Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in 'Sigrid'

Dance diary. August 2014

  • Edna Busse

In August I had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview with Edna Busse, Borovanksy ballerina of the 1940s and early 1950s. The National Library had been working towards adding Edna’s memories of her life and career to its collection of dance interviews for many years, so it was a thrill that Edna, now aged 96, agreed to the invitation to participate in the program.

Edna is seen above in two images from the Borovansky days, on the left with Martin Rubinstein in the Blue Bird pas de deux in a photo by Philip Ward, and right as Swanilda in Coppélia in 1946, photographer unknown.

  • Oral history

Other oral history interviews I recorded during August were not specifically focused on dance, but were interesting arts interviews nevertheless. They were with John Hindmarsh, founder of Hindmarsh Constructions and a major arts philanthropist in Canberra; and with artist John Olsen. The Olsen interview focused on his mural Salute to Five Bells, commissioned for the Sydney Opera House in the early 1970s. (The Olsen interview is too new to have a catalogue record). [Update October 2020: The Olsen interview is now available online at this link.]

  • The Johnston Collection

I was delighted to hear that the Johnston Collection, the remarkable Melbourne-based collection of decorative arts located at Fairhall House, recently received an award from the Victorian branch of Museums Australia. The award was for the Johnston Collection’s recent exhibition David McAllister rearranges Mr Johnston’s collection. The image below shows Desmond Heeley’s costumes from the Australian Ballet production of The Merry Widow, as displayed in the sitting room during the Fairhall House exhibition.

Costumes from 'The Merry Widow' on display in Fairhall House
Costumes for The Merry Widow on display at Fairhall House

The text for my talk for the Johnston Collection as part of this award winning exhibition is at this link.

  • Press for August 2014 [Online links to press articles in The Canberra Times prior to 2015 are no longer available]

‘Odd mix misses the mark.’ Review of Boundless, Quantum Leap, The Canberra Times, 1 August 2014, ARTS p. 6.
‘S for spectacularly physical.’ Review of S, Circa, The Canberra Times, 8 August 2014, ARTS p. 7. 
‘A swirl of colour.’ Review of Devdas the musical. The Canberra Times, 19 August 2014, ARTS p. 6.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2014

Featured image: Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in Laurel Martyn’s Sigrid, Borovansky Ballet, ca. 1945. Photographer not known. National Library of Australia.

Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in 'Sigrid'

Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. A second look

7 December 2013 (matinee), Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Taking a second look at Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella was something of a swings and roundabouts experience. The gains were special, the losses of course a little disappointing.

Seeing Leanne Stojmenov as Cinderella and Daniel Gaudiello as the Prince after they had performed those roles over and over in Melbourne and again in the first few Sydney shows indicated how well they had grown into their parts. Their pas de deux in particular were seamless, expressive and beautifully executed with hardly a slip anywhere. Gaudiello once again showed what an