Dance diary. December 2015

  • ‘Creative minds’: Stephen Page

I was, earlier today, doing a bit of ‘last day of the year’ exercise on the treadmill at the gym when I accidentally turned on a television channel I didn’t mean to select. It was a fortuitous accident as it happened. The program that came on turned out to be an interview with Stephen Page conducted by Robin Hughes in her series called ‘Creative Minds’. Somewhere along the line I managed to miss it when it was originally screened some three years ago, but I have since put in an order to add it to my collection.

So much stood out in the interview, which included some great archival material from the earliest days of Bangarra. In particular, footage of Russell Page, who was seen in a range of situations across several years, showed what an exceptional mover he was. In addition, the recording showed so beautifully what makes Stephen Page the outstanding director that he is as he answered the often quite probing questions put to him. I was also completely charmed, as ever, by Page’s great sense of humour, humility and passion for his heritage.

I can’t wait to watch it in more comfortable conditions. But I did stay on the treadmill for longer than usual so I could see the whole program!

  • Papers of Dame Margaret Scott

I am pleased to be able to report that Dame Margaret Scott has agreed that her collection of dance material be housed in the National Library of Australia, where it will join the collections of so many dance artists she has taught, performed with, commissioned, and mentored. In the early days of January I will be working to organise the material for its move to Canberra.

 Maggie Scott, South Africa 1930s. Collection of Dame Margaret Scott
  • Best of 2015

My 2015 ‘best of’ selections will appear in the February/March issue of Dance Australia. I also have had things to say about 2015 in Canberra and that article appears below in ‘Press for December’. What I didn’t mention in either situation was the show that really stood out for me in 2015—Quidam from the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil. I did review it, however, for The Canberra Times and that review appears below, also in ‘Press for December’. Although not dance in the strictest sense, but circus, a cousin of dance as it were, Quidam was especially impressive for being a production in which every single moment in the show had been thought through with care and theatrical intelligence. A rare experience.

  • Press for December

‘An exhilarating experience.’ Review of Quidam from Cirque du Soleil, The Canberra Times, 12 December 2015, ARTS p. 19. Online version.

‘Dance highlights and hankerings.’ Overview of dance in Canberra in 2015. The Canberra Times, 28 December 2015, Times 2 pp. 6–7. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2015

Happy New Year

With thanks to all who have visited my website in 2015, especially those whose astute comments have added so much to the posts.

A happy, dance-filled 2016!

Dance diary. May 2015

  • Oral history

I recently had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview for the National Library with Marilyn Jones. I first interviewed Jones in 1990 as part of the Esso Performing Arts and Oral History Archive Project, so this 2015 interview was a follow-up after 25 years. The image below captures, I think, the essence of Les Sylphides and Jones’ ability to dance that elusiveness.

Marilyn Jones and Jonathan Watts in 'Les Sylphides'. The Australian Ballet 1963. Photo Walter Stringer, National Library of Australia
Marilyn Jones and Jonathan Watts in Les Sylphides. The Australian Ballet, 1963. Photo: Walter Stringer, National Library of Australia

The interview requires written permission for use so will not be available online, but in many respects oral history is for the future. I certainly have become more and more aware of its intrinsic value as time passes. The full story of the Australian Ballet strike of 1981, for example, which took place during the artistic directorship of Jones, is yet to be told. Several interviews in the National Library’s collection give a variety of perspectives and await the historian.

Other dance interviews I have recorded in the past six months have been with Peter Bahen, Lisa Pavane and David Deverelle-Hill.

On the subject of the Esso Performing Arts material, there are 41 interviews, not all of which are dance-related, in that collection and a list can be accessed via the National Library catalogue. Many are available online.

  • Juliet Burnett

It came as something of a shock to learn that Juliet Burnett is leaving (has already left I think) the Australian Ballet. She has given me, and I’m sure many others, such a lot of pleasure over the past few years. Just recently, her performances in the leading roles in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake and Maina Gielgud’s production of Giselle have suggested wonderful things to come. But let’s hope that wherever the future takes her she will find much happiness. My posts mentioning Burnett are at this link.

  • Press for May

‘Visiting dance troupe’s double bill a triumph.’ Review of Quintett and  Frame of Mind, Sydney Dance Company. The Canberra Times, 2 May 2015, p. 19. Online version.

‘Circus acts unmissable.’ Review of ‘Le Noir: the dark side of Circque.’ The Canberra Times, 8 May 2015, ARTS p. 6. Online version.

‘Magical production of a great Giselle.’ Review of the Australian Ballet’s Canberra season of Giselle, The Canberra Times, 25 May 2015, ARTS p. 6. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2015

Promotional shot for 'Forklift', Kage

Forklift. Kage

18 January 2014 (matinee), Carriageworks, Eveleigh (Sydney). Sydney Festival 2014

‘More than dance’ the advertising says. And it is indeed difficult to categorise Forklift by Melbourne-based company Kage with anything more specific than that. A work for three performers and a forklift vehicle, it highlights in many respects the tension between the fragility and delicacy of the human body and the solidity and strength of a robust piece of machinery.

