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
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.
I look forward to seeing how the companies develop in 2019.
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
James Batchelor has been busy touring his recent works, including Deepspace, in the United Kingdom and Europe. Deepspace will also be shown back in Australia in November.
Batchelor also has news of his latest production, Hyperspace, which is the third and last work to focus on his explorations into the world of Antarctica. He writes:
The premise of HYPERSPACE is to study the body in relation to the deep unknowns of the universe, into spaces beyond the reach of human touch. What is the role of the body in discovery? HYPERSPACE is an awakening of this infinite body but also a speculation of the unknown future body. It is a science fiction as performance, contributing to contemporary conversations taking place in science and art that are dealing with the role of the body in relation to discovery and our future in space.
Hyperspace has just been shown in Italy at a festival in Bassano del Grappa.
Eileen Kramer book
Eileen Kramer, former dancer with the Bodenwieser Ballet and now advocate for many aspects of dance for older people, has been spending time recently writing a memoir about her youth in 1930s bohemian Sydney and how she came to the arts. Kramer’s memoir is being published by Melbourne Books and a crowd-funding appeal to assist with publishing costs is current until mid September. See this link.
The subtitle of the book—’Stories from the Philip Street Courtyard’—is interesting. So many dancers from the 1930s and 1940s mention Sydney’s Phillip Street as a place where they lived, including Tamara Tchinarova Finch who lived in a Phillip Street apartment with her mother when they decided to stay in Australia in 1939 after the tour by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet. I have always been left with the impression that it was a hotbed of alternative practices.
And how appropriate is the publication of this book, given that Sue Healey’s beautiful short film, Eileen, has been short-listed for an Australian Dance Award! Results early in September at the awards ceremony in Brisbane. Read more about Eileen Kramer from this website here.
Anouk van Dijk leaves Chunky Move
Chunky Move is searching for a new artistic director following the recent resignation of Anouk van Dijk after seven years at the helm.
Chunky Move Chair Leigh O’Neill thanked Ms van Dijk and acknowledged her contribution to the company saying:
Anouk has introduced a fresh perspective on contemporary dance to Melbourne, and to Australia, whilst continuing Chunky Move’s legacy of supporting the development of artists and leading important cultural conversations through the company’s work.
She brings a highly rigorous and visceral approach to choreography, centering the dancer as a key creative force, and has nurtured a new generation of dancers and artists across disciplines.
DirtyFeet, the Sydney-based not for profit organisation supporting independent artists, is holding its Out of the Studio season in September. Two choreographers will present works in this season—Sara Black and Lucky Lartey. Lartey, based in Sydney and originally from Ghana, will show Full Circle, which draws on both his traditional dance culture and contemporary dance. Black, the recipient of a Helpmann Award in 2008, trained in Canberra and is presenting a work based on our heart beat, pulse, and life source.
The program takes place at Shopfront Arts Co-Op, 88 Carlton Pde, Carlton NSW on 21 and 22 September.
Press for August 2018
‘Quantum Leap into glorious past.’ Review of Two Zero, Quantum Leap’s 20th anniversary program. The Canberra Times, 13 August 2018, p. 18. Online version.
Michelle Potter, 31 August 2018
Featured image: James Batchelor in Hyperspace, 2018. Photo: Morgan Hickinbotham
I finally got round to getting myself a copy of the DVD Never stand still: dancing at Jacob’s Pillow. And I’m so glad I did. What is particularly satisfying about this DVD documentary is that there is no promotion of a particular company or a person and no media hype. It’s simply about dance in its many and varied forms. ‘Dancing is direct and honest,’ says Mark Morris, one of the several illustrious interviewees appearing on Never stand still. And that’s what we get: direct, honest and simply beautiful dance.
A few sections particularly stood out for me, although others will have their own favourites I am sure. I especially enjoyed segments featuring Mark Morris and his dancers, perhaps because those works of his I have seen recently have not impressed me to any great extent—Beaux danced by San Francisco Ballet and Pacific from Houston Ballet, both of which I saw earlier this year, left me feeling underwhelmed. Never stand still has some lovely footage from Morris’ Italian Concerto and LoveSong Waltzes and a brief look at a work called Falling Down Stairs, which Morris made in conjunction with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whom we also see on the DVD. The excerpts from these works show quite clearly what Morris is best known for, his astonishing musicality. And Morris is a forthright and articulate speaker in his interview segments.
