The Australian Ballet recently announced that corps de ballet dancer Mason Lovegrove (pictured above) had received the Walter Bourke Award. The prize, which was established in 2005, is named for former Australian Ballet dancer Walter Bourke, and is not awarded annually but on merit. It is to be used specifically to fund a dancer’s professional development on the world stage. Lovegrove plans to use his award to spend time with Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and Berlin’s Staatsballett. Meet Mason Lovegrove via the Australian Ballet’s site.
On the trail of Ruth St Denis
Liz Lea’s documentary On the trail of Ruth St Denis will have its premiere screening in Canberra on 20 July at the National Film and Sound Archive’s Arc Cinema. A sneak preview that I had recently reveals a fascinating glimpse of ‘Ruthie’ as she was known, along with a just-as-fascinating glimpse of Lea and her work. Lea will also perform live as part of the event. She will dance The Cobras, a work created by Ruth St Denis in 1906 and as yet never seen in Australia.
On the trail of Ruth St Denis was filmed in India in Agra, Amritsar, Kanpur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, New Delhi and Varanasi, as well as in Scotland, England and Kuwait. Further details of the documentary are at this link, while further details of the NFSA screening are at this link.
Liz Lea during the filming of On the trail of Ruth St Denis
Merce Cunningham Contemporary Dance Residency
In August the National Gallery of Australia will open an exhibition, American Masters, with works drawn from the Gallery’s extensive collection of American art from the 1940s to the 1980s. It was a time in the United States when Merce Cunningham, and his collaborators across art forms, were experimenting with new ways of making dance and, as an adjunct to the exhibition, and with support from the Embassy of the United States of America, the Gallery is hosting a two-week residency for three independent contemporary dance artists (yet to be appointed). The program will be led by former Cunningham dancer Jamie Scott who will remount a range of Cunningham solos, duets and trios on these dancers. A number of public performances will be staged at the end of the residency period. More later.
Press for June 2018
‘Exploring rhythms of nature.’ Review of Australian Dance Theatre’s The beginning of nature. The Canberra Times, 18 June 2018, p. 20. Online version.
‘Dancers following their dream.’ Feature on National Capital Ballet School dancers. The Canberra Times, ‘Private Capital’ 25 June 2018, p. 12. Online version
(l-r) Abigail Davidson, Ky Trotter and Soraya Sullivan of the National Capital Ballet School, Canberra
Michelle Potter, 30 June 2018
Featured image: Mason Lovegrove. Photo: Lynette Wills
While visiting the Tate Britain with the express purpose of examining the Tate’s excellent collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings (Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake was inspired by The Lady of Shallot), I stumbled on a piece of performance art, The Squash. The work of British sculptor and performance artist Anthea Hamilton, it involved a single performer (a different dancer each day apparently), dressed in a squash-like costume (chosen each day from a collection of costumes), moving around a white tiled area.
The program evolved from Hamilton’s research into performance art in the 1960s and 1970s and in particular from a photograph she found of a person dressed as a squash lying among vines. How does a squash move? Without much variety I think. But still it was a diversion.
A dancer in wartime: Gillian Lynne
Some dance fans in Australia may remember Gillian Lynne from her work in 1975–1976 on the production of Fool on the Hill, a work for the Australian Ballet especially commissioned for television. More recently, I was impressed by her work in the revival of Helpmann’s early work Miracle in the Gorbals for Birmingham Royal Ballet, which I was lucky enough to see in London in 2014. And of course she has had a stellar career in musical theatre.
Promotional shot by John McKinnon of cast members in Fool on the Hill. Robert Helpmann as Sergeant Pepper is foregound left, John Meehan is centre as the Puma Tamer. National Library of Australia.
I was not aware until very recently of A dancer in wartime, an autobiographical account of Lynne’s early career as a student and then dancer with Sadler’s Wells.
Published in 2011, it is a highly personal and moving work finishing with preparations for and the opening of the production of The Sleeping Beauty of 1946, the first production to open in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, after World War II. Definitely worth a read. Unfortunately, it leaves a few threads in the air. What, for example, happened to Geoffrey, a serviceman who seemed smitten with Lynne, who also seemed smitten with him. I have yet to discover the next part of the story!
Gray Veredon in France
I had the pleasure very recently of visiting choreographer and director Gray Veredon at his home, La Mirande, in the Ardèche region of southern France. Veredon choreographed a number of ballets with designs by Kristian Fredrikson for Royal New Zealand Ballet and choreographed and directed two operas for Wellington City Opera, also with designs by Fredrikson.
