Thank you to all those who have accessed this website over 2021. Your loyalty is much appreciated and I look forward to your visits, and comments, in 2022. Happy New Year and here’s hoping there will be more live performances for us to see in 2022.
Dance and disability
Canberra has long had a strong and diverse dance program for those with a disability. Nowhere was this more clear than on 3 December, the International Day of People with a Disability—Australia. An event held at the National Portrait Gallery, led by Liz Lea, presented short works by various Canberra-based groups including ZEST—Dance for Parkinsons, the Deaf Butterflies Group and Lea’s new group, Chameleon Collective. As a particular highlight, a group of dancers from Canberra’s company of senior performers, the GOLDS, along with dancers from QL2 Dance and elsewhere also gave a performance as part of ON DISPLAY GLOBAL, a ‘human sculpture court’ initiative that began in 2015 in New York as part of a now-world-wide event celebrating the occasion.
‘In remembrance of times past’
When writing my post The Best of 2021 I used the phrase ’in remembrance of times past’ (a common translation of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu). I used the phrase in a specific sense, one relating to changes in the way newspapers report (or don’t) on the arts these days. But shortly after using that phrase in my post, I chanced to come across some images taken in 2010 during a day spent in Auvers-sur-Oise in France. At the time we were there—just for a day to see the town where Vincent van Gogh spent his final days—a community dance group from Brittany was visiting. Here are some photos that date back to that day.
That controversial ballet
Not so long ago I received a message in the contact box for this website about La Bayadère. In my Dance diary. July 2021 I had posted a piece about the ballet and the issues that were arising around the world, in particular in the United States, about the Indian context of that work. Well it seems that similar issues are now arising in Australia. The contact box message came from a member of the Hindu community in Australia and was similar in content to the comments that were circulating elsewhere in the world. In part the message I received said, ‘Hindus are urging “The Australian Ballet” to discard “La Bayadère” performance from its “Summertime Ballet Gala”; scheduled for February 17-19, 2022 in Melbourne; which they feel seriously trivializes Eastern religious and other traditions.’
I am, of course, curious to know if anything will eventuate, but I think it is important to add that it is The Kingdom of the Shades scene that is being presented in Melbourne, not the full-length Bayadère.
Michelle Potter, 31 December 2021
Featured image: Sulphur-crested cockatoos enjoying seeds in a Cootamundra Wattle tree, Canberra 2021
The Australian Ballet is returning in 2022 with a program that perhaps more than anything reflects the strong international background of artistic director David Hallberg. One work, John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, is well-known already to Australian ballet audiences but the rest of the offerings are not quite so well-known.
Anna Karenina is familiar to Australian audiences but not in the version that Hallberg has secured. This Anna Karenina has choreography by Yuri Possokhov and has a commissioned score by Ilya Demutsky, which includes a mezzo-soprano singing live on stage. It was meant to be danced by the Australian Ballet in several locations in 2021 but, in the end, it received just a few performances in Adelaide. It is slated to be seen in 2022 in Melbourne and Sydney and I hope that will eventuate. I tried three times to see it this year but three times I had to cancel! I have been a fan of Possokhov’s work since 2013 when I saw his Rite of Spring for San Francisco Ballet. Bring it on.
A work from a several collaborating choreographers, Paul Lightfoot, Sol León, Marco Goecke and Crystal Pite will also be shown in Melbourne and Sydney. With the name Kunstkamer it promises to be an eye-opener. Originally made for Nederlands Dans Theater, notes on that company’s website say:
Inspired by Albertus Seba’s The Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (1734), the choreographers use the stage to be their own Kunstkamer that presents NDT as its own multifaceted ‘Company of Curiosities’.
Musically eclectic as well (Beethoven, Bach, Purcell, Britten, Janis Joplin, Joby Talbot and others) eye-opener is perhaps too gentle a word?
Then there is the triple bill for the year, Instruments of Dance, a name that I find somewhat unmoving, or at least uninviting. It will feature a new work by Alice Topp, a 2014 work from Justin Peck called Everywhere We Go, and Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear made in 2016 and featuring an all-male cast. While I am a definite fan of McGregor I have seen Obsidian Tear and to me it is not one of his best works. Here is part of what I wrote about the work as danced by the Royal Ballet in 2018:
The opening work, McGregor’s Obsidian Tear, left me a little cold and its choreography seemed stark and emotionless—but then I guess obsidian is a hard substance. Everything seemed to happen suddenly. Lighting cut out rather than faded and movement, while it showed McGregor’s interest in pushing limits, had little that was lyrical.
