The art of writing about dance has been on my mind for a while just recently—more so than usual that is. Several recent occurrences have sparked off my current bout of thinking. First, a colleague in New Zealand sent me an email in which she asked if I had read Zadie Smith’s article Dance lessons for writers, first published in The Guardian in 2016. I hadn’t read it, but it sounded interesting so I quickly got myself a copy. Then, Canberra-based dancer and writer, Emma Batchelor, gave a talk at the recent BOLD Festival in which she discussed the Smith article—one of those strange co-incidences that happen occasionally. Not long after, I read that Clement Crisp, renowned English dance writer and critic, had died.
The Zadie Smith article included six short analyses, or comparisons really, of the dancing styles of well-known figures, which Smith puts side by side: Fred Astaire/Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson/Prince, Rudolf Nureyev/Mikhail Baryshnikov and others. But it was Smith’s opening section that was the strongest element in the article. She based her opening comments around a remark addressed to dancers by Martha Graham:
There is a vitality, a life force, and energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
Smith asked what an art of words could take from the art that needs none. She mentioned the ideas of position, attitude, rhythm and style. It’s a terrific quote by Graham and an interesting concept by Smith of writers learning from what dance offers. Problem is that Smith didn’t really pick up in her following comments/analyses the ideas she found apparent in Graham’s paragraph. At least she didn’t in my mind!
Then along came Emma Batchelor! In her paper, Batchelor posed slightly rearranged subtitles following on from Smith’s Dance lessons for writers. She discussed for example Writing lessons learned from dance and Writing lessons for dancers. Ultimately she wrote:
The dance work I most respond to has an intellectual rigour. The thought process behind movement, the development of an idea. An understanding of what you want to convey and how.
Legibility. How legible is an idea, a movement. Experimentation and play. Testing. Literality. Opening or closing down space for interpretation. Striving for a sense of ease, making the complicated look effortless.
Batchelor then examined a particular work by choreographer Chloe Chignell, Poems and other emergencies, which Batchelor believed demonstrated some of the ideas set out in her talk. While watching Chignell’s work, Batchelor realised she wanted to write about it and concluded, ‘Could the movement exist without words? The words without the movement? They were entwined.’
It was a thrill to hear Batchelor speak on this topic and her comments made clear to me that, while Smith had a terrific opening paragraph or two, she didn’t really develop, as I mentioned earlier, the thoughts she had presented in the comments that followed.
As for Clement Crisp (1931-2022), his writing over many decades has been remarkable and his death is a major loss to the dance world. But I lost much of my admiration for his work when he began to use the offensive word ‘Eurotrash’ for works that did not appeal to him. (He was not the only critic to use the word, I hasten to add). I prefer to stand by the words of American writer Marcia Siegel. I reviewed a collection of her writing entitled Mirrors and Scrims and the quote below is from that review:
[She says], ‘I see myself as both a demystifyer and a validator, sometimes an interpreter, but not a judge.’ She fearlessly carries through with this stance. In an analysis of the position of the much-admired critic Arlene Croce (as understood from her reviews), Siegel writes:
‘I think a critic has to take even mavericks and crackpots at their word. In not doing so, Arlene Croce places herself above the artists. She implies she knows better than they do what’s right for dance. To my mind, that’s the one thing a critic isn’t allowed.’
There is much to think about, across many areas, as we who write about dance pursue our work.
This is a slightly edited version of the text and PowerPoint images for a keynote paper I gave at the 2022 BOLD Festival in Canberra on 3 March 2022
Looking at the opening slide for my talk this morning you may be wondering why, for a keynote talk at a dance-oriented festival, I have chosen an image from a theatre production, Melbourne Theatre Company’s 1975 production of The Revenger’s Tragedy. And perhaps you may be curious as to why I have given it the title ‘And the dance goes on.’ All should, I hope, become clear as we proceed.
