For me Sandsong captured what I have always loved about Bangarra—the company’s ability to present Indigenous cultural heritage and the political issues that have intruded on and damaged that heritage. I admire the way the ideas presented generate serious contemplation about the situation without necessarily demanding that we are filled with anger. Bangarra shows us what happened; we can draw our own conclusions. With Sandsong I also was moved by the way those cultural issues reflected gender divisions in traditional society, both choreographically and in a narrative sense.

In addition, what always stands out with Bangarra productions, and Sandsong was no exception, is the visual strength of the company’s shows. Jacob Nash creates exceptional sets, Jennifer Irwin’s costumes capture so much of the context of the work while giving freedom for the dancers to move, and on this occasion the lighting by Nick Schlieper added a stunning shimmer to Nash’s backcloth while Steve Francis’ score captured the multi-faceted nature of the work.

Read my review at this link.

On view. Panoramic Suite. Sue Healey. Sydney, October 2021 . Online screening

Sue Healey has been working with the concept of On View for a number of years and I have strong memories of On View. Live Portraits, as well as a number of filmed portraits she has made of people she has named ‘icons’ of Australian dance. Panoramic Suite, however, takes her ideas to another level and includes material recorded outside of Australia, in particular in Hong Kong and Japan. Healey has combined this new material with that created in Australia and the result is indeed a panorama. This is not just because it traverses continents in its subject matter, but also because of the technical approach that gives the viewer many angles from which to view the footage—close-up shots, aerial views, multiple views of the same sections, and so many other concepts.

On View. Panoramic Suite is an exceptional endeavour and a huge credit to Healey and her team. Read my review at this link.

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I guess what I really liked about all five of these productions was that in one way or another the choreographers, and the collaborative team, were pushing the boundaries of what dance is about, what it can do, how we can look at it. And the pushing of boundaries was happening in such a variety of ways. There was intelligence and creativity in approach and that was a real thrill in a year when we all wondered if the performing arts would survive when there were so many problems, especially for live performance. Let’s look ahead, with fingers crossed, to 2022.

Michelle Potter, 29 December 2021

Featured image: Scene from The Point. Liz Lea Dance company, 2021. Photo: © Andrew Sikorski

Frances Rings. A new direction

The recent news from Bangarra Dance Theatre that Frances Rings will take on the artistic directorship of Bangarra from 2023, when Stephen Page retires from the role, has been received with positive comments across the dance community. The exceptional commitment that has characterised Page’s term as director has, rightly, also been spoken of in positive terms, but the appointment of Rings is perhaps not unexpected. She has recently taken on the role of associate artistic director, and Page has constantly spoken of her outstanding qualities and her absolute commitment to advancing Indigenous issues through dance.

The career of Rings with Bangarra Dance Theatre has been one that we have all watched with growing pleasure. Rings was invited by Page to audition for Bangarra in 1993 after Page noticed her in a graduation performance by students of NAISDA. As a dancer she has always brought something special to the roles she has taken on.

Rings left the company for a few years and during her time away from Bangarra worked extensively in television, returning as a guest performer on several occasions. Later she returned to Bangarra as a permanent member and made her major choreographic debut in 2002 with Rations, part of the Walkabout program. She was made resident choreographer with the company and in her work has taken a particular interest in the land and the role of women in Indigenous society, although her interest in politics has always been strong. Perhaps my favourite of her choreographed works to date is Terrain, although I have been mesmerised by most of the works she has created or worked on in some way. They include the early Dance Clan 2 with its strong cross-generational, feminist aesthetic, which Rings devised in 1999, and which I reviewed at the time for Dance Australia.

Frances Rings in Sheoak rehearsals Photo by Edward Mulvihill Bangarra 2015
Frances Rings in Sheoak rehearsals, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

My strongest, and most recent, memory of her in the role of associate artistic director was in a Q & A session for the San Francisco Dance Film Festival as part of the inclusion in the Festival of Bangarra’s recent film Firestarter. As moderator of that session I mentioned that my favourite part of that film was the ending where the company came together full of joy and excitement for the future. Rings had her own favourite moments, which included the appearance of a Wandjina figure in the Indigenous section of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Throughout the session Rings constantly and impressively gave strong and honest opinions of the role of Bangarra in the cultural life of Australia.

It is clear that Rings will ensure that the proud heritage that Stephen Page and his family have brought to Bangarra will continue. I look forward to watching the transition from Page to Rings during 2022.