A cosy corner at La Mirande
Veredon was generous in sharing his thoughts about working with Fredrikson, who admired him greatly. Fredrikson wrote, ‘I have over 30 years found only two [choreographers] who were intuitively visual and determined to incorporate the design into choreography and dramatic visual statements.’ They were Veredon and Graeme Murphy.
Veredon’s thoughts on his work with Fredrikson, and on his own choreographic concepts, will feed into my biography of Fredrikson, which is nearing completion.
Michelle Potter, 30 April 2018
Featured image: Moment from The Squash, Tate Britain, April 2018. Phoro: Neville Potter
The ACT Arts Awards for 2017, an initiative of the Canberra Critics’ Circle, were announced in Canberra on 27 November. The major award, ACT Artist of the Year, sponsored by the weekly newspaper City News, went to dancer, choreographer and director, Liz Lea. This award is the subject of a separate post at this link.
In the wider category, where awards go to ACT-based artists across the various performing arts genres, the visual arts and literature, two dance awards were given.
Photographer Lorna Sim was awarded ‘For her outstanding contribution to dance in the ACT through her photography of dance, and her 2017 exhibition of dance photographs Enigma.’ One of her remarkable images from Enigma is the featured image on this post.
Katie Senior and Liz Lea shared an award ‘For their moving and elegiac dance work That extra ‘some created in celebration of a remarkable friendship.’ For a review of this work follow this link.
Katie Senior (foreground) at the ACT Arts Awards, 2017
David Vaughan (1924–2017)
I was saddened to hear of the death in October in New York of British-born dance archivist, historian and critic David Vaughan. I first met Vaughan in the early 1990s when I was doing research for my doctoral thesis, which concerned Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and their collaborations with Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Vaughan was the generous archivist of the Cunningham Foundation. I met up with him several times after that and was proud to be a co-curator with him and Barbara Cohen-Stratyner of the exhibition INVENTION. Merce Cunningham and Collaborators at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York, in 2007.
David Vaughan’s writing has been widely published in a variety of formats, but the two works that stand out in my mind are his spendid work on the ballets of Frederick Ashton, originally published in 1977 and revised in 1999— Frederick Ashton and his ballets. Revised edition (London: Dance Books, 1999)—and his equally impressive Merce Cunningham. Fifty years (New York: Aperture, 1997), and its accompanying app.
Press conference, Library for the Performing Arts, New York, 2007. Foreground Merce Cunningham, background (l-r) curators Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, David Vaughan, Michelle Potter
Degas from Scotland in London
Just recently I saw a small, but quite beautiful show called Drawn in colour. Degas from the Burrell at the National Gallery in London. The works by Degas came mostly from the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, although some items, designed to expand the exhibition, came from elsewhere. The items from the Burrell Collection have rarely travelled before, and most were new to me. I especially liked the one I have chosen as illustration, The green ballet skirt, for the gorgeous way Degas has painted the skirt being so carefully treated by the dancer before (I am assuming) she goes on stage.
The Degas paintings, drawings and sculptures on display in this show are part of an extensive collection of art works given to the city of Glasgow by a wealthy Glaswegian shipping merchant, Sir William Burrell. The exhibition runs from 20 September 2017 to 7 May 2018. More at this link.
‘Moving towards inclusion.’ Preview of the dance component of the Detonate program at Belconnen Arts Centre. Panorama (The Canberra Times), 25 November 2017, pp. 10–11. Online version
Michelle Potter, 30 November 2017
Late addition (2 December 2017)
I have just received a link to the latest edition of the remarkable Dance Books catalogue and, rather than wait until my January dance diary, I am including it here as a late addition—a source of Christmas gifts? Follow this link
Lorna Sim is well-known in Canberra arts circles for her exceptional dance photography, and for her generosity in allowing her work to be used freely and frequently by journalists and others writing about dance. An exhibition of Sim’s work, entitled Enigma, specifically relating to a collaborative project she worked on with dancer Eliza Sanders, opens on 19 May 2017. The venue is Canberra’s Photography Room, Old Bus Depot Markets, and the show runs Sundays only until 25 June. Details of the exhibition of Sim’s work are at this link.