But first take a good look at Kristian Fredrikson’s costume design for the Duke in The Revenger’s Tragedy in the slide above. Fredrikson was an exceptional designer and an artist really. No stick figures for him. His designs were drawn as if they were being worn by the particular character in the play, film, dance, opera, or whatever theatrical genre he was working on, and he worked across them all. He did a huge amount of research, and collaboration, before designing and had in his mind a very clear picture of the nature of each particular character. Not only that, his designs are filled with movement, both body movement and the potential movement of the costume. Take a look at the way he has positioned the Duke’s head, thrown back and assertive. Look at the way he has drawn the legs, well-separated as if in movement. Then there are the expressive arms and hands. He has also drawn the costume spread out well —partly of course to show details of the design but also to indicate how the costume, especially the cloak, would move as the Duke strode across the stage. This design will be on show in the National Library’s exhibition On Stage, which opens tomorrow. I encourage you to visit the exhibition. I hope the backstory, which I will discuss shortly, will make seeing the design especially interesting.
On this next slide here are three more costume drawings from the same play, The Revenger’s Tragedy. These are not part of the exhibition but are part of the National Library’s exceptional collection of Fredrikson material, and my talk will focus to a large extent on the National Library’s collections of various materials, including Pictures, Manuscripts, Oral History and Ephemera.
You can see, left to right, Lussurioso, whom one writer has called a ‘lustful jerk’ and who is the Duke’s legitimate son; then the Prison Keeper; then Gratiana, who is the mother of the revenger. I think you can see again an interest in movement in the designs, as well as expressiveness in the way the characters are drawn.
The Revenger’sTragedy is a Jacobean play dating to the very early seventeenth century. It was first performed in London in 1606 and there has been much academic discussion over the years about the author, but the latest understanding is that it was written by one Thomas Middleton. The play centres on lust and ambition in an Italian court and the Revenger of the title, whose name is Vindice, seeks revenge on the Duke for poisoning Gloriana, the woman he loves. This happened several years before the play starts but Vindice has been mulling over it for years. In a convoluted series of events the Duke is poisoned and then stabbed by Vindice. But the Duke’s successor, Lussurioso, is also killed and eventually Vindice is condemned to be executed. This is a very simple outline but you will understand the extent of the killings when I tell you that one reviewer of the Melbourne Theatre Company production wrote: ‘It opens with a bloodcurdling shriek accompanying a tableau vivant and closes with an ironical shrug and a pile of dead bodies.’ As an example of his involvement in works he was designing, Fredrikson wrote his own notes about revenge tragedies, and at one point said: ‘Revenge tragedies require the designer to reach into his or her darkest imaginings and personify not only various of man’s worst sins but also a bizarre nightmare world. They are horror stories in the true sense because they deal with the obsession of revenge which is pursued until it results in massacre.’
It is probably not surprising to anyone here that a genre called ‘revenge tragedy’ ends in tragedy! But this Melbourne Theatre Company production had a surprise outcome and that outcome went on to have long-lasting effects on the growth of dance in Australia. The show was directed by David Myles, an Australian who began his theatrical career in television before heading to London, making a career there and across Europe. He returned to Australia in the 1990s but in 1975 he was in Australia as a guest director for Melbourne Theatre Company. The final orgy scene of The Revenger’s Tragedy needed a choreographer to give it an orgiastic feeling and it was none other than Graeme Murphy who was commissioned to create that scene. Graeme had returned to Australia in 1975 after spending time in Europe, in particular with the Ballets Félix Blaska in Grenoble, France. He and Janet Vernon spent 1975 freelancing before joining the Australian Ballet again in 1976.
I’m going to play you now a brief audio clip from an oral history interview with Kristian Fredrikson, who explains a little about what happened with the choreography.
He makes an error or two in this clip, saying that Graeme was a student or dancer with the Australian Ballet when he was brought in to work on The Revenger’s Tragedy. But, as I have just mentioned, Graeme was actually freelancing in 1975. Fredrikson also doesn’t remember, on the spur of the moment, the name of the director, which I have mentioned was David Myles. Here is how Fredrikson describes what happened.
It is more than interesting to hear him say that the director threw out Graeme’s contribution, but Fredrikson’s memories may be a little exaggerated. A conversation I had with Graeme while I was writing my biography of Fredrikson indicates that much of what he choreographed did become part of the production, and, as you can see from the image below, his name appears as choreographer on the printed program for The Revenger’s Tragedy. But apparently it was not a smooth process. Notice too that the playwright’s name is given as Cyril Tourneur although, as I mentioned scholars now believe that the playwright was Thomas Middleton.