I was also especially taken with Shantala Shivalingappa, a solo Kuchipudi dancer born in Madras and raised in Paris. What an amazingly expressive body she has and how she uses it to her advantage. Every movement fills the space and she seems to linger a little at the high point of each movement before seamlessly continuing to the next.
Segements featuring Suzanne Farrell speaking about her transition from Balanchine ballerina to company director make interesting viewing as do excerpts from Balanchine ballets she has set on her own company. Natalia Magnicaballi, a principal with Suzanne Farrell Ballet, is startlingly good in the lead in Tzigane.
Gideon Obarzanek makes an appearance and there are excerpts from his work I want to dance better at parties performed by Chunky Move. I also loved the all too brief footage from Bournonville’s Napoli courtesy of the Royal Danish Ballet, along with a brief discussion of the Danes making their first appearance in the United States at the Pillow at the invitation of Ted Shawn. Then there’s Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, Judith Jamison, tap, vaudeville…so much more.
Interspersed throughout the contemporary footage is rare archival material showing some of the early performances at Jacob’s Pillow along with an underlying narrative about Shawn and the founding of the this renowned festival, an annual event held at Becket, Massachusetts, in the beautiful surroundings of the Berkshire Hills. If you’ve been there it will bring back wonderful memories not just of the variety of dancing on offer, but of that glorious outdoor stage, those barns and the spectacular surrounding countryside. If you have not had the good fortune to be there Never stand still will make you want to pack your bags for 2014.
Never stand still is so worth watching and is available online at the usual places for quite a small amount of money, even with our dollar falling against the greenback. Watch the trailer below.
This is an expanded version of a review written for The Canberra Times.
24 February 2012, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne
Infinity, the Australian Ballet’s first program in its 50th anniversary year, is a diverse and sometimes challenging evening of dance. But most of all it is thrilling experience to see the Australian Ballet putting itself out on a limb with three brand new works from three Australian choreographers: Graeme Murphy, Gideon Obarzanek and Stephen Page. All three works are danced to new scores by Australian composers and all three have new Australian designs. Definitely something to celebrate.
The show opens with the new work from Murphy, The narrative of nothing. To tell the truth, while there is a perfectly good explanation from Murphy for why this title was chosen—there’s no obvious narrative but the work may still be telling the audience something, I’d much rather dispense with titles that sound smart (with all due respects to Murphy). Untitled works just as well for me!
Murphy’s choreography often had a primeval feel as bodies twisted and curled around others. There were powerful performances from Lana Jones and Adam Bull, and I especially admired the sequence where Jones was partnered by several men who alternated between holding her aloft and letting her fall from side to side. Vintage Murphy really but Jones’ ability to hold her body in a perfect curve as she fell was breathtaking.
The supporting dancers deserve praise for their technical strength as they attacked the demanding choreography. Murphy has moved a step beyond his usual (always interesting) vocabulary and made a work that, in somewhat of a contradiction, asks the dancers to move with a kind of aggressive lyricism.
I didn’t read the program notes prior to watching this work so wasn’t aware in advance that the commissioned score, Fire Music by Brett Dean, was in response to the Victorian ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires of 2009. With the knowledge of what was behind Dean’s score, fire in some respects becomes the non-narrative. But the works stands without this knowledge and in fact I was pleased that I didn’t know in advance. The score sounded quite elemental—the thunder sheets certainly helped there—and, with some instruments positioned outside the pit, the sound was enveloping.
Jennifer Irwin’s body hugging costumes were decorated individually with black patterns, often swirling organically, and with what looked like silver studs or tiny mirrors. Depending on the lighting (by Damien Cooper) they changed from looking a little punk, to glowing in the dark, to looking slinky, and much more. Cooper’s design was uncompromising—a solo by Adam Bull performed pretty much on the spot in a strong downlight was another highlight. The design also included an onstage use of lighting rigs not normally on view to the audience, another technique that has often featured in works by Murphy. With the inclusion of a minimalist black space as a setting The narrative of nothing became an example of the very best of contemporary collaborative enterprises. It also looks back to some of Murphy’s strongest abstract works made for Sydney Dance Company—Piano sonata comes straight to mind.
