Dame Maggie Scott. A life in dance

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

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

Michelle Potter, 22 October 2014

THE LAUNCH: Australian Ballet studios, 10 November 2014

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEWS and COMMENTS

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

The Listeners. A ballet by Joanna Priest

Towards the end of research for my forthcoming publication, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance, an item relating to Joanna Priest’s ballet The Listeners emerged, quite unexpectedly. I had briefly looked into The Listeners as it was one of the ballets performed during the opening season by the National Theatre Ballet in Melbourne in September 1949. This was the occasion when Dame Margaret Scott made her return to the stage, following a lengthy stay in St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, during the 1947—1949 Australasian tour by Ballet Rambert.

The appearance of this previously unknown item (unknown to me anyway) prompted me to look at The Listeners in a little more depth. My main source for further investigation was a Laban score for the work, part of the small collection of notated scores acquired by the National Library of Australia from Meg Abbie Denton in around 2004. Further information came from Meg’s publication Joanna Priest: her place in Adelaide’s dance history (Adelaide: Joanna Priest, 1993), and Alan Brissenden’s and Keith Glennon’s Australia dances: creating Australian dance 1945–1965 (Adelaide: Wakefield Press,  2010).

The Listeners was first staged for the South Australian Ballet Club in Adelaide on 30 November 1948 at the Tivoli Theatre (later Her Majesty’s). It was inspired by a poem written by Walter de la Mare, and Priest used the poem’s title as the name of her ballet. It was performed to Erno Dohnanyi’s String Quartet No 2 in D flat major, Opus 15, played by the Elder String Quartet, and had designs by Kenneth Rowell, his second commission from Priest.

'The Listeners', South Australian Ballet Company, 1948. Photo: Colin Ballantyne

Harry Haythorne as the Traveller, with Margaret Monson (left) as the Woman who Loved Him and Lynette Tuck as the Woman He Loved in The Listeners, South Australian Ballet Club, 1948. Photo: Colin Ballantyne

In the poem, the only human is a traveller who knocks on the door of a deserted house, deserted except for ‘a host of phantom listeners’ who do not respond to him. For her work, Priest added two women in the traveller’s life—one who loved him, the other whom he loved—as well as the child who was born from the liaison between the traveller and the woman who loved him. They were joined by the force of circumstance represented by four female dancers. Program notes explain:

The traveller arrives at an abandoned house which holds intimate memories…and here among “a host of phantom listeners” the conflict of his relationship with two women is re-enacted in his imagination. Dogged by the relentless interference of circumstance he tries in vain to weave into an enduring pattern his longing for the woman he loves, and his loyalty to the woman who has borne him a child. The harmony of the pattern is perpetually broken by inexorable forces, and, as in life, his struggles against them prove unavailing.

In the original production Harry Haythorne danced the Traveller, Margaret Monson the Woman who Loved  Him, and Lynette Tuck the Woman He Loved.

The ballet entered the repertoire of the National Theatre Ballet in 1949 with Rex Reid as the Traveller, Joyce Graeme as the Woman who Loved Him, Margaret Scott as the Woman He Loved and Jennifer Stielow as the Child. Six extra dancers were added, three men and three women, representing phantom listeners. Kenneth Rowell designed new sets and costumes for this production.

Alan Brissenden’s report of the National’s production has a number of errors, in particular some confusion as to which roles were danced by whom, but of the overall production he says:

The complex choreography followed the melodic structure of the music…and was firmly knit with the development of the story.

What is the unexpected item? It will appear in the plates section of Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance.

Michelle Potter, 14 August 2014

Featured image: Joyce Graeme as the Woman who Loved Him and Jennifer Stielow as the Child in The Listeners, National Theatre Ballet, 1949. Photo: Harry Jay

Dance diary. June 2014

  • Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance

My biography of Dame Margaret Scott is now in the editing and design phase and is scheduled for release in October 2014. I originally interviewed Dame Margaret for the National Library’s oral history program in 1993 and, while that interview provided a skeleton plan, there was much more to discover, or at least many details to investigate further. And who would have thought I would find material in the Imperial War Museum in London, or the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra? But I did. Dame Margaret’s life is quite remarkable, apart from the role she played in the establishment of the Australian Ballet Foundation and as inaugural director of the Australian Ballet School.

Potter_Scott_flyer_001

The commission to write the book came unexpectedly and I had a very short time in which to complete the manuscript. But what an exciting journey it has been so far. It has meant, however, that posts to my website have been a little meagre over the past few months. I hope to rectify that situation shortly.

  • Honours

It was a real, pleasure to see two dance leaders honoured during June. Cheryl Stock was awarded an AM in the Queen’s Birthday honours list and Louise Howden-Smith was the recipient of the West Australian of the Year award for arts and culture.

Stock is Associate Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. Before turning to academia, she had a distinguished career as a dancer, choreographer and artistic director with a wide range of companies in Australia and elsewhere.

Howden-Smith made a major contribution to dance over a ten year period as executive director of West Australian Ballet. I have happy memories of her generosity to the media during those years. She is now director of Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, founding director as it happens. The company aims to promote Aboriginal culture through contemporary dance.

It was also good to see that Philip Piggin, who has been involved with community dance in the ACT for many years now, received a 2014 Churchill Fellowship to travel to the USA and the United Kingdom to develop skills and experience in teaching dance to people with Parkinson’s disease.

  • Press for June 2014 [Online links to press articles in The Canberra Times are no longer available]

‘Shadowland showcases masters of movement.’ The Canberra Times, 25 June 2014, ARTS p. 6.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2014