Now, despite the ‘pile of dead bodies’ with which the play closes, and the apparent difficulties David Myles may have had with the choreography, the meeting of Murphy and Fredrikson was a momentous one. While both would pursue independent careers over the years, they would also constantly team up in major collaborative endeavours for a number of theatrical organisations.
As I have mentioned, in 1976 Murphy rejoined the Australian Ballet as a dancer and as the company’s first resident choreographer. But at the end of the year, he was appointed to head the Sydney-based Dance Company (NSW), later to be renamed by Murphy as Sydney Dance Company. Shortly after taking up his appointment, he called Fredrikson, and much to Fredrikson’s pleasure and surprise, offered him a commission to work on a new ballet he was planning, a production of Shéhérazade, not to the well-known score by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov as famously used by Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes, but to a song cycle by Maurice Ravel.
Shéhérazade, which premiered in Sydney in 1979,was, in my opinion, one of the most stunning of the works Murphy made early in his career with Sydney Dance, not only from a choreographic point of view, but also in terms of the collaborative endeavours created together by Murphy and Fredrikson. It certainly got the collaboration off to a good start. Above is an image from the original 1979 production in which both Murphy and Janet Vernon danced.
Shéhérazade was an incredibly erotic work. Brian Hoad, who was dance critic for the now-defunct magazine The Bulletin, called it ‘a choreographic mood painting at its most luscious…it turns out to be one of the most thoroughly bewitching evocations of sensuality ever to grace a stage.’ In the background you can see a hint of lighting and a backcloth and I want to show you the backcloth in more detail and the colour that was involved.
The backcloth was like a tent and four dancers, the Watchers, sat suspended in it. You can see one in the image on the left. They watched the dance unfold below them and shielded their eyes when matters got too erotic. The colour scheme was blue and gold and you can see a design for the tent bottom right of the slide. It’s now part of the National Gallery of Australia’s collection, while the two photographic images are part of the National Library’s collections. I’ll play you another audio clip from the Fredrikson oral history in which he talks about designing Shéhérazade. You’ll hear him mention that Gustav Klimt, whose art work, made in Vienna in the early twentieth century, was his inspiration. But also interesting is the way he speaks about the collaboration. ‘Shéhérazade came about in an easy flash’ he says.
So, a result of The Revenger’s Tragedy one spectacular aspect of dance in Australia was born, a collaboration between a choreographer and a designer that resulted in some sensational works over three decades for Sydney Dance Company, the Australian Ballet, and Opera Australia.
Now, there are more designs in the On Stage exhibition that record the Murphy/Fredrikson collaboration, including one or two for Swan Lake and Nutcracker: The Story of Clara. I’m going to focus on Swan Lake, which premiered for the Australian Ballet in 2002.
The Murphy Swan Lake is quite a change from what many had come to see as the ‘normal’ version. The narrative follows the tragic story of a young, vulnerable woman, Odette, who yearns for the loyalty of husband-to-be, Prince Siegfried, but who discovers on the eve of her wedding that Siegfried has a lover, the seductive and possessive Baroness von Rothbart. That discovery marks the beginning of Odette’s mental decline, which takes place in Act I, following the wedding. In Act II Odette is confined to a sanatorium after Siegfried’s mother, a cold and dismissive Queen, calls a doctor towards the end of Act I to attend to Odette’s apparent illness. In the sanatorium Odette is attended by nuns and, at one stage while there, she rocks rhythmically backwards and forwards in a dazed state and has a vision of white swans and a frozen lake. In a scenic transformation we are transported to the lakeside where Odette dances with the swans of her imagination and, meeting Siegfried there, she performs a duet with him. Later she leaves the sanatorium and in Act III arrives at a glittering party hosted by the Baroness and Siegfried. But, although Siegfried ultimately rejects the Baroness and regrets his behaviour towards Odette, Odette believes she can never find peace and in Act IV drowns herself in the lake of which she has dreamt in Act II.