My full review of that Royal Ballet season is at this link.
There are aspects of the season that I have not mentioned here. The full story is on the Australian Ballet’s website. My fingers are crossed that 2022 will be the year we go to the ballet!
Wudjang. Not the Past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company
Bangarra Dance Theatre is joining forces with Sydney Theatre Company to produce a new work by Stephen Page to be shown at the Sydney Festival in January 2022 and then two months later in Adelaide. Page has described it as ‘an epic-scale contemporary corroboree’ and it will be performed by seventeen dancers, four musicians and five actors.
The narrative for the work is written by Page and Alana Valentine and Page has described the inspiration for that narrative:
In the deep darkness just before dawn, workmen find bones while excavating for a dam. Among the workers is Bilin, a Yugambeh man, who convinces his colleagues to let him keep the ancestral remains. This ancestor is Wudjang, who, along with her young companion spirit, Gurai, longs to be reburied in the proper way. With her young companion spirit, Gurai, she dances and teaches and sings of the past, of the earth, of songlines. With grace and authentic power, a new generation is taught how to listen, learn and carry their ancestral energy into the future. Wudjang: Not the Past follows the journey to honour Wudjang with a traditional resting place on Country.
The production features poetry, spoken story-telling, live music and the choreography of Page. Something to look forward to as we (hopefully) come out of the difficulties of the past two years.
QL2 Dance: Not giving in
Like so many dance organisations, QL2 Dance, Canberra’s much-loved youth dance organisation, has had to cancel so many of its activities over the last several months as a result of the ACT’s covid lockdown. Not giving in is the organisation’s answer to the situation. Watch it below. (Link removed. Video no longer available)
My review of The Point was published by Limelight on 30 April 2021. As it is now only available with a subscription, I am posting the full review below minus the images used but followed by a small gallery of images that show some of the costumes and lighting, as well as the projections of Griffin designs, which I have mentioned briefly in the review. Should you have a subscription to Limelight, here is the link to follow.
Liz Lea’s new work The Point begins with a solo from Jareen Wee, an independent contemporary dancer trained in New Zealand and currently working in Australia. The solo is fast paced and, along with its dramatic spotlighting, exciting to watch. Its choreography insists that the body twist itself into a myriad shapes and stretch out into the space that surrounds it. Yet there is something about the occasional turned up feet and the gestures, especially the shapes made by the fingers, that suggests a style that is not entirely within the usual Western contemporary dance mode. And this solo sets the scene for what follows.
Seven of the 12 dancers who make up the cast are essentially exponents of various styles of classical Indian dance, while the other five are Western trained. The title of the work,The Point, refers to the concept of Bindu, the point of creation in Hindu mythology. In essence the work explores connections between Indian dance styles and Western contemporary dance, along with connections between people and place.
Wee’s opening solo is followed by a dance for 11 of the 12 dancers. They are dressed in black costumes of varying design, with subtle use of both plain and decorative fabric. The costume concept is by Lea in consultation with designer Cate Clelland. The dancers’ movements continue the double references seen in the opening solo and what follows over the next 60 minutes, sometimes clearly, sometimes elusively, is a creative blending of movement across dance forms. Towards the end, a separation of styles becomes clearer as the exponents of Indian styles dress in traditional costume and engage more closely with the dance styles in which they were trained. But in the final moments the dancers join together crossing the stage as one but, nevertheless, as two forces connecting together.
At times there is an obvious sense of focus between the dancers, thus setting up the notion of connection that Lea aimed to create. They look into each other’s eyes, they engage in movement that demands physical connection, including complex lifts and the use of grounded, twisting choreography. But connection comes in other ways as well. Lea’s inspiration for ThePoint clearly came from her own diverse training in both Western contemporary dance and in Bharata Natyam, which she studied in India. Now Canberra-based, Lea was also inspired by the work of architects and artists Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin, whose own lives had connections both to Canberra and to India. At various points throughout the work, projections are displayed on the back wall of the new black box theatre space at Belco Arts Centre. They are designs by the Griffins and are beautifully presented and animated by projection designer James Josephides.
The connection to Marion Mahony Griffin was, to my mind, also referenced by the 12th dancer, Ira Patkar, an exponent of the Kathak style of Indian dance. Patkar danced beautifully but remained somewhat apart from the others throughout the work. She appeared essentially as a solo dancer, although, at the end, joined the final moments of connection. But rarely was she required to make contact with the others. She seemed to represent the lack of recognition that has characterised the role and work of Marion Mahony Griffin for so long.