What I love about Sim’s work is her ability to capture the moment with all the movement and intensity of purpose that is inherent in dance, and this in fact was the focus of the collaboration with Sanders. Of working with Sanders on this occasion, Sim says: ‘The excitement is the anticipation of what’s she’s going to do as her body moves and capturing that in a still frame.’ The images in the exhibition capture that movement not just in the body but also in the flow of fabric. In the featured image above I especially love, in addition to the flow of movement, the way Sim has captured the emotion in Sanders’ face. Two other startling images from the exhibition are below:
I have been using Sim’s photographs on this site since she first began working in Canberra with QL2 in 2009, and a little later with other artists who were creating their work in the national capital. Below is a small gallery of Sim’s images that have appeared on this site between 2010 and 2017.
Left to right: (top row) Padma Menon; Dean Cross in Walking and Falling; Gabriel Comerford, Eliza Sanders and Dean Cross in Other Moments; (middle row) dancers of QL2 and the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland; Amelia McQueen in Strange Attractor; dancer from QL2 in Night. Stir; (bottom row) Tammi Gissell in Seeking Biloela; scene from Strings Attached; James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in Island.
And below, Sanders in a different guise.
Eliza Sanders in Other Moments at the National Portrait Gallery, 2016.
Other photographers whose work is on show alongside that of Sim at the Photography Room are Maurice Weidemann and Dörte Conroy. Canberra’s dance community may remember Weidemann who photographed the National Capital Dancers at various times. Some of his dance photographs are part of the National Library’s dance collection, two of which are reproduced at the end of this post.
Michelle Potter, 18 May 2017
Featured image (detail): Eliza Sanders. Photo by Lorna Sim from the exhibition Enigma, 2017
The publicity for La danseuse, which was shown around Australia during March and April as part of the 2017 Alliance française French Film Festival, assures us that the film is ‘based on a true story’, or sometimes ‘inspired by a true story’, about the now ‘largely forgotten’ Loïe Fuller. Well, it depends what part of the population is being referred to as to whether Fuller is ‘largely forgotten’ or not, and ‘based on a true story’ is something of an overstatement I think. The events in the film are fictional from so many points of view that it is hard to justify the description of it as a screen biography.
The best sections of the film are those in which we see the recreations, staged by Jody Sperling, of Fuller’s dances. They look spectacular, given the contemporary equipment and facilities that are available and used in these restagings. Of course in Fuller’s time, without the benefits of today’s technical expertise and equipment, her dances would not have looked quite as spectacular, but on the other hand, with what was available in the late 19th/early 20th century, expectations would have been different and it is not hard to see that Fuller was a visionary and an astonishing artist for her time.
I was also impressed with the performance throughout of Soko, the independent actor, singer-songwriter who took the part of Fuller. She created a believable character, I thought, unlike Lily-Rose Depp who gave a somewhat shallow interpretation of Isadora Duncan, Fuller’s rival at the time.
Fuller’s own version of her life story is available (with some restrictions in certain cases) in an online version. Details at this link.
Homage to Carla Fracci. Daniel Schinasi
I was surprised to find, while strolling through the lovely little Italian town of Castiglioncello, an advertisement for an exhibition of paintings by Italian neo-futurist artist Daniel Schinasi, which included a painting called Homage to Carla Fracci (see below). We were very close to the venue advertised, a cafe in a nearby park, but the cafe was closed, seemingly in the throes of a small renovation. The manager, however, kindly let us in to look at the paintings.
Homage to Carla Fracci by Daniel Schinasi
Three of the paintings in the cafe were dance-related and, in addition to the Carla Fracci work with its swirling, circular patterns in the background, I was especially intrigued by one that seemed to by inspired, at least in part, by Picasso’s front-cloth for the ballet Parade, although who is it character sitting on the winged horse?
A very interesting small show of work.
Australian Dance Awards
The long list of nominations for the 2017 Australian Dance Awards includes four groups/artists from the Canberra dance scene. Philip Piggin has been nominated for Services to Dance; Australian Dance Party for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance for Nervous; QL2 for Outstanding Achievement in Youth Dance for Connected, and Liz Lea and collaborators for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance for Great Sport! Congratulations to all, and good luck for the next round, which will produce the short list.
Dancers from the GOLD group in a scene from Great Sport! Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016
The Robert Rauschenberg retrospective currently showing at London’s Tate Modern until 2 April, is a remarkable exhibition. It brims with the known from Rauschenberg—Monogram, the famous Angora goat with tyre; Bed made from a quilt when Rauschenberg had no money for canvas; the early Black Mountain experiments; the fascinating sound assemblage, Oracle; his silk screen work; in fact memorable items from every decade of his working life.
