Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards (Dance) 2022

22 November 2022, Canberra Museum and Gallery

Dance in Canberra showed its current and growing strength in the annual awards given by the Canberra Critics’ Circle. Five recipients were honoured with a dance award, the most for a single year (at least as far as I can recall) in the 32 year history of the CCC awards, which celebrate originality, excellence, energy and creativity across the arts. Here are the dance recipients, with citations.

ALI MAYES

For a performance that was both technically and theatrically strong, and in which characterisation of a leading role was maintained in an exceptional manner throughout. To Ali Mayes for Juliet in the Training Ground’s Unravel.

Read my review at this link.

Joshua Walsh and Ali Mayes in a scene from Unravel, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

AUSDANCE ACT

For its initiative in bringing together dance filmmakers from the ACT and South Australia in October 2021 and September 2022 in which 9 short films were commissioned and shown, thus widening knowledge and understanding of Canberra’s dance culture beyond the ACT. To Ausdance ACT for their two collaborative programs of Dance.Focus.

Scroll down through this link to read my comments from the September season.

Dance.Focus 2022 montage

JAKE SILVESTRO

For an exceptional full-length solo performance choreographed using a variety of physical genres combined with a strong visual arts component and an underlying focus on issues concerning the disastrous bushfires that ravaged parts of Australia in December 2019. To Jake Silvestro for his production of and performance in December.

Read my review at this link.

Jake Silvestro in December, 2022. Photo: © Mark Turner

AUSTRALIAN DANCE PARTY

For an adventurous site-specific work that explored a Canberra sculpture and its surrounding watery setting through innovative dance, and exceptional lighting and sound design, to give the audience a highly immersive experience. To Australian Dance Party for LESS.

Read my review at this link.

Scene from LESS, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

DANNY RILEY

For his charismatic, athletic performance in his self-choreographed work Similar, Same but Different, based on a piece choreographed by Ruth Osborne for Riley’s brother, and performed against a film of Osborne’s work. Similar, Same but Different was performed with a calm assurance that was as captivating as it was moving.  To Danny Riley for Similar, Same but Different.

Scroll through this link to read my comments on the 2020 production of Similar, Same but Different.

Danny Riley in Similar, Same but Different. Hot to Trot, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim
Danny Riley in Similar, Same but different, 20220 Photo: © Lorna Sim

Congratulations to those five awardees for moving Canberra dance forward during 2022.

Michelle Potter, 23 November 2022

Featured image: Ali Mayes and Joshua Walsh in rehearsal for Unravel, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Big Little Things. QL2 Dance

14 October 2022. Canberra College Theatre. The Chaos Project, 2022

The Chaos Project for 2022 had some features that were a little different from previous Chaos seasons. The most obvious difference, and one that had an effect on how the show appeared (at least to me), was the age range of the dancers. In 2022, QL2 Dance opened its classes to a new, young age range—those aged 5 to 8—and some of the dancers in Big Little Things looked very young. Not only that, the oldest dancer was about 18 whereas on previous occasions dancers in their early twenties had appeared. I have nothing but praise for the way all the dancers performed—and there were many moments of interaction between the age groups. In fact some of the very young ones were extraordinarily theatrical in the way they approached the performance. But the performance definitely had a different feel. Although the Chaos Project has never been regarded as a pre-professional event, there has always been a feeling that some dancers performing in the project were destined to move ahead. That feeling didn’t emerge so strongly on this occasion and I couldn’t help wondering why?

Big Little Things was in seven sections, although the performance, as it always is with Chaos, was a continuous one with beautifully smooth and logical connections between the end of one section and the beginning of the next. Each section looked at different ways in which we all connect with each other and choreography was by five different artists—Ruth Osborne, Alana Stenning, Patricia Hayes Kavanagh, Stephen Gow and Lilah Gow—always in collaboration with the dancers.

