Dance diary. May 2024

  • Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship

Given the publication of my book, Kristian Fredrikson. Designer by Melbourne Books in 2020, I am always interested in the winners of the biennial award of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship. My book would never have been published without the generous donations I received via the Australian Cultural Fund, and from royalties owing to Fredrikson during the year I was struggling to assist financially with the book’s publication. The committee that administers the scholarship was hugely supportive throughout all aspects of the book’s production.

The 2024 winner of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship is Charles Davis who graduated from NIDA in 2014, and who has also studied architectural design at Monash University. He has designed for Sydney Theatre Company, West Australian Opera, Opera Queensland, Pinchgut Opera and other theatrical groups. As far as his input into dance productions goes, Davis was set designer for the Australian Ballet’s recent production of Stephanie Lake’s Circle Electric. Incidentally, another recipient of an earlier Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship, Paula Levis, designed the costumes for that same production.

  • Frank van Straten (1936–2024)

This is a somewhat belated comment on the death of Frank van Straten, who died in Melbourne in April 2024. Van Straten was an amazing historian of the theatre across a range of genres and was the first archivist at Melbourne’s Performing Arts Museum (now the Australian Performing Arts Collection). I remember him particularly for his hugely valuable contribution to Graeme Murphy’s Tivoli, a joint production between the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company, which premiered in 2001 to commemorate Australia’s Centenary of Federation. Van Straten acted as historical consultant for the work, which honoured and celebrated the Tivoli circuit and the remarkable nature of its repertoire. His input helped make Tivoli an exceptional ‘dance musical’.

Cover image for Tivoli national tour 2001

Van Straten’s knowledge of theatrical history in Australia was vast and I recall a post on this website in which, in a comment, he helped with identifying a particular Sydney-based teacher working in the 1930s named Richard White. His books on Australian performing arts history, too, have often given me information that I had struggled to find elsewhere. He was a truly generous person.

I can’t call this comment an obituary, but for what I would call an obituary see the article in Stage Whispers. Listen, too, to van Straten discuss the nature of Tivoli performances as recorded by Philippe Charluet on film at this link. Oral historian Bill Stephens has also recorded an interview with van Straten for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. It currently requires written permission for access, but that may change in the near future following van Straten’s death. Here is the current catalogue link.

  • Backstage notes

Jennifer Shennan drew my attention to a recent article in The Guardian called Wings, Wigs and Wonder. It takes the reader backstage during a performance by Birmingham Royal Ballet and is called a ‘photo essay’. It has some interesting backstage images included within the text, which was written by Katie Edwards. Read at this link.

  • Recent Reading

In my dance diary for April 2024 I wrote about Deborah Jowitt’s recent publication Errand into the Maze. The Life and Works of Martha Graham, which to my mind was not always the easiest of reads, despite Jowitt’s extensive research and very strong dance background. As fate would have it, however, while mulling over Jowitt’s publication I came across an interesting article by Marina Harss, whose work I much admire, called On Point: Martha Graham’s Perfect Partnership with Isamu Noguchi. It’s available (at least for the moment) at this link.

Currently I am reading another of the books I bought at the recent Canberra Lifeline Book Fair—Isadora. A sensational life by Peter Kurth (Paperback edition, 2003). In an early page entitled ‘Press for Isadora‘, one comment is, ‘There is never a dull moment in Peter Kurth’s action-packed biography…’. True! Much of what is mentioned does not appear in other books about Isadora, or not nearly to the same extent. Nevertheless, with its different focus it provides another perspective on her life, perhaps with the word ‘sensational’, which appears in the book’s subtitle, emerging as characterising that different focus. Dance is probably not the major focus!

  • Press for May 2024

‘Dancers perform strong farewell to Ruth Osborne.’ Canberra City News, 17 May 2024. Online at this link

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2024

Featured image: Cameron Holmes and Maxim Zenin in Circle Electric. The Australian Ballet, 2024. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Dance diary. April 2024

This month’s dance diary is distinguished by two appointments to major dance organisations—the Australian Ballet School and the Royal Academy of Dance—and one major move by a dancer from Queensland to Switzerland.

  • Megan Connelly appointed as director of the Australian Ballet School

Megan Connelly has been announced as the next artistic director and head of school at the Australian Ballet School. She takes over from Lisa Pavane, who will retire shortly. Connelly will begin her role at the end of May 2024 and will initially work alongside Pavane so that a smooth transfer can occur.

The Australian Ballet School announcement reads in part:

The Artistic Director & Head of School is a strategic and creative leadership role responsible for artistic and educational excellence and student wellbeing. This key role requires deep experience within the art form, an understanding of ballet trends, strong national and international networks and expertise in elite ballet instruction and performance.

Connelly’s career to date has been extraordinarily diverse and her qualifications and experience, as set out in the media release from the Australian Ballet School, suggest she is the ideal person to take on the role.

  • Alexander Campbell appointed to lead RAD

Sydney-born Alexander Campbell, who received his early dance training at Academy Ballet in his home town, and who then went on to dance with Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet, has been appointed to lead the Royal Academy of Dance in London. He succeeds Gerard Charles who retired in 2023. Campbell began his tenure this month, April 2024.

Read more from the Royal Academy at this link.

