Sue Healey with Sarah Jayne Howard during the filming of Virtuosi

Capturing the vanishing. A choreographer and film. Sue Healey

There is much that is interesting in Sue Healey’s Platform Paper published by Currency Press on 1 August 2019. What I found very readable was the information about Healey’s early career. There were her early dancing days in New Zealand, her father’s interest in making Super 8 movies, the nuns who taught her at school, her move to Australia, her student days at the Victorian College of the Arts, and her work with Nanette Hassall and DanceWorks. It was good too to read her discussion of the various processes she has gone through to develop her exceptional film making techniques, her thoughts on the various short films she made, and her remarks on her more recent move to making longer works. Some of her films have been reviewed on this website, most recently Eileen, and I have thoroughly enjoyed writing about them.

All this background leads in the Platform Paper to the three provocations Healey presents at the end of the paper. They basically relate to the role of independent dance and independent artists in society and culture. In a slightly abbreviated form the provocations are:

  • Independent dance artists deserve to be funded in a more realistic and sustainable manner.
  • Dance must extend its boundaries without losing sight of its own intrinsic qualities as a discipline.
  • We need an active debate about why dance continues to be relevant, who creates this relevance, and how to generate new opportunities for artists.

What bothers me, however, is the reliance throughout the paper on what I think has become a cliché: dance is ephemeral (with the often unspoken but usually implied notion that, as a result, dance has nothing much to offer conceptually, intellectually or any other ‘-ually’ word). I realise, of course, that Healey does not fall into the category of someone who thinks that dance has no lasting value because it is ephemeral, but many do think that way. Of course dance is ephemeral but so is anything we see (or hear) in the theatre. Is it the existence of words and a script connected with a play, or the existence of musical notation in a concert that causes many to think that these art forms are not so ephemeral and therefore more worthy in some way? As it happens there are dance works these days that use words in various circumstances and for various reasons. Lloyd Newson’s creations come to mind immediately. And, of course, Healey first ventured into film making to ‘make dance stay around for a bit longer’.

Despite the above, I really enjoyed Healey’s paper, and the Vimeo links to selections from her film works are a bonus. But I would have loved the paper to have had a fourth provocation that questions the notion of ephemerality in the arts and how people outside the immediate dance world can be persuaded that this does not make dance an inferior art form. We always seem to be justifying its presence.

Capturing the vanishing: a choreographer and film by Sue Healey. Platform Paper No. 60, August 2019. (Sydney: Currency House). More information at www.currencyhouse.org.au

For more about Sue Healey on this website follow this tag link.

Michelle Potter, 13 August 2019

Featured image: Sue Healey and Sarah Jayne Howard during the filming of Virtuosi, 2012. Courtesy of Sue Healey

Sue Healey with Sarah Jayne Howard  during the filming of Virtuosi

Dance diary. June 2019

  • Shona Dunlop MacTavish (1920-2019)

The death of Shona Dunlop MacTavish in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 18 June at the age of 99 sent me back to her autobiography, Leap of faith. It was published in 1997 and the early sections give a fascinating account of her schooldays in New Zealand and her time in Europe over four years beginning 1935. Those four years included her introduction to dance and in Leap of faith Dunlop MacTavish gives her thoughts on her early teachers, one of whom was Gertrud Bodenwieser. Of Bodenwieser and how her classes affected people, Dunlop MacTavish writes

Frau Gerty, as she was known by her students, was a small erect figure who, when not demonstrating, examined her class through an intimidating lorgnette … Although nervous at first, I began to relax and enjoy myself as it appeared she was taking little notice of me. Soon I was swept up with the rest of the class—a mass of whirling bodies with ecstatic faces.

The book continues through Dunlop MacTavish’s life in in South America on tour with Bodenwieser’s dancers; follows her experiences in Australia, China and Africa (the latter two with her missionary husband Donald MacTavish); and then moves on to the Philippines. The story then comes back to New Zealand and her home city of Dunedin where she set up a number of dance-related initiatives.