But it also has some fascinating lesser known items. They include a collection of personal boxes (Scatole personali) of various shapes and sizes containing an assortment of small items (including dead insects, pebbles, dirt and sticks) made in response to reliquaries Rauschenberg saw in the 1950s while touring Italy with fellow artist Cy Twombly; and a large, square, open-topped tank of bubbling mud, or actually bentonite clay and water, that is linked up with a sound system that records the sound of the bubbles plopping and spluttering.
What the exhibition shows quite clearly is that Rauschenberg was fearless in his approach to what constitutes art. He experimented with everything that came his way.
But I was especially interested in Rauschenberg’s collaborations with choreographers, including Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and a range of choreographers working with Judson Dance Theater, and also with his own endeavours in the field of performance art. These activities were nicely represented in the exhibition with video material, photographs and, in the case of Rauschenberg’s performance pieces, his workbooks in which he recorded his movement ideas. Of his own pieces, the best documented was Pelican first made in 1963 for Rauschenberg himself, Per Olof Ultvedt and Carolyn Brown.
As video footage in the exhibition shows, Rauschenberg and Ultvedt performed the choreography on roller skates with parachutes attached to their backs and Carolyn Brown executed some balletic moves, including a stunning series of posé turns on pointe. The piece evolved when Rauschenberg was inadvertently described as choreographer rather than stage manager on publicity material for the Pop Art Festival being held in Washington D.C. in 1963. He seized the moment and made Pelican. Others of Rauschenberg’s performance pieces that were well documented in the exhibition included Elgin Tie and Spring Training.
Other dance material on show included some footage from Minutiae, an early work from Cunningham featuring a screen designed by Rauschenberg. While the screen itself was not included in the exhibition, the footage showed several close-up shots of it, including a small revolving mirror and pieces of lace and other fabric, in addition to the largely red paintwork. What was especially interesting was the location of the footage in a room of Rauschenberg’s ‘red’ paintings, made in a period when he moved away from his early experiments with black and white paint. These red paintings, which included Charlene (1954), a stunning work from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, clearly set the context for the Minutiae screen.
Other dance footage included a section from Cunningham’s Travelogue, designed by Rauschenberg in 1977. Again the location of the footage within the exhibition was significant. It provided further context for Rauschenberg’s Travelogue designs. In 1975 Rauschenberg spent time in Ahmedabad, a city in India renown for its textiles, and his use of textiles in his works from this period were hung in one room of the exhibition, along with the Travelogue footage. In Travelogue, this Indian experience is reflected in the costumes he designed, with their ‘wheels’ made from sections of different fabric; in the sheer cloth that hung from overhead as the dance progressed; and in the long strip of sheer, white fabric that the dancers carried at various stages.
On the other hand, the painting Charlene from 1954 has, in one corner of the canvas, a flattened-out umbrella with its sections painted in different colours and his Travelogue costumes are redolent of this part of Charlene. In fact, I was surprised by the extent to which umbrellas and parachutes appeared throughout the exhibition. They seemed to permeate most periods of Rauschenberg’s output.
Then the exhibition also had on display material relating to Trisha Brown’s 1979 Glacial Decoy, for which Rauschenberg provided costume designs that required the use of sheer, white materials. He also provided the set, which consisted largely of a series of his photographs that were projected in a particular rotation onto four screens at the back of the stage space as the dance unfolded. There was video footage of Glacial Decoy for visitors to view and also, projected onto an exhibition wall in the manner in which they appeared on stage, were the photographs that made up the set.
One other item (or two items) interested me—Factum I and Factum II. These two works (combines) were painted simultaneously in 1957. Rauschenberg apparently said he made them because he was interested in ‘the role that accident played in my work’. They reminded me of those ‘spot the difference’ games, and the differences included drips of paint in one that were not the same in the other. But given the date at which they were painted—a time when Rauschenberg was closely involved with Cunningham and John Cage—that interest in ‘accident’ in a work must surely reflect the influence of Cunningham and Cage.
This was an exceptional exhibition, curated jointly by curators from Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was a great insight into the long and varied career of one of the world’s boldest artists, and there was much to be enjoyed for those whose major interest is in dance and collaboration.
Michelle Potter, 12 February 2017
Featured image: Costume from Travelogue (detail) as displayed in the exhibition INVENTION: Merce Cunningham and Collaborators, Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, New York, 2007. Photo: Neville Potter
Being in London is always full of dance surprises. Apart from performances, the city’s galleries almost always have a dance-related exhibition, or a small display featuring dance items from their permanent collections. This November, for example, the Courtauld Gallery had a particularly interesting show, Rodin and dance. The essence of movement. It examined Rodin’s mouvements de danse, until now a little known a series of sculptures, with accompanying drawings, made towards the end of his life.