Part of the strength of The Point came not only from the choreography and the concept of connection, but also from a truly remarkable lighting design from Karen Norris. As we entered the black box space a single spotlight shone from above onto the darkened performing space: it clearly represented the title, The Point. Throughout the work Norris lit the space from various positions. Sometimes many spots highlighted the dancing, at others a few judiciously placed spots placed the dancers in semi-darkness. At times the lighting was brightly coloured and at one stage a row of floor level lights positioned close to the back wall shone towards the audience so we saw the dancers from a whole different perspective. We were connected at those moments.
The Point was danced to a collage of music from both Western and Indian composers: Liberty Kerr, dj BC, Taikoz, Malhar Jam, and Harish Sivaramakrishna. It was an audacious soundscape that, like every part of the production, referenced connection and creativity.
Liz Lea has never shied away from using dance to make strong statements. The Point is an extraordinarily courageous work that suggests that no dance style is beyond being looked at creatively.
As I mentioned in my review, I was especially taken by the lighting used to illuminate the action from a different perspective, which you can see in the image immediately above. Without wishing to detract from Karen Norris’ lighting for The Pointe, which was spectacular, with this particular change of perspective I was reminded of a similar use of lighting in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker. The Story of Clara. As we watch the final sections of the Murphy production we feel as though we are onstage with Clara as she dances her final performance. Similarly in The Point, with this lighting change we, the audience, became part of the performance.
The Point continues to resonate in the minds (and voices) of those who saw it. There have been calls for it to travel!
David McAllister awarded Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award
Congratulations to David McAllister, recently retired artistic director of the Australian Ballet. McAllister received the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award at a special event in Sydney, an award administered by the Royal Academy of Dance. McAllister joins a group of extraordinary individuals from the world of ballet who have been recipients of this award. They include Frederick Ashton, Maina Gielgud, Robert Helpmann, Gillian Lynne, Rudolf Nureyev and Marie Rambert. McAllister has had what is perhaps an unprecedented career with the Australian Ballet. Following training at the Australian Ballet School beginning in 1961, he was a performing artist with the company for 18 years followed by a role as artistic director for another 20 years.
But in particular see (and listen) to this enticing McAllister story from the National Portrait Gallery inspired by the Peter Brew-Bevan portrait used as the featured image above.
Tammi Gissell and Mundaguddah
Mundaguddah is a dance/music collaboration between composer Brian Howard and dancer/choreographer Tammi Gissell. It will premiere on 9 May 2021 at the National Gallery of Australia during Australian Dance Week and is a co-presentation by Ausdance ACT and the Canberra International Music Festival. It will have two showings only, at 12pm and 2 pm.
In Mundaguddah (the spirit of the Rainbow Serpent in Murrawarri language), Gissell explores the idea of personal pre-history in a tribute to the Murrawarri spirit who demands we look, listen, and keep moving in the right direction.
Tammi Gissell has featured previously on this website, especially for her work with Liz Lea. Follow this link to read earlier posts. To buy a ticket to Mundaguddah, and to read a little more about the legend of the Rainbow Servant, follow this link.
The GOLDS. Tenth anniversary
It’s a little hard to believe that the GOLDS, Canberra’s dance group for older people, is ten years old. But the group celebrated its tenth anniversary in April 2021 with performance excerpts from some of its previous shows, along with a new work, Forever Young, from founder of the GOLDs, Liz Lea. Perhaps the most memorable performance excerpt for the evening was that from Martin del Amo’s Grand Finale, which was originally one section from Great Sport!, an award-winning production held at the National Museum of Australia in 2016. Program notes written by del Amo for the Great Sport! show described Grand Finale as, ‘A team of elegantly clad men and women. engaged in a mysterious game. Collectively celebrating diverse individuality. On their own terms…’
The celebratory event also included short speeches by a number of people connected with the GOLDs group, including two of the current directors of the group, Jacqui Simmonds and Jane Ingall; founder Liz Lea; and Ruth Osborne who spoke on the role the GOLDs have played with QL2Dance. For more about the GOLDs and their performances see this tag.