Dunlop MacTavish’s choreographic output was extensive and a list of her choreographies in Australia and New Zealand forms an appendix to Leap of faith. It is remarkable list. As one example, the first solo she created for herself was Two souls alas reside within my breast. Along with others of her early works, she danced it when her husband-to-be came to the Bodenwieser studio in Sydney to be introduced to her dancing. In her oral history interview for the National Library of Australia she explains the origin of the work:

I’d seen a young man in a nightclub with a very scarred face, beautiful on one side, all scarred on the other. It suddenly gave me the image of how many of us actually have two personalities. The title of the work was taken from some writing by Goethe. [Faust, First Part]

Shona Dunlop in a study for Two souls alas reside within my breast, c. 1945. Photo: Clifton Firth. From a card using material from the National Dance Archive of New Zealand

For more on the remarkable life of Shona Dunlop MacTavish, here is a link to an oral history interview I recorded with her for the National Library on 13 April 1998. It is available online both as audio and as a transcript. Leap of faith is also definitely worth a re-read.

  • Queen’s Birthday Honours list

Congratulations to Li Cunxin, Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac, who were all recognised in the 2019 Queen’s birthday honours list. Li and Tankard received an AO, Lansac an OAM.

In a recent conversation with Patrick Harding-Irmer and Anca Frankenhaeuser I also heard that Robert Cohan, founding artistic director of London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre, had also been honoured in England. Cohan influenced the careers of many Australian dancers and choreographers. He was knighted!

With regard to the Australian awards, Lansac’s work is not often acknowledged as much and as appropriately as it should be, so it is especially pleasing to see that he has been recognised. Below are a few of many photographs taken by Lansac that are part of a collection held in the National Library of Australia. His career has crossed boundaries as these images show. Here, too, is a link to an article that appeared in the now-defunct National Library of Australia News, which gives a little insight into Lansac’s early Australian collaborations and commissions. See also the tag Régis Lansac on this website.

Below left: Pierre Thibaudeau of Entr’acte Theatre in a solo performance, Sydney 1985. Below right: Richard Talonga of One Extra Company in Kai Tai Chan’s Midnight Moon, Sydney 1984.

Above left: Portrait of dancer Mary Duchesne, 1987. Above right: Tim Coldwell, Circus Oz, 1982. All photos: © Régis Lansac

  • Dancing under the southern skies

A new book by Valerie Lawson has just been published. I have not yet had time to read the copy I have but, flicking through the pages, there are some great photographs in it that, as far as I am aware, have never been published before. Lawson also sets the scene for what is (or rather what is not) contained in the book when she writes: ‘Dancing under the southern skies is not a detailed description of professional ballet performances in Australia—the dates, the theatres, the casts, the designers—although the detail is important and, one day, might become a dictionary of ballet.’ The next paragraph in the introduction explains what is included. But I will leave that for your further reading!

Further information is on the publisher’s site.

  • Press for June 2019

‘Vale Jonathan Taylor’, Dance Australia, June/July 2019, p. 13. PDF at this link

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2019

Please consider supporting my Australian Cultural Fund project to raise money to have hi-res images made for my book on the career of designer Kristian Fredrikson, which is heading towards publication. See the project, which closes on 30 July 2019, at this link. Donations are tax deductible. [Update 1 August 2019: Project closed]

Featured image: Evelyn Ippen, Bettina Vernon, Emmy Towsey and Shona Dunlop, Bodenwieser Ballet, Sydney c. 1939. Photo: Max Dupain

2019 Dance Division staff

Dance diary. March 2019

  • Jerome Robbins Dance Division

In March I had the pleasure of being in New York for the first of a number of events to celebrate 75 years since the foundation of what is now the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. In the featured image, curators seated (left to right) are Madeleine Nichols, Michelle Potter, Jan Schmidt and current curator Linda Murray. Current staff are standing. Founding curator Genevieve Oswald was unable to attend and, sadly, died two weeks later in her home in California aged 97.