The first room of the exhibition had a section that looked at the inspiration Rodin drew from the visit to France by the Royal Cambodian Ballet in 1906, which I have discussed briefly in a different context elsewhere on this site. This room included a small number of the very beautiful drawings in pencil, watercolour and gouache that Rodin made of the Cambodian dancers, along with photographs of contemporary dancers who also influenced Rodin, including Loïe Fuller and Ruth St Denis, and some photographs of Rodin himself.
Auguste Rodin sketching a Cambodian dancer in France in 1906. Photo: Émile Sanremo
The second, and main room contained material devoted to the mouvements de danse, a collection of terracotta and plaster figures, with some bronze castings, and accompanying drawings showing extreme dance movements and acrobatic poses. Although the drawings had been exhibited during Rodin’s lifetime, the sculptures had not. While they were all fascinating to look at—and there is a handsome exhibition catalogue (Rodin and dance. The essence of movement (London: Paul Holberton, 2016)—a model of Vaslav Nijinsky (in fact two models, one in plaster and one in bronze) attracted my attention.
Auguste Rodin, bronze casting of a model of Vaslav Nijinsky (original model 1912)
Rodin is known to have been at the opening night of Nijinsky’s L’après-midi d’un faun in Paris in May 1912 and followed up with an article in the Parisian newspaper Le Matin in which he showered Nijinsky with praise. Shortly afterwards, Nijinsky reputedly visited Rodin in his studio when it is thought the model for the sculpture was made. Looking at the sculpture it is impossible not to notice a certain turbulence and intensity in the figure. It is quite breathtaking in fact.
The Courtauld also has a collection of bronzes and paintings by Degas including the one shown as the featured image in this post. This particular bronze made me wonder about how it was made. Did a model pose, and if so was she a dancer? Most dancers, I think, would automatically take a pose with the lifted arm in opposition to the pointed foot, rather than same arm as leg as in the sculpture. Or did Degas simply model from memory, or just by adding body parts unthinkingly? But however it was made, this sculpture looked particularly beautiful as a shadowy figure with light streaming through the window.
The other major show with a strong dance component was an exhibition, Picasso Portraits, at the National Portrait Gallery. One room was devoted to portraits and some photographs of Picasso’s first wife, Diaghilev dancer Olga Khokhlova. While the portraits and drawings were fascinating, so too were some photographs of Olga, including two of her on the roof of the Minerva Hotel in Rome and some wonderful home movie footage of the family—Picasso, Olga, their son Paulo, and the family dog enjoying some light-hearted family moments.
A portrait of Olga appears on the cover of the catalogue (Elizabeth Cowling, Picasso Portraits (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2016).
Other rooms in the Picasso Portraits exhibition contained items relating to Ballets Russes personnel including composers, designers and of course Jean Cocteau looking particularly dashing in one pencil drawing in two dimensional, Egyptian style representing, so the caption said, Cocteau’s well known vanity.
Michelle Potter, 12 November 2016
Featured image: Edgar Degas, bronze sculpture of a dancer, right foot forward, the Courtauld Gallery, London. Photo: Michelle Potter
10 September 2016, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery continues to commission short dance works as public program events associated with its exhibitions. Other moments, made in response to a photographic exhibition, Tough and tender, was given twelve performances on two successive weekends by dancers from QL2—Gabriel Comerford, Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders. The portraits on display in Tough and tender revealed young people, often in intimate settings or situations, tough on the outside (mostly) but often appearing to be quite vulnerable. The dance work set out to suggest moments before and after the single moment captured by a photograph.
The choreography, by Ruth Osborne (in collaboration with the dancers), and the performance itself captured a beautiful range of emotions, from tough to tender as was appropriate, but also sometimes amusing and often intense. With its range of solos, duets and trios, and its variety of costuming, it also highlighted different kinds of interpersonal connection.
Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders in Other moments. QL2, 2016.
Gabriel Comerford (left) and Eliza Sanders (right) in Other moments. QL2, 2016
As she did in Walking and Falling, a previous work for the National Portrait Gallery, Osborne showed her skill in working with a minimum of space and little in the way of design. A wooden bench and an array of costumes was all that she needed to make this compelling short work. And of course good dancing from three strong, versatile performers.
Edgar Degas’ beautiful sculpture of the little fourteen year old dancer, gorgeously displayed in Copenhagen’s gallery, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and seen above in head and shoulders detail.