  • Joel Woellner to join Ballet Zürich

Joel Woellner, principal dancer with Queensland Ballet since June 2021, has accepted a contract with Ballet Zürich, which is currently directed by Cathy Marston. He will start with his new company in August 2024 and will give his last performance with Queensland Ballet in Greg Horsman’s Coppélia in June. In a contribution to the just-released media statement Woellner comments, ‘It’s with mixed emotions I make this career change, but I look forward to the new challenges. This is not goodbye, but rather see you again soon.’

Portrait of Joel Woellner. Photo: © David Kelly

Woellner’s work with Queensland Ballet has always been eminently watchable. I especially enjoyed his recent performance as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But there are lots of other roles where he has shone. See this tag for my comments on Woellner’s work over several years.

  • International Dance Day 2024. The Message

Marianela Nuñez, principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, delivered this year’s message for International Dance Day. See this link for the English version of the short message and this tag for comments about Nuñez on this website.

  • Recent Reading

The latest dance book I have read has been Deborah Jowitt’s biography of Martha Graham—Errand into the Maze. The Life and Works of Martha Graham, published early in 2024. I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the extensive research that went into this book. Jowitt, as a former dancer, understands the technical side of dance and describes so well each of the many dances that she includes in the book. But I have to admit that I found the going hard. Somehow the descriptions started to get tiresome to read as one followed another, followed another, followed another, and I longed for more about Graham’s personal life. That life made an appearance now and then but it just wasn’t a strong component. It could have added a less technical note to what is quite a long book.


Michelle Potter, 30 April 2024

Featured image: Portrait of Megan Connelly. Photo: © Pierre Toussaint

Dance diary. March 2024

  • Johan Inger’s Carmen

Coming in April from the Australian Ballet is a production of Carmen by Swedish choreographer Johan Inger. Recent discussions about the background to the work, which was first created in Madrid in 2015, always mention the appearance of a child as a character in the work. One British reviewer has written that the child ‘represents the wider fall out of abuse’. This Carmen, apparently, is dramatically sexual and has a focus on violence towards women. It is described by the same reviewer as ‘uncomfortable to watch’, although she admits that those words are not a reason to stay away from the show!

The work is set to Rodion Shchedrin’s 1967 Carmen Suite, an adaptation of Georges Bizet’s score for the opera Carmen. The Shchedrin score is also frequently mentioned in reviews, especially for its use of percussion instruments. But what especially struck home to me was that Shchedrin’s wife was the acclaimed ballerina Maya Plisetskaya. The score was written for her when she was preparing to dance a version of Carmen choreographed for her (at her request) by Alberto Alonso. The story of the creation of the score appears as a whole chapter in I, Maya Plisetskaya, Plisetskaya’s autobiography published in 2001 by Yale University Press.

It is worth noting too that the same score was used by Natalie Weir for her exceptional work Carmen Sweet, made in 2015 for her Brisbane-based Expressions Dance Company (now no longer in existence).

In the brief clip below, Inger talks about his Carmen, while behind him a rehearsal for a section of the production takes place in London. In addition to Inger’s words, the clip is interesting from the point of view of the choreography, which is classically based to a certain extent, but which has a powerful contemporary feel/look to it. Some dancers from the Australian Ballet also appear in the rehearsal, which was basically for English National Ballet’s performances, which began in February 2024 at Sadler’s Wells.

The Australian Ballet’s production of Inger’s Carmen plays in Sydney 10–24 April.

  • On dramaturgy

I recently received a private comment on my review for Canberra City News of Catapult’s show Awkward. The comment included the suggestion that the show might have been stronger had a dramaturg been employed to develop a more focused approach. Well, I couldn’t agree more. Even if a dramaturg might not always do a stellar job (as was also suggested in the comment), it’s worth making the effort. One of the most remarkable shows I have seen over the past several years has been Liz Lea’s production, RED. Lea employed Brian Lucas as dramaturg for the show and, while the content of RED was highly complex, it ended up being a brilliantly focused production.

A slightly expanded version of my City News review of Awkward is at this link.

  • Press for March 2024

‘Awkward performance dances on too long.’ Canberra City News, 28 March 2024. Online at this link.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2024

Featured image: Jill Ogai of the Australian Ballet in a study for Johan Inger’s Carmen. Photo: © Simon Eeles

Dance diary. February 2024

  • Russell Kerr Lecture 2024

The annual Russell Kerr Lecture for 2024 took place in Wellington on Sunday 25 February. The lecture honoured Sir Jon Trimmer, esteemed artist who made a huge contribution to ballet in New Zealand, and who died last year. I was to give a short talk in which I planned, by focusing on images including some costume designs, to show how Jonty, as he was familiarly known, was able to inhabit a role so magnificently. Unfortunately there was an issue with the plane that was taking me to Wellington from Sydney late on Saturday. The issue was not so much the plane itself but the weather in Wellington as we attempted to land. We were in fact diverted to Auckland (at around midnight) and a situation developed where we were told to wait in the transit lounge until the plane could take off to Wellington (the next morning). Well, without going into the highly unpleasant details, I ended up flying back to Sydney on the Sunday thus missing the lecture!