The image on the left on the slide above is a design that you will see in the exhibition from tomorrow onwards. It is for ‘The young duchess’ (or ‘The Young Duchess-to-be’ as she was eventually called when the work went on stage). The costume is what she wore to the ‘glittering party’ hosted by Siegfried and the Baroness in Act III. You can see that it is not so much a work of design art, but a practical drawing that would be used by the wardrobe department when making the costume. It’s interesting to see an Edwardian style in parts of that costume, especially in the high neck and the draped, low-slung bodice. Fredrikson wanted to set this Swan Lake in the Edwardian era, although not every costume had all that much that was recognisable as Edwardian. On the right is a design for the Baroness von Rothbart in Act III, also for the ‘glittering party’—without many Edwardian references, I think. And here is what the Baroness’ costume looked like when made up.
But what is interesting about this Swan Lake is that by this stage, 2002, Fredrikson had become more than a designer for Murphy. They had set up a relationship that went beyond things coming ‘in an easy flash’, as Fredrikson had mentioned in relation to Shéhérazade, to one where Fredrikson had become an essential member of the creative team. He replied by email at one stage to a request from a journalist for information about Swan Lake with these word (and unfortunately I can’t play them as audio since they were written rather than spoken):
‘The actual inspiration for this production came about at our (Graeme, Janet and myself) first brainstorming meeting to see in which direction we wished the story to go so that it would please not only us, but also have an emotive and comprehensible value for the audience. For some time we considered manipulating the tragic story of the imperial family of the Romanovs … but soon discarded this as needing too much distortion to fit the score. Then, secondly, we were well versed in the history of the first production of the ballet and the bitter rivalry between the two ballerinas who first played Odette. This seemed promising as a scenario, but after an amount of discussion we were discouraged by the problems of conveying the romance of the original story. It was Janet who first brought up the obvious fact that this ballet was about Royal Romance and its ultimate despairing failure … So this was our beginning and, although we were determined that this would be no biography of any one particular Royal duo, we would have much material to supply us for Tchaikovsky’s tragedy.’
So,Fredrikson was totally part of the development of the story as well as the designer of sets and costumes. Fredrikson died in 2005 and Swan Lake was his last collaboration with Murphy.
That collaboration had grown and developed over almost three decades and gave the dance world some spectacular productions. And it all began with The Revenger’s Tragedy. My title for this talk … ‘And the dance goes on …’ alludes to the ongoing and developing relationship between Murphy and Fredrikson.
Thank you for coming (or watching if you are online) and I hope you will take the opportunity to visit On Stage, which continues until 7 August, and will find particular enjoyment in looking at the designs by Fredrikson for Murphy productions. There are one or two more that I haven’t had time to discuss. I hope too you might be interested in reading more about the Murphy Connection in my recent book Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. Chapter 4 is in fact called ‘The Murphy Connection” although the beginnings of the connection form part of Chapter 3, ‘Into the Seventies’.
February’s dance diary is all about what’s coming up in March (and later). What a thrill it is to have events scheduled with a live audience (fingers crossed of course!).
Canberra’s next BOLD Festival—the third in a remarkable series inaugurated and directed by Liz Lea—was scheduled originally for 2021. In fact two attempts were made for it to take place in 2021 and both had to be cancelled. But BOLD has weathered the storm and BOLD 22 will open on 2 March with a launch at the National Film and Sound Archive. In a manner that reflects our present environment as much as anything else, BOLD 22 will be a series of events that are both in person and online. It will feature participants from across Australia and around the world. It continues to have as patron the irrepressible Elizabeth Cameron Dalman.
I will be giving a keynote talk entitled And the dance goes on … which will begin with a discussion of Melbourne Theatre Company’s 1975 production The Revenger’s Tragedy and continue with the surprising dance outcome that resulted from that production.
Redlands Museum in Cleveland, Redlands Coast Area, Queensland, will open its latest exhibition Redland to Russia—Lisa Bolte, my ballet career on 12 March. It will continue through April and May and focuses on the career of former Australian Ballet principal, Lisa Bolte, who grew up in the Redlands area. The exhibition will feature a collection of costumes and memorabilia from the Australian Ballet archive, along with footage of Lisa’s life story growing up in the Redlands, and her subsequent career on stage.