Scene from Big Little Things. The Chaos Project 2022, QL2 Dance. Photo: © Lorna Sim

I especially enjoyed the opening section ‘Ripples in the Pond’, choreographed by Osborne. Its beautiful circular patterns gave real momentum to the section. But Stephen Gow’s ‘Broken Telephone’, made on the male dancers only, was also a highlight. It focused on ‘Truthless speculations, diminishing or exaggerating facts. Rumours’. It had some interesting groupings as dancers moved together and whispered to each other. It was subtle and yet obvious and contained some exceptionally fluid and expressive arm movements. I was not so thrilled with the section made for the female dancers only. Called ‘I have something to say’, it was inspired by protest and the ‘power of the voice’. A commendable subject for sure, but the very loud shouting of the sentence ‘I have something to say’ went on for too long. The point was made instantly and more dancing and less shouting would have been preferable. Ruth Osborne created the finale cum curtain call section, which was, and always is, great entertainment.

Despite a few frustrating aspects to this year’s Chaos Project, I always come away with the thrill of seeing young dancers being initiated so well into techniques of stage performance. They are always beautifully trained in how to enter and leave the stage, in how to work as a group, in how to acknowledge each other, and so on. They are always a real credit to those who work with them to produce the show.

Michelle Potter, 16 October 2022

Featured image: Scene from Big Little Things. The Chaos Project 2022, QL2 Dance. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. September 2022

This month’s dance diary has, with one significant exception, a Canberra focus, from news about writing by Canberra-based authors (including me) to performances generated, or soon to be performed from within the ACT.

  • Glimpses of Graeme

My book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, is currently being printed and will be available shortly from the Hobart-based company FortySouth Publishing. The book is a collection of articles and reviews I have written over several decades about Murphy’s career. The writing is arranged according to themes I think are noticeable in Murphy’s output, including ’Music Initiatives’, ’Crossing Generations’, ’Approaches to Narrative’ and ’Postmodernism’.

Cover for Glimpses of Graeme designed by Kent Whitmore with a detail from an image by Branco Gaica showing Murphy during the production of his 1995 work, Fornicon

This month’s featured image shows Murphy and cast taking a curtain call following a performance in 2014 of Murphy’s Swan Lake. The image, shot by Lisa Tomasetti, fills the inside cover (front and back) of the book. More information on how to secure your copy will appear shortly.

UPDATE, 4 October 2022: The book is now for sale at the FortySouth online shop. Only 350 copies have been printed so buy your copy soon at this link.

  • Parijatham from the Kuchipudi dance repertoire

Canberra’s Sadhanalaya School of Arts is bringing Parijatham, a timeless, iconic dance drama in the classical Indian dance style, Kuchipudi, to the stage in early November. It tells the story of conflict created between two of Lord Krishna’s consorts, Queen Rukmini and Queen Satyabhama. It is set to classical South Indian music and is one of 15 dance dramas from the admired choreographer, Dr Vempati Chinnasatyam.

Divyusha Polepalli and Vanaja Dasika in a scene from Parijatham. Photo: © Sanjeta Sridhar

In the image above, Lord Krishna, played by Divyusha Polepalli tries to pacify the enraged Queen Satyabhama, played by Sadhanalaya School of Arts Director Vanaja Dasika, after she discovers Krishna has given his favourite consort Queen Rukmini a divine parijatha (jasmine) flower instead of giving it to her.

The work will have two performances only on 6 November at the Gungahlin College Theatre. Book at this link.

  • Daphne Deane

Canberra writer, John Anderson, has been researching for a number of years the life and career of Daphne Deane, an Australian with extensive experience in the presentation of theatrical activities around the world in the first half of the 20th century. I first came across the name Daphne Deane when researching the history if the Ballet Russes companies and their visits to Australia between 1936 and 1940 but very little appeared to have been written and published about her life and activities.

John Anderson’s book is nothing short of an eye-opener! We have much to learn about a woman who was all but written out of most of the historical accounts of the visits to Australia by the Ballets Russes companies, but whose activities during and beyond those visits were extensive. Anderson notes, for example, that Arnold Haskell’s book, Dancing round the world, which has become ’the putative history’ of the 1936-1937 tour to Australia simply ignores Deane by not mentioning her once. Anderson writes, ‘Deane effectively became a woman who never was, written out of the record of the tour’ and later ’In Haskell’s significant omission, we can see the beginnings of a man-made amnesia about Deane’s part in the tour.’

Cover design by Paul Anderson

Anderson’s book is available, free to read and download, as an e-text via Trove. Follow this link.