One of the most interesting parts of the proposed talk, at least for me, concerned a work called Tell Me a Tale choreographed by Gray Veredon in 1988 in which Jonty played the role of the Teller of Tales. In an interview I did with Jonty in 2018 he told me he was ‘a really “outback” character’ in the work. In a earlier interview (2012) with Royal New Zealand Ballet’s former wardrobe manager, Andrew Pfeiffer, I heard that ‘Jon was dressed in a Driza-Bone with a bit of silver fern wrapped through his hat and that emblem printed all over the top of his Driza-Bone.’ Below is Kristian Fredrikson’s design for the Teller of Tales alongside a photo of Jonty dressed in that outfit.

Andrew Pfeiffer also gave a very succinct outline of the story saying, ‘It was basically a storyteller telling a young boy the story of New Zealand in terms of the relationships between the Māori people and the colonists. Jonty was often just standing there with a young boy sitting at his feet. He was miming to the boy throughout the ballet with the ballet taking place on the side.’

And another aspect of that part of my talk was Veredon’s discussion of how the work came to be called Tell Me a Tale. Here is the audio link:

I was really disappointed not to have been able to give the talk and may work out later how to add the PPT to this site.

  • Hannah O’Neill

It is always good to hear about Hannah O’Neill’s ongoing success with Paris Opera Ballet. Here is a link to the latest news.

  • Lifeline Book Fair Canberra

The Lifeline Book Fair is a regular event in Canberra and has been for many years now. The most recent fair was in February 2024 and I ended up with seven dance-related items even though I had decided I have enough dance books for the rest of my life and wasn’t intending to buy anything this time. All in all the seven items cost me $27, which will go to helping Lifeline Canberra keep its crisis telephone service operating in the local area. I am currently reading the autobiographical I, Maya Plistetskaya, perhaps the most unusually written book I have ever come across. Next on the list is The Official Bolshoi Ballet Book of Swan Lake by Yuri Grigorovich and Alexander Demidov, whose chapters include ‘The Inside Story’, ‘Concerning One Delusion’, ‘A Painful Dilemma’ and other such fascinating titles. It promises to hold many matters that will be new to me I think.

Michelle Potter, 29 February 2024

Featured image: Jon Trimmer as Captain Hook in Russell Kerr’s Peter Pan. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1999. Photo: © Maarten Holl

Dance diary. January 2024

  • BOLD Bites

The BOLD Festival started as a biennial event in 2017 but it suffered in terms of being biennial as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will, however, be back in a mini form in March 2024. BOLD24 will be a ‘Bite Size’ initiative and will feature a series of events celebrating International Women’s Day 2024. It will anticipate the next major BOLD festival in 2025. BOLD Bites will, as is the focus of all BOLD activities, honour intercultural, inclusive and intergenerational dance. 

The program will take place over three days, from 8 to 10 March, in various venues in Canberra. Further information shortly on the BOLD website. Stay tuned. UPDATE: Here is a link to the schedule.

I will be involved in three conversation sessions:

BOLD critique with author Emma Batchelor on writing about dance in reviews, articles and other formats. Our conversation will be followed by an open Q & A session.

BOLD Moves with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman focusing on the foundations of Mirramu on Lake Weereewa, and on the inspiration Dalman finds in nature. It will be a prequel to the premiere screening of a new film, Lake Song, choreographed by Dalman, directed by Sue Healey and featuring Canberra’s company of older dancers, the GOLDS.

BOLD Diva with Morag Deyes, former director of Dance Base in Scotland. This conversation will focus on the rich tapestry of Deyes’ career as the leader of Dance Base and as the founder of PRIME, Scotland’s premier dance company of elders.

  • New dancers for Sydney Dance Company

Sydney Dance Company has announced that five new dancers will join the company for its 2024 season—Timmy Blakenship, Ngaere Jenkins, Ryan Pearson, Anika Boet and Tayla Gartner. It was more than interesting to read a brief biography of each of these new dancers. Two have strong New Zealand connections (Jenkins and Boet); Blakenship was born, raised and trained in dance in the United States; and Pearson and Gartner are Australian with Pearson having a strong First Nations background and a memorable early career with Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Sydney Dance Company 2024. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Sydney Dance Company has always been a company of dancers with diverse backgrounds but with the new additions in 2024 that diversity is being strengthened. And from a personal point of view, after watching Ryan Pearson perform so magnificently with Bangarra Dance Theatre, I really look forward to watching him work with Sydney Dance Company. Below are brief biographies of the five new artists (taken from the Sydney Dance Company media release):

American dancer Timmy Blakenship was born on the Lands of the Arapaho Nation/Colorado, and completed his early training in contemporary dance and choreography at Artistic Fusion in Thornton, Colorado and Dance Town in Miami, Florida. He continued his training at the prestigious University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance on scholarship, graduating with a BFA in 2023 where he performed works by William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Merce Cunningham and Yin Yue.

Ryan Pearson was born and raised in Biripi Country/Taree, New South Wales and is of Biripi and Worimi descent on his mother’s side and Minang, Goreng and Balardung on his father’s side. Ryan began his dance training at NAISDA at age 16, after taking part in the NSW Public Schools’ Aboriginal Dance Company, facilitated by Bangarra’s Youth Program Team in 2012. Ryan joined Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2017 as part of the Russell Page Graduate Program and was nominated in the 2020 Australian Dance Awards for Most Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer for his performance in Jiri Kylian’s Stamping Ground.