'Forklift' rehearsal
Rehearsal for Forklift

But then does it? The performers, Henna Kaikul, Amy Macpherson and Nicci Wilks, are extraordinary. They had me with my heart in my mouth as two of them moved from one impossible pose to another, balancing, dangling and wrapping themselves around the forklift, changing places every so often with the third performer who drove the vehicle. The skills they exhibited (apart from being able to drive a forklift) ranged from straight circus stunts to acrobatic tricks and occasionally what might be called powerful, perhaps outrageous contemporary dance movement. Each performer often seemed as robust as the machine and it was only that we knew they were human beings that the tension gathered strength and settled inside us as audience members. That kind of emotional tension, rather than the more obvious man versus machine element, was perhaps the strength of Forklift.

I liked the tongue in cheek moments sprinkled throughout the show. Occasionally, whichever performer was driving the forklift would sit back in the cabin with one foot resting on the dashboard, pick up a magazine and nonchalantly start reading as she transported the other two performers, who were on the roof, or the forks, on wooden pallets being lifted upwards, or some other impossible place on the forklift, round the space of Bay 17 at Carriageworks. Then I liked the surreptitious stealing of potato crisps that went on shortly after the opening as two performers, who seemed like anonymous bodies at that stage, crept up behind a startled forklift driver and slowly dipped a hand into her just-bought snack. These moments added a light-hearted element to the piece.

There were one or two aspects of the show that I thought didn’t work so well. I’m not sure there was any sense of coherence pulling together the diverse elements of the piece. The slight narrative line centring on the experiences of a forklift driver as she goes about her business didn’t gel all that well with the more abstract elements of bodies versus machine, or with the straight circus tricks that popped up now and then. Having said that Nicci Wilks’ act with a huge and very heavy hula hoop was spectacular as a demonstration of technique.

Forklift was directed by Kate Denborough whose audacity when it comes to making ‘more than dance’ is becoming clearer with each work she creates. It had a commissioned score by Jethro Woodward, which to my ear sounded suitably industrial and yet at times was slightly mysterious as if we were looking into a world beyond the usual.

Michelle Potter, 19 January 2014

Featured image: Promotional shot for Forklift

Promotional shot for 'Forklift', Kage

Dance diary. September 2013

  • Heath Ledger Project

In September I continued my interviewing program for the National Film and Sound Archive’s Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project with two interviews with graduating students from the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA). Tim Rutty, seen above rehearsing an aerial rope routine, is specialising in aerials and has his eye on work with Circa.

Laura Kmetko, featured on NICA’s 2014 poster below, is specialising in contortion handstands. Following an appearance in the opening number at the Festival mondial de Cirque du Demain in Paris in January 2013 she hopes to pursue her career overseas.

Laura Kmetko. NICA poster for 2014
  • Wayne McGregor

As we anticipate Wayne McGregor’s Chroma as part of the Australian Ballet’s 2014 program, I was interested to read about an exhibition called Thinking with the body, Wellcome collection currently showing in London until late October. A thought-provoking article about McGregor generated by this exhibition and written by Sarah Kent appeared on the arts desk site at this link.

Is it true, as Kent writes, that ‘focusing on fluent, high-energy motion devoid of emotion produces dances that feel sterile despite the brilliance of the technique’ I wonder? Below is a brief clip in which McGregor and composer Joby Talbot discuss the creation of Chroma.

  • Interview: Canberra Close Up

In September I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Alex Sloan, presenter for 666 ABC Canberra, on her radio program Canberra Close Up. The interview is available at this link.

  • Press for September

During September I had the opportunity of reviewing shows that were not dance focused. It loved the experience of going to the theatre for non-dance reasons, which is something I rarely have time to do.

  • ‘Don’t skip this beat’. Review of STOMP ’13, The Canberra Times, 5 September 2013, ARTS p. 8. [Online version no longer available].
  • ‘Beauty re-Bourne on the silver screen’. Preview story on the film version of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, The Canberra Times, 7 September 2013, Panorama p. 15. [Online version no longer available].
  • ‘Caught between two worlds’. Review of The Book of Everything, Canberra Rep., The Canberra Times, 17 September 2013, ARTS p. 7. [Online version no longer available].
  • ‘The freedom for dancing’. Review of Footloose, Supa Productions, The Canberra Times, 17 September 2013, ARTS p. 6. [Online version no longer available].
  • ‘Ballerina’s globetrotting life’. Obituary for Anna Volkova Barnes, The Canberra Times, 18 September 2013, ARTS p. 6. As a PDF.
  • ‘Russian feast a real cracker’. Review of  A Festival of Russian Ballet, Imperial Russian Ballet, The Canberra Times,  19 September 2013, ARTS p. 8. [Online version no longer available].
  • ‘Winton’s tale of grief challenges and confronts’. Review of Tim Winton’s Shrine, Black Swan State Theatre Company, The Canberra Times, 28 September 2013, ARTS p. 20. [Online version no longer available].