  • Dance.Focus 22—Film Premieres

Dance Hub SA and Ausdance ACT recently partnered to commission five filmmakers to produce a short film to ’challenge, resonate and engage with screen dance.’ The films premiered on five consecutive evenings and are now available to watch via YouTube. More information and links to the five films are here.

I especially enjoyed Son; Like Mother; Like Son danced by Petra Szabo Heath with her son Rowan and filmed by Tim Baroff with music by Rian Teoh. The outdoor setting was stunning and nicely juxtaposed with an indoor one, and the work reminded me of a comment once made by Graeme Murphy, ’We all dance from the moment we are born.’ But there was also rather more dancing in this short film than in most of the others in this series, which made me wonder what screen dance is, or how those who make screen dance conceive of its dance component.

  • Promotions at Queensland Ballet

And on a non-Canberra note, but one I am really pleased to include, Queensland Ballet has just promoted Mia Heathcote and Patricio Revé to principal artists. Both dancers have been dancing superbly recently and the promotions are well deserved.

Patricio Revé and Mia Heathote in Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

As it happens, I have been following Heathcote’s progress since she was at the Australian Ballet School when she appeared in a program called Let’s Dance in 2012. See this link (it includes a gorgeous photo of Heathcote from Tim Harbour’s work, Sweedeedee). See also tags for Heathcote and Revé.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2022

Featured image: Graeme Murphy taking a curtain call with dancers (l-r) Brett Chynoweth, Kevin Jackson, Lana Jones, Rudy Hawkes and Miwako Kubota following a performance of Murphy’s Swan Lake. The Australian Ballet, 2014. Photo: © Lisa Tomasetti

Liz Lea in the 'showgirl' sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dance diary. July 2022

  • Liz Lea heads to Edinburgh

Canberra stalwart Liz Lea is taking her much acclaimed show, RED, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month. It opens on 16 August at Dance Base and is being promoted in Edinburgh in the following terms:

Red is fearless, Red is fierce, Red is powerful—a one-woman dance theatre work with a hint of fun and fabulousness. You will laugh, you’ll cry, you won’t forget. A poignant, riotous, glamorous and ultimately triumphant exploration of one woman’s story—an exquisite exploration of female endurance. Described as unforgettable, shattering and hilarious, Red is a soul-baring retelling of one woman’s journey through illness and recovery with an eye to the future. Honest, face-to-face dialogue with the audience, balanced with beautifully framed film and movement.

Read my review of RED from its premiere performance in March 2018 at this link.

Liz Lea in the finale to RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim
Liz Lea in the finale to RED. Canberra 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim
  • United Ukrainian Ballet

The United Ukrainian Ballet is coming to Australia in October. It will present a production of Swan Lake in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide on the dates and at the venues listed below.

Venue: Plenary MCEC, Melbourne
Date: 20-23 Oct 2022

Venue: Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC, Sydney
Date: 28-30 Oct 2022

Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide
Date: 10-13 Nov 2022

The company is made up of around 60 dancers who have escaped the war in Ukraine and who are living and rehearsing together in the Netherlands. Dancers come from various companies including National Opera of Ukraine, Kharkiv Opera Theatre and Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre. The company is led by former prima ballerina of Dutch National Ballet, Inge de Yongh. Prior to bringing Swan Lake to Australia the company will perform in the Netherlands and London bringing to the stage a new version of Giselle by Alexei Ratmansky.

  • Queensland Ballet’s Talbot Theatre

Brisbane’s Thomas Dixon Centre, Queensland Ballet’s home since the 1990s, has been beautifully redeveloped and now contains a small theatre, the Talbot Theatre, where very recently I watched a performance of Bespoke (of which more later). The theatre is a real gem. It has a seating capacity of 351 and is perfect for showings of new choreography, such as Bespoke.. But its best feature is its sightlines. I was sitting on the very end of a row but had a clear view of every part of the stage. Exceptional design I think.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2022

Featured image: Liz Lea in the ’showgirl’ scene from RED. Canberra 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Liz Lea in the 'showgirl' sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Unravel. The Training Ground

22 July 2022, Erindale Theatre, Canberra

‘Two households both alike in dignity …’ So goes the opening line of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, referring as it does to the Montagues and the Capulets, two families whose life, and their longstanding feud with each other, unfold in the play. There’s not much dignity, however, between the Montagues and the Capulets as they are portrayed in Unravel, the latest work from Canberra’s Training Ground company. But there is a lot of aggression both in gesture and facial expression and in the choreography. The Montagues are a family of ‘corporate tycoons’ and the Capulets are ‘common delinquents’, and their behaviour reflects these lifestyles.