Frances Rings, 2021. Photo:© Daniel Boud

Michelle Potter, 3 November 2021

Featured image: Stephen Page and Frances Rings, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Dance diary. October 2021

  • The Australian Ballet in 2022

The Australian Ballet is returning in 2022 with a program that perhaps more than anything reflects the strong international background of artistic director David Hallberg. One work, John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, is well-known already to Australian ballet audiences but the rest of the offerings are not quite so well-known.

Anna Karenina is familiar to Australian audiences but not in the version that Hallberg has secured. This Anna Karenina has choreography by Yuri Possokhov and has a commissioned score by Ilya Demutsky, which includes a mezzo-soprano singing live on stage. It was meant to be danced by the Australian Ballet in several locations in 2021 but, in the end, it received just a few performances in Adelaide. It is slated to be seen in 2022 in Melbourne and Sydney and I hope that will eventuate. I tried three times to see it this year but three times I had to cancel! I have been a fan of Possokhov’s work since 2013 when I saw his Rite of Spring for San Francisco Ballet. Bring it on.

A work from a several collaborating choreographers, Paul Lightfoot, Sol León, Marco Goecke and Crystal Pite will also be shown in Melbourne and Sydney. With the name Kunstkamer it promises to be an eye-opener. Originally made for Nederlands Dans Theater, notes on that company’s website say:

Inspired by Albertus Seba’s The Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (1734), the choreographers use the stage to be their own Kunstkamer that presents NDT as its own multifaceted ‘Company of Curiosities’.

Musically eclectic as well (Beethoven, Bach, Purcell, Britten, Janis Joplin, Joby Talbot and others) eye-opener is perhaps too gentle a word?

Dimity Azoury in a study for Kunstkamer, 2021. The Australian Ballet Season 2022. Photo: © Simon Eeles

Then there is the triple bill for the year, Instruments of Dance, a name that I find somewhat unmoving, or at least uninviting. It will feature a new work by Alice Topp, a 2014 work from Justin Peck called Everywhere We Go, and Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear made in 2016 and featuring an all-male cast. While I am a definite fan of McGregor I have seen Obsidian Tear and to me it is not one of his best works. Here is part of what I wrote about the work as danced by the Royal Ballet in 2018:

The opening work, McGregor’s Obsidian Tear, left me a little cold and its choreography seemed stark and emotionless—but then I guess obsidian is a hard substance. Everything seemed to happen suddenly. Lighting cut out rather than faded and movement, while it showed McGregor’s interest in pushing limits, had little that was lyrical.

Royal Ballet artists in 'Obsidian Tear'. © ROH, 2016. Photo: Bill Cooper
Artists of the Royal Ballet in Obsidian Tear. © ROH, 2016. Photo: Bill Cooper

My full review of that Royal Ballet season is at this link.

There are aspects of the season that I have not mentioned here. The full story is on the Australian Ballet’s website. My fingers are crossed that 2022 will be the year we go to the ballet!

  • Wudjang. Not the Past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company

Bangarra Dance Theatre is joining forces with Sydney Theatre Company to produce a new work by Stephen Page to be shown at the Sydney Festival in January 2022 and then two months later in Adelaide. Page has described it as ‘an epic-scale contemporary corroboree’ and it will be performed by seventeen dancers, four musicians and five actors.

Publicity image for Wudjang. Not the Past. Photo: © Daniel Boud

The narrative for the work is written by Page and Alana Valentine and Page has described the inspiration for that narrative:

In the deep darkness just before dawn, workmen find bones while excavating for a dam. Among the workers is Bilin, a Yugambeh man, who convinces his colleagues to let him keep the ancestral remains. This ancestor is Wudjang, who, along with her young companion spirit, Gurai, longs to be reburied in the proper way. With her young companion spirit, Gurai, she dances and teaches and sings of the past, of the earth, of songlines. With grace and authentic power, a new generation is taught how to listen, learn and carry their ancestral energy into the future. Wudjang: Not the Past follows the journey to honour Wudjang with a traditional resting place on Country.

The production features poetry, spoken story-telling, live music and the choreography of Page. Something to look forward to as we (hopefully) come out of the difficulties of the past two years. 

  • QL2 Dance: Not giving in

Like so many dance organisations, QL2 Dance, Canberra’s much-loved youth dance organisation, has had to cancel so many of its activities over the last several months as a result of the ACT’s covid lockdown. Not giving in is the organisation’s answer to the situation. Watch it below.