The event began with a tribute to Gegi Oswald with a screening of various images relating to her work, and with an interview with her by Walter Terry, which she gave at one stage during her more than 40 years as curator. Then we curators were asked to give our responses to several questions posed to us about our time with the Division. It was a nostalgic evening and wonderful to catch up with friends and colleagues to celebrate the work and vision of the Division.

Mind you it was freezing in New York. This is what it looked like in Central Park on 2 March!

Central Park under snow, March 2019
  • BOLD II 2019, Canberra

Circumstances of various kinds meant that I was unable to attend many of this year’s BOLD events. But of the events I did attend I was especially interested in Paige Gordon’s talk ‘Who’s Counting?’ in which she discussed her present work in Perth and related it back to her earlier experiences in Canberra.

It was also a treat to be at Sue Healey’s showing of several of her current initiatives with dance on film. In particular I admired her short film Weerewa. Portrait of a landscape shot in the area of Lake George just north of Canberra and recently shown at Le FiFA festival in Canada.

Still from Weerewa. Portrait of a Landscape

  • A body of work. Dancing to the edge and back a book by David Hallberg

In March I came across David Hallberg’s autobiographical book, which I had not known of previously even though it was first published in 2017. It was of course of particular interest because of Hallberg’s connections with Australia, and in particular with his rehabilitation by the team at the Australian Ballet, Paul Baird Colt, Megan Connelly and Sue Mayes, which he discusses at towards the end of the book.

Hallberg also mentions arriving in Australia for the first time and being taken aback by the beauty of Sydney Harbour from the sky: ‘The Sydney Opera House and its surroundings, first viewed from fifteen thousand feet in the air, trumped all photos I had ever seen. Here was Australia!’ It reminded me of the photo of Hallberg taking a pose on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House, and of seeing him dance in Cinderella in 2013.

David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in 'Cinderella'. Photo: Wendell Teodoro, 2013
David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro, 2013

His book is also fascinating for its insights into the exhausting schedule of those like Hallberg who travel constantly between engagements.

  • Bonchela/Nankivell/Lane

My review of Sydney Dance Company’s latest show, Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane is in the pipeline (and late due to other commitments including a preview piece on the show for The Canberra Times). It’s coming soon but I can say now that I was stunned by Melanie Lane’s thrilling WOOF.

Artists of Sydney Dance Company in Melanie Lane’s WOOF, 2019. Photo:
© Pedro Greig
  • Press for March 2019

‘Indigenous fusion fizzles with styles.’ Preview of Djuki mala. The Canberra Times, 27 March 2019, p. 26. Online version

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2019

Dance diary. December 2018

All good wishes for 2019 and my grateful thanks to all who have visited this site over the past year, especially those who have taken the time to comment. And of course special thanks to my co-contributor, Jennifer Shennan, who throughout the year opened our eyes to what was happening in the New Zealand dance world.

  • New artistic directors

Both Expressions Dance Company and Chunky Move have announced the appointment of new artistic directors. In Brisbane Amy Hollingsworth is the new director of Expressions Dance Company replacing Natalie Weir. Hollingsworth’s immediate past position was ballet mistress and creative associate with Queensland Ballet

Amy Hollingsworth. 2018. Photo: Transit Dance

Amy Hollingsworth, 2018. Photo: © Transit Dance

In Melbourne Antony Hamilton and Kristy Ayre will jointly lead Chunky Move following the resignation of Anouk van Dijk. They will be joined by Freya Waterson who will be responsible for the company’s national and international touring program.

Antony Hamilton, Kristy Ayre and Freya Waterson. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

I look forward to seeing how the companies develop in 2019.