I have many great memories of Lisa’s performances over a number of years. She was a standout performer in so many ballets but I was blown away by two productions in particular, Stephen Baynes’ 1914 in which she danced the lead role of Imogen, and a totally brilliant performance as the lead in George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. But below she is seen in the mad scene from Giselle Act I—a photo taken during a guest performance in Russia.
Learn a little more about the exhibition at this link.
The Johnston Collection
I was scheduled to give a talk in Melbourne for the Johnston Collection in 2021 but, like so many other events, it too was cancelled due to COVID restrictions. Well that talk has been rescheduled and will take place in Melbourne on 22 June. The talk is called Kristian Fredrikson. Theatre designer extraordinaire. More information and bookings at this link.
What a pleasure it is to be able to say that West Australian Ballet is turning 70 in 2022. It is the oldest ballet company in Australia and was founded in 1952 by the former Ballet Russes dancer Kira Abricossova Bousloff. The company gave its first performance in 1953 and turned professional when Rex Reid was appointed artistic director in 1969. Since then its directors have included Robyn Haig, Garth Welch, Barry Moreland, Ted Brandsen and Ivan Cavallari. It is currently directed by Aurélian Scanella who has now been at the helm of the company for ten years.
Unfortunately, Western Australia has very strict entry requirements at the moment and it is not an easy place to visit for those who live outside the State. The thought of missing certain parts of the 2022 program is hard to take. I am especially interested that the company is planning its own new production of Swan Lake in late 2022. It will be choreographed by Krzysztof Pastor, will have a distinct relationship to West Australian culture and society, and will incorporate Indigenous material into the production. While this Swan Lake promises to be unique, the focus on the culture of the West is also an exceptional way to honour Kira Bousloff whose early repertoire incorporated reflections on Australian life and culture.
La Nijnska. A new book by Lynn Garafola
Esteemed dance historian Lynn Garafola has recently completed a biography of Bronislava Nijinska. As the first in-depth account of the life and career of a dance artist about whom so little has been written, La Nijinska is a publication which we can anticipate with particular interest. The book is being published shortly by Oxford University Press, although its exact publication date seems to vary somewhat according to different sources. Details are on the OUP website.
And on an Australian note, Kira Bousloff, founder of West Australian Ballet as mentioned above, took classes with Nijinska and performed with her company. She talks about her experiences in an oral history conducted with her in 1990 for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. The interview is online at this link.
BOLD Festival 2022
The much delayed BOLD Festival (originally planned for 2021) is going ahead in Canberra and online in March. See below for information from the BOLD team on the keynote addresses and the BOLD Lecture. Further information as it comes to hand.
We are thrilled to announce our three Keynote speakers and the 2022 BOLD Lecture. Talks will be in person and live-streamed on the 3rd and 4th March at the National Library of Australia. They will then be available online for 22 days.
Our opening Keynote is Eileen Kramer who, at 107 years of age, continues to create dances, stories, costumes and films, even in the midst of Covid lockdowns. Her tenacity and creativity shine through this difficult time.
In conversation with long time collaborator Sue Healey, Eileen will reveal ideas about longevity of practice and what drives her to keep creating.
ID; Woman with white hair and large earrings holds her newly published book
Our next Keynote is the extraordinary Gary Lang speaking from the heat of Darwin about his life as a Larrakia artist.I will speak of the unique way I, as an Artistic Director and choreographer, use multi cultural dancers to tell my people’s first nations stories on the local, National and International stage through my work with the NT Dance Company. Our work reflects the rich multicultural tapestry of the Territory and collaborates with leading dance companies including most recently, NAISDA Dance College, West Australian Ballet, Northumbria University UK and MIKU Performing Arts from East Arnhem Land. ID; An indigenous man with silver hair, wearing glasses, white shirt, black trousers and turquoise wrap, sitting barefoot on a chair in a darkened theatre. Theatre lights glow dimly behind him and his left arm and leg are elegantly crossed as he looks directly at the camera.