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2021

Featured image: Nathan Brook in a study for Instruments of Dance. The Australian Ballet Season 2022. Photo: © Simon Eeles

Dance diary. September 2021

  • San Francisco Dance Film Festival

In September I had the pleasure of acting as moderator for an online discussion of Firestarter. The story of Bangarra. Firestarter will be shown at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival in October. Details at this link. Guests for the session were Frances Rings, associate artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, and the co-directors of the film, Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin.

Scene from Firestarter. Photo: © Daniel Boud

The Festival program includes some interesting dance material in addition to Firestarter. The full program will be available via Marquee TV, which has just updated its streaming program to Australia (but unfortunately not to New Zealand, due to circumstances beyond the control of SFDFF). Follow this link to see the full San Francisco Dance Film Festival program.

  • Natalia. Force of Nature

I have had the good fortune to see Natalia Osipova on stage on a number of occasions. Pure Dance, a program of six short works shown in Sydney in 2019, and Woolf Works, which I saw in both London and Brisbane, especially stand out. So I was curious to see the DVD, Natalia. Force of Nature, subtitled ‘Portrait of a dance superstar.’ It was released a couple of years ago now, and contains some interesting rehearsal footage and examines Osipova’s interest in, and performance of contemporary dance as well as traditional classical ballet.

Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in The Leaves are Fading. Pure Dance, Sydney, 2019. Photo: © Daniel Boud

But what was most fascinating to me was the footage we saw of Osipova as a student in Russia. From those early shots of Osipova in class, aged about nine, and through some very early performances as a student, it was very clear that she has what to me is the almost perfect body for classical ballet. The limbs are beautifully long and so well proportioned in relation to the rest of the body; both turnout and flexibility are completely natural; and the spine is so straight, especially through the neck and into the skull. These physical features are so very clear in scenes of a young Osipova in class and I can’t remember ever seeing a body so perfectly attuned to the physical qualities that are intrinsic to the classical mode. When I reviewed her performance in the Tudor pas de deux from The Leaves are Fading (the opening presentation from Pure Dance), I wrote, ‘From Osipova we saw incredibly liquid arm movements, beautiful use of the upper body, and an ability to make every movement look so easy.’ That ease is in large part a result of a body so perfectly suited to classical ballet.

Of course when watching her in performance one is overwhelmed by so many other aspects of her dancing—her emotional input, her dramatic abilities, the way she connects with her partner to bring fluidity to the performance and strength to interpretation, for example. She really is a superstar. But how thrilling it was to see that close to perfect body in class.

  • Mary’s last dance

It was lovely to see that Mary’s Last Dance: The untold story of the wife of Mao’s Last Dancer by Mary Li (Penguin Random House, 2020) has been awarded The Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year Award for 2021. The award is given to a Queensland-based author from books entered in the fiction and non-fiction categories and is determined by public vote. Only rarely do books about the arts, dance in particular, make book award lists, let alone turn out as winners. So, congratulations to Mary Li and to the Queensland public for their votes!

  • Betty Pounder
Portrait of Betty Pounder, 1940s (?). National Library of Australia, J. C. Williamson Collection. Photographer not identified
Portrait of Betty Pounder, 1940s (?). National Library of Australia, J. C. Williamson Collection.

Betty Pounder, dancer and choreographer for musical theatre, the Australian Ballet and other outlets, was born just over 100 years ago in August 1921. Designer Kevin Coxhead is planning a book celebrating Pounder’s life (she died in 1990) and career, and the first part of the book has just appeared in the most recent newsletter of Theatre Heritage Australia. The opening image of the chorus line-up from No No Nanette is quite special! Pounder looks outstanding even just standing there. Read the first part at this link. There is at present no indication of when the full book will appear.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2021

Dance diary. August 2021

  • Bangarra Dance Theatre

Towards the end of August Bangarra presented its latest show, Sandsong, in Brisbane. In order to do this, the company needed to go into a 14 day period of quarantine before being permitted to enter Queensland. As the featured image indicates the committed dancers of the company did just that in the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility.

I managed to see Sandsong in Sydney and got back to Canberra just before the Delta variant struck Sydney with a vengeance. Here is a link to my review.

Dancers of Bangarra Dance Theatre in Sandsong, 2021. Photo: © Daniel Boud

  • The Australian Ballet

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the Australian Ballet has cancelled the rest of its 2021 Melbourne season. Now I am wondering about the 2021 October-December Sydney season. I have a feeling that may end up being cancelled as well. Fingers crossed for 2022.