  • Padma Menon

In Canberra it is interesting news that Padma Menon has decided to take up teaching once more. She says: ‘After almost a decade, I am offering classical Indian dance classes again! The classes will focus on teaching choreography and the technique of Indian dance. However, I always like to highlight the emotional heart of Indian theatre, and how these ancient traditions can be meaningful to us in our lives today. These classes are for adult beginners looking for a contemporary approach to an ancient tradition.’ Contact Moving Archetypes for more information: Moving Archetypes <info@movingarchetypes.com.au>

  • December reading

While relaxing over Christmas I had the luxury of reading a few books, including two dance books. Eileen. Stories from the Phillip Street Courtyard, newly published, is a kind of memoir in which Eileen Kramer, former Bodenwieser dancer, recalls her life in Sydney in the 1930s. To be frank, it is not a well edited publication, but the glimpse it gives of Sydney is interesting and Kramer’s illustrations, done in the style of naïve art, are a delight.

Douglas Wright’s ghost dance is a book that has been sitting, unread, on my bookshelf for a long time. Wright’s death earlier this year was my cue to get on with reading it. In his author’s note he writes: ‘ghost dance is not a conventional autobiography with a linear progression through life, but a faithful record of the journeys I felt compelled to make into my own past and that of a close friend.’ What an eye-opener some of those journeys were! And I must say I learnt a lot about New York, where Wright lived while a dancer with Paul Taylor—things from the 1980s about which I had absolutely no inkling. But what was incredibly striking was his beautiful, often startling use of language. It almost outdid the creativity of his choreography.

The rest of my reading concerned Indonesia … and Dances of Bali by Kartika D. Suardana awaits.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2018

Tate squash

Dance diary. April 2018

  • The Squash at the Tate Britain

While visiting the Tate Britain with the express purpose of examining the Tate’s excellent collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings (Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake was inspired by The Lady of Shallot), I stumbled on a piece of performance art, The Squash. The work of British sculptor and performance artist Anthea Hamilton, it involved a single performer (a different dancer each day apparently), dressed in a squash-like costume (chosen each day from a collection of costumes), moving around a white tiled area.

The program evolved from Hamilton’s research into performance art in the 1960s and 1970s and in particular from a photograph she found of a person dressed as a squash lying among vines. How does a squash move? Without much variety I think. But still it was a diversion.

  • A dancer in wartime: Gillian Lynne

Some dance fans in Australia may remember Gillian Lynne from her work in 1975–1976 on the production of Fool on the Hill, a work for the Australian Ballet especially commissioned for television. More recently, I was impressed by her work in the revival of Helpmann’s early work Miracle in the Gorbals for Birmingham Royal Ballet, which I was lucky enough to see in London in 2014. And of course she has had a stellar career in musical theatre.

Promotional shot by John McKinnon of cast members in Fool on the Hill. Robert Helpmann as Sergeant Pepper is foregound left, John Meehan is centre as the Puma Tamer. National Library of Australia.

I was not aware until very recently of A dancer in wartime, an autobiographical account of Lynne’s early career as a student and then dancer with Sadler’s Wells.

Published in 2011, it is a highly personal and moving work finishing with preparations for and the opening of the production of The Sleeping Beauty of 1946, the first production to open in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, after World War II. Definitely worth a read. Unfortunately, it leaves a few threads in the air. What, for example, happened to Geoffrey, a serviceman who seemed smitten with Lynne, who also seemed smitten with him. I have yet to discover the next part of the story!

  • Gray Veredon in France

I had the pleasure very recently of visiting choreographer and director Gray Veredon at his home, La Mirande, in the Ardèche region of southern France. Veredon choreographed a number of ballets with designs by Kristian Fredrikson for Royal New Zealand Ballet and choreographed and directed two operas for Wellington City Opera, also with designs by Fredrikson.

A cosy corner at La Mirande

Veredon was generous in sharing his thoughts about working with Fredrikson, who admired him greatly. Fredrikson wrote, ‘I have over 30 years found only two [choreographers] who were intuitively visual and determined to incorporate the design into choreography and dramatic visual statements.’ They were  Veredon and Graeme Murphy.