Australian Dance Week 2021
In the ACT Australian Dance Week 2021 was launched at Belconnen Arts Centre on 29 April, International Dance Day, by ACT Minister for the Arts, Tara Cheyne. The event celebrated diversity in dance and included a message from Friedemann Vogel at Stuttgart Ballet, along with performances of Indigenous dance as part of the Welcome to Country, as well as short performances of pop n lock, Indian and burlesque dance.
Check out the latest playlist from Jacob’s Pillow featuring clips from performances at the Pillow from flamenco dancers. Here is a link. I have never seen flamenco ‘on pointe’ before, but Irene Rodriguez in the 2019 performance clip from Amaranto shows us how it is possible. Amazing work from her.
Updates and fixes were carried out on the website during April. The main fix was to the search box. It had somehow collapsed and was not retrieving search terms as it should. It is now fixed, thankfully. I also had added, thanks to the team at Racket, a new ‘subscribe’ option. It is now on the home page just under the box headed ‘View full tag cloud’.
Visits to the site have increased dramatically over the past few months with page views going from around 3-4,000 to 8-9,000 a month. Perhaps not surprisingly the most visited area during April was the tag Liam Scarlett.
Thanks to all those who follow On dancing.
Press for April 2021
From Michelle: Review of The Point by Liz Lea Dance Company. Limelight, 30 April 2021. Online magazine only at this link.
From Jennifer: Obituary for Liam Scarlett. Dominion Post, 30 April 2021, p. 19. Online version,
10 March 2021, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra
Symbiosis was Australian Dance Party’s contribution to Canberra’s Enlighten Festival for 2021. Made in true ADP style as a site-specific work, it took place in various parts of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. It was in fact a guided tour through the Gardens with snippets of dance, music and poetry, and even instruction about various plants, inserted at various points. Again in true ADP style, the work had political overtones, on this occasion issues associated with the environment. True to its title, it explored both conflict and interference, as well as fusion between species (including the human species) in the world in which we live, the natural world that is.
We set off with a guide (Liz Lea dressed as a kind of outback botanist) and began our journey with a walk through the lush rainforest area. There we encountered, at first individually, members of the Canberra-based group Somebody’s Aunt. As we made our way through the gully, we could hear them breathing and see them gently moving as we passed by. Eventually we reached a higher point and could look down at them as they came together to embrace each other, and perhaps the environment (?).
Further along the rainforest gully we were asked to pause and looked up to see Ryan Stone moving across a ridge of trees and plants to sounds of a human voice created by Stone and poet Melinda Smith. And so we continued with the botanist-figure naming various plant species and explaining various matters about other species and their place in nature. We encountered Levi Szabo engaging acrobatically with a tree and its spreading branches, and with the benches that were on the ground close to it. At various points we also noticed Alison Plevey as a kind of lizard/dragon lurking in the bushes and on the paths.
The standout item for me was a section featuring Olivia Fyfe performing to a soundscape by Alex Voorhoeve on electric cello. Fyfe dramatised thoughts about the fate of a tree, with those thoughts ranging from the idea of protection to horror at what was the eventual fate of the tree. Voorhoeve made those changing thoughts audible in stunning fashion. It was an extraordinarily moving section, made especially so by the collaborative blend of movement and music.
The most obviously political section came towards the end when Alison Plevey played the part of some kind of leader attempting to convince her audience (of plants) that ‘the bigger picture’ was being considered, while the ‘green’ organisation she represented moved along (or didn’t) with its environmental plans (or lack thereof).
In addition to the moving performance from Voorhoeve and Fyfe as they contemplated the destruction of a tree, an exceptional performance came from the Gardener, danced and acted by Elizabeth Dalman. So immersed was she in her character and so beautifully disguised in her costume, especially that soft-brimmed hat, that it took me a while to realise that it was in fact Dalman. She appeared and re-appeared several times as a kind of ‘extra’ until the very end when she led the concluding dance. She began by setting up the shape of a star, made from bark pieces, on the ground at the final venue. Accompanied by the words of Melinda Smith, which were often difficult to make out in the very open space of the Gardens, one by one the performers we had watched came together. Maintaining her distance from the others, Dalman soothed and comforted, calmed and regenerated. She showed her true colours as an extraordinary artist throughout.
Symbiosis lasted for 90 minutes, which was, at least for me, about 30 minutes too long given the small amount of performance we saw. Did we really need all that botanical information? A little was fine but announcing all those Latin names of various plant species was pretty much unnecessary. We can go on a special Botanic Gardens tour if we need to get to know that kind of information.