This is clearly not the Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare created but an imagining (or unravelling) by Bonnie Neate and Suzi Piani, Training Ground’s directors. In addition to moving the story into the present (a world of tycoons and delinquents?), Paris, normally a male character seeking marriage to Juliet, is a woman, danced with suitable overkill by Hollie Teer, soon to be betrothed (she hopes) to Romeo. The significant scene of the ball where Romeo first encounters Juliet is a ‘Montague Masquerade Ball’ rather than one held by the Capulets. There is no priest to marry the couple and to dispense a potion. And Juliet eventually commits suicide in her bathtub (unable to manage the feuding situation, which remains from Shakespeare, and the interference by Paris?).

Romeo sees Juliet for the first time at the Montague Masquerade Ball in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Choreographically there were moments to remember, especially some of the groupings of dancers—I especially remember an undulating line of dancers towards the end—and the whole was beautifully rehearsed and strongly performed. But there is no doubt in my mind that the duets between Romeo and Juliet were the highlights. Ali Mayes (Juliet) has exceptional fluidity, and extraordinary line in all her movements as a result of her beautifully proportioned limbs. Her duets with Joshua Walsh (Romeo) were choreographed to exploit that line and her ability to move her body to fill the space around her.

Romeo and Juliet dance together in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Film by Cowboy Hat Films was nicely incorporated on several occasions. Footage set the scene to explain the nature of two households, for example. The Montagues at one point appear in a modern office setting (Canberra’s Brindabella Business Park perhaps) where they are directed to work by Mrs Montague, a role performed with appropriate belligerence by Imogen Addison, while the Capulets are seen making their way along an alley filled with rubbish bins, detritus and graffiti (no doubt one of many in Canberra’s Civic Centre). Less confrontational but nevertheless especially powerful, was the watery footage that followed Juliet’s suicide.

The aspect of the production that I found the least satisfying was its episodic nature. Of course there are many episodes in the R & J story that need to be shown whatever the context, but it was annoying when one episode finished and another started without some kind of linking mechanism. It was often too abrupt. A similar situation arose with the changes to the music. One musical excerpt would stop suddenly, there would be silence, and then another, quite different in mood, would start. Similarly with some of the footage and the very bright (overbright I think) lighting of some scenes.

But despite these gripes, the work was well produced and performed and moved Canberra dance in a new and unusual direction. The Training Ground is an initiative of Neate and Piani to give performance opportunities to pre-professional and advanced contemporary dancers in the ACT and surrounding regions.

Michelle Potter, 25 July 2022

Featured image: Ali Mayes as Juliet and Joshua Walsh as Romeo in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Dance diary. June 2022

  • Lauren Honcope

I was sorry to miss a recent farewell event for Lauren Honcope, who retired last year, 2021, as President of Ausdance ACT. Honcope joined the Ausdance ACT board in 2009 and became president in 2011.

In addition to her tireless work for Ausdance, including seeing the organisation through some difficult times as far as funding was concerned, Honcope has been one of Canberra’s strongest advocates for dance in the ACT. She has served on the boards of the Canberra Theatre Trust; of Canberra’s first professional dance company, Human Veins Dance Theatre, led by Don Asker; and, perhaps most memorably from that time before her work with Ausdance, of the Meryl Tankard Company. It was, in fact, Honcope who persuaded Tankard to come to Canberra for an interview to take over from Asker after he decided to leave Human Veins to take up a Churchill Fellowship.

As a practising lawyer, Honcope brought strong, professional leadership skills to all her theatrical activities. She was admired by all who had contact with her, and another Canberra resident who was unable to be present at the farewell wrote of her work for Ausdance: ‘She was always generous with her time and wisdom to support the arts, and a true advocate.’

I wish her well as she moves into new endeavours, to which I am sure she will continue to bring that same professionalism and generosity.