Veredon’s thoughts on his work with Fredrikson, and on his own choreographic concepts, will feed into my biography of Fredrikson, which is nearing completion.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2018

Featured image: Moment from The Squash, Tate Britain, April 2018. Phoro: Neville Potter

Tate squash

Dance diary. March 2016 … from foreign lands*

  • In Copenhagen

Edgar Degas, Little fourteen year old dancer (detail)

Edgar Degas’ beautiful sculpture of the little fourteen year old dancer, gorgeously displayed in Copenhagen’s gallery, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and seen above in head and shoulders detail.

Little mermaid web

The Little Mermaid who sits on a rock on the edge of Copenhagen’s harbour. The inspiration for the sculpture was dancer Ellen Price who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and danced with the Royal Danish Ballet from 1895 to 1913. Price appeared in 1909 as the Mermaid in Hans Beck’s ballet based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. For more see this article by Judith Mackrell with embedded archival footage.

  • In Dublin

Harry Clarke stained glass

‘Nelly dancing’, stained glass panel by Harry Clarke representing a scene from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley. ‘She came towards him dancing, moving the folds of the veil so that they unfolded as she danced.’ A tiny gem from the 1920s in the Hugh Lane Gallery.  For more see this link.

  • In Cork

I was interested to find in a bookshop in Cork a biography of Alicia Markova, which I had not previously come across: Tina Sutton, The Making of Markova. Diaghilev’s Baby Ballerina to Groundbreaking Icon (New York: Pegasus Books, 2013). The author is a journalist without a dance background (and admits in the preface that she ‘knew nothing about Markova’ before she began her project), so there are some explanatory passages and slabs of text that those with some dance knowledge may find a little irritating, or unnecessary. Some frustrating repetition too and overuse of adjectives such as ‘brilliant’ and ‘famous’. Sutton has, however, drawn on previously unpublished source material from Markova’s personal collection, including her journals, which makes for interesting reading. The Markova collection, which appears to be extensive, is held in Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Massachusetts.

  • In London

The laughing audience detail

The Laughing Audience (detail) in William Hogarth’s house in Hammersmith. Hogarth used this 1733 etching as a subscription ticket when he jointly advertised his large engraving Southwark Fair with the series The Rake’s Progress.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2016

* With apologies (or really in homage) to Alexei Ratmansky whose charming ballet From foreign lands made such an impression on me a few years ago.

Dance diary. October 2015

  • The return of Ochres

Bangarra Dance Theatre has a special program coming up at the end of November—a brief revival of Ochres at Carriageworks in Sydney beginning on 27 November.

Tara Gower in a study for 'Ochres'. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Tara Gower in study for Ochres. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Ochres was one of Bangarra’s earliest works and is still regarded as a milestone in the company’s history. Co-choreographed by Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong, it was first performed in Sydney in 1994. In 1995 it came to Canberra as part of the National Festival of Australian Theatre, the brainchild of Robyn Archer and for a few years one of the highlights of the theatre scene in Canberra. Anyone who was lucky enough to see Ochres back then in its first years will never, I am sure, forget Djakapurra Munyarryun smearing his body with yellow ochre as the work began.

Looking back through my archive, I discovered a review I had written for Muse, a monthly arts magazine produced in Canberra and initially edited by Helen Musa (Muse—like the Festival—is now, sadly, defunct). Re-reading the review I found I had speculated in 1995 on how Bangarra would develop in future years, especially in regard to the growth of a recognisable Bangarra style and vocabulary. Well that has certainly happened and it will be interesting to look back on Ochres as an early work in which Page and Walong were testing ways of doing just that—setting Bangarra on a journey to discover a contemporary, indigenous dance style.

Further details at this link.

  • Hannah O’Neill

One of my favourite French dance sites, Danses avec la plume, recently posted some news about Hannah O’Neill and the up-and-coming competitive examinations for promotion within the Paris Opera Ballet. Female dancers will face the jury on 3 November. O’Neill’s name has been suggested on a number of occasions for promotion into one of two positions as principal dancer. One author suggests O’Neill is an Etoile in the making and the future of the company! (Une promotion d’Hannah O’Neill me plairait beaucoup aussi. C’est une danseuse brillante, une future Étoile, elle est l’avenir de la troupe.)