Originally from Wadawurrung Country/Geelong in Victoria, Tayla Gartner commenced full-time training at the Patrick Studios Australia Academy program in 2018 before undertaking the Sydney Dance Company’s Pre-Professional Year in 2022, where she performed works by choreographers including Melanie Lane, Stephanie Lake, Jenni Large, Tobiah Booth-Remmers and Rafael Bonachela. In 2022, Tayla worked with and performed repertoire by Ohad Naharin and was a finalist in the Brisbane International Contemporary Dance Prix. 

Born in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Ngaere Jenkins is of Te Arawa and Ngāti Kahungunu descent. Ngaere trained at the New Zealand School of Dance, graduating in 2018. Throughout her studies, she worked with influential mentors including James O’Hara, Victoria (Tor) Colombus, Taiaroa Royal and Tanemahuta Gray. Ngaere represented the school as a guest artist in Tahiti at the Académie de Danse Annie FAYN fifth International Dance Festival and Singapore Ballet Academy’s 60th Anniversary Gala. From 2019 Ngaere was a dancer with The New Zealand Dance Company and was the recipient of the Bill Sheat Dance Award.

Raised in Christchurch, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Anika Boet is of South African and Dutch descent. Moving to Sydney in 2020, Anika completed two years of full-time training at Brent Street School of Performing Arts, receiving her Diploma of Dance (focusing on Contemporary) with Honours. Anika made her professional debut in Sydney Festival in January 2022 performing a work Grey Rhino, choreographed by Charmene Yap and Cass Mortimer Eipper. Anika completed a post-graduate course at Transit Dance, performing works by Chimene Steele Prior, Prue Lang, and Paul Malek. 

  • Ruth Osborne, OAM

Ruth Osborne, outgoing director of Canberra’s QL2 Dance, was honoured with the richly deserved award of a Medal of the Order of Australia at the 2024 Australia Day Awards. Osborne has had a distinguished career over several decades, most recently since 1999 with Canberra’s outstanding youth dance organisation, QL2 Dance. Among her previous awards are an Australian Dance Award (Services to Dance), 2011; a Churchill Fellowship, 2017; and three Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards, most recently in 2023 for her performance and input into James Batchelor’s Shortcuts to Familiar Places. For more about Ruth Osborne on this website see, in particular, this link and, more generally, this tag.

Ruth Osborne, Canberra, 2023. Photo: © Olivia Wikner

  • Meryl Tankard: a new work

My colleague Jennifer Shennan has passed on the news that Ballet Zürich has just premiered a new work by Meryl Tankard. Called For Hedy, it is part of a triple bill called Timekeepers, which looks back to the artistic achievements of the 1920s. Other choreographers represented in Timekeepers are Bronislava Nijinska (Les Noces) and Mthuthuzeli November (Rhapsodies). More information is on the Ballet Zürich website.

  • Press for January 2024

It has been a while since I have been able to add a section called ‘Press …. ‘ in a dance diary, but in January I had two items published in print outlets (which of course also appeared in an online version). The first appeared in Canberra’s City News, the second in Dance Australia for the 2023 Critics’ Choice section.

‘Flatfooted funding threatens company’s future.’ City News, 4-10 January 2024, p. 17. Online version at this link.

‘MICHELLE POTTER, Canberra’. Dance Australia: ‘Critics’ Choice’. Issue 242 (January, February, March 2024), p. 46. The text for this item is quite difficult to read against its black background, even in a blown-up version, so that text is inserted below next to a small image of the page.

Choreographer James Batchelor regards himself as a Canberran, although at this stage in his dance life he works between Australia and the rest of the world. To make a career as a professional, independent artist he goes where work is available for him and most recently has been working in Sweden with Norrdans. But he grew up in Canberra and had his dance training with QL2, Canberra’s youth dance organisation. He returns frequently to his home town and in 2023 presented Shortcuts to Familiar Places, a work that in fact had a significant connection with Canberra. It was a major highlight in the city’s dance calendar.

The work began as an investigation into the transmission of dance from one generation to another. Batchelor was especially interested in his own “body luggage” as passed on to him by his early dance teacher at QL2, Ruth Osborne, whose background had links to the work of pioneering dancer and teacher Gertrud Bodenwieser. Shortcuts to Familiar Places was the end result of this interest and investigation.

Shortcuts began with footage of Osborne giving an insight into the swirling movements of the arms and upper body that she absorbed via her own teacher, former Bodenwieser dancer Margaret Chapple.

As the footage came to an end, Batchelor appeared onstage and performed a shadowy solo that began slowly but that gathered momentum as time passed. From then on there was a beautifully conceived melding of film footage and onstage movement with Batchelor being joined by Chloe Chignell in a series of duets. It was a fascinating experience to watch the movement unfold and to feel a clear connection to what Osborne and others demonstrated and spoke about on film at various moments during the work. In addition to Osborne we saw on film Eileen Kramer, who demonstrated the movements she recalled from Bodenwieser’s Waterlilies, as well as Carol Brown and Shona Dunlop MacTavish. But it was also interesting to see how Batchelor and Chignell moved away from the movement of Bodenwieser and her followers to develop an individual but connected style.