  • Impermanence. Sydney Dance Company

Sydney Dance Company has begun an extensive regional tour across New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia of Rafael Bonachela’s 2021 production Impermanence. The tour concludes in Melbourne where it plays at the Arts Centre from 6-10 September. Don’t miss it if it is playing near you. See Sydney Dance Company’s website for details of dates and venues and read my review from 2021 at this link.

Emily Seymour, Jacopo Grabar, and Rhys Kosakowski in 'Impermanence'. Sydney Dance Company and the Australian String Quartet, 2021. Photo: © Pedro Greig
Emily Seymour, Jacopo Grabar, and Rhys Kosakowski in Impermanence. Sydney Dance Company and the Australian String Quartet, 2021. Photo: © Pedro Greig
  • From the past …

During a major clean out of a room in my house I came across a small blue case filled with Leichner products—old sticks of grease paint in numbers 5, 5½, 9 and black, and a container of ‘theatrical blending powder (neutral)’. It was my old (very old) makeup case and, as well as the greasepaint and powder, it also contained a Leichner Make Up Chart no. 16 Ballet, very crumpled and stained. On the back was a list, missing many details, of the first shows I danced in including three Christmas pantomimes, which were the first shows for which I was paid an actors’ equity salary.

Here is the list of those early performances in which I appeared, some of which I had quite forgotten about!
Aladdin Christmas pantomime, 1959
Sydney Ballet Group, Conservatorium 1960
Mother Goose, Christmas Pantomime, 1960
Sydney Ballet Group, Elizabethan Theatre, 1962
Jack and the Beanstalk, Christmas Pantomime, 1962
Musicale, Legion House, 1963
Ballet Australia, Elizabethan Theatre, 1964
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 1
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 2
Recital, Australian Academy of Ballet, 1965
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 3

And below is that crumpled and stained chart. Does anyone use greasepaint these days?

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2022

Featured image: Lauren Honcope speaking at a recent Ausdance ACT event.


Dance diary. May 2022

  • The Johnston Collection. On Kristian Fredrikson

My talk for Melbourne’s Johnston Collection, Kristian Fredrikson. Theatre Designer Extraordinaire, will finally take place on 22 June 2022 just one year later than scheduled. No need, I am sure, to give a reason for its earlier cancellation. I am very much looking forward to presenting this talk, which will include short extracts from some of the film productions for which Fredrikson created designs, including Undercover, which tells the story of the founding of the Berlei undergarment brand.

Further information about the talk is at this link: The Johnston Collection: What’s On.

  • Australian Ballet News

The Australian Ballet has announced a number of changes to its performing and administrative team. In May, at the end of the company’s Sydney season, ten dancers were promoted:

Jill Ogai from Soloist to Senior Artist
Nathan Brook from Soloist to Senior Artist
Imogen Chapman Soloist to Senior Artist
Rina Nemoto from Soloist to Senior Artist
Lucien Xu from Coryphée to Soloist
Mason Lovegrove from Coryphée to Soloist
Luke Marchant from Coryphée to Soloist
Katherine Sonnekus from Corps de Ballet to Coryphée
Aya Watanabe from Corps de Ballet to Coryphée
George-Murray Nightingale from Corps de Ballet to Coryphée

George-Murray Nightingale and Lucien Xu in Graeme Murphy’s Grand. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Kate Longley

In administrative news, the chairman of the board of the Australian Ballet has announced that Libby Christie, the company’s Executive Director, will step down from the position at the end of 2022, after a tenure of close to ten years.

But the Australian Ballet will also face a difficult time in 2024 when the State Theatre at the Arts Centre in Melbourne, where the Australian Ballet performs over several months, and which it regards really as its home, will close for three years as part of the redevelopment of the arts precinct. Apparently David Hallberg is busy trying to find an alternative theatre in Melbourne. But then the company faced similar difficulties a few years ago in Sydney when the Opera Theatre of the Sydney Opera House was unavailable as it too went through renovations. It was perhaps less than three years of closure in Sydney but the company survived then and I’m sure it will this time too.