The word is too that Benjamin Millepied, now directing Paris Opera Ballet, would have liked to have dispensed with this ingrained competitive system of promotion, but the dancers voted that it remain.

See this link for what is currently ‘trending’ regarding the promotions, and follow this this link to see an image of O’Neill (taken by Isabelle Aubert) with Pierre Lacotte after a performance of Lacotte’s production of Paquita.

  • All the things: QL2 Dance

As an annual event on its performance calendar, QL2 Dance produces a short program of dance for its young and less experienced dancers, aged from 8 to 17. This year the program, All the Things, included choreography by Ruth Osborne, Jamie Winbank, Alison Plevey and Joshua Lowe with perhaps the most interesting moments coming from Plevey’s ‘girly’ piece about shopping, ‘Material Matters’, and Joshua Lowe’s male-oriented ‘I Need’ about ‘needing’ technological devices in one’s life. It was an entertaining, if somewhat sexist juxtaposition of ideas in these two pieces, which had been strategically placed side by side in the program.

Scene from 'All the Things'. QL2 Dance, 2015. Photo: Lorna Sim

Scene from All the Things. QL2 Dance, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But the great thing about this annual event is the experience it gives these young dancers. James Batchelor (independent), Daniel Riley (Bangarra Dance Theatre) and Sam Young-Wright (Sydney Dance Company) are just three current professionals who had early dance experiences with Quantum Leap.

  • New book from photographer Lois Greenfield

One of the most pleasurable experiences I had while working in New York between 2006 and 2008 was visiting the studio of dance photographer Lois Greenfield. I was there to buy a collection of her images for the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. She is about to launch a new book. See this link for details.

  • Press for October

‘Lording it in high-tech high jinks.’ Review of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance: Dangerous GamesThe Canberra Times, 9 October 2015, ‘Times 2’ pp. 6–7. Online version.

‘Sizzling and simply sensational.’ Review of Natalie Weir’s Carmen Sweet for Expressions Dance Company. The Canberra Times, 13 October 2015, ‘Times 2’ p. 6. Online version.

‘Dancing our way next year.’ Preview of dance in Canberra in 2016. The Canberra Times, 26 October 2015, ‘Times  2’ p. 6. Online version.

‘Listless on the Lake.’ Review of Swan Lake by the Russian National Ballet Theatre. The Canberra Times, 31 October 2015, ARTS, p. 20. Online version .

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2015

Inheriting dance.’ An invitation from Pina.

I have had an ongoing interest in archiving dance for almost three decades, fuelled in particular by curatorships at the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Library of Australia in Canberra, and the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. They were three quite different experiences, especially in relation to the kinds of format on which dance is, or might be, recorded and how these formats are, or might be, preserved; and also in relation to the strength of focus on dance (or lack of it) I encountered at each of these institutions. The book Inheriting dance: an invitation from Pina, published by the Pina Bausch Foundation, was a chance to be reminded of the problems that face us if we want dance to be preserved for future generations. And of the pleasures encountered when positive steps are taken.

Pina Bausch died in 2009 and left a diverse range of materials in different formats as a legacy of her career. The chapter ‘Wild gardens. Archiving as translating’ lists them for us and the authors of this chapter (Gabriele Klein and Marc Wagenbach) remark:

Archiving was part of her choreographic process, an essential element of her work. It was an attempt to retain the momentary and the transient, to be able to remember, in order then to once again create an artistic present.

The Pina Bausch Foundation was set up shortly after Bausch’s death in order to carry on her heritage and find a way to archive her material so that it might remain a creative force in the future. Various archiving processes are discussed: the model of the so-called ‘static repository’; the ‘living archive’, that is one that is more open and collaborative; the idea of an archive being a ‘future workshop’; and other ideologies relating to interdisciplinary approaches and digitisation strategies.

The book gives some interesting examples of how the current Bausch archive has been used to bring certain Bausch works to the stage. I have to admit, however, to being most fascinated by a chapter by Royd Climenhaga relating to the reception of Bausch’s works in America. The juxtaposition he sets up between German and American dance traditions, and his discussion of efforts to incorporate Bausch’s vision into his own teaching and other experiences in America, make thought-provoking reading.