  • James Batchelor

Meanwhile in Europe, James Batchelor is working in a variety of venues. In September 2021 he and his collaborators will perform Deepspace and Hyperspace in France in Versailles and Dijon. In the following month, October, he will be in Paris to perform An Evening-length Performance, which premiered in Berlin in August 2021.

James Batchelor (left) and dancers in An Evening-length Performance, 2021

Read more on the website James Batchelor & Collaborators.

  • A taste of the future?

In relation to a forthcoming season at the Harkness Dance Center, 92nd St Y in New York, I found the following potential taste of the future:

ALL ADULTS MUST BE FULLY VACCINATED IN ORDER TO ATTEND THESE EVENTS. You will need to present proof of vaccination and a state issued photo ID.

MASKS MUST BE WORN BY EVERYONE over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status.

THANK YOU for doing your part in helping to keep everyone in our community safe.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2021

Featured image: Dancers from Bangarra Dance Theatre taking class while in quarantine.

Glory Tuohy-Daniell, Rika Hamaguchi and Lillian Banks in SandSong. Bangarra_Dance Theatre 2021. Photo © Daniel Boud

SandSong. Bangarra Dance Theatre

11 June 2021, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

SandSong. Stories from the Great Sandy Desert begins with some black and white footage that is instantly confrontational. Moving sharply from one event to another, and accompanied by an exceptionally loud sound score, it shows some of the atrocities endured by the Indigenous inhabitants of the Kimberley region over an extended period of time. In fact, the work as a whole focuses on the Kimberley area of Western Australia. Program notes tell us that SandSong is ‘a journey into ancient story systems framed against the backdrop of ever-changing government policy and of the survival of people determined to hold strong to their Culture.’

The opening footage sets the scene for what unfolds over the course of the performance and a timeline in the printed program expands on what the footage illustrates.

But SandSong had quite a different feel from most of the recent Bangarra productions I have seen. There were strong anthropological references in the early sections. In Act I, the Cold Dry Season, gender divisions in traditional society were made clear in a range of ways. We saw women’s business and activities in the form of specific dances, such as a bush onion dance showing the gathering and preparation of this food. We also watched preparations for a totem ceremony in which the men only were involved. As such the choreography was gender specific with the women performing quite simplistic movements at times, as opposed to the men for whom the choreography had more variety, more energy. Often the choreography for the men seemed to border on anger or to look inflammatory, while that for the women seem reserved and calm.

This gender division continued in Act 2, the Hot Dry Season, but changed somewhat as the story continued through the four sections. Particularly dramatic was Act 3 when the community entered a phase of working outside their traditional culture. The opening section, ‘Auction’ was especially powerful. Were the Kimberley people really being auctioned off for jobs on cattle stations and the like? A feeling of devastation crossed the footlights. Act 4 saw a kind of resolution, however, as healing and resilience began to emerge and by the end, as Rika Hamaguchi made her way around the stage, the anger and humiliation subsided as the dancers expressed their ties to kin and community.

Rika Hamaguchi in the final scene from SandSong. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2021. Photo © Daniel Boud

Of the dancers, Beau Dean Riley Smith stood out throughout the show, as he has done for the past several years. While he did not play a specific character as he did, for example, in Macq and Bennelong, his ‘maleness’ in the early sections was brilliant. It was clear in every movement and every part of his body, including neck and head as well as limbs. I also admired the work of Baden Hitchcock with his fluid and very expressive movement, and of Rika Hamaguchi who had a beautiful serenity at times. But Bangarra is full of new faces. We have much to anticipate I think.

Baden Hitchcock in SandSong. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2021. Photo © Daniel Boud

Once again Jennifer Irwin’s costumes were simply outstanding, especially in the feathery detail that seemed an essential part of many items, but also in the contemporary feel that her costumes developed towards the end.

Bangarra Dance Theatre in SandSong. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2021. Photo © Daniel Boud

Jacob Nash’s backcloth was quite simple and shimmered under the lighting of Nick Schlieper. Steve Francis concocted the score from a range of sources including voice and words along with recordings from previous Bangarra shows.

I came away from SandSong with mixed reactions. It is perhaps a show that needs more than a single viewing for the complexities, not so much of the story, but of the choreographic expression of those stories to become clearer.