 Michelle Potter, 30 September 2013

Glory Box. Finucane & Smith

This morning The Canberra Times published my review of Finucane & Smith’s burlesque extravaganza, Glory Box. As the review is not available online I am posting a slightly revised version here. I have to admit to being taken unawares at what the show had to offer. Some items were better than others; I found some superficial. But then on reflection that’s not surprising—much of what burlesque parodies is superficial or at least only titillating. As a whole, however, the show was a more than interesting night out.

28 November 2012, The Street Theatre, Canberra

From Pina Bausch to the Rocky Horror Show, from Mardi Gras to Butoh, Bollywood to the Lido, Glory Box has it all. Erotic, brash, exhibitionist, scandalous perhaps and definitely loud (earplugs needed sometimes), it throws its subversive message out to the audience from a stage space decorated with a myriad of Chinese red paper lanterns and set up to resemble a nightclub.

The show opened with the most overtly and superficially sexual offerings, a ‘male strip’ called Romeo with a surprise ending, Strawberry with the performer offering selected members of the audience a mouth to mouth strawberry, which she first extracted from close to her bosom (and elsewhere), and Everyone wins a prize when Paul Cordeiro, the sole male member of the five person troupe, gyrated around the stage and threw stuffed animals, unpinned from his briefs, into the auditorium. But from there it picked up theatrically and became less sexually blatant but more powerful, without losing any of its confronting features.

I was impressed with Anna Lumb and her circus acts, especially her trapeze sequence, hard enough as it is without it being done in the highest of stiletto heels, and her hula-hoop act (how many did she have in the end); and with Maude Davey who gave a powerful performance in Glory wearing nothing but a headdress of antlers and a bleeding heart. I was fascinated by Holly Durant’s Salome, which began reminding me of experiments made at the Folies Bergere in the early years of the twentieth century with lighting and swathes of fabric—Loïe Fuller’s activities for example—but which ended as a reference to the famous/infamous ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’.

My personal favourite though was Miss Finucane’s Collaboration with the National Gallery of Victoria (Get Wet for Art) spoken, acted, danced, expressed by Moira Finucane to Prince’s Purple Rain. Eat your heart out followers and admirers of Pina Bausch. Here was German expressionist angst rendered sardonic. Finucane left the stage sodden, her flimsy, ankle-length dress clinging to her body. Unbelievably and irresistibly Bauschian. Finucane is a very strong performer who, once onstage, is impossible to ignore and her text about gallery visiting was entertainingly mocking while being delivered with the utmost seriousness.

Moira Finucane in ‘Get wet for art’

A handful of people left during the first half and another handful did not return after interval. I’m not sure if they were affronted by the full frontal nudity, the full-on sound, or something else. But it was a shame really because the show is much more than the sum of its individual parts and the second half probably contained the strongest moments. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, but certainly an unexpectedly fulfilling evening that was ultimately surprising in its underlying powerful and emotive comment on sexuality, society and theatrical modes of expression. In any case it was worth everything to see the Street Theatre alive during the finale with a dancing ovation from the audience.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2012

Dance diary. June 2012

  • Lucy and the lost boy: NICA

In mid-June I attended a performance by graduating students of the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne. Their show, Lucy and the lost boy, was devised and directed by Sally Richardson and I was pleased to see the two NICA students I had interviewed for the Heath Ledger Project, Josie Wardrope and Simon Reynolds, taking major roles in the show. In fact the ‘Lucy’ of the show’s title was Josie Wardrope. Wardrope’s performance on flying trapeze in the closing scene was thrilling, while the variety of skills at which Simon Reynolds excels is remarkable.

It was, in addition, a pleasure to see other talented students from the graduating year in the show. I especially enjoyed the performance of Skip Walker-Milne, who took the role of the Lost Boy. He was a strong performer and I hope to follow his career in the future. But from a dance perspective I got particular pleasure from a vignette by three clowns, Jamie Bretman, Jack Coleman and Simon Wright, who were named in the show as  ‘The Clown Kings’.  While they had a role throughout the show, including amusing the people standing in the queue to get into the auditorium, I especially loved a sequence in which they performed to the ‘Little Swans’ music from Swan Lake.