Symbiosis was in essence an after-dark show, although I ended up seeing it in the early evening, which gave me lots of pleasure. Looking at published images taken during evening shows, I am glad I had the opportunity to see it in an ‘enlightened’ situation where the performance skills of the artists involved were clearer. The pleasures of carrying lanterns during the late evening shows, as I believe was the case, and the fairy lights that decorated the pathways, may have been fun but I prefer to have a clear view of how the artists are performing.
Perhaps the final note is to say that the event was constantly permeated by the sound of the wind in the trees and the birds calling each other. Even a hungry magpie hopped across the grass looking for scraps for its dinner as Fyfe and Voorhoeve were at work. From the point of view of the ambient sound, and the slow change of light as dusk began to fall, the show was very special.
To establish a new choreographic venture, the Sydney Choreographic Centre, Francesco Ventriglia, formerly artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet, has returned to the southern hemisphere after leaving New Zealand ‘to pursue opportunities overseas’. The Centre, co-founded by Neil Christopher as its general manager, is located in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria and will open in March with an intensive program for emerging choreographers and the opportunity to take class with the resident dancers of the Centre: Ariella Casu, Victor Zarallo, Holly Doyle, Brittany-jayde Duwner and Alex Borg.
The Centre’s first production, Grimm, with choreography by Ventriglia, will open in April at the Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres Parramatta. ‘Expect the unexpected in this very modern version of old stories,’ we are told.
For more on the Centre and its programs, and on the new ballet Grimm, visit the Centre’s website.
In 2014 I had the pleasure of interviewing Ventriglia in Wellington for Dance Tabs. Follow this link to retrieve the DanceTabs article.
Oral history news
After an hiatus of very close to 12 months, I was finally able to get back to recording oral history interviews. Given the problems associated with dance in the media, oral history is one very significant way in which careers of those in the dance world can be documented for posterity. Early in February I interviewed Ruth Osborne, artistic director of Canberra’s youth dance organisation, QL2. The interview focused largely on Ruth’s connections with the choreography of Gertrud Bodenwieser and those who carried on her legacy in Australia, in particular Margaret Chapple and Keith Bain. The interview is yet to be fully processed but when that process is completed it will be available online through the National Library’s catalogue.
A little later in the month I recorded Part 1 of what is potentially a two part interview with fashion designer Linda Jackson. Her colleague, the remarkable Jenny Kee, is lined up for April.
Tanya Pearson, OAM (1937-2021)
The much admired Sydney-based teacher Tanya Pearson died in February. See an obituary for her in Dance Australia at this link, and watch a lovely 30 minute tribute, filmed in 2012.
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments
Another review, this time from Lee Christofis, appeared in the March issue of Limelight Magazine. It is a rather special review as Christofis knows something of the backstory behind the National Library’s Papers of Kristian Fredrikson, as his opening paragraph reveals. The online version is locked to non-subscribers but see this link for a taster. The full review is also available in the print edition for March.
QL2 Dance has, over the years, produced a number of memorable productions associated with exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery. Most recently Ruth Osborne, in association with Olivia Fyfe, presented My place inspired by the exhibition, This is my place. This particular exhibition sets out to present what the NPG calls an ‘intimate focus to the places that define who we are—our spiritual homes, habitats and workspaces.’ The exhibition contains a varied collection of art works across a number of formats. It shows, within those formats, visual artists, sports people, writers, politicians, Indigenous leaders, even a phrenologist and mesmerist from 1870. No dancers though!
Osborne and Fyfe worked with seven recent tertiary dance graduates to develop this work, which was in four parts. The first took place in the space outside the entrance to the NPG. It was, I think, an improvised part of the whole, although this was not clearly explained. Then followed three separate sections performed in Gordon Darling Hall, the grand entrance to the Gallery. I would have liked to have known how the work was divided between Osborne and Fyfe, but this aspect of the production was not clearly explained either.
All four sections of dance suggested various themes of the portrait exhibition. But basically the dance work juxtaposed, I think, the notion of public lives versus private spaces. The opening improvisation suggested creativity to me, and most of those represented in the portrait exhibition were engaged in some kind of creativity. The first indoor section focused in a choreographic sense on group structures—bodies building upon bodies. I thought of collaborative endeavours. Following on was a fast-paced section in which the seven dancers donned coats and caps and proceeded to dance across the performing space as if out in the world, walking the streets. The final section, which I enjoyed most of all, was filled with slow movements that unfolded lyrically on individual dancers. This was private, individual enterprise to me.
