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 Sutton has, however, drawn on previously unpublished source material from Markova’s personal collection, including her journals, which makes for interesting reading.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.
Postscript: 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.
* 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.
My review of Fortuity from Mirramu Dance Company with guest artists from Taiwan is now available on DanceTabs at this link.
Elizabeth Dalman and her guests also appeared on several occasions during May in various public places and institutions around Canberra. I was able to see two such performances, one in the National Gallery of Australia and one in the Canberra Museum and Gallery. The National Gallery of Australia show began in the foyer with a solo by Chen Fu-rong from Dalman’s work Landscape, made originally in 1967 for Australia Dance Theatre to music by Nomad and Clifford Brown. Chen’s solo was Dalman’s response to works in the Mandala series by South Australian artist Lawrence Daws and was memorable for Chen’s strong sense of balance and his capacity to extend his limbs into the off-centre poses that characterised Dalman’s choreography during the 1960s.
A second highlight of the program, which also included improvisations in response to various works as we moved from the foyer to the downstairs sculpture gallery, was another solo, this time from Peng Hsiao-yin entitled Woman of the River. This piece was made by Dalman for herself in 1987 to music of the Penguin Café Orchestra and was recently handed on to Peng by Dalman. Peng’s performance was filled with lyricism as she danced Dalman’s flowing, swirling choreography, weaving her way around the varied sculptural items currently on display.
The showing at the Canberra Museum and Gallery was largely characterised by improvisations but concluded with solo danced by Vivienne Rogis, which was mesmerising for the calmness Rogis was able to bring to the piece.
What a pleasure it was to learn that Ako Kondo had been promoted to principal with the Australian Ballet, although I am not surprised. She was my pick in the category ‘Most Outstanding Dancer’ in the 2014 Critics’ Survey for Dance Australia. ‘Her technical skills are breathtaking,’ I wrote and I recall seeing her as Kitri in the the Dancers Company production of Don Quixote in 2011 when I wrote in The Canberra Times that she gave ‘a stellar performance’. I look forward to more. For other comments see the tag Ako Kondo.
Green Room Awards: James Batchelor
It was good to see Canberran James Batchelor take out a 2015 Green Room Award just recently. Batchelor was a joint winner in the category ‘Concept and Realisation’ for his work Island. Congratulations to Batchelor and his team. A well deserved award. Island received a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award last year and is long-listed for a 2015Australian Dance Award in the category Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance.
Here is a link to my review of Island, written after it was performed in Canberra last year.
The Dance: Benjamin Shine
The Canberra Centre, the city’s central shopping mall, has installed an exhibition called The Dance. The work of Benjamin Shine, it is an entrancing take on store models, positioned as it is outside the fashion floor of David Jones. It looks gorgeous. An article in The Canberra Times explains its genesis.
17 January 2015, Carriageworks, Eveleigh (Sydney). Sydney Festival 2015
My review of the Sydney Festival production of Inside There Falls, a collaboration between London-based artist and musician, Mira Calix, and Sydney Dance Company, has been posted on DanceTabs at this link.
In addition to the photographs published with the article, most of which were kindly supplied by the Sydney Festival, below are some I took during my visit to the installation — and yes, for once photography was allowed! They show the two dancers I saw, Sam Young-Wright and Laura Wood.
Michelle Potter, 19 January 2015
Featured image: Scene from Inside there falls, Sydney Festival 2015. Photo: Michelle Potter
In mid-October 2014, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London opened an exhibition, Russian avant-garde theatre: war, revolution & design, in its Theatre and Performance Galleries. It consisted of around 150 works, most of which came from a twenty year period between 1913 and 1933, that is just before the Revolution of 1917 until the beginnings of Social Realism in the 1930s. The majority of items, largely works on paper, came from the Bakhrushin State Theatre Museum in Moscow with smaller amounts of material from the St Petersburg Museum of Theatre and Music, the Victoria & Albert Museum and from private collections.
The designs were mostly in spectacular condition, especially in terms of colour which seemed scarcely to have dimmed over the century or so since the designs were painted. With the prominence that has been given to the designers who worked with Diaghilev over approximately the same period, many of them Russian, this exhibition was an exceptional opportunity to see another side of Russian design.