Obarzanek’s piece also had a strange, or at least not very catchy title, There’s definitely a prince involved. It referred to his process of generating ideas and vocabulary for the work by asking a range of people about what they thought constitutes a ballet, and his subsequent deconstruction of the ballet Swan Lake. The work can be read on a number of levels. On the most simplistic it tells the story of Swan Lake, using the dancers as narrators, and focuses on the illogicality of the story. It relies on the dancers’ deadpan delivery of the text to raise laughter from the audience, and the various dancers who take on the role of narrator throughout the piece are more than adept. Unfortunately, even though they used a microphone, their voices were often inaudible above the crashing sounds of the orchestra playing Stefan Gregory’s fragmentation of Tchaikovsky’s familiar Swan Lake music.
On another level the work rips apart the traditional choreography of Swan Lake, and amusingly so, especially in the section based on the dance of the four little swans. It helps but is not essential if the audience is familiar with the traditional steps.
On yet another level the work can be seen as a comment on art asking the question of whether Swan Lake is indeed a work of art. Obarzanek has an acutely inquiring mind and his ability to force us to reconsider what we as a ballet audience might take for granted is powerful and actually quite respectful.
There’s definitely a prince involved uses dancers of the Australian Ballet augmented by dancers from Obarzanek’s company, Chunky Move. Australian Ballet principal Madeleine Eastoe showed her versatility as a performer and slotted beautifully into the varying demands associated with the role of a deconstructed Odette, the female lead. The few moments of classical movement—a fabulous grand jeté across the stage, and her ‘dying swan’ poses—did however make me yearn to see her dance a ‘real’ Swan Lake. Deconstruction is fine, entertaining and thought provoking, but the classic version transcends it all and it is that strength really that allows Obarzanek’s deconstruction to work so well.
The program closes with Page’s Warumuk—in the dark light with Bangarra Dance Theatre joining forces with the Australian Ballet. With its new score from David Page it presents an exploration of the myths associated with the night sky.
The Bangarra dancers performed with their usual, beautifully rehearsed ensemble work with particularly striking performances from Elma Kris and Waangenga Blanco representing Full Moon. Vivienne Wong, stunningly dressed by Jennifer Irwin in a lacy black outfit cut with a long ‘tail’ at the back, stood out as the Evening Star. For me Wong was the sole Australian Ballet dancer who was able to transcend her balletic training and blend into the Bangarra way of moving. This was a real feat as Bangarra has now consolidated its own very distinctive style and company dancers are performing with added assurance and expertise.
The one disappointment for me was Jacob Nash’s set design. To me it looked a little too much like a previous Bangarra commission, his set designs for ‘About’, part of the Belong program of 2011.
This program is the Australian Ballet in an extreme mood. I have nothing but praise for the courage of the company in taking on, and succeeding in a program that far surpasses anything they have done in recent years. It makes the company look at last as though it is a company with a desire to move ballet into the future.
Michelle Potter, 27 February 2012
Postscript:The Canberra Times review appeared on 17 March 2012. It is no longer available online.
The Board of Chunky Move today announced that Anouk van Dijk will take over as Artistic Director following Gideon Obarzanek’s departure at the end of 2011.
Anouk van Dijk is an internationally acclaimed choreographer, whose work has toured extensively throughout her home country of The Netherlands, and far beyond throughout Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. Her appointment builds on Chunky Move’s commitment to supporting the creation of dance that surprises and delights. Anouk’s work attracts broad audiences through an approach which is daring, innovative and unpredictable in both its form and context.
Anouk van Dijk began her career as a dancer, and for almost a decade was lead soloist with the Rotterdam Dance Group and Amanda Miller’s Pretty Ugly Dance Company. In 1998 she formed her own company, anoukvandijk dc creating work both distinctive and unpredictable which has toured the globe attracting broad audiences and critical acclaim. Her enthusiasm for collaboration with individual artists and companies has delivered vital and exciting co-productions – she is currently premiering the site specific, outdoor work MENSCH on the island of Terschelling (Netherlands), which then relocates (and reincarnates) to the sheds of the former Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company in Amsterdam. This follows the presentation of TRUST (a co-production between anoukvandijk dc and Schaubühne Berlin with regular creative collaborator, writer and director Falk Richter) which opened the 2011 Festival Transamerique in May after performing at the Perth International Festival of the Arts in February. Anouk’s work STAU performed in Australia at the Adelaide Festival of Arts and Sydney Opera House in 2006.
Anouk van Dijk will commence her hand-over part time from January 2012, relocating to Melbourne in June 2012 when she will assume the full time role of CEO and Artistic Director.