As is ever the case with QL2 Dance productions, the performance was strongly danced by all seven dancers. I enjoyed immensely, again as ever, the way the choreography filled the available space. But who did what choreographically? I really love making up my own narrative when I watch dance that is not telling us a given story, but I also like to know a little more than we were given on this occasion, including what was the music used, for example? A single sheet of paper with a bit of information please. Even something online?
The best of everything to those who have followed this website over the past year. Thank you for your loyalty. And here’s hoping that 2021 will be one that is filled with dance, even live dance perhaps? Stay safe and healthy.
Highlights of 2020 (on and off stage)
I was very fortunate to see the opening night performance of Graeme Murphy’s The Happy Prince. It had a short run in Brisbane in February but showings elsewhere were cancelled due to the pandemic. I really would like to see it again as there was a lot there that needed a second look. I hope we will see it again, given that the leadership of the Australian Ballet has changed.
By mid year we were still not back in the theatre but Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party created Lake Marchin which, over several weekends in August, eight dancers, accompanied by two musicians, made their way around Canberra’s three lakes. They paused briefly on occasions to engage with each other and with the rather surprised audience of joggers, bike riders and so on who were also using the lakeside for exercise. Lake March won Plevey a Canberra Critics’ Circle award in December. The citation read:
For courageously working within the restrictive conditions generated by COVID-19 to bring an innovative and entertaining production of dance and live music, presented in several outdoor venues, to an audience of dance goers and the wider Canberra community. Alison Plevey for Lake March.
In October we were able to venture into the theatre for a QL2 Dance program featuring a work called Sympathetic Monsters by Jack Ziesing. It was an absorbing work in terms of its choreographic structure and in its thematic content.
Of course I watched many streamed performances over the course of 2020. It was more than interesting to see close-up images of faces and expressions and also details of costume. Nothing can replace a live performance but I derived much pleasure from streamed performances, especially from companies I wouldn’t normally see. Borrowed Light from Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company in collaboration with Boston Camerata was perhaps the most outstanding example. I was transfixed by this performance and have Jacob’s Pillow to thank for streaming it as part of the Pillow’s Virtual Festival 2020.
Sunil Kothari (1933–2020). Indian dance critic
I was saddened to hear of the death of Indian dance writer Sunil Kothari from complications of COVID-19. He visited Australia on a number of occasions and I recall a talk he gave in Canberra for the Canberra Critics’ Circle, several years ago now. He was a passionate advocate for dance and was a mentor to Padma Menon, who performed extensively in Canberra during the 1990s.
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer featured as the ‘Publishing Spotlight’ in the Summer 2020–2021 edition of the newsletter of the Friends of the National Library of Australia. The review was written by Friends Committee Member and well known Canberra-based arts and craft specialist, Meredith Hinchliffe. Follow this link to read the review.
Hot to Trot is an annual dance event in Canberra and is designed to give senior Quantum Leap dancers (who are mostly in their teens!) the opportunity to create their own choreography. Despite the issues that have plagued the arts community over the past several months, Hot to Trot 2020 went ahead in QL2’s black box space in Gorman Arts Centre, complete I should add with emphasis on the physical distancing of audience members. Two short films and eight live productions were presented.
What especially attracted me in this year’s program was the ability of the choreographers to use the performing space to advantage. They understood how to arrange their dancers, and any props they used, within the space, sometimes filling it, sometimes using corners, diagonals, upstage and downstage areas, and so forth. It reflects well on the QL2 Dance program where, from the beginning, young, prospective artists are taught stage techniques as well as dance technique.
But one work stood out for me—Danny Riley’s Similar, Same but Different. It was essentially a reflective work that examined the connections Riley sees as existing between him and his older brother, Jack, who is now a professional dancer and choreographer. In essence it was a replay of a work made by Jack Riley, which we saw on a film in the background. Danny Riley danced the same choreography for the most part and began by wearing a white jacket that his brother had worn—it was rather too long for him, which in itself spoke to us about those family connections. As the work progressed Danny Riley removed the white tuxedo and replaced it with a short, black jacket of his own—it fitted nicely! But, finally, that too was discarded and we understood that Danny Riley was his own man but with influences from family connections. It was a moving work that unfolded logically and clearly but that was complex in the ideas that it generated in our minds.
