16 January 2024. Neilson Studio, Walsh Bay. Sydney Festival
Sue Healey’s latest dance film, On View: Icons, looks at six artists who have contributed remarkably to the growth of dance in Australia. Seen in the featured image, they are (left to right) Eileen Kramer, Nanette Hassall, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Lucette Aldous, Elma Kris and Shirley McKechnie. I was privileged to be invited to attend the launch of this latest work from Healey at which the four artists who are still with us (Dalman, Hassall, Kramer and Kris) were present and performed briefly for us. On View has been an ongoing project from Sue Healey and her collaborators for a number of years and in this current iteration some of the footage has been shown publicly before, some has been slightly expanded from previous showings, some is new to this version of On View.
I especially enjoyed the section devoted to Nanette Hassall, which I had not seen previously. Hassall’s exceptional career has included work as a dancer, choreographer and director in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Her achievements have included performing with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the establishment of the Melbourne-based Danceworks in the 1980s, and the leadership of the dance area of West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in Perth. Some of the most interesting footage in the Hassall section was filmed by drone cinematographer Ken Butti and showed multiple images of Hassall as a tiny figure twirling and weaving through space.
Nor had I seen the section featuring Elma Kris, whose work I have admired immensely during the period in which she danced with Bangarra Dance Theatre. In On View: Icons we see Kris, a Torres Strait Islander woman, engaging within the landscape and showing us through dance her relationship with earth and water.
I also loved seeing again Elizabeth Cameron Dalman dancing on the dry lakebed of Weereewa (known to many as Lake George), which is no longer dry but, following recent climate events, is now quite full. The section in which she dances in a white, ‘winged’ costume, reminiscent of that worn on one occasion by dance pioneer Loie Fuller, continues to be quite mesmerising.
But all six sections were full of beauty and inspired dancing and filming. Healey continues to pay respect to those who have influenced her film making and who, in some cases, have shaped her own career (she danced for example with Hassall’s Danceworks, and her work with Eileen Kramer over the past few years has been extraordinary). Her work with cinematographer Judd Overton and composer Darrin Verhagen has always been a close and exceptional collaborative activity and this version of Icons was no exception.
On View: Icons was a featured event at the 2024 Sydney Festival. Below is a teaser.
Michelle Potter, 20 January 2024
Featured image: Promotional image for On View: Icons.
In Maori custom an address or oratory always opens with acknowledgment of those recently deceased, recognising ‘the mighty totara trees that have fallen.’ That puts Jon Trimmer right up there in the first line since he is/was unarguably the hero of New Zealand dance. Knighted for his unmatched artistry, and the longevity of his fabled performance career, Jon was loved by so many—for all the roles he danced but also for the plain common decency in the man. Fastidiously professional about his own work, he was always interested in the work of others, ever standing by to help should that be needed. Jon may have passed (26 October 2023, aged 84) but the memories of his mighty performance career will never be forgotten, never. Nor will we see his like again, ever. Jon carried the mantle from Poul Gnatt and Russell Kerr to safeguard the Company for decades. That now passes to those performers and directors who lead RNZBallet. One can only wish them courage. [The Company’s public tribute to Jon will be held in Wellington on Friday 2 February, 2024. See Company’s website for details and reservations. The next Russell Kerr lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, on Sunday 25 February 2024, will be devoted to Jon. Presenters include Turid Revfeim, Anne Rowse, Kerry-Anne Gilberd, Michelle Potter. For details and reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org). Links to my obituaries for Jon are at this link and at www.stuff.co.nz
The Auckland Arts Festival began the year with two striking productions—Revisor, stunning dance-theatre choreographed by Crystal Pite, with dancers playing actors playing dancers. Scored in Silence was a deeply moving film-dance testament to the experiences of the profoundly deaf community of Hiroshima 1945.
Royal New Zealand Ballet’s mid-year season Lightscapes, had four works with for me the standout Requiem for a Rose by Annabella Lopez-Orcha—a beautiful mysterious meditation, and the powerfully atmospheric Logos by Alice Topp (an RNZB alumna). Their single performance Platinum, was a tribute to 70 years achievement. My enduring memory is of Sara Garbowski dancing exquisitely in the excerpt from Giselle Act II. Sara has since retired from her 15 year performance career, and I for one am sorry we did not see her in the complete ballet. (Perhaps if she finds retirement over-rated she could come back as a guest artist to perform it in a year’s time?). The Company’s year ended with a romping return season of Loughlan Prior’s Hansel & Gretel which the rejuvenated company performed with great gusto.