The Little Mermaid who sits on a rock on the edge of Copenhagen’s harbour. The inspiration for the sculpture was dancer Ellen Price who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and danced with the Royal Danish Ballet from 1895 to 1913. Price appeared in 1909 as the Mermaid in Hans Beck’s ballet based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. For more see this article by Judith Mackrell with embedded archival footage.
‘Nelly dancing’, stained glass panel by Harry Clarke representing a scene from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley. ‘She came towards him dancing, moving the folds of the veil so that they unfolded as she danced.’ A tiny gem from the 1920s in the Hugh Lane Gallery. For more see this link.
I was interested to find in a bookshop in Cork a biography of Alicia Markova, which I had not previously come across: Tina Sutton, The Making of Markova. Diaghilev’s Baby Ballerina to Groundbreaking Icon (New York: Pegasus Books, 2013). The author is a journalist without a dance background (and admits in the preface that she ‘knew nothing about Markova’ before she began her project), so there are some explanatory passages and slabs of text that those with some dance knowledge may find a little irritating, or unnecessary. Some frustrating repetition too and overuse of adjectives such as ‘brilliant’ and ‘famous’. Sutton has, however, drawn on previously unpublished source material from Markova’s personal collection, including her journals, which makes for interesting reading. The Markova collection, which appears to be extensive, is held in Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Massachusetts.
The Laughing Audience (detail) in William Hogarth’s house in Hammersmith. Hogarth used this 1733 etching as a subscription ticket when he jointly advertised his large engraving Southwark Fair with the series The Rake’s Progress.
Michelle Potter, 31 March 2016
* With apologies (or really in homage) to Alexei Ratmansky whose charming ballet From foreign lands made such an impression on me a few years ago.
Ruth Osborne, artistic director of QL2 Dance, has made a wonderfully moving vignette of dance for the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Called Walking and Falling, it features three beautifully costumed dancers, Dean Cross, Gemma Dawkins and Caitlin MacKenzie. All three are former Quantum Leapers who have gone from their student days with Canberra’s youth program to become professional dancers.
The work follows, in just 15 economical minutes, the life of a man who goes to war and returns shaken from the experience, unable to participate in the warmth of his family life as he could before he left. It opens with a charming scene around a table as the man and the two women in his life drink tea and eat scones to the sound of the patriotic wartime song Keep the Home Fires Burning. One of the women discovers a white feather in the pocket of the man’s jacket, but he does go off to war leaving the women to devote themselves to their daily chores. They pause often to think of him.
The scene shifts to the battle field and we see the man engaged in combat. Osborne has made smart use of the space available to her and of the simple props that she uses—a table, three chairs and a poster on a side wall. The table from that opening family meal of tea and scones becomes a form of shelter and protection for the man at war and it divides the small foyer area in which the dance unfolds into two separate spaces. There is one particularly poignant moment when the man shelters behind the overturned table to read a letter from home. On the other side of the table one of the women writes a letter and, in a flash, we see two worlds.
The man returns home, physically anyway. But he is emotionally scarred. The work closes as it began around the family table, but there is no longer the joyous engagement between the three. To the sound of And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, a song on the futility of war, we watch as emotional silence engulfs the small group, a group that was once filled with life.
What is so attractive about this work is its simplicity. It achieves its huge emotional impact without any fuss or unnecessary razzamatazz. It moves smoothly from segment to segment and demands our attention from opening minute to its closing scene. All three dancers convey their thoughts and hopes strongly through movement, gesture, and eye contact with each other, or lack of it at the end as they struggle to cope with what has happened. As the work closes, we are left with an aching heart for the man, for the women in his life, and for their indescribable loss.
Walking and Falling is a tiny pearl of a dance commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to accompany its exhibition, All that Fall, which examines sacrifice, life and loss during World War I. The exhibition couldn’t have a more perfect addition than Walking and Falling. Bouquets to Osborne and the dancers.
The Portrait Gallery exhibition contains a collection of items from World War I including posters, personal mementos, and art works of various kinds. One of the most moving items is a work, also commissioned especially for the exhibition, by Canberra-based artist Ellis Hutch. She has created an installation of wax panels and light projections as a contemporary response to an uncompleted World War I memorial. The proposal and design for the original memorial was prepared by Theodora Cowen* and it was meant to honour the men who fell in World War I.
Ellis Hutch, Last light, 2014–2015
* There seems to be some controversy about the spelling of Theodora Cowen’s last name. Is it Cowen or Cowan? I have gone with the spelling used by the Portrait Gallery.