I loved that Riley didn’t see the need to use text as an essential addition to his work. Which brings me to the criticisms I have of this Hot to Trot program, and other such programs at QL2. I really wish that there could be a stronger realisation by these young choreographers that dance has the capacity to engage and comment within itself. It doesn’t need to have a text to which dancers react and which is meant (I think) to help the audience understand what is going on in the work. Speaking onstage during a performance is a particular skill and requires training. So often with QL2 productions, in which the spoken word is used, it is not easy to hear or understand what is being said. Not only does this reflect a lack of voice training, but also that the spoken text is often not well integrated with the score, which means that the words are drowned out by the score. And pretty much always, in my opinion, the spoken text seriously detracts from the dance aspects of the work.
The other issue that bothers me concerns the subjects young choreographers often choose as inspiration—subject matter that is quite abstract, or philosophical. Wayne McGregor or William Forsythe might be (and are) good at using conceptual issues as the basis for a dance work, and Tim Harbour at the Australian Ballet is also moving in this direction with particular skill, but they are experienced, professional artists who understand what dance can do best. It communicates through movement.
But to return to the Hot to Trot program itself, the other work I especially enjoyed was the short film by Natsuko Yonezawa, which opened the program. Called Flowering, it was filmed during rehearsals for the recent Leap into Chaos project by QL2 and focused on group movement. The raw footage was assembled and edited so we saw a kaleidoscope of images that recalled flowers growing in ever-changing, ever-expanding patterns. To me the film often looked like origami, being made or being made to move. It was quite beautiful and a great introduction to the program.
Other works on the program were created by Magnus Meagher, Alyse and Mia Canton, Courtney Tha, Lillian Cook, Pippi Keogh, Hollie Knowles, Rory Warne, and Sarah Long.
As a result of the COVID 19 situation, two of the annual initiatives of Canberra’s youth dance organisation, QL2 Dance—the Quantum Leap program for senior performers and the Chaos Project for younger dancers— were combined this year, hence the over-arching name Leap into Chaos. The performance also took place in a different, but well resourced venue, and with a much smaller than usual number of people seated for each performance (with physical distancing in place).
The younger dancers gave us a multi-faceted work called Touch. In seven parts, with choreography by Ruth Osborne, Steve Gow, Alison Plevey, Olivia Fyfe and Ryan Stone, Touch showed a range of different reactions to the coronavirus pandemic. There were masks, worn and then taken off with a shout of pleasure; references to hand washing; social interaction; acts of kindness; finding one’s place in the world; and a closing section filled with the joy of being able to perform live again.
While I wish one or two sections had been a little shorter, as ever I was impressed with the ability of the Chaos dancers to enter and exit the stage so smoothly and to use the space of the stage so effectively. Apart from the development of creativity during the choreographic phase when the dancers have the opportunity to contribute ideas, the value of the Chaos Project has always been the development of an understanding of stagecraft. The young dancers always do themselves proud in this respect.
The second half of the program was an outstanding work, Sympathetic Monsters, choreographed by QL2 alumnus Jack Ziesing to a soundscape by Adam Ventoura. Ziesing is currently working freelance as a dancer and choreographer and, in creating Sympathetic Monsters, was inspired by a book by Shaun Tan called The Arrival. The impact of Sympathetic Monsters sent me in search of some information about The Arrival, which it turns out is a wordless book, a migrant story told using a series of images only. Tan himself says it concerns in part ‘the “problem” of belonging’, which ‘especially rises to the surface when things go wrong with our usual lives.’
I loved looking at Ziesing’s work without knowing anything about Tan’s book. His choreography alternated between group movement, exceptionally well performed by the dancers, and solos in which dancers pushed their bodies into fantastically twisted shapes. In its structure the work was endlessly fascinating. The dancers mostly entered one by one to perform a solo. After finishing, they moved upstage and stood in a line across the back of the stage space until they engaged in a group section. At the very end, the group, acting as involved onlookers, encircled two performers who moved together in a kind of complex duet. The work was lit by Craig Dear of Sidestage and his pronounced use of shadowy effects added to the drama of the movement and the power and mystery of the work.
But reading about The Arrival further opened up the work, if in retrospect. There it all was in movement—the isolation; the belonging or not belonging; the group versus the individual; the sympathy juxtaposed with its opposite. Many thoughts came crowding in and even the title made some sense. I am looking forward to seeing the work again when QL2 Dance offers it as part of a streamed event later in October. Sympathetic Monsters was an exceptional work.