Mary-Jane O’Reilly’s Ballet Noir, a contemporary treatment of Giselle Act II, was a phenomenal achievement—independent dancers who nevertheless performed as a seasoned company, with flawless technique, integrated design and powerful dramatic effect. We don’t do Dance Oscars, thank goodness, but if we did, this work would probably score. Another memorable season was the dance opera, (m)Orpheus, with direction and choreography by Neil Ieremia of Black Grace dance company. The dancers combined seamlessly with the singers who found nobility in a contemporary urban setting.
It was terrific to hear of Raewyn Hill’s staging Douglas Wright’s exquisite Gloria on her Co3 in Perth. Rumours of other works by Douglas in their planning for re-staging, mean I’d better be saving for an airfare. In Wellington an exhibition, Geist, of Tessa Ayling-Guhl’s photo portraits of Douglas Wright from 2015, was a moving experience. Björn Aslund choreographed a solo, geist dance, accompanied by Robert Oliver on bass viol, in the gallery. It’s always special when a dance enhances an art gallery space, uniting both art forms. A gathering was held at The Long Hall on October 14 to mark Douglas’ birthdate — and an archival screening of The Kiss Inside made compelling viewing. We plan to host a similar event every year on that date, and are grateful to Megan Adams who maintains the Douglas Wright archive with fastidious care.
A capacity audience attended the Russell Kerr lecture, this time focussing on Patricia Rianne’s celebrated career, and viewing her 1986 ballet, Bliss, based on the Katherine Mansfield short story. 2023 marks the centenary of Mansfield’s death and I was honoured to present a paper KM and Dance, at the VUW conference held to mark that.
2023 also marked the centenary of the tragic incident in which a young dancer, Phyllis Porter, was performing in the Opera House in Wellington, when her tarlatan skirt caught on the gaslight in the wings and she was horribly burnt, and died four days later. Shades of Emma Livry in Paris, though no-one here makes a pilgrimage to Phyllis’ resting place.
2023 offered several memorable dance videos—the Arts channel had a repeat screening of the splendid Cloudgate in Lin Hwai Min’s Rice.Firestarter about Bangarra Dance Theatre again made compelling viewing. A doco, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dancing told of Tom Oakley, a young Liverpool boy with serious cystic fibrosis yet who had danced his way to win a scholarship to Rambert Dance school. The outstanding force in German dance, Susanne Linke, sent me an intriguing video of her dance project, Inner Suspension, in which she shares her pedagogy and technique. (Anyone interested to receive the link could email Inge Zysk at email@example.com).
Several dance books of interest featured in my year. David McAllister was appointed Interim Artistic Director at RNZBallet. His two books, Ballet Confidential and the earlier Solo, provide access to the backstage life of the ballet and proved popular among local readers. The book Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty which Anne Rowse and I co-edited back in 2013, was released in a digital edition by Victoria University Press.
If I had to signal the hour and a half of the year that offered the purest dance pleasure, it would be the RNZB Company class I observed taught by David McAllister. Clarity of physics, and the miracle of anatomy, combined with music and poetry from each dancer, reveals the art, unmarked by choreography, casting, costumes and champagne—all the things we go to the ballet for. Here by contrast is the forge and the chapel where the art of the dancer is daily honed and made good. It’s my favourite thing.
Season’s greetings to all—in happy anticipation of 2024 which will see Akram Khan’s The Jungle Book Reimagined—and mid- year an intriguing project, Bismaya, in which Chamber Music New Zealand are bringing musicians from India to combine with Vivek Kinra’s Mudra dance company in a national tour and workshops. Russell Kerr’s pedigree production of Swan Lake from RNZB comes up in May, and later their mixed bill, Solace which includes a new work by Alice Topp. A return season of Liam Scarlett’s magical Midsummer Nights’ Dream is the work that keeps his talent alive.
Jennifer Shennan, 30 December 2023
Featured image: Jon Trimmer as a Stepmother in Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1987. Photo courtesy Royal New Zealand Ballet
11 August 2023. Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra
Kiku, a film choreographed and directed by Japanese-Australian artist Natsuko Yonezawa of Itazura Co, had its premiere showing on 11 August to a sold-out, very enthusiastic audience at the National Film and Sound Archive’s Arc Cinema. I was taken aback when I realised the theatre was chock-a-block. I have never seen that theatre so crowded!
Kiku was danced by six women aged between 59 and 74—Suzannah Salojarvi, Vilaisan Campbell, Jane Ingall, Anne Embry, Sue Andrews, and Julie (Jules) Rickwood. It set out to examine the notion of ageing and, in particular, the individual journeys of each of the dancers across the decades of their lives. It began with constantly changing groupings of the six dancers in which they linked up with each other in a variety of ways, most often using arms and hands to wrap themselves around each other, or to extend the space each grouping occupied.
Throughout the work, the dancers often held their hands together at the wrist and then, keeping the wrists touching, opened their hands and spread their fingers as if a flower was blooming. The word ‘kiku’ in Japanese means ‘listen’ and/or ‘chrysanthemum’, but perhaps even more relevant in relation to this work is the fact that Yonezawa was inspired not just by the concept of ageing, but by Makoto Azuma, a Japanese flower artist and botanical sculptor. In his work, I discovered, Azuma groups flowers together so that they merge with each other, twisting this way and that. Yonezawa worked in a similar fashion with her dancers.
Following the opening group sections, each dancer had a solo. But following those solos, the dancers began regrouping in various arrangements. I was especially taken by a section that seemed to be in 3D as three groups, each consisting of two dancers, took up positions along a horizontal line in the performing space. The eyes of the audience were able to follow a line to a vanishing point as each group grew smaller along the line. Videographer was Trent Houssenloge and lighting designer was Craig Dear. Both added exceptional effects to the work.
Kiku was danced to a commissioned soundtrack from Rebecca Hilliard sung by members of the ANU Chamber Choir and Luminescence Children’s Choir.
The film was followed by a documentary created in the homes of the six dancers. In this short documentary the dancers explained in words something of their journey through life, and their approach to dance and ageing. The documentary was also beautifully filmed with the occasional look beyond the dancers to items within or outside the homes—two galahs drinking from a birdbath, a close-up of sunflowers, for example. The evening finished with a Q & A session moderated by Marlēné Claudine Radice, a composer and performer who acted as MC throughout the evening.
Despite the documentary and Q & A, which had their interesting moments, it was Kiku the film that was the highlight of the night. It was a stunning creation and one that developed the art of collaboration to an exceptional level.
Miscellaneous matters Itazura means ‘mischief’ in Japanese. According to Yonezawa, Itazura Co is ‘the home of mischievous performance art’.
Kiku is the last work Natsuko Yonezawa will make in Australia for the moment. She is about to head to London where she will undertake a Master’s degree in Performance: Design and Practice at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts.
Digital screening, July 2023 (filmed on 6 July during the Melbourne season of Jewels)
Given my reaction, or lack of a reaction for the most part, to the live performance of Jewels I saw in Sydney, I paid my subscription to watch the work streamed during a performance in the Melbourne follow-up season. I was hoping of course to feel differently. But I was again disappointed, not by the dancing—the Australian Ballet is in great form—but by the gushing praise and exaggerated enthusiasm for what seems to me to be a work that is showing its age in so many instances. I continue to think, as I did on my previous viewing in Sydney, that the way Balanchine groups the corps de ballet, at least in Jewels, has had its day. We have moved on in terms of grouping dancers on stage in the way that Balanchine admired, which is often somewhat statically or in an obvious geometric and stage-centred fashion.
But also I think that Jewels presents stereotypical views of French, American and Russian dance and society. Again we have moved on and there is more to France and its culture than perfume, haute couture, romance and other such items mentioned in discussions of ‘Emeralds’ for example. Then, I don’t really like dance being used to tell me that Americans are sassy, brash and cocky when not everyone is like that. It all reminds me a bit of the much-discussed way other cultures were used in some still-performed 19th century ballets. There is nothing of the racist or other unpleasant aspects of stereotyping in the case of Jewels, but we have just moved on. ‘Diamonds’ is more interesting in many respects because no one seems to relate it to characteristics of the Russian people and their culture but to how ballet developed in Russia. So there seems to be a difference in how we are meant to see the three sections, which adds to my problems with the work.
Quite honestly, I wish that various outlets would desist from raving on about Jewels rather than seeing it as a moment in a wider Balanchine repertoire. Some of the choreography is startling and more than interesting to see, but do we really need to call it a masterpiece? In my opinion, it is better seen as an historic work from the 1960s.
Despite the above, I did admire some particular dancers whom I didn’t see in Sydney. In ‘Rubies’ Isobelle Dashwood as the solo dancer was stunning. What a great dancer’s body she has—slender, tall and long-limbed, she is actually a perfect Balanchine dancer. What was so impressive though was the charisma she exuded at every moment. And she didn’t overplay the sassy bit but rather just danced the choreography and presented it beautifully to the audience. Someone to watch for sure.
Also in ‘Rubies’ I enjoyed the work of Brett Chynoweth as the leading male dancer, joining Ako Kondo in the pas de deux sections. Chynoweth threw himself into the choreography with gusto. Every gesture, every step was exciting to watch in its attention to shape and detail.
It was a pleasure too to see Sharni Spencer and Callum Linnane as the leading dancers in ‘Emeralds’. I admired their dancing in Sydney as the leading dancers in ‘Diamonds’ and the same beautiful connection between them was on show in ‘Emeralds’. Perhaps especially noticeable in ‘Emeralds’ was the detail, so in tune with the music, that they brought to every single movement. A terrific partnership again.
Some time ago, Tatiana Leskova, former dancer with the Ballets Russes and with a significant career after those experiences, sent me a copy of her biography, Tatiana Leskova. Uma Bailarina Solta No Mundo. It was the original edition written in Brazilian Portuguese by Suzana Braga. Eventually an English edition was released, Tatiana Leskova. A Ballerina at Large, and I gave my Portuguese edition (which I couldn’t read!) to Valrene Tweedie (who could read it). But I kept the DVD that was part of the original edition. As for that DVD, there were moments when English and French were used by Leskova and the people with whom she was dealing, but the dialogue and commentary were basically spoken in Portuguese. But luckily for me there were English subtitles available (although they had not been created in very good English, and they also often featured incorrect spelling).
But a recent major clean-up of my study brought the DVD to light once more and I watched it again. It contains some wonderful images from Leskova’s early career, some footage (mostly fairly grainy) of her performances in works from the 1930s and 1940s as well as footage and images of her later career as a dancer in Rio de Janeiro. There are scenes of her various friendships, including with fellow Ballets Russes dancer Anna Volkova; scenes of her teaching at the school she established in Rio; and interviews with some of the Brazilian dancers she trained.
A number of aspects of the unfolding story stood out for me. I was interested, for example, to hear comments from Sir Peter Wright, who commissioned Leskova in the 1990s to restage Choreartium for Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Wayne Eagling of the Dutch National Ballet for whom Leskova also restaged Choreartium, this time in 2001. Wright said she was ‘fighting for everything and being so passionate about it.’ Eagling said of her work, ‘She demonstrates what feeling should be.’ And they both talk about how she never compromised and was ‘tough’. And many other words of wisdom come from them both.
I was also mesmerised by the way Leskova moved when she was coaching dancers. This was especially noticeable in footage showing her coaching dancers of the Dutch National Ballet. At the age of 79, she wasn’t just demonstrating she was performing with her whole body, and it was easy to see that dance was an inherent part of her being.
Leskova turned 100 in December 2022. It is nothing short of amazing to watch this DVD, which is actually available on YouTube (but with no subtitles). Leskova’s career extends way beyond the Ballets Russes, for which she is so well known in Australia, and I have nothing but respect for her approach to performing, coaching and teaching. She has built a reputation for being demanding and several of those who appear on the DVD say she made them cry with her comments and demands. But the outcomes she achieved are exceptional, especially in her restaging of the ballets of Massine, which she did across the world.
The DVD closes with Leskova saying:
I was born in Paris. French people don’t take me as one. The Russians don’t take me as Russian. The Brazilians don’t take me as one. So, I am a ballerina. Free in the world.
A DVD well worth making the effort to watch. For more about Leskova on this site see this tag.
Michelle Potter, 13 June 2023
Featured image: Detail of Tatiana Leskova as a young dancer. Image from the DVD Tatiana Leskova. Nos passos de uma bailarina solta no mundo. Full image below. Photographer not identified.
Note: I was unable (for reasons unknown) to embed a link to the YouTube video of the Leskova DVD but it is easily accessible via a web browser.
My year’s list of dance highlights seems thinner than usual since a number of productions didn’t make it to curtain-up. There are no lowlights though (why would you write about lowlights?) so I’ll just call them lights.
From a screen viewing I followed with interest the choreographic venture, Journey, by Lily Bones. I remember Lily’s serene sense of line as an unusual individual dancer at both NZSchool of Dance and later in RNZBallet. After a time performing in Europe she is now based in Sydney and is a colleague there of Martin James. Her resilience in surviving serious illness, and her determination to make dances despite zero external resources has given her a maturity and quiet confidence to choreograph themes that speak and that we can hear. No glamour or glitz, just her truth. Refreshing.
It was a treat indeed to see again an Arts Channel broadcast of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in Rice. Choreographed by Lin Hwai Min in 2013 (and toured to Auckland in 2017), it is talisman to their repertoire, with typically perfect proportion in shaping the cycle of rice growth and harvesting. Like all Lin’s work, there is pacing and spacing through the episodes that deliver at one level of nature at work in the titled theme, and also allegorical layers of reference to human and personal experience. The erotic sensuality in a single central duet in Rice defines the original power of creation. I own a dvd of this work but choose not to watch it alone—so how is that different from sitting alone and watching a broadcast? just a sense that there will be others out there watching ‘with me’, a feeling of being in the audience that is shaped by a performance in time. Cloud Gate’s repertoire has a strength in its Chinese legacy and vocabulary that is yet accessible to the wider world. Riveting.
Another memorable experience on screen was the final sequence by the young boy in the studio, as epilogue to the film The White Crow, the dramatisation by Ralph Fiennes of Nureyev’s defection to the west. Overall I was not as transported by the film as others seemed, but was certainly moved by how that final dance was allowed to speak for itself. Poignant.
Pump Dance Studio’s Roll the Dice also transformed the commitment of young performers into something more than the sum of its parts. Infectious.
From NZSchool of Dance, Loughlan Prior’s Verse, a solo to the Folies d’Espagne played by the consummate ensemble Hesperion XXI, shone with the clarity of a beacon, both in choreography and performance. Luminous.
Two books—by Michelle Potter on Graeme Murphy, and by Ashley Killar on John Cranko—offered insights into those prolific choreographic careers, with welcome reminders of the live performances we have seen by their companies. Revelatory.
Not from this year, but nevertheless shaped by the pandemic term we are still experiencing, the tour de force of Strasbourg 1518 by Lucy Marinkovich and Lucien Johnson, remains the total standout dance season of recent times. Their earlier work, Lobsters, also holds its place on the list of memorable works of the decade. Indelible.
It has been indeed moving to follow the heroic project by Raewyn Hill, artistic director of Co3 Contemporary Dance in Perth, where she re-staged Gloria, the celebrated work by the late Douglas Wright, New Zealand’s visionary choreographer. Immortal.
A dance lives for as long as it is remembered, and can cheat death by a measure. Russell Kerr died earlier this year, and for many people the memory of his production of Petrouchka in which he cast Douglas in the title role, also stands as an indelible milestone in this country’s dance history. Legendary.
We are looking forward to the fifth in the series of the Russell Kerr Lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, in Wellington, late February. The subject will be Patricia Rianne, celebrated dancer, teacher and choreographer whose long career spans years both in New Zealand as well as UK, Europe and Asia. A delight.
Season’s greetings and good wishes to all those who watch dance, who create dances, who perform, who write and who read about dancing. Sprezzatura.
Dance in Canberra showed its current and growing strength in the annual awards given by the Canberra Critics’ Circle. Five recipients were honoured with a dance award, the most for a single year (at least as far as I can recall) in the 32 year history of the CCC awards, which celebrate originality, excellence, energy and creativity across the arts. Here are the dance recipients, with citations.
For a performance that was both technically and theatrically strong, and in which characterisation of a leading role was maintained in an exceptional manner throughout. To Ali Mayes for Juliet in the Training Ground’s Unravel.
For its initiative in bringing together dance filmmakers from the ACT and South Australia in October 2021 and September 2022 in which 9 short films were commissioned and shown, thus widening knowledge and understanding of Canberra’s dance culture beyond the ACT. To Ausdance ACT for their two collaborative programs of Dance.Focus.
For an exceptional full-length solo performance choreographed using a variety of physical genres combined with a strong visual arts component and an underlying focus on issues concerning the disastrous bushfires that ravaged parts of Australia in December 2019. To Jake Silvestro for his production of and performance in December.
For an adventurous site-specific work that explored a Canberra sculpture and its surrounding watery setting through innovative dance, and exceptional lighting and sound design, to give the audience a highly immersive experience. To Australian Dance Party for LESS.
For his charismatic, athletic performance in his self-choreographed work Similar,Same but Different, based on a piece choreographed by Ruth Osborne for Riley’s brother, and performed against a film of Osborne’s work. Similar, Same but Different was performed with a calm assurance that was as captivating as it was moving. To Danny Riley for Similar, Same but Different.
Scroll through this link to read my comments on the 2020 production of Similar, Same but Different.
11 November 2022. Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra
Sue Healey’s relatively recent initiative, Intersecting Journeys, was made up of two films, Meeting Place and Alumni, both produced by Canberra’s QL2 Dance on behalf of Youth Dance Australia, with the support of the Australia Council for the Arts. Healey says that having this commission helped her through some of the most difficult times of the COVID pandemic, and watching the films it is clear that the making of them was a challenging and demanding enterprise for Healey and her team. The result is both intriguing and absorbing.
The screening in the Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive began with Meeting Place in which eight youth dance companies teamed up and shared common practices. Working in four teams each made up of dancers from two of the eight companies, they met in four different locations to connect and collaborate. Dancers from Melbourne’s Yellow Wheel teamed up with those from Austi Dance & Physical Theatre in Austinmer, New South Wales. They met where the Yarra River meets Merri Creek. Then the Indigenous youth company, Wagana, located in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, teamed up with dancers from NAISDA College and met at Kedumba Cascades near Katoomba. Australian Dance Theatre’s youth group, Tread, was joined by Tasmania’s Stompin youth company and they performed at Sellicks Beach on the Fleurieu Peninsula out of Adelaide. Canberra’s Quantum Leap dancers teamed up with those from Newcastle’s Flipside Project run by Catapult Dance. They danced together on Newcastle Breakwater.
Harlisha Newie and Maddison Fraser from NAISDA College at Kedumba Cascades. Screenshot from Meeting Place, 2022
What stood out from these four exploratory dances was, on the one hand, the utter commitment of the young dancers who performed them and, on the other, the locations chosen, all very different but all with a watery theme. Absolutely stunning was the work of Maddison Fraser from Wagana who, without obvious trepidation, walked up the waterfall and sat down on a rock in the middle of the rushing water, as seen in the header image to this post.
But beyond the choreography, which I suspect was partly improvised, and the incredibly beautiful locations chosen, was the remarkable film work of cinematographer Richard Corfield and drone cinematographer Ken Butti, the latter seen especially strongly in relation to the Newcastle Breakwater. Their work added immensely to what was an exceptionally well directed film from Healey.
Dancers from Quantum Leap and the Flipside Project performing on Newcastle Breakwater. Still from Meeting Place, 2022
The second film was Alumni, which in many respects was a sequel to Meeting Place. Healey had identified a number of former youth company dancers who had gone on to make national and international careers in dance. As a number of them were working outside of Australia she asked all those identified to contribute footage from youth performances in which they had danced, and then to film their reaction, in a danced format, to watching that early footage. Healey then assembled the material into mini dance biographies about each dancer. It was a monumental task and Healey responded with a varied analysis of material so that the biographies, as mini as they were (given the time frame), showed up the different personalities of each dancer.
James Batchelor in a screenshot from Alumni, 2022
I enjoyed Alumni, especially when watching those whose post-youth company, professional work I have been able to follow, including James Batchelor, Jack Ziesing, Chloe Chignell, and Sam Young-Wright. But it was really Meeting Place that I found especially fascinating. Apart from the dancing and exceptional filming and directing, looking at the four locations and the way they were integrated into the dancing, I could not help thinking what a beautiful country we live in here in Australia.
Overall, however, what Intersecting Journeys made very clear was the significance of giving young dancers the positive mentoring that the best youth companies make available to them.
Watch brief excerpts from both films below.
Michelle Potter, 13 November 2022
Featured image: Maddison Fraser at Kedumba Cascades in a scene from Meeting Point in Sue Healey’s Intersecting Journeys, 2022
This month’s dance diary has, with one significant exception, a Canberra focus, from news about writing by Canberra-based authors (including me) to performances generated, or soon to be performed from within the ACT.
Glimpses of Graeme
My book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, is currently being printed and will be available shortly from the Hobart-based company FortySouth Publishing. The book is a collection of articles and reviews I have written over several decades about Murphy’s career. The writing is arranged according to themes I think are noticeable in Murphy’s output, including ’Music Initiatives’, ’Crossing Generations’, ’Approaches to Narrative’ and ’Postmodernism’.
Cover for Glimpses of Graeme designed by Kent Whitmore with a detail from an image by Branco Gaica showing Murphy during the production of his 1995 work, Fornicon
This month’s featured image shows Murphy and cast taking a curtain call following a performance in 2014 of Murphy’s Swan Lake. The image, shot by Lisa Tomasetti, fills the inside cover (front and back) of the book. More information on how to secure your copy will appear shortly.
UPDATE, 4 October 2022: The book is now for sale at the FortySouth online shop. Only 350 copies have been printed so buy your copy soon at this link.
Parijatham from the Kuchipudi dance repertoire
Canberra’s Sadhanalaya School of Arts is bringing Parijatham, a timeless, iconic dance drama in the classical Indian dance style, Kuchipudi, to the stage in early November. It tells the story of conflict created between two of Lord Krishna’s consorts, Queen Rukmini and Queen Satyabhama. It is set to classical South Indian music and is one of 15 dance dramas from the admired choreographer, Dr Vempati Chinnasatyam.
In the image above, Lord Krishna, played by Divyusha Polepalli tries to pacify the enraged Queen Satyabhama, played by Sadhanalaya School of Arts Director Vanaja Dasika, after she discovers Krishna has given his favourite consort Queen Rukmini a divine parijatha (jasmine) flower instead of giving it to her.
The work will have two performances only on 6 November at the Gungahlin College Theatre. Book at this link.
Canberra writer, John Anderson, has been researching for a number of years the life and career of Daphne Deane, an Australian with extensive experience in the presentation of theatrical activities around the world in the first half of the 20th century. I first came across the name Daphne Deane when researching the history if the Ballet Russes companies and their visits to Australia between 1936 and 1940 but very little appeared to have been written and published about her life and activities.
John Anderson’s book is nothing short of an eye-opener! We have much to learn about a woman who was all but written out of most of the historical accounts of the visits to Australia by the Ballets Russes companies, but whose activities during and beyond those visits were extensive. Anderson notes, for example, that Arnold Haskell’s book, Dancing round the world, which has become ’the putative history’ of the 1936-1937 tour to Australia simply ignores Deane by not mentioning her once. Anderson writes, ‘Deane effectively became a woman who never was, written out of the record of the tour’ and later ’In Haskell’s significant omission, we can see the beginnings of a man-made amnesia about Deane’s part in the tour.’
Cover design by Paul Anderson
Anderson’s book is available, free to read and download, as an e-text via Trove. Follow this link.
Dance.Focus 22—Film Premieres
Dance Hub SA and Ausdance ACT recently partnered to commission five filmmakers to produce a short film to ’challenge, resonate and engage with screen dance.’ The films premiered on five consecutive evenings and are now available to watch via YouTube. More information and links to the five films are here.
I especially enjoyed Son; Like Mother; Like Son danced by Petra Szabo Heath with her son Rowan and filmed by Tim Baroff with music by Rian Teoh. The outdoor setting was stunning and nicely juxtaposed with an indoor one, and the work reminded me of a comment once made by Graeme Murphy, ’We all dance from the moment we are born.’ But there was also rather more dancing in this short film than in most of the others in this series, which made me wonder what screen dance is, or how those who make screen dance conceive of its dance component.
Promotions at Queensland Ballet
And on a non-Canberra note, but one I am really pleased to include, Queensland Ballet has just promoted Mia Heathcote and Patricio Revé to principal artists. Both dancers have been dancing superbly recently and the promotions are well deserved.
As it happens, I have been following Heathcote’s progress since she was at the Australian Ballet School when she appeared in a program called Let’s Dance in 2012. See this link (it includes a gorgeous photo of Heathcote from Tim Harbour’s work, Sweedeedee). See also tags for Heathcote and Revé.
Sue Healey has been working on her On View series for several years now. I recall with much pleasure seeing (live—it was pre-Covid!) her very arresting program On View. Live Portraits in 2015, and I also recall, again with pleasure, a number of the portraits of Australian dance ‘icons’ she has made over the years. But Healey has worked on a number of occasions in Japan, Hong Kong and other Asian countries and much her work in the On View series has been collated and edited into an hour-long masterly production called On View: Panoramic Suite, which was recently shown as part of Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art.
This digital presentation began in something of a philosophical way with three performers explaining how they perceived the notion of dance portraiture, which was, at least in part, the focus of the production. ‘The dancer as an expert in being seen,’ said Martin del Amo; ‘How do you see a thought in a gesture?’ asked Nalina Wait; and ‘How are we perceived by others in a changing world?’ mused Shona Erskine.
From there the performance crossed every kind of boundary we might have imagined was possible for a dance on film production. It was panoramic not only in the way the footage was collated from so many different places across three distinct areas—Australia, Hong Kong and Japan—but also because it featured 27 different dancers whose ages ranged from 28 to 106; because the footage was presented from so many different angles, including close-up shots, aerial views and everything in between; and because it was presented with such a variety of screen views including multiple views at any one time.
Several sections stood out for me. I found quite fascinating a section that began with percussionist Laurence Pike playing while seated in a square of light. As he played dancers appeared to be falling from a sheet of white material that gradually transformed into a sheet of blue sky. At one stage Pike disappeared from the screen and his place was taken by shadows of performers whose individual shapes kept changing.
A section filmed on Lake George just north of Canberra, which featured dancer James Batchelor, was also particularly eye-catching. We saw Batchelor from an aerial perspective as a solitary figure in a wide, flat, uninhabited landscape, then on multiple screens sometimes with a screen of footage placed next to a screen that was simply a black space. Occasionally, there were close-up shots showing his hands, or his feet engaging with the dirt of the lake floor. It was an interesting reflection and comment on dance and the environment, a concept that was also mentioned by Shona Erskine in the narration at the beginning of the production. This Lake George section also sat in opposition to the section that preceded it when five dancers performed in a tight environment that consisted of nothing more than a small square of light. Not one dancer moved out of the square as they negotiated each other within that confined space.
Still from On View: Panoramic Suite, 2021. Courtesy of Sue Healey
Of the dancers, I found Japanese Butoh artist Nobuyoshi Asai extraordinarily moving. Covered completely in white make-up and wearing only a minimal jock strap-style costume he moved at times as if in a trance, at others like an animal, while at times we saw fury and anger. His performance was intense, potent and physically arresting.
I also enjoyed some moments when Torres Strait Islander dancer, Elma Kris, performed first in a forest of tall, thin tree trunks, and then by the edge of the sea before dancing in the shallows. Again it was partly a reflection of a specific environment.
I have also to acknowledge the entire production/collaborative team for some extraordinary contributions, including Darrin Verhagen for his score and Karen Norris for her lighting. The production was dedicated to the memory of ballerina and esteemed teacher Lucette Aldous who died in June 2021 and who was one of Healey’s Australian dance icons.
Michelle Potter, 30 October 2021
Featured image: Still from On View: Panoramic Suite, 2021. Courtesy of Sue Healey