Our closing Keynote is Dr Michelle Potter who will discuss ‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’. Revenge tragedies always have a tragic outcome, but Melbourne Theatre Company’s 1975 production of the Jacobean play ‘The Revenger’s Tragedy’ had a surprising and very positive outcome for the future of dance in Australia.
Kristian Fredrikson, costume design for The Duke in The Revenger’s Tragedy, 1975. National Library of Australia ID; a water paint of a male character throwing his hands in the air wearing a black and white bold patterned cape with brown and dark blue lining, black and white patterned trousers, black boots, intricate chest piece detailed with brown and a high ruffled neck, Elizabethan style.
Our conference closes with the BOLD Lecture given in the memory and spirit of Scotland based Australian dance artist Janice Claxton. Janis worked internationally, she was a hugely talented choreographer, a tour-de-force and front-line fighter for equality in dance. The first BOLD Lecture was given by Claire Hicks, Director of Critical Path. This year we will be joined by Marc Brew, another Scotland based Australian choreographer working internationally. Most recently he was the Artistic Director of AXIS Dance Company, USA.
ID; A photo of a white male, slim build, 6′ 2″ tall, wheelchair user with a shaved head, green eyes and sculpted facial stubble, wearing a black at cap, black jumper and a black & grey scarf around his neck. Poised in front of a grey background. Photo credit; Maurice RamirezMarc is a Disabled choreographer, director and dancer. His lecture titled ‘Point of the Spear’ will share his personal experience of the importance of being an advocate for accessibility and inclusion. How, collectively, we all need to work together to be Inclusive in our thinking and actions to make the world equitable for all.
On a final note applications for The Annie are coming in which is brilliant. Do keep sharing the word so we can support an artist to create work on older dancers with Annie’s inimitable spirit chivvying us on.
Next up we will announce our workshop series which will be offered over the 5 days of the Festival. We have 15 workshops being offered in person in Canberra and on Zoom from around Australia, LA, Canada, Singapore and the US. Be fabulous Stay Bold best wishes
The BOLD Team
A range of departures and new appointments to dance and dance-related organisations was announced over the past month or two. In Australia they include the departure after close to twelve years of Anne Dunn from Sydney Dance Company to take on the role of Executive Director and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Sydney Theatre Company. Lou Oppenheim will take on the role of CEO of Sydney Dance Company in mid-February.
Elsewhere in the world they include the appointment of Tamara Rojo as Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet. Rojo leaves English National Ballet in late 2022 to become the first female director of SFB. She replaces Helgi Tomasson.
Choreographer and teacher Paige Gordon will speak in March 2019 at BOLD II, the Canberra-based festival directed by Liz Lea now in its second manifestation. I was more than interested to hear that Gordon’s talk will have connections back to a work she made in Canberra in 1994, and which was subsequently restaged in 1996. Gordon suggests that her future pathway in dance was affected by the reaction she got, and that she herself felt, from that work—Shed. A place where men can dance. It was part of the National Festival of Australian Theatre and was made for her small but very vibrant project company, Paige Gordon and Performance Group (P G & P G). I was writing extensively for Dance Australia at the time and my review of the 1996 production of Shed appeared in that magazine in the December 1996–January 1997 issue. Here is what I wrote:
A gem about men
Shed begins slightly chaotically. Four male performers dressed in paint-splattered overalls hammer, saw, plane, paint and chisel loudly and with undisguised enthusiasm. Immediately we know that this can’t be anything but real Aussie suburban stuff, four blokes in the shed up the back, making things. With swift, deft strokes, choreographer Paige Gordon sets the scene.
The chaos subsides and the opening activities give way to a perceptive and moving exploration of a male space and its emotional landscape. Set against a wall of painted corrugated iron sheets, a design by Cherylynn Holmes, dance sequences and personal ‘shed stories’ sometimes alternate and sometimes occur simultaneously.