On the subject of archiving dance, my experience has been that most dance collections fall, for a whole variety of reasons, including financial and time-related ones, into the category of ‘static repositories’. But they certainly don’t have to be ‘arcane models of scholarship and institutionalized academic projects’, although personally I like using them for academic purposes, and feel lucky that I can. Not enough academically-inclined folk realise that dance is a worthwhile area of study. But static repositories can also be used as ‘living archives’. And here I am thinking of some performances created by Liz Lea, artistic director of Canberra Dance Theatre using cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional resources from Canberra’s collecting institutions including the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Gallery of Australia. Lea, I am sure, is not the only choreographer using dance resources from static repositories to create work, although I realise that this is a little different from recreating the work of a particular choreographer now no longer alive, as is the aim of the Pina Bausch Foundation.

Publicity shot for '120 Birds', 2011

Liz Lea in 120 Birds, a work drawing on resources from the National Library of Australia

I guess I am arguing for the role of all models of dance archives to be treasured and developed. In that context, this is a book worth reading by anyone who is interested in how dance will be perceived, created and recreated in the future, as it is, of course, for anyone interested in how one organisation is undertaking a particular project.

  • Marc Wagenbach and Pina Bausch Foundation (eds), Inheriting dance: an invitation from Pina  ([Transcript]: Bielenfeld, 2014). Paperback, 1992 pp., illustrated
    ISBN 978-3-8376-2785-5

This book is distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Footprint Books and is available through bookshops or direct from Footprint.

See also the website (still partially under construction I think) of the Pina Bausch Foundation at this link.

Michelle Potter, 22 March 2015

Featured image: Book cover, Inheriting dance. An invitation from Pina.

'Inheriting dance' cover image

Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Victoria Tennant

Victoria Tennant is the elder daughter of Cecil Tennant and Irina Baronova, the latter so well-known in Australia where she first charmed audiences with her dancing in 1938 with the Covent Garden Russian Ballet, and where she also spent her last years in a beautiful house at Byron Bay, New South Wales. Victoria Tennant, of course, knew Baronova in quite a different role from her legion of Australian fans: ‘Our mother was devoted to us,’ she writes, ‘and not exactly like anyone else’s mum. No one else’s mum did pirouettes in the butcher’s.’ This observation perhaps encapsulates the tenor of this book: it is a very intimate memento built around a personal collection of letters, photographs and other archival materials.

What is especially attractive about this book is its extensive use of photographs, which have been drawn largely from Baronova’s own collection. Many have never been published previously. Some are glamorous shots from Baronova’s Hollywood years. Others are informal shots of family and friends. Yet others are lesser known shots and early images from ballets in which Baronova starred.

Images from Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo by Victoria Tennant: clockwise from top left, Baronova in the movie Florian, 1940; driving with friends from San Diego to Los Angeles, 1936; in costume for Le Spectre de la rose, 1932; in costume for Thamar, 1935.

The book also has a special quality because much of the text consists of quotes from letters, an oral history made for the New York Public Library’s Dance Division, and recorded conversations made by Baronova at various times, although, unfortunately, it is not always clear which source is being used. But the informal voice of Baronova is strong. Anyone who met her, however briefly, or saw her speak in public, or teach or coach, will recognise that the words are hers and will be charmed all over again. These sections are differentiated from the linking text, written by Tennant, by the use of a differently coloured font.

There are some beautifully insightful moments when Baronova talks about working with various choreographers in different ballets. I was especially taken by her comments on Les Sylphides.

Nobody realizes that in Les Sylphides the whole thing is a dialogue between the Sylphides and the invisible creatures of the forest. It’s a whispering talk. All the gestures are listening, questioning, whispering back. It’s a conversation, and the Sylphides turn in the direction of the voice they hear and run to it. If you don’t know that, there are no reasons for doing anything, it’s just empty and boring. The whole ballet should be acting and reacting. To do it any other way is not fair to Fokine.