Michelle Potter, 14 June 2021

Featured image: Glory Tuohy-Daniell, Rika Hamaguchi and Lillian Banks in SandSong. Bangarra Dance Theatre 2021. Photo © Daniel Boud

Glory Tuohy-Daniell, Rika Hamaguchi and Lillian Banks in SandSong. Bangarra_Dance Theatre 2021. Photo © Daniel Boud

Daniel Riley. Australian Dance Theatre’s incoming artistic director

The dance world is agog with the news that Daniel Riley is to take over the directorship of Australia’s longest standing contemporary dance company, Australian Dance Theatre, when Garry Stewart retires from the role at the end of 2021. Riley traces his bloodline to the Wiradjuri clan of Western New South Wales, particularly around Wellington and Dubbo. As such he is the first Indigenous director of Australian Dance Theatre (ADT).

But, as Riley told a Dubbo-based journalist in 2014, he did not grow up ‘on country’ but in Canberra. He went to Telopea Park High School and Canberra College and he began dance classes with Jacqui Hallahan at the then Canberra Dance Development Centre.

A fact barely mentioned in the stories that have so far surrounded Riley’s appointment is that he is in fact an alumnus of QL2 Dance, Canberra’s youth dance organisation—a place were the nurturing of future dance artists is of prime importance. One of QL2’s current patrons is the artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela, and he recognised QL2’s impact on dance in Australia when, following his acceptance of the role of patron, he said:

I have worked with many artists that have passed through [QL2’s] doors and commend them all on their professionalism, technique and creativity. The training and performance platform that QL2 offer[s] to youth dancers and emerging artists in Australia is of the highest standard.

Riley joined QL2 in 1999. It happened as the result of a suggestion from Elizabeth Dalman, artistic director of ADT from 1965-1975, and her colleague Vivienne Rogis, both of whom had worked on a project with Riley’s father in the 1990s. In 1999 QL2 had just started up and Riley performed in the very early productions, Rough Cuts and On the Shoulders of Giants. He then danced in every QL2 project from 1999 to 2003 before taking up a degree course at QUT in 2004. While undertaking his degree he returned whenever possible to Canberra and worked as a choreographer for various QL2 projects, which he has continued to do throughout his professional career to date.

Daniel Riley rehearsing QL2 dancers for the Hit the Floor Together program, 2013.

His commissioned work Where we gather, made in 2013 for the QL2 program Hit the Floor Together, explored the idea of young people from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds working together. In performance it showed Riley’s exceptional use of organic and rhythmic movement patterns, and his remarkable feel for shape, line, and the space of the stage. It was remounted in 2018 as part of QL2’s 20th anniversary, Two Zero.

Most recently Riley was back at QL2 in January 2021 on a residency where he continued work on an independent project still in the planning stage.

Daniel Riley during a QL2 residency, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra, 2021. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But of course his work as a professional dancer and choreographer with Bangarra Dance Theatre, which he joined 2007 after graduating from QUT, as well as his his work with Leigh Warren and Dancers, Sydney Dance Company, Chunky Move, and companies overseas, including Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Fabulous Beast (now Teac Damsa), have opened up new horizons.

I have strong memories of the first work he choreographed for Bangarra in 2010. Called Riley, it was a celebration of the photography of a cousin, Michael Riley. What was especially impressive was the way in which Riley’s choreography looked quite abstract and yet also managed to link back to the photographs, which were projected during the work. Then, I cannot forget the strength of his performance as Governor Macquarie in Jasmin Sheppard’s Macq, and also his role as Governor Philip in Stephen Page’s Bennelong, both productions for Bangarra.

Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley in a scene from 'Macq'. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2016
Daniel Riley (on the table) as Governor Macquarie with Beau Dean Riley Smith in Macq. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2016. Photo: © Greg Barrett

I also was interested in Reign, a work he made for Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed season in 2015.

The four New Breed 2015 choreographers . Photo: Peter Greig
Daniel Riley (front right) with Fiona Jopp, Kristina Chan, and Bernhard Knauer in a media image for Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed, 2015. Photo: © Peter Greig

Reign examined the idea of women in power and the forces that often end their reign. Choreographically it seemed to have strong Indigenous overtones. It began with Janessa Dufty covering her limbs with sand from a pile in a downstage corner of the performing space. It recalled an early section of Bangarra’s production of Ochres when a dancer uses yellow ochre in a similar fashion. Much of the movement, which was organic in look and usually quite grounded, also seemed Bangarra-inspired. And yet the theme seemed quite Western to me and I struggled to reconcile the movement with the theme. Later I began to wonder whether it mattered what vocabulary was used for what theme and was impressed and moved by the strength and very clear structure of the work.