In one section John Hunt, tall and lanky with a winning expression that suggests he could talk his way out of anything, suddenly reveals himself as vulnerable and even romantic as he explains how his father used his hands to make an assortment of things for his children. In the background James Berlyn, Martin O’Callaghan and Jonathan Rees-Osborne roll gently from one side of the performing space to the other, pausing occasionally to become involved in gentle and intricate movements that focus on the hands. The hands clench together, they press onto the floor, they cut through the air. Dance and storytelling comment on each other and, while the choreography is simple, sometimes setting up apparently naive connections, its quiet subtlety speaks volumes.
Other sections are less romantic. One, led by James Berlyn, is full of anger and frustration. Stories about projects gone wrong are followed by a cathartic passage in which the four dancers hurl themselves at the corrugated iron walls, banging, shouting and kicking. But this hot-tempered scene is followed by another in which these men seem gently aware of their innate capacity for tenderness as they slowly run their hands and bodies along the same corrugated iron that had just served as a whipping post for their anger.
Shed, made in 1994, is a work of rare rigour. Tightly structured, it sets the scene, gets on with it and doesn’t get bogged down trying to say the same thing for too long. I guess it’s laconic in a good Australian way. And its unselfconscious and unpretentious simplicity seems very Australian too. The work is also unusually personal. You almost feel like talking to the performers and telling your own similar stories, yet you know the work is, rightly, too self-contained and theatrically coherent for that. But the extent of involvement that the piece allows is remarkable.
Humour and pathos, laughter and sadness, insight and much self-recognition spill though the piece. Shed is a gem, a distinctively Australian gem.
I also spoke to Gordon for a Dance Australia article published in the issue of April-May 1995, and for a story in the National Library of Australia Magazine (March 1997). In both instances she spoke of making Shed, stressing that she had been involved in a number of works with an all female cast and that she was interested in working, by contrast, with an all male cast. ‘I wanted a chance to come up with things that were as magical and as gentle and as emotional as was possible with the female-inspired things I had been involved in,’ she said. Shed. A place where men can dance won Gordon a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award in 1994.
What will Gordon say for her BOLD presentation? Registration for BOLD II is via this link.
Below is an expanded version of an article published in print and online by The Canberra Times on 28 January 2019.
Canberra’s remarkable performer, mentor and choreographer, Liz Lea, has once again taken on the mammoth task of presenting BOLD, a festival she founded in 2017 in anticipation of it becoming a biennial event. In that inaugural year, Lea boldly did the whole thing without any external funding. At least this year she managed to secure some financial backing so, while life for her at the moment may still hold a myriad of organisational problems, at least there are fewer financial concerns. And as BOLD patron, Dr Elizabeth Cameron Dalman of the Lake George-based Mirramu Creative Arts Centre, says:
Making a career in the arts, particularly in dance, is not an easy pathway. It requires skill and discipline, both a flexible body and a flexible mind, determination and a great deal of audacity. One needs to be ‘bold’.
In its extensive program of talks, film showings, workshops and performances, BOLD II will focus on the legacy and heritage of dance in Australia and elsewhere, but will also have a strong focus on diversity of practice and issues of gender and ethnicity.
Indigenous artists will play a prominent role. A soft launch by the senior group from Tasmania, MADE, will be held at the Dickson Tradies Tramway Bar on the afternoon of March 13. It will be followed that evening by the official launch—a performance by Vicki van Hout whose indigenous heritage is with the Wiradjuri people of New South Wales. Van Hout will perform her recently created solo plenty serious TALK TALK at QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre. The work examines the consultative process that characterises the creation of indigenous and van Hout has been reported as saying:
Even if I am on stage by myself, as an artist, I am never truly alone as I am bound to bring my family, my peers and mentors to work with me. In this piece, I decided to place the usual behind-the-scenes action of the indigenous arts making process front and centre.
Another indigenous performer we can look forward to seeing is violinist Eric Avery, who may be remembered as the musician who played violin for Lea’s earlier work made with Tammi Gissell, Magnificus, magnificus. Avery, who also dances with Marrugeku, a company operating between Broome in Western Australia and Carriageworks in Sydney, will amongst other activities, lead a dance through Parliament House, creating choreography while playing live.