One moment stood out in an exceptional way. It happened when, on film, Osborne stretched her arm forward in a straight line towards Batchelor and Chignell on stage as if reaching to them in a gesture of transmission, which they accepted with arms outstretched towards the footage. There it was, the lineage and its transmission for us all to see.

A driving, original score from Morgan Hickinbotham was played live and a changing pattern of light and dark came from lighting designer Vinny Jones. With dramaturgy by Bek Berger, Shortcuts was an intelligently thought through show. The idea of embodied transmission is one that is so often mentioned in dance discussions today, but with Shortcuts Batchelor showed the concept to us specifically through dance, and demonstrated in particular how a style from an older period can be developed to suit the current era. Shortcuts to Familiar Places was just brilliant to watch and consider.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2024

Featured image: A moment during the filming of Lake Song, directed by Sue Healey and choreographed by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman (seen in the foreground, coaching from the shore), 2023. Photo: © Sue Healey

Dance diary. December 2023

  • Li Cunxin’s farewell

Li Cunxin’s farewell as artistic director of Queensland Ballet was celebrated in a gala show over three performances on 12 and 13 December. Below is a tribute to Li from a range of people who worked with him, along with some terrific photos and footage from the decade of his directorship, and earlier. So worth a look!

See more about Li and his incredible input into the growth of Queensland Ballet at this link.

  • Leanne Benjamin and that outback photograph by Jason Bell

Early in her autobiography, Built for ballet, Leanne Benjamin talks about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the photo taken of her in outback Australia, which I have used on this website on occasions and which (not surprisingly) always generates comments of one kind or another.

Leanne Benjamin who describes this image with the words ‘flying across the outback in my red chiffon.’ Photo: © Jason Bell, 2006

Benjamin was in Australia in December 2006 as a participant in Advance 100 Leading Global Australians Summit, which she says brought together ‘a diverse group of 100 of the best international  minds in business, science, education, research and the arts’. A photo shoot with English photographer Jason Bell and his team, unrelated to Advance 100, followed. It was specifically for a Royal Ballet series called A World Stage in which artists were shown in images, and sometimes on brief film footage, reflecting their country of origin. Benjamin calls it ‘an advertising campaign … which emphasised the international character of the Royal Ballet, and the Opera House where it has its home.’ Her costume, which she describes as ‘a Chanel lipstick-red dress with a skirt that would flash out behind me as I moved, and catch the breeze if we were lucky enough to get one in forty-degree heat’, was made in London by the costume department of the Royal Opera House.

‘Jason’s idea,’ Benjamin writes, ‘was to go for the centre of the continent, where even the colour of the earth tells you that you are in Australia. We’d hoped to shoot in front of Uluru, the country’s most famous landmark, but we couldn’t get permission to film there. The previous day, the team had been to the iconic domed rocks of Kata Tjuta and I’d had a terrific time, going through my paces on a flat floor, surrounded by looming boulders. It was as if someone had built a perfect set for a shoot.

The next day—the day we actually got the photograph Jason had been dreaming of—the terrain was much rougher, and the weather more overcast. To my surprise, the team had organised for a local ‘truckie’ to drive an authentic Australian road train slowly back and forth behind the shoot for a few hours. ….. This was not a stunt photograph, it was me, launching myself into the sky, in touch with the red, red earth of my beloved country.’

Who can forget that image?

Quotes above are from Benjamin’s book Built for ballet. An autobiography (Melbourne: Melbourne Books, 2021) pp. 21–22.

  • Oral history interview with James Batchelor

My final National Library oral history interview for 2023 was with James Batchelor, Canberra-born performer and choreographer who works between Australia and Europe. Amongst the many topics addressed during the interview was a discussion of his choreographic process, including in relation to two of his most recent works—Event and Short cuts to familiar places—and some information about his trip to the sub-Antarctic, including how it came about and the developments that followed the trip. The interview, once processed, will be available for all to hear.

James Batchelor performing in the Mulangarri Grasslands, Canberra, 2021. Photo: © Andrew Sikorski

  • Stephanie Lake. New resident choreographer at the Australian Ballet

Alice Topp’s term as resident choreographer at the Australian Ballet finished at the end of 2023 and the newly appointed holder of the position is Stephanie Lake. Lake will present her first work for the Australian Ballet, Circle Electric, in Sydney in May 2024 and in Melbourne in October 2024. Circle Electric will share the program with Harald Lander’s Études, which explores the intricacies of the classical ballet technique. The potential is certainly there for audiences to experience two vastly different approaches to dance.

Two of Lake’s recent works (for companies other than her own Stephanie Lake Company), are reviewed on this website at these links: Auto Cannibal (2019) and Biography (2022)

  • Promotions at the Australian Ballet

There were a number of promotions announced as the Australian Ballet’s 2023 season came to an end. Seen below in a scene from Don Quixote are newly appointed principals Jill Ogai and Marcus Morelli.