Many of the theatrical works represented had never been realised in performance. Satanic Ballet designed by Alexandra Exter, for example, is thought to have been prepared for the Moscow Chamber Ballet and was meant to be a series of improvisations without thematic content, but never made it to the stage. Other productions were of course realised but what was interesting was that the designs often showed movement despite the fact that they came from a period when the art being produced in Russia was dominated by constructivism. Some designs have a real fluidity to them, others remain within the constructivist mode but still show some potential for body movement.
A handsome book was produced for the exhibition and of particular interest as far as dance is concerned is an essay by Nicoletta Misler entitled ‘Precarious Bodies: Performing Constructivism’. Misler writes of Satanic Ballet:
Naked bodies—in keeping with Goleizvosky’s [the choreographer] interest in the culture of nudist performance—were to have leapt and twisted along diagonal ladders leaning against a void as if to confirm Exter’s conviction that ‘free movement is the fundamental element of the theatrical act’. (p. 55)
In her essay Misler also examines, briefly, the role of the Choreological Laboratory, part of the Russian State Academy of Artistic Sciences established in Moscow in 1921, and the research into the theory of movement that was carried out there. Her discussion of the various experiments carried out and the outcomes in terms of theatrical expression seem to me to be well worth following up.
Unfortunately the book doesn’t have an index but it is full of illustrations of a remarkable collection of designs and a selection of essays that are mind-expanding.
Russian avant-garde theatre: war, revolution and design (London: Nick Hern Books, 2014) ISBN 978 I 84842 I 453 I
28 June 2013 (dress rehearsal), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
In my June 2013 dance diary I mentioned a show at the National Gallery of Australia called Life is a work of art performed by the GOLDs, a group of performers over the age of 55. I have now received some images from that show and what follows is not a review as such, as GOLD is not a professional company, but rather some observations on some parts of the show. Life is a work of art was co-directed by Liz Lea and Jane Ingall and was a processional performance leading the audience through the National Gallery of Australia, pausing in particular galleries where specially commissioned dances were performed.
The section that worked best for me was staged in the Kimberley Gallery where art by Rover Thomas and other indigenous artists from the Kimberley region is on display. The section, called ‘Black/GOLD’, was choreographed by Tammi Gissell, a descendant of the Muruwari nation of northwestern New South Wales. It was performed to music composed and played by Francis Gilfedder.
Gissell wrote in her program notes: What a wonderful opportunity for Aussie Elders from all walks of life and cultural heritage to dance together in celebration of the rhythms and memories of this land. Australia now sensed freshly with knowing eyes and ears and footsteps. Black/GOLD is concerned with claiming ownership over one’s self, for this must occur to accept your role within a mob—the second yet equally important concern of the piece.
It struck me as I watched it that what made it especially powerful was perhaps the fact that in indigenous communities everyone dances. It seemed quite appropriate for these older, non-indigenous people to be dancing in front of indigenous art. And Francis Gilfedder, who sang and played the didgeridoo, was magnificent. Reading Gissell’s program note just increased my respect for her and the work. In the case of ‘Black/GOLD’ she chose a concept that is deeply entrenched within her heritage, made it relevant to the occasion, made it inclusive of her cast, and gave it a simplicity that belied the complexity of the concept. A real gem.
I was also impressed with ’A gentle spirit’ as a wonderful example of a site specific piece. As we progressed down a ramp to the sculpture gallery on a lower floor, we passed by Carol Mackay. She had a solo piece, which she performed at the corner of the ramp under Maria Cadoza’s Starfish. While our view of it was gone in a flash as we walked by, it was perfectly sited. Music for it was composed and played live by cellist David Pereira, but as I was at the dress rehearsal, at which he was not present, I’m not sure if he was a visual part of the piece, although from the images I received it appears not.
Finally, I enjoyed two pieces in the galleries of contemporary, international art: ‘Pop Art’, a piece choreographed by Liz Lea against a backdrop of works by Andy Warhol and others from the period of the 1960s; and ‘Caught between Kapoor’, an improvisation by Luke Mulders in Gallery 3.
Some parts of Life is a work of art, as I mentioned in my June dance diary, worked better than others for me. Here I have simply extracted a few sections that I especially enjoyed, which is not to say that the rest of the show was not enjoyable as well. It is a wonderful community dance concept and, despite the worries that staff at the National Gallery of Australia must have had as people (carrying stools) processed past and performers danced among such precious items, I hope the Gallery will consider doing it again.
All images courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia.