Not all performances will take place in theatre venues. In addition to Avery’s activities at Parliament House, there will be performances at the National Portrait Gallery (as happened in 2017), and several performances will take place at lunchtime on the podium outside the National Library. On March 14 Katrina Rank, who in 2018 was the recipient of an Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance, will perform her solo, Birdwatching. On the following day Canberra’s senior ensemble, the GOLDS, will also be on the podium performing Annette from Lea’s collaborative and award-winning work Great Sport!.
Several international performers are also taking part this year, including Javanese dancer Didik Hadiprayitno,whose approach to dance certainly highlights the theme of diversity of practice. He is a cross-dresser who impersonates women in his performances of traditional Javanese and Balinese dance. Lea first encountered his work in 2017 when she was appearing at a festival in Java, which Hadiprayitno was directing. Lea recalls:
It was an outdoor festival with the theme of Gods and Goddesses. It rained and there were umbrellas everywhere, even on top of lights. But it was extraordinary. I wanted to bring so many of the dancers to Australia for BOLD but in the end was only able to bring Hadiprayitno.
Indonesian cross-dresser Didik Hadiprayitno. Photographer not identified
Also coming from Asia, this time from Singapore, is violinist, Kailin Yong, whom many in Canberra will remember from last year’s 40th anniversary performance by Canberra Dance Theatre when he performed with Anca Frankenhaeuser in MIST. For BOLD II Yong will be bringing along his wife and young child, who will feature in a trio that ex-Canberran Stephanie Burridge is creating on the family. Yong is also composing new music for a solo for Frankenhaeuser, and another Canberra-based dancer, Debora di Centa, will also perform with Yong as accompanist.
Former Canberrans will also feature throughout the festival. Sue Healey, who led a dance company, Vis-à-vis Dance Canberra, for several years in the 1990s, and who has since made a career as an award-winning film maker, will show a selection of her most recent short films at the National Film and Sound Archive on March 15. They include selections from En route, a film made as part of a public art installation project for Wynyard railway station in Sydney. En route was shot at various disused stations and railway lines across New South Wales and features several performers with Canberra connections including James Batchelor and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Dalman will also feature in others of Healey’s films including in Weerewa, a collaborative venture with the Taiwanese group Danceology.
Still from En route. Courtesy Sue Healey
Paige Gordon, whose company Paige Gordon and Performance Group was also a significant force in Canberra in the 1990s, will speak at the festival. Her talk goes back to a moving work she made in Canberra called Shed. A place where men can dance. The reaction to Shed inspired Gordon’s current path of working with people across the community, and helping them to move and be moved by dance.
A new feature for the 2019 festival, which Lea anticipates will be a permanent feature of future BOLD festivals, is the BOLD lecture in honour of Janis Claxton. Claxton, who died last year, was an Australian who graduated from the Queensland University of Technology, and who went on to make an impact on the contemporary dance world in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and America. Lea explains:
She was a feisty woman. I first saw her work in the 1990s and was impressed by the way she was promoting gender equality and working in non-traditional spaces. She contacted me just before she died and I was moved that she had done that. She was a bold artist and I wanted to honour her.
This year the BOLD lecture will be delivered by Claire Hicks, director of Critical Path the Sydney-based organisation fostering choreographic research and development. Other keynote speakers for 2019 are Karen Gallagher, Padma Menon and Marilyn Miller.
Perhaps what is most interesting for Canberra audiences is the way BOLD II will reflect the legacy of Canberra dance over several decades. And as we look at the past, we can also see a future. The finale to BOLD II, however, will be less about dance and more about what Canberra has to offer visitors. On Sunday March 17 the BOLD Balloon Breakfast will take place with participants watching the launch of hot air balloons at the Canberra Balloon Spectacular. The breakfast will be followed later that morning by JUICE, a closing performance by the Canberra group Somebody’s Aunt at McKellar Ridge Wines at Murrumbateman. A wine tasting will follow.
A schedule of events (subject to change according to injuries and other matters that inevitably affect dance artists) is available on the BOLD website . It indicates the many artists and speakers from Australia and across the world who have not been specifically mentioned here. Registrations are now open.
Michelle Potter, 28 March 2019
Featured image: Katrina Rank in costume for Birdwatching. Credit Robert Wagner