In addition, Yuumi Yamada is now a senior artist, Maxim Zenin, Aya Watanabe, Katherine Sonnekus, Misha Barkidjija and Cameron Holmes have been newly appointed as soloists, and Montana Rubin, Evie Ferris, Saranja Crowe, Sara Andrion, Hugo Dumapit, Adam Elmes, Larissa Kiyoto-Ward, and Lilla Harvey have been promoted to the rank of coryphée.

Yuumi Yamada has constantly impressed me over recent years and her promotion is definitely worth celebrating, but congratulations to all who were promoted. I look forward to watching their progress in 2024.

  • Some statistics for 2023

In 2023 this website received 48,959 visits, that is just over 4,000 per month. The top five 2023 posts in terms of number of visits were, in order, ”Talking to Martin James … about teaching’, ‘Swan Lake. The Australian Ballet (2023)’, ‘Strictly Gershwin, Queensland Ballet’, ‘Alice Topp’s Paragon’, and ‘David McAllister. An exciting retirement opportunity’. Of posts relating specifically to dance in New Zealand the top five posts accessed, again in order, were ‘(m)Orpheus. New Zealand Opera and Black Grace’, ‘Lightscapes. Royal New Zealand Ballet’, ‘Myth and Ritual. Orchestra Wellington with Ballet Collective Aotearoa’, ‘Platinum Royal New Zealand Ballet’ and ‘Ballet Noir. Mary-Jane O’Reilly and Company’. Top tags accessed, some used largely it seems for research purposes, were Mary McKendry, The Australian Ballet, Vadim Muntagirov, Graduation Ball, and Bodenwieser Ballet

Unfortunately Google Analytics, from which my data is obtained, has changed its format and the ability to access the number of visits from particular cities is limited to just one week prior to the period of each visit! But of overseas cities, London and New York appear every week.


Michelle Potter, 31 December 2023

Li Cunxin, 2023. Farewell image from Queensland Ballet. Photographer not identified.

Dance diary. November 2023

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards 2023: Dance

In November the Canberra Critics’ Circle announced its awards for 2023. This year five dance awards were presented:

Ruth Osborne, outgoing director of QL2 Dance, which Osborne has led since 1999.
Osborne’s award recognised in particular her outstanding input into James Batchelor’s production Shortcuts to Familiar Places, which was presented at Canberra’s Playhouse in April 2023. My review of Shortcuts is at this link.

Natsuko Yonezwa and Itazura Co for the film Kiku.
Kiku and its accompanying documentary explored dance and the ageing body through the experiences of six Canberra women. My review is at this link.

The six dancers in Kiku. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Australian Dance Party for Culture Cruise.
Culture cruise gave those who joined the cruise an innovative experience over land and water, which fused the performing arts, fine dining and Canberra’s cultural institutions. Read my review at this link.

Yolanda Lowatta in a scene from Culture Cruise. Photo: © Michelle Potter

Gretel Burgess for A Stroke of Luck.
A Stroke of Luck gave Gretel Burgess the opportunity to produce and direct her lived experience as a stroke survivor. Bill Stephens’ review is at this link.

Caitlin Schilg for her choreography for the Canberra Philharmonic Society Production of Cats.
Caitlin Schilg drew on a diverse range of dance styles to create a series of brilliantly staged production numbers for the musical Cats. Read a review by Bill Stephens at this link.

  • Oral history interview with Alice Topp

In November I had the pleasure, and honour, of recording an oral history interview for the National Library of Australia with Alice Topp, outgoing resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet.

Alice Topp during an oral history recording, 2023. Photo: © National Library of Australia/Michelle Potter

Alice was most forthcoming about her life and career to date and the interview contains some detailed material about her choreographic process and the establishment of Project Animo, her joint initiative with lighting designer Jon Buswell. The interview is currently undergoing accessioning but cataloguing details will be available in due course.

For more about Alice Topp on this website follow this link.

  • News from Queensland Ballet

Queensland Ballet has announced details of changes to its line-up of dancers for 2024 including the news that principal dancers Mia Heathcote and Victor Estévez will leave the company at the end of 2023 to join the Australian Ballet in 2024. Heathcote and Estévez have made a remarkable contribution to Queensland Ballet over the past several years. Each has given me much pleasure (Heathcote from as far back as 2013 before she even joined Queensland Ballet) and I hope they will be given every opportunity with the Australian Ballet.

In other news from Queensland Ballet, the company recently announced the establishment of the Van Norton Li Community Health Institute with the goal of sustaining and expanding its Dance Health programs across socioeconomic, age and geographic boundaries and all abilities. For more about the program, including information about the donors to this project, follow this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2023

Featured image: Ruth Osborne (left) receiving her award from Dianne Fogwell, 2021 City News Artist of the Year. Photo: © Len Power

Dance diary. October 2023

  • News from James Batchelor

James Batchelor continues to make a name for himself in Europe and November will see a national tour around Sweden by Norrdans (Northern Dance) of Batchelor’s latest work Event. Event will share the program with Everlasting—a new love by New York-based choreographer Jeanine Durning. Media for Event describes it as follows:

In Event by Australian choreographer James Batchelor, you encounter a sensuous world of looping patterns and oceanic ripples. Ornamented with a hint of the baroque, the dancers find joy in connection, synchronising and falling into rhythm with an original score from collaborator Morgan Hickinbotham.