  • And from Queensland Ballet

Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists, along with artistic director Li Cunxin, a group of dancers from the main company, and Christian Tátchev from Queensland Ballet Academy, will head to London any day now. The dancers will perform in the Linbury Theatre of the Royal Opera House from 4-6 June as part of a cultural exchange between Australia and the United Kingdom. They will be taking an exciting program of three works under the title of Southern Lights. Those three works are Perfect Strangers by Jack Lister, associate choreographer with Queensland Ballet and a dancer with Australasian Dance Collective; Fallen by Natalie Weir, Queensland Ballet’s resident choreographer; and Appearance of Colour by Loughlan Prior, resident choreographer with Royal New Zealand Ballet.

In addition to the performances, Li will be joined by Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare and dancer Leanne Benjamin for an ‘In Conversation’ session, and Tátchev will conduct open classes for dancers from the Royal Ballet School

  • Not forgetting New Zealand

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has also announced a retirement. Katherine and Joseph Skelton will give their last performance with the company in June. It has been a while since I saw Royal New Zealand Ballet perform live but I have especially strong memories of Joseph Skelton dancing the peasant pas de deux with Bronte Kelly in Giselle in 2016. Both dancers are mentioned in various posts on this website. See Katherine Skelton and Joseph Skelton.

RNZB is filming the pair in the pas de deux from Giselle Act II and the film will be made available on RNZB’s Facebook page on 1 June.

  • Street names in Whitlam (a new-ish Canberra suburb)

There has been discussion at various times about naming streets in Canberra suburbs after people who are thought to be distinguished Australians. There was quite recently discussion about abandoning the process completely with complaints being made that the process was not an inclusive one, and that in particular men outnumbered women (along with several other issues). Well not so long ago I joined Julie Dyson and Lauren Honcope in helping the ACT Government select names of those connected with dance to be used as street names in the new-ish suburb of Whitlam. The suburb was named after former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and the decision was to name the streets after figures who had been prominent in the arts (given Whitlam’s strong support of the arts). I looked back at what was eventually chosen (and it was for an initial stage of development of the suburb), and its seems to me that the argument that diversity was lacking is not correct (at least not in this case). The names selected for this stage included men, women, First Nations people, and people known to belong to the LGBTI… community. Some have a lovely ring to them too—Keith Bain Crest, Laurel Martyn View, Arkwookerum Street for example. I’m looking forward to what the next stage will bring.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2022

Featured image: Still from Undercover, Palm Beach Pictures, 1982

Terra Firma. Quantum Leap

26 May 2022. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

The constant in productions staged by QL2 for Quantum Leap, the organisation’s auditioned youth dance ensemble for ages 14-26, is the way the dancers are choreographed into groupings. The nature of the groupings varies of course from choreographer to choreographer and work to work, but we can always see groups forming and breaking apart, changing in position on the stage, closing up into tight groupings, spreading apart and joining together with outstretched arms, building up a grouping with one dancer standing on another, and any number of variations on these choreographic ideas. In many respects, that the choreography is based on changing group structures is a result of the fact that Quantum Leap is not an ensemble that features particular dancers over others, or not usually. It is a group featuring everyone.

Of the three works shown as part of Terra Firma, Quantum Leap’s most recent triple bill, it was Melanie Lane’s work Metal Park that used group structures in the most engaging way. Metal Park focused on potential relationships between the human body and objects of various kinds. As the work began, we noticed large black objects in various spots on the stage, which were carried off but eventually brought back and opened up to display a variety of static objects in various shapes and colours. Throughout the work the dancers interacted with these and other objects, which included long poles that were arranged in different combinations on the stage floor. Sometimes dancers were treated as objects and were carried across the stage by other dancers.

But, to the group structures: what was most engaging was the way Lane gave groups of dancers a movement structure as well as a static one. Supported by a sound score from Christopher Clark, there were moments when the dancers moved in unison with beautifully rehearsed, often small but distinct movements of the feet, hands and upper body. It was almost militaristic in detail and performance, but was also engaging to watch.

Perhaps overall the work was just a little too long—perhaps the section with the poles and the floor design created with them could have been a little shorter. But Lane’s choreography continues to be something to keep watching as she continues her already admirable career.

Metal Park was followed by Shifting Ground from Cadi McCarthy. It focused on navigating the changing nature of the world, whether seen globally or in a more personal manner, and the cast included some dancers from Flipside Project, a youth group from Newcastle directed by McCarthy. The most obvious feature coming through the work, at least for me, was that personal relationships are sometimes difficult, which was clear not so much through choreography but through facial expressions.