The chapter on Baronova’s time in Australia, 1938–1939, is short. But much has been written now about that time in Australia’s ballet history (although the last word has not yet been said I am sure) and the book is balanced in its coverage of the many strands of Baronova’s life. From a reference point of view it is good to have a list of Baronova’s repertoire from 1931 to 1946, although it is a shame that her film roles are not included as well.

Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo has been beautifully designed and produced and, with its strong focus on imagery, makes a wonderful companion to Baronova’s autobiography.

Irina Baronova/ Victoria Tennant cover Victoria Tennant, Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014)
Hardback, 244 pp. ISBN 978 0 226 16716 9 RRP USD55.00/£38.50.

Michelle Potter, 1 November 2014

Dame Maggie Scott. A life in dance

I am pleased to note that my biography of Dame Margaret Scott, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance, is now available from Australian book shops and from the publisher, Text Publishing, Melbourne. It is also available as an e-book from the usual suppliers. Further details and a link to e-distributors are available on the Text page. Read the back story as published in The Canberra Times at this link.

Dame Maggie Scott coverMany thanks to all those who have supported me in this venture.

Michelle Potter, 22 October 2014

THE LAUNCH: Australian Ballet studios, 10 November 2014

David McAllister launches 'Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance'
Maggie Scott and Graeme Murphy at the launch of 'Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance'

 

Above: (l–r) David McAllister, Maggie Scott and Graeme Murphy speaking at the launch of Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance. Below: Book signing at the launch

Book signing 'Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance'

  • Read another account of the launch (and opinions on other matters) on Shane Wombat’s post of 12 November 2014. The lady in the wheelchair in Mr (or is it Ms?) Wombat’s book signing photograph is Lucy Henty, Maggie’s much admired secretary and bursar in the early days of the Australian Ballet School.

MEDIA: [Update October 2018: most audio links are no longer available]

    • Listen to an interview with Maggie Scott recorded by Jon Faine on his Conversation Hour for Radio 774 ABC Melbourne at this link. Maggie’s voice begins at 23:22 mins. This is a particularly interesting interview for its engagement not just between Maggie and Jon Faine, but also between Maggie and Faine’s co-host, oncologist Dr Ranjana Srivastava, and his other guest on the program, former President of the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia, Jim Beggs.
    • Listen to an interview with Maggie Scott recorded by Philip Adams for ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live at this link.
    • For those who read French, listen to an interview with Penny Hueston, Senior Editor, Text Publishing, for SBS Radio at this link.
    • Read the mention of the launch of the book by David McAllister at this link.
    • The Australian Women’s Weekly, December issue, suggests the book would make an ideal Christmas present.AWW publicity
  • Listen to an interview with Maggie Scott, accompanied by a selection of music, on the program Music Makers with Mairi Nicolson on ABC Classic FM. Please note that this interview is available online for one month only. It was broadcast on 13 December 2014. Here is the link.
  • Read an interview with Dame Maggie Scott by Amanda Dunn published in The Age in Spectrum and The Canberra Times in Panorama on 20 December 2014. Online at this link.

REVIEWS and COMMENTS

  • ‘Impeccably researched … a fascinating biography of a major luminary.’ Sydney Arts Guide, 29 November 2014.
  • ‘A fascinating, multi-faceted read, not the least for [a] great insight into Australia during the 1940s.’ The Examiner (Launceston), 13 December 2014.
  • ‘…a fitting tribute to an outstanding woman of influence.’ The culture concept, 19 December 2014.
  • ‘…[among] the best memoirs of 2014 … gorgeous archival photography.’ The New Daily, 23 December 2014.
  • ‘There are peaks and troughs to the Life, with Michelle Potter truly excelling in the political lobbying involved in the setting up of the Australian Ballet…’ Limelight, February 2015.
  • ‘… a most welcome and important record of a remarkable woman … a substantial book, and a valuable addition to our dance history.’ Dance Australia, February/March 2015.