Event premiered in late October. One reviewer (Yvonne Rittval) remarked, ‘The stage is covered by a painting with sinuous, swelling shapes in warm colors reminiscent of the Baroque. One gets the exciting feeling that the ten dancers, some wearing crinolines others in many layers of frills, have risen from the painting and are bringing it to life.’

Below is a brief teaser.

  • Diaghilev’s Empire

Browsing one day in Dymocks bookshop in Sydney I spotted a book called Diaghilev’s Empire. How the Ballets Russes Enthralled the World. It was written by English opera critic and (in his own words) ‘incurable balletomane’ Rupert Christiansen and was published in late 2022. It had not previously come to my notice for whatever reason and my initial reaction was ‘not another book about Diaghilev’. But I bought it anyway and am in the process of reading it. So far it has turned out to be a fascinating read and more than interesting for the comments Christiansen has included from books written by those who danced, or otherwise engaged with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. But the one paragraph that continues to make me smile is a quote from American author and critic, Carl van Vechten, about the opening performance in Paris of Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring. Van Vechten remarked (and according to Christiansen this quote comes from Romola Nijinsky’s book Nijinsky):

A young man occupied the place behind me. He stood up during the course of the ballet to enable himself to see more clearly. The intense excitement under which he was labouring, thanks to the potent force of the music, betrayed itself presently when he began to beat rhythmically on the top of my head with his fists. My emotion was so great I did not feel the blows for some time. They were perfectly synchronised with the beat of the music.


And so I continue with my reading!

  • News from Houston Ballet

The most recent news from Houston Ballet is that Australian conductor Simon Thew has been appointed as the company’s musical director and chief conductor. Thew has had a distinguished career across many countries to date and has been the recipient of many awards including the Dame Joan Sutherland/Richard Bonynge Travel Scholarship and a Churchill Fellowship. Thew and Welch first came into contact in 2016 when Houston Ballet staged Welch’s Romeo and Juliet in Australia. On that occasion, Thew joined Houston Ballet’s Ermanno Florio as a guest conductor.

Portrait of Simon Thew. Photo: © Alana Campbell

In other news, Stanton Welch has been at the helm of Houston Ballet for some 20 years now but last year former principal with American Ballet Theatre and recent artistic director of Washington Ballet, Julie Kent, joined him as co-artistic director. An article on that joint directorship written by Nancy Wozny recently appeared in Pointe Magazine. Read it at this link.

Houston Ballet artistic directors Stanton Welch and Julie Kent. Photo: © Julie Soefer

  • And if you are a Halloween fan …

Enjoy!

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2023

Featured image: Publicity for Norrdans’ double bill Ever. Everlasting (from the Norrdans website)

Dance diary. September 2023

  • Canberra Dance Theatre

Canberra Dance Theatre (CDT) is about to celebrate its 45th birthday and part of its celebrations will take place in Civic Square in Canberra City on 15 October. Amongst other activities, CDT is staging a Great Big Community Dance at 2:15 that afternoon. The media release says: ‘There’s no need to learn our fabulous dance first. Simply join the group, check out who the leaders are and follow along. It’s all about participating, connecting with others, sharing a joyful experience and having a great time.’

The Canberra drumming ensemble Tanamasi will be playing live music and the community dance has been choreographed by Gretel Burgess, Max Burgess, Rachael Hilton, Levi Szabo and Jacqui Simmonds.

Canberra Dance Theatre grew out of the National University Dance Ensemble (NUDE), established by Graham Farquhar in 1970. In 1977 it became Canberra Dance Theatre and was under the leadership of Diana Shohet, Lorna Marshall and Graham Farquhar. Its artistic directors since then have been:

  • Dr Stephanie Burridge (1978–2001)
  • Amalia Hordern (2002–2006)
  • Megan Millband (2007–2009)
  • Liz Lea (2010–2016)
  • Jacqui Simmonds (2020–current and Artistic Coordinator from 2018-2019)

The company has had a remarkable history of collaboration over its 45 years and has included collaborations with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Dance Theatre Student Ensemble, Mirramu Dance Company as led by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, and a list of individual artists too long to mention but who include Phillip Adams, Jennifer Barry, Julia Cotton, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Russell Page, Paul Saliba, Cheryl Stock, and Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal.

CDT is also the home of the GOLDS, Canberra’s much admired group of dancers over the age of 55.

  • Jack Riley and Nikki Tarling

Once again a portrait of dancer Jack Riley, this time with fellow dancer Nikki Tarling, has made it to the finals of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ prestigious prize, the Archibald. The portrait, reproduced below, is by artist Marcus Wills. Read a little more about it here.


Jack Riley was the subject of another portrait, also by Marcus Wills, which reached the finals of the Archibald in 2020. See this link.

  • Ron Barassi (1936–2023)

I don’t usually write about football or football players on this site, but Ron Barassi, Australian Rules footballer, coach and mentor, is an exception. Barassi died on 16 September 2023 aged 87. His connection with dance goes back to the 1960s when he was responsible for input into Robert Helpmann’s then iconic creation The Display. Barassi was called in to ensure that the male dancers in the ballet, who were passing a football amongst each other, were doing so correctly. Barassi is recorded as saying:  In 1964 I had the great pleasure of coming to know Robert Helpmann through my involvement on his ballet ‘The Display’. In the dance there was quite a lot of football played and Robert asked me to attend rehearsals and advise the ballet dancers on the correct ways of playing Victorian Rules. I did so and although the dancers were impressively athletic, I immediately noticed that they were throwing the football around the room like rugby players. I told Robert this and he was absolutely mortified. From there he worked solidly to get every detail right, as his demand for excellence and accuracy was uncompromising.