‘The Clown Kings’ from Lucy and the lost boy, 2012. Photo: © David Wyatt. Courtesy NICA

Meredith Kitchen was named as choreographer for the show, so I assume their performance was her doing. I have long been fascinated by the place the ‘Little Swans’ dance has beyond the strict confines of a classical production of Swan Lake. These Clown Kings, with their roller bins, their deliciously clumsy coupé steps, and their innocent expressions, gave me huge pleasure.

  • Reviews from The Canberra Times

In June my reviews of The Nutcracker on Ice: the Imperial Ice Stars and Sydney Dance Company’s The Land of Yes & The Land of No were published by The Canberra Times.

I continue to be impressed by Rafael Bonachela’s choreography and the remarkable performances the dancers of Sydney Dance Company give.

  • Oral history: James Mollison, AO

Also in June I also had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview with James Mollison, whose many achievements include his role as inaugural director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Mollison was also responsible for acquiring the major portion of the Diaghilev costume collection, of which the Gallery is the envied owner. ‘Why does Canberra have those costumes?’ I have often been asked by people in the northern hemisphere. My reply has always been, ‘It’s because Canberra had a forward-thinking inaugural director of the National Gallery.’ The collection has formed the basis of three exhibitions by the National Gallery of Australia, most recently in 2010-2011.

  • The Australian Ballet in New York

The question of the New York reviews for the Australian Ballet’s recent visit to Manhattan has been discussed briefly amid comments on the Romeo and Juliet post on this site. Another review that I found especially interesting came from Ryan Wenzel on his website ‘Bodies never lie’. Wenzel appears to have reviewed only the mixed bill, at least at this stage, but his comments on repertoire are worth considering. He writes, for example: ‘The choreography too rarely stretched the mind, entertained, or provided innovative commentary on ballet as an art form’.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2012

Dance diary: April 2012

  • Heath Ledger Project

In April I conducted two more interviews for the National Film and Sound Archive’s Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project. This time, with cameraman John Parker, I recorded interviews with two emerging circus artists currently in their final year of training at the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne.

Josie Wardrope in CODA. Photo David Wyatt
Josie Wardrope on swinging trapeze in a performance of CODA, 2011. Photo: © David Wyatt. Courtesy NICA

Josie Wardrope is specialising in hand stands and swinging trapeze—she loves the feeling of flying—and in the group activity of risley. The term ‘risley’ sent me to a dictionary as I was researching for the interview and I discovered it is ‘a circus act in which an acrobat lying on his back juggles barrels or fellow acrobats with his feet’. It is named after a 19th century circus performer, Richard Risley Carlisle. Post-interview, watching Josie in a one-on-one trapeze session with her coach, her words about loving the feeling of flying were made visible. Exhilarating!

Simon Reynolds in CODA. Photo David Wyatt
Simon Reynolds executes a hand stand in a performance of CODA, 2011. Photo: © David Wyatt. Courtesy NICA

Simon Reynolds gave up his childhood dream of an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics after seeing a performance by Cirque du Soleil. Now he aspires to a contract with this company at the end of his training. At NICA he specialises in contortion hand stands, tumbling tight wire and the group act, teeterboard. I have to say he is somewhat outstanding on trampoline as well. Watching him execute a series of mid-air twists and turns as he moved the length of a very long trampoline in a NICA rehearsal space was breathtaking.

A typical day for these two young people is long and arduous but neither can think of anything they’d rather be doing. Both are full of praise for those who coach them, who bring to NICA the skills that they have honed in circus companies from around the world, including China, Russia and Argentina. Both are utterly determined to make a career in circus. Both are also in rehearsal for their 2012 mid-year show Lucy and the lost boy and agree that it is the performance side of their training that spurs them on to perfect their technical skills.

  • Jacob’s Pillow

My reflections on a visit to Jacob’s Pillow in 2007 elicited a response from Norton Owen, director of preservation at the Pillow. He mentioned, amongst other things, a DVD called Never stand still. It chronicles life at the Pillow and includes material relating to Gideon Obarzanek. The words of the title, ‘Never stand still’, are in fact those of Obarzanek, which he used in an interview for the DVD and which were then taken up and used as the title. Below is a promotional clip for the DVD.

  • Gailene Stock

In April I had the huge pleasure of recording an interview with Gailene Stock, currently director of the Royal Ballet School, London. I was inspired to suggest that an interview with Stock be made for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection after visiting her in London last year to talk to her about her recollections of working with designer Kristian Fredrikson. There was such a positive work ethic at the Royal Ballet School that I felt there had to be the hand of a strong and committed person behind it all. And there is—a director who cares deeply about what she is doing. And of course Stock had an impressive career in Australia as a performer, teacher and director before taking up her current position in London. Here is the link to the National Library’s catalogue record, although a summary of the interview is not yet available. [Update: The full interview is now available online. Follow this link]

Gailene Stock
Gailene Stock. Courtesy the Royal Ballet School
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This site now has a search facility located with the tag cloud page.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2012