Scene from Shifting Ground. Photo: © Lorna Sim

The evening closed with Tides of Time by Synergy Styles (Stephen and Lilah Gow), which set out to examine ‘temporal orientation’ and the ideas of time present, past and future. It began in a mesmerising fashion as filmed clips (created by Wildbear Digital) played across the stage space. They showed dancers, seen in a variety of poses, gliding through space as if extracted from reality. The work then moved on to live performance against a background of watery images, which provided a captivating environment for the choreography.

I felt, as I often do with Quantum Leap productions, that the themes were easily explained in words and the social and political implications were strong and contemporary. But those themes and their implications were not always expressed well in a choreographic sense. I continue to wonder what Quantum Leap’s shows would be like without such highly detailed and theoretical scenarios. Dance can convey the deepest of meanings but the meaning has to come from the choreography, which doesn’t always happen with Quantum Leap productions.

Terra Firma was, however, beautifully produced and dressed (costumes by Cate Clelland) and the standard of performance by the dancers was outstanding. And the manner in which Quantum Leap manages its curtain calls continues to be exceptional!

Michelle Potter, 29 May 2022

Featured image: Scene from Metal Park. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Talking to Melanie Lane

My first encounter with the choreography of Melanie Lane was in 2019 when her work WOOF was part of a Sydney Dance Company triple bill called Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane. WOOF, which two years earlier had been a hit in Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed program, was for me the outstanding work on the 2019 triple bill. I had also seen Lane perform, along with Lilian Steiner, in Lucy Guerin’s SPLIT in 2018. But really I was way behind the times. Lane had already established herself as a choreographer and performer well before I had the chance to see her productions.

Lane was born in Sydney but grew up in Canberra and undertook intensive training with Janet Karin at the National Capital Ballet School. Lane recalls with pleasure and admiration the influence Karin had on her development and remembers in particular a program Karin staged in 1989 for the school’s National Capital Dancers. It featured newly choreographed works by Joe Scoglio (Midstream), Natalie Weir (The Host) and Paul Mercurio (A Moment of Choice). ‘Janet was so supportive of new choreography,’ Lane says. ‘I really got connected with contemporary movement as a result.’

After completing her school studies at Canberra’s Stirling College, Lane went to Perth to study at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) from where she graduated with a Diploma of Performing Arts, and where she developed further her interest in contemporary dance and choreography. Between 2000 and 2014 she worked with a range of companies and in a range of cities and venues in Europe as both a performer and choreographer. Now Lane is back in Canberra and her newest work, Metal Park, will be performed by Quantum Leap, Canberra’s youth dance company, in a triple bill named Terra Firma.

After the opening in Vienna in April of The Trojan Women, a theatre piece directed by Australian Adena Jacobs with choreography by Lane, and following a brief stint in Heidelberg doing preliminary work on a dance theatre piece due to open next year, Lane arrived in Canberra just two weeks before Metal Park’s opening night. I wondered how she would go about teaching the new work, and preparing the dancers of Quantum Leap for the experience.

‘I began working with Quantum Leap on Metal Park, which is the first work I have created in Canberra, in January of this year,’ she says. ‘We had an intensive two and a half weeks of development time. It was a little challenging because of the pandemic, which was at a peak. We had dancers in lockdown, dancers zooming in and a number of other difficulties. Then I had to go back to Europe. But now I’m here and I am looking forward to getting back to work in person with the dancers. I find working with young people quite inspiring. There is something magical about the sense of imagination and creativity they have, and their level of enthusiasm and energy is thrilling.’

Quantum Leap dancers rehearsing Metal Park, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Metal Park is an extension of aspects of some of Lane’s earlier works in which she has examined links between the body and objects or props. ‘It’s about zooming in on everyday reactions we have with materiality,’ she explains, ‘and using those reactions to question how we relate to our environment. It is a way too of encouraging the dancers to work with materials—objects of various kinds— as part of their practice.’ Metal Park will be performed to a sound composition by Lane’s partner, Christopher Clark, and will have lighting by Mark Dyson.