So what will Riley bring to Australian Dance Theatre? Looking at the way he has worked over the years with QL2, he will bring I am sure the same integrity and respect for his colleagues that has brought him back over and over again to the organisation that developed his skills, gave him an understanding of a collaborative manner of working, and that realised that a future in dance lay before him. Thinking of the way he dances, always inhabiting a role with strength and understanding, I suspect he will be an excellent coach for the dancers in the company. And considering, on the one hand, the themes he has chosen for his choreographed works, which so often examine the diverse social and cultural roles of the people around him, and, on the other hand, the way his choreographed works have all been so clearly and strongly structured, I feel he will bring a huge strength of purpose to ADT.

But no one could put it better than Elizabeth Dalman, founding artistic director of ADT. She has said:

He is a wonderful performer, a talented choreographer and already has a great vision for the company. ADT has a long tradition as a revolutionary company pushing boundaries and presenting innovative and exciting works. Daniel plans to champion diversity and develop the company’s cross- and inter-cultural potentials. From the very beginning we set out to be a company exploring our Australian identity, our Australian artistic expression and cultural diversity, so I feel this is a strong continuation of the original aims of the company.

Michelle Potter, 10 June 2021

Featured image: Promotional image for Australian Dance Theatre’s appointment of Daniel Riley as artistic director.

Dance diary. May 2021

As I write this month’s dance diary, Australia is in the middle of National Reconciliation Week and today is a public holiday in the ACT. National Reconciliation Week is a reflective time to explore shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to examine ways in which reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians might be achieved. It seems appropriate then to begin this month’s dance diary with news from two Indigenous dance companies, Bangarra Dance Theatre and Marrugeku.

  • Bangarra’s new program for children

Bangarra Dance Theatre has announced a new initiative, a work for children called Waru—journey of the small turtle. Conceived and created by Stephen Page and Hunter Page-Lochard, along with former Bangarra dancers and choreographers Sani Townson and Elma Kris, it tells the story of Migi the turtle who navigates her way back to the island where she was born. Waru is for children aged between three and seven years old and will have its official premiere performance later in 2021. A preview season is due to take place in Bangarra’s newly renovated home at Walsh Bay, from 7-10 July. More about the official premiere as it comes to hand.

  • A new work from Marrugeku

In another initiative, the Broome-based company Marrugeku, which is also company in residence at Sydney’s Carriageworks, will present Jurrungu Ngan-ga (Straight Talk) at Carriageworks between 4 and 7 August 2021. This work, based on a concept by Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain with input from Patrick Dodson, reflects on life inside Australian immigration and detention centres. More information from Carriageworks.

Emmanuel James Brown in Jurrungu Ngan-ga. Marrugeku, 2021. Photo: © Abby Murray

  • Another award for David McAllister

Like so many recently scheduled arts events, the annual Helpmann Awards were cancelled this year. Nevertheless, early in May 2021 the organising committee awarded two Industry Achievement Awards for 2020. These awards recognise an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to the Australian live performance industry and one went to recently retired artistic director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister. It added to his Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, which he received in April.

David McAllister, 2019. Photo: © Georges Antoni

  • Carla Fracci (1936-2021)

Famed Italian ballerina Carla Fracci has died in Milan aged 84. Fracci’s illustrious career included guest performances in Australia in 1976 when she danced Giselle to Kelvin Coe’s Albrecht. An obituary is at this link.

  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer

After a year since publication, reviews of the Kristian Fredrikson book have pretty much come to an end. I can’t resist sharing, however, the images below.

On the left is the book taking ‘pride of place’ in the new, yet to be completed home office of a distinguished professor of art and design. On the right is the display at the Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, New Zealand.

  • Press for May 2021

‘New narratives from old texts: contemporary ballet in Australia’ in The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet. Edited by Jill Nunes Jensen and Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021) pp. 179-194.

My copy of the Oxford Handbook finally arrived and it is certainly a handsome publication. Apart from the impressive scope of the articles, it is well edited and shows exceptional respect for those involved in its production. All the photographers are acknowledged by name in the ‘Acknowledgments’ section, for example. That kind of acknowledgment doesn’t happen very often

A list of the chapters in this 982 page tome is at the very end of Dance diary. January 2021.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2021

Featured image: Design image for Waru—journey of the small turtle.
Design: © Jacob Nash, 2021