Michelle Potter, 30 July 2013
Featured image: A moment from ‘Black/GOLD’, Kimberley Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, 2013
Beginning in May I will be hosting a ten minute monthly dance segment on ArtSound FM, Canberra’s community radio station focusing on the arts. The segment will be part of Dress Circle a program hosted by local arts identity Bill Stephens. Dress Circle is broadcast on Sundays at 5 pm and repeated on Tuesdays at 11 pm and my segment will focus on dance in Canberra and surrounding regions. Michelle Potter … on dancing, as the segment will be called, will be a feature of Dress Circle on the first Sunday of each month.
In the first program, which will go to air on 5 May, I will be talking about the Australian Ballet’s visit to Canberra with their triple bill program Symmetries, whichopens on 23 May. Leading up to the program I have been talking Garry Stewart about his new work, Monument, and have been discovering some unusual and amusing stories about George Balanchine’s ballet The Four Temperaments. Monument and The Four Temperaments will be accompanied by the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain in this Canberra-only program.
I will also be sharing some information about Liz Lea’s new work, InFlight, which will premiere at the National Library of Australia on 31 May. InFlight is danced by four female performers who are inspired to become aviatrixes when they see their heros, Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, taking to the air in 1928 and breaking the trans-pacific flight record.
There will be other snippets of news as well, and I hope to have time to look back on some of the dance events I have enjoyed in the previous month.
Elizabeth Dalman and Australian Dance Theatre
There was some lovely news earlier this month from Australian Dance Theatre—Elizabeth Dalman has been named patron of ADT for the company’s 50th anniversary year, 2015. Dalman, along with Leslie White (1936‒2009), founded ADT in 1965. White moved on to other things in 1967 and Dalman continued to direct the company until 1975. After a varied career overseas, both before and after the ten years she spent at ADT, Dalman returned to Australia in 1986 and in 1990 founded the Mirramu Creative Arts Centre at Lake George, near Canberra. She continues to direct the Centre and its associated Mirramu Dance Company. Fifty years of ADT will also mark fifteen of Mirramu.*
I didn’t post my Canberra Times review of Sapling to Silver when it was performed in Canberra in 2011, so here is a link to the review. [UPDATE August 2020: Online link no longer available]. Here is a link to posts about Elizabeth Dalman.
The Fabric of Dance
In April I had the pleasure of presenting an illustrated talk, The fabric of dance, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in conjunction with the Gallery’s exhibition Ballet and Fashion. In this talk I looked at how the tutu had developed over three centuries or so, and in particular at how its development had been influenced by changes in fashion and by new materials and fabrics that had become available. But, in putting the talk together, I found I was quite unexpectedly wanting to suggest a link between one of the costumes on show in the exhibition and Louis XIV in his famous role as Apollo in Les Ballets de la nuit of 1653, which I did. I am hoping to post the text of the talk, and the accompanying PowerPoint slides, on this site in due course.
One of the images I showed during the talk was of Paris Opera Ballet dancer Carlotta Zambelli, which I was only able to show as a black and white scan from an article first published in the Australian dance journal Brolga in 2005. My postcard of Zambelli was in colour but it disappeared as a result of being lent when that issue of Brolga was being prepared for publication. I despaired of ever seeing it again but it was returned to me a week or so after the Melbourne talk. So for anyone who was at the talk, below on the right is the image in colour, alongside another (also returned to me at the same time in the same circumstances) of Zambelli with an unknown partner in La ronde des saisons in 1906.
The Rite of Spring: Stephen Malinowski’s animated graphical score
I found what I think is an excellent review of Stephen Malinowski’s animated graphical score of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I mentioned this score in a previous post without making much comment myself although what the animated score did instantaneously for me was bring me to a realisation of why I disliked Raimund Hoghe’s Sacre so much. Hoghe completely ignored the fact that the music has so much colour, drive and rhythm. The colour, drive and rhythm of the music is perfectly obvious when listening to the music of course, but seeing the animated score absolutely drives it home and opens up a new view of the intensity of the music. Here is the link to the review.
Michelle Potter, 30 April 2013
* Dalman has always been a strong voice in the dance world and she argued against a name change to Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre when Meryl Tankard became director of ADT in 1993. A brief account of that interlude appears in my recent publication Meryl Tankard: an original voice (2012). In a letter to Dance Australia Dalman argued that the company should not carry Tankard’s name as it was important to ‘maintain continuity and … respect for the historical background of the company’.