Further discussion of various aspects of The Display are at this link.

  • Bangarra T-shirt

I bought myself a Bangarra YES T-shirt ahead of the forthcoming referendum on the Voice to Parliament. It was quite expensive as T-shirts go but 50% of the profits from the sales will be donated to the Mangkaja Arts Resource Centre in Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia. The T-shirt features artwork by Lynley Nargoodah and I can attest to the quality of the product and the beauty of the artwork that adorns the word YES. I think the supply is almost sold out but check here where there is more information about the design.

Bangarra dancer Daniel Mateo wearing the Bangarra YES T-shirt

  • More on Strictly Gershwin

To close this months dance diary here is another photo from Queensland Ballet’s fabulous Strictly Gershwin, which I can’t get out of my mind! Read my review here.

Patricio Revé in Rhapsody in Blue from Strictly Gershwin. Queensland Ballet 2023. Photo: © David Kelly

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2023

Featured image: Promotional image for Canberra Dance Theatre’s 45th birthday celebrations. Photo: © Jacqui Simmonds

Dance diary. August 2023

  • Recent (and future) reading

Jennifer Homans’ recent book Mr B. George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century is perhaps the most spectacularly researched and written dance book I have ever read. As the title suggests, its major subject is George Balanchine, who was known to his dancers as Mr B, and Homans certainly tells us a lot about Balanchine’s life, much more than the many other Balanchine-focused books I have read. Little is held back, which sets it apart from those reminiscences that see Balanchine as perfection embodied.

Homans has drawn on a huge range of material including personal letters to and from Balanchine, diaries of dancers who worked with him, interviews with a huge range of those who knew him, and many other examples of primary and secondary source material. His relationships with his dancers and those around him, including his sexual activities, are not ignored. Nor is it only a new understanding of Balanchine that emerges in Homans’ ‘no holds barred’ examination, but we discover in depth the nature of so many of his early dancers, not to mention Lincoln Kirstein, Jerome Robbins, and so many others who were part of the scene. But what was also brilliant throughout was Homan’s discussion of how Balanchine worked with composers and used music as an essential component of his choreography. Most books I have read comment on Balanchine’s musicality but Mr B is for me the first to look in depth, and analytically, at this aspect of his work.

But basically I guess what I loved most was how Homans was able to set Balanchine’s life in a wide social and cultural context. This is what made the book outstanding and I hope to do a more detailed review of this book shortly.

Two books are on my reading list for the immediate future: David McAllister’s Ballet Confidential, shortly to be reviewed on this site by Jennifer Shennan, and a new book from Eileen Kramer, Life keeps me dancing. Inspired by Kramer’s new book, an interesting article appeared in The Guardian. Here is the link.

  • Jennifer Irwin

I have long been a fan of the design work of Jennifer Irwin and this site features many mentions of her costume work, especially for Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Ballet. I have admired her use of materials, the cut of the costumes she makes, the way they move with the dance, the way in some cases a single item on a costume can represent a range of ideas, and much more. So it was a thrill to read that she has just been awarded the Cameron’s Management Outstanding Contribution to Design Award by the Australian Production Design Guild.

Read more on this site about Irwin’s work for various dance companies at this tag, and on Bangarra’s Knowledge Ground. I also interviewed Irwin in 2011 for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program and that interview is available online at this link.

  • Oral history: Daniel Riley

At the end of August I had the huge pleasure of interviewing Daniel Riley in Adelaide for the National Library of Australia’ oral history program. Riley, recently appointed artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre, is the company’s sixth director since its foundation by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman in 1965. He is also the initial First Nations artist to take on the role. The interview has not yet been catalogued but it was a rewarding occasion for me and the interview covers an exceptional range of material. It is certainly an important addition to the National Library’s collection of dance interviews.

Before heading back to Canberra I made a quick visit to the Art Gallery of South Australia and the featured image for this month’s dance diary comes from that Gallery’s extensive and beautifully presented collection of art works from a range of First Nations’ artists.

  • Amber Scott to retire

The Australian Ballet has announced that principal artist Amber Scott will retire at the end of September. Scott joined the Australian Ballet in 2001 and was promoted to principal in 2011. Her diverse career to date has included leading roles in Swan Lake (Stephen Baynes, Graeme Murphy), The Sleeping Beauty (David McAllister), Giselle (Maina Gielgud), La Bayadère (Stanton Welch), The Nutcracker (Peter Wright), Manon (Kenneth MacMillan), Onegin (John Cranko), and The Merry Widow (Ronald Hynd). She will give her final performance at the end of September in the company’s new production of Swan Lake.

For more about Amber Scott see this tag.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2023

Featured image: Detail from (Stitched bark canoe: laden with painted snail shells), 1994 by Johnny Bulunbulun. Art Gallery of South Australia. Photo: © Neville Potter