We can look forward too to further work from Lane in Canberra. In June she will be appearing at the National Gallery of Australia with Jo Lloyd (details to be confirmed). Also in June the Brisbane-based Australasian Dance Collective will present her work Alterum at the Canberra Theatre Centre as part of a triple bill, Three. She will also shortly start preliminary work on a future production in collaboration with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. Stay tuned.

Terra Firma, which will include works by Cadi McCarthy and Steve and Lilah Gow in addition to Lane’s Metal Park, is at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, from 26 to 28 May 2022.

Michelle Potter, 15 May 2022

Featured image: Melanie Lane conducting a summer intensive for her new work Metal Park, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. April 2022

  • Australian Dance Week 2022

Ausdance ACT has welcomed the beginning of Dance Week with an opening event held at Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra, on International Dance Day, 29 April.

Following this celebratory opening, the ACT organisation has programmed a varied selection of events over the week until 8 May. The program reflects the current focus in the ACT on community dance and dance for people with varying skills and interests throughout that community. There is a strong focus in the 2022 program on classes to try and workshops to experience. One of the most fascinating to my mind happens on 1 May and is the Chinese Tiger and Lion Dance Workshop—not something that is offered often! See the full program at this link.

In addition, QL2 Dance launched, also on 29 April, a 12 minute film, Unavoidable casualty. This film examines ways in which young dancers might express how they have felt and managed difficult, even traumatic events they have experienced, or seen others experience. Unavoidable casualty is available to watch until 8 May at this link. Watch to the end to see a beautiful finishing section in which some of the dancers are introduced one by one. Choreography is by Stephen Gow and Ruth Osborne.

Scene from Unavoidable casualty. QL2 Dance, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim
  • A story from my past

In 2019 I was in New York briefly for the celebration of 75 years of the Dance Division of the New York Public Library. As part of the event I was asked to talk about the acquisitions I especially remember from my time as curator there. It brought back memories of a rather amazing visit I made to a gallery in downtown Manhattan in 2007.

A small but significant collection of posters from the 1960s to the 1980s for performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was being prepared for sale in the gallery. They were the work of some of those truly exceptional artists who collaborated with MCDC during those decades: Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Morris Graves, Jasper Johns and others. The suggestion came that I should go down to this gallery and see if there was any material I would like for the Dance Division. So off I went. There I was met by Julian Lethbridge, himself a fine artist. Julian introduced me to the gentleman who was hanging the show. There he was up a ladder in his jeans. ‘Oh Michelle,’ Julian said. ‘I’d like you to meet Jasper Johns.’ Only in New York, I thought to myself.

But apart from the shock that the man up the ladder in jeans was Jasper Johns, the material was amazing and every poster was signed by Merce. And the escapade was also an example of the philanthropic generosity that keeps the Dance Division running. The items I selected were bought for the Division by Anne Bass and were appropriately hung in the Division’s 2007 exhibition INVENTION Merce Cunningham and collaborators.

I was reminded of this acquisition and the meeting I had with Jasper Johns when just recently I noticed, via Google Analytics, that views of the obituary on this website, which I wrote for Anne in 2020, had been steadily rising (around the second anniversary of her death).

  • Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina live (as opposed to the streamed version) left me a little underwhelmed, so I decided not to do a full review but simply to make a few comments. Despite the so-called ’rave reviews’ that have appeared in various places, I found it interesting but not a great production, despite some exceptional design and projections, and some fine dancing. It was highly episodic, which is hardly surprising given the length and depth of the book on which it was based. But for me that episodic nature meant that there was no strong through line to the production. My mind flicked back to Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet. It was also episodic in nature as it skipped from place to place, era to era. But one of its great strengths was the addition to the work of the symbolic figure of Death, powerfully performed by Adam Bull. Death constantly hovered in the background and drew the episodes together.

Apart from the problem of the work’s episodic nature, I still find it hard to understand why the ending, which followed Anna’s suicide, was so, so long and featured (and ended with) two secondary characters, Kitty and Levin. Wasn’t the ballet about Anna Karenina?

  • A new Swan Lake?

As part of a Mothers’ Day promotional email, I discovered that the Australian Ballet is planning a new production of Swan Lake for 2023! I was a little surprised I have to say but will wait to hear more before further comments.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2022

Featured image: Poster for Ausdance ACT Dance Week 2022