Dance diary. October 2015

  • The return of Ochres

Bangarra Dance Theatre has a special program coming up at the end of November—a brief revival of Ochres at Carriageworks in Sydney beginning on 27 November.

Tara Gower in a study for 'Ochres'. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill
Tara Gower in study for Ochres. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Ochres was one of Bangarra’s earliest works and is still regarded as a milestone in the company’s history. Co-choreographed by Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong, it was first performed in Sydney in 1994. In 1995 it came to Canberra as part of the National Festival of Australian Theatre, the brainchild of Robyn Archer and for a few years one of the highlights of the theatre scene in Canberra. Anyone who was lucky enough to see Ochres back then in its first years will never, I am sure, forget Djakapurra Munyarryun smearing his body with yellow ochre as the work began.

Looking back through my archive, I discovered a review I had written for Muse, a monthly arts magazine produced in Canberra and initially edited by Helen Musa (Muse—like the Festival—is now, sadly, defunct). Re-reading the review I found I had speculated in 1995 on how Bangarra would develop in future years, especially in regard to the growth of a recognisable Bangarra style and vocabulary. Well that has certainly happened and it will be interesting to look back on Ochres as an early work in which Page and Walong were testing ways of doing just that—setting Bangarra on a journey to discover a contemporary, indigenous dance style.

Further details of the new Ochres at this link.

  • Hannah O’Neill

One of my favourite French dance sites, Danses avec la plume, recently posted some news about Hannah O’Neill and the up-and-coming competitive examinations for promotion within the Paris Opera Ballet. Female dancers will face the jury on 3 November. O’Neill’s name has been suggested on a number of occasions for promotion into one of two positions as principal dancer. One author suggests O’Neill is an Etoile in the making and the future of the company! (Une promotion d’Hannah O’Neill me plairait beaucoup aussi. C’est une danseuse brillante, une future Étoile, elle est l’avenir de la troupe.)

The word is too that Benjamin Millepied, now directing Paris Opera Ballet, would have liked to have dispensed with this ingrained competitive system of promotion, but the dancers voted that it remain.

See this link for what is currently ‘trending’ regarding the promotions, and follow this this link to see an image of O’Neill (taken by Isabelle Aubert) with Pierre Lacotte after a performance of Lacotte’s production of Paquita. [UPDATE: Link to Paquita image no longer available}

  • All the things: QL2 Dance

As an annual event on its performance calendar, QL2 Dance produces a short program of dance for its young and less experienced dancers, aged from 8 to 17. This year the program, All the Things, included choreography by Ruth Osborne, Jamie Winbank, Alison Plevey and Joshua Lowe with perhaps the most interesting moments coming from Plevey’s ‘girly’ piece about shopping, ‘Material Matters’, and Joshua Lowe’s male-oriented ‘I Need’ about ‘needing’ technological devices in one’s life. It was an entertaining, if somewhat sexist juxtaposition of ideas in these two pieces, which had been strategically placed side by side in the program.

Scene from 'All the Things'. QL2 Dance, 2015. Photo: Lorna Sim
Scene from All the Things. QL2 Dance, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But the great thing about this annual event is the experience it gives these young dancers. James Batchelor (independent), Daniel Riley (Bangarra Dance Theatre) and Sam Young-Wright (Sydney Dance Company) are just three current professionals who had early dance experiences with Quantum Leap.

  • New book from photographer Lois Greenfield

One of the most pleasurable experiences I had while working in New York between 2006 and 2008 was visiting the studio of dance photographer Lois Greenfield. I was there to buy a collection of her images for the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. She is about to launch a new book. See this link for details.

  • Press for October

‘Lording it in high-tech high jinks.’ Review of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance: Dangerous GamesThe Canberra Times, 9 October 2015, ‘Times 2’ pp. 6–7. Online version.

‘Sizzling and simply sensational.’ Review of Natalie Weir’s Carmen Sweet for Expressions Dance Company. The Canberra Times, 13 October 2015, ‘Times 2’ p. 6. Online version.

‘Dancing our way next year.’ Preview of dance in Canberra in 2016. The Canberra Times, 26 October 2015, ‘Times  2’ p. 6. Online version.

‘Listless on the Lake.’ Review of Swan Lake by the Russian National Ballet Theatre. The Canberra Times, 31 October 2015, ARTS, p. 20. Online version .

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2015

Dance diary. August 2015

  • New Breed: Sydney Dance Company

Early in August Sydney Dance Company announced the four recipients of commissions to create works for the company’s New Breed initiative. Kristina Chan, Fiona Jopp, Bernhard Knauer and Daniel Riley will present their dances at Carriageworks in a season running from 8 to 13 December. Commissions have also gone to independent designers Matt Marshall and Aleisa Jelbart, and musician/composers Nick Thayer, James Brown, Jürgen Knauer, Toby Merz and Alicia Merz, who will contribute to the creation of the works, which will be performed by artists from Sydney Dance Company.

The four New Breed 2015 choreographers . Photo: Peter Greig
The four ‘New Breed’ choreographers for 2015 (l-r: Fiona Jopp, Kristina Chan, Daniel Riley and Bernhard Knauer). Photo: Peter Greig
  •  Don Quixote: the film

During my recent foray into the career of Lucette Aldous, as a result of Sue Healey’s short film on Aldous, I came across the photograph below.

Lucette Aldous and Robert Helpmann in rehearsal for the film, 'Don Quixote', the Australian Ballet 1972. Photo: Don Edwards
Lucette Aldous and Robert Helpmann in rehearsal for the film, Don Quixote. The Australian Ballet 1972. Photo: Don Edwards. Courtesy National Library of Australia

I had always understood that it was very hot in those Essendon hangars where the Don Quixote production was filmed. From this image it appears that perhaps it was quite cold at times!

  • Harry Haythorne choreographic awards

The Royal New Zealand Ballet and the Ballet Foundation of New Zealand have announced two new choreographic awards to honour Harry Haythorne, artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet from 1981 to 1992. There will be two studio showings of new works choreographed by company dancers who will be in the running for two awards, one to be decided by a panel headed by present artistic director Francesco Ventriglia, and the other a People’s Choice award funded by money raised at the memorial event for Haythorne held in January. Dates for the showings are 12 and 13 September in the Royal New Zealand ballet studios, Wellington.

  • Press for August

‘Moving tribute to those who served.’ Review of Reckless Valour, QL2 Dance, The Canberra Times, 1 August 2015, p. 16. Online version.

‘Dalman and Jones going into dance Hall of Fame.’ Feature on the 2015 Australian Dance awards, The Canberra Times, 27 August 2015, ‘Times 2’, p. 6. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2015

Canberra dance 2013

Today Canberra 100, the Canberra Theatre Centre and the Australian Ballet released their programs for 2013. It looks like Canberra will have a bumper year of dance in 2013—what a change!

The month of May will see the long awaited return of the Australian Ballet to the Canberra Theatre stage due largely, I suspect, to Robyn Archer, creative director of the Canberra 100 celebrations. Archer commissioned a new work from Garry Stewart for the centenary celebrations and Stewart will make Monument on dancers of the Australian Ballet. Stewart can claim a connection to the Australian Ballet School where he was a student between 1984 and 1985 but Monument will be his first commission for the Australian Ballet.

We will have to wait to see how this work develops but media releases currently say that Stewart will engage with the design principles behind the architecture of Parliament House to generate movement. Stewart will have as a creative consultant Aldo Giurgola, architect of Parliament House and a truly generous man who loves the city of Canberra. Fingers crossed for a great world premiere.

Brett Chynoweth and Karen Nanasca in a study for Monument. The Australian Ballet. Photo: © Georges Antoni, 2012

The Canberra program will also include Harald Lander’s Etudes, a showcase of classical ballet first made for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1948. It has been in the Australian Ballet’s repertoire since 1986 and its inclusion on the program is an interesting one as it too is somewhat architectural in nature. The American critic Arlene Croce one wrote that Etudes shows ‘that classical forms [in ballet] have a structural coherence’. The program of two works has been given the collective name of Symmetries.

The Canberra 100 program is an incomplete listing at this stage but it does include the Canberra Theatre Centre’s program ‘Collected Works Australia 2013’. Symmetries is listed as part of ‘Collected Works’.

In June, also as part of ‘Collected Works’, Garry Stewart will be back with his Australian Dance Theatre and their production of G, a ‘reinvention’ of Giselle. It has photography by Bill Henson and music composed by Luke Smiles, whom Canberra dance-goers may remember from the mid-1990s when he was a dancer with Sue Healey’s Vis-à-vis Dance Canberra. G may or may not stir the hearts of those who are aching for a Giselle fix in their dance lives, but it will certainly deliver a contrast to the forthcoming Australian season by the Paris Opera Ballet, which will be showing a traditional production of Giselle in Sydney in January and February.

Indigenous dance will feature in two programs in Canberra in March. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman will be combining with Albert David, Djakapurra Munyarryun and cultural consultant Uncle Banula Marika to direct The Morning Star a cross cultural collaboration between Dalman’s Mirramu Dance Company and dancers from the Yirrkala community. The Morning Star will be at the National Gallery’s James O. Fairfax Theatre.

Wesley Enoch, a Stradbroke Island man and currently director of Queensland Theatre Company, is artistic director of of Kungkarangkalpa: the Seven Sisters Songline. It will have an in-progress showing at the National Museum also in March and will feature senior desert dancers from the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara lands. This is a pilot performance of a larger work being developed over four years under an Australian Research Council grant.

In July KAGE, a Melbourne-based company led by former Canberran Kate Denborough and her artistic collaborator Gerard van Dyck, will show Team of Life—First Stage at Gorman House. This work is being made in conjunction with the Dulwich Centre Foundation, a charitable association dedicated to responding to groups and communities facing mental health difficulties as the result of significant hardships. Team of Life uses sport, in particular AFL and soccer, to tell stories of the search by young people for different kinds of freedom. The project will be performed by professional dancers and actors and informed by workshops with young refugees and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Team of Life is set to dissolve the boundaries between sport, theatre and identity.

Also in July Bangarra Dance Theatre will bring BLAK to Canberra. BLAK is a new triple bill production about the challenges to and rewards for Aboriginal young people making transitions to adulthood. Daniel Riley McKinley will choreograph Scar, Stephen Page Yearning, and the two will combine in Keepers. BLAK is part of the Canberra Theatre Centre’s 2013 program.

Sydney Dance Company will be back in Canberra in September with two works by Rafael Bonachela: Project Rameau in collaboration with Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and 2 One Another. Project Rameau has grown from Bonachela’s and Tognetti’s mutual passion for the music of Baroque composer Rameau, while 2 One Another celebrates relationships, interactions and the sheer beauty of the human form. Sydney Dance Company is one of the few companies that has toured to Canberra consistently since its beginnings in the 1970s. What a pleasure it will be to see them again as part of ‘Collected Works’.

Dance in Canberra’s centenary year looks promising. Other events and more dance performances are listed on the Canberra 100 website. [UPDATE August 2020. The website with listings is no longer available. The following quote, however, appears on the site:

“One of the great achievements of the Centenary of Canberra, in my mind, has been the unearthing of community and city pride. This is something we must carry forward as a legacy–the means to a permanent departure from Canberra bashing and self-deprecation about our city. A city brand is far more than a logo. It’s a collective idea–and a collective advocacy–about who we are and what we have to offer.”]

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, 2013 Blackfriars Lecture at the Australian Catholic University

Michelle Potter, 5 September 2012

Belong. Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra Dance Theatre has always made dance that links back to the heritage of two groups of indigenous Australians: the Aboriginal communities of mainland Australia and the communities of the Torres Strait Islands. Belong, the company’s latest work, is no exception. Each of the two works that comprise the program, About choreographed by Elma Kris, and ID choreographed by the company’s artistic director Stephen Page, represents one of those streams of indigenous heritage. And, while the overall focus of the program is on the question of indigenous identity, the two works couldn’t be more different.

About opens with Kris, shrouded in a cloud of white mist, taking the role of a storyteller. She appears at the beginning of each section of the work and introduces us in turn to the four winds of the Torres Strait on which the work centres. Through Kris’ flowing choreography we encounter ‘Zey’, the cool south wind, ‘Kuki’, the powerful northwest wind, ‘Naygay’, the calm and gentle north wind, and ‘Sager’ the gusty, dominant southeast wind. Each has its particular energy, which is conveyed choreographically, through changing emphasis on male or female dancers, and through the way in which each wind is envisaged through colour and costuming.

About is without political overtones. Even as the Sager wind spirits confront each other as powerful forces, the work remains concerned with moods and a changing sense of spirit and movement. ID on the other hand is an emotive and often confronting work. Examining what it means to be an indigenous person in the 21st century, Page has structured his work as a series of episodes each commenting on some aspect of urban Aboriginal life. An indigenous man being tortured by prison guards is tough viewing and David Page’s music, interwoven with text, is unrelenting and adds an extra layer to a harsh and uncompromising work. The work does, however, contain some less politically challenging sections to balance the harshness. One uses a collection of hollowed out objects like tree trunks, or even slit gongs, and evocative lighting by Matt Cox to set the scene for some dancing that conveys more a passion for life and one’s culture than issues of social injustice.

I have long been an admirer of the strong and distinctive visual ‘look’ of a Bangarra production, which was established early in Bangarra’s performance history by the design team of Peter England (sets) and Jennifer Irwin (costumes). It is being carried forward now by others including, for Belong, Jacob Nash (sets) and Emma Howell (costumes). Stylistically and in the way both costumes and set occupy space there is more than a passing nod to the England/Irwin collaboration. But I greatly admired Nash’s backcloth (or was it a projection?) in About for the sections ‘Nagay’ and ‘Sager’. Streamer-like, the black and white image wound and swirled its way upwards across the backcloth at times looking like snake skin, at times like ancient bark, and at times like a meticulously executed linocut. Like the wind, and with the help of Matt Cox’s lighting, it appeared to be a changeable and unpredictable entity.

But if the ‘look’ is same, same but different, Bangarra dancers have moved ahead in leaps and bounds. Now with older role models and mentors, and perhaps with improved or more access to training, the current company is dancing very well indeed. Stand out performances came from Daniel Riley McKinley as the Initiate in ID and Kris and Waagenga Blanco as the Wind Spirits in the Sager section of About. Kris and Blanco in particular had a powerful connection between them as they danced, which many classical dancers might (or should) envy, and Blanco’s ability to fill the space around him with movement was exceptional.

Michelle Potter, 13 August 2011

Of earth and sky. Bangarra Dance Theatre

23 July–28 August 2010, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Bangarra Dance Theatre, which was founded by Carole Johnson in 1989, has entered its twenty-first year with a program of two works under the generic title Of earth and sky. Riley, a work by emerging choreographer Daniel Riley McKinley, represents the sky of the title, while Artefact choreographed by well established dancer and choreographer Frances Rings represents the earth. The program as a whole suggests a potential new direction for Bangarra.

The inspiration for Riley came from the work of the late indigenous photographer and film maker Michael Riley, in particular from his series of photographic prints in which an object is digitally manipulated to float against a background of a soft blue sky dotted with clouds. They are single objects, a feather, a locust, a bible, a boomerang, a broken wing, an angel, and they reflect McKinley’s own indigenous background in rural New South Wales and, at times, the conflict between Aboriginal and Christian spirituality.

Riley’s cloud photographs are projected in turn onto a screen and McKinley’s choreography grows from and is shaped by his reflections on the objects. The choreography for the boomerang image, for example, swirls and turns, while that for the locust gathers strength of movement so that it buzzes and swarms as David Page’s electronic music develops an insistent power. The highlight is a duet, Angel, danced by Waangenga Blanco and Leonard Mickelo. They carry each other shoulder high, proudly and powerfully, as a stone angel hovers as the background image.

Riley is an impressive, if occasionally unsophisticated, choreographic beginning for McKinley. With its abstraction from any form of narrative it is quite different from much of the material we have seen from Bangarra over the previous two decades.

Artefact is the latest in a string of works made for Bangarra by Rings, who has recently been appointed resident choreographer for the company. It looks at objects of the earth such as string bags, grinding stones, bodies, weaving and coolamun (an aboriginal carrying vessel) for its inspiration. The opening sequence, called Museum, sets the scene for what follows. In it Daniel Riley McKinley and Travis de Vries, the latter a dancer on secondment to Bangarra, alternately wrap, hide and present themselves in an enormous possum skin cloak, a museum artefact that resonates nevertheless with the spirituality with which it was originally imbued. Rings appears also to be moving more towards abstraction and her choreography unfolds smoothly and organically, even lyrically at times, with some arresting movement for groups of dancers.

Bangarra has always been known for the strength of its visual aesthetic and Of earth and sky is no exception. In particular its lighting by the team of Damien Cooper and Matt Cox is subtle and evocative. But perhaps what emerges most strongly from this production is the potential movement towards abstraction, or away from strongly narrative works, by its choreographers. It could be an interesting new decade.

Michelle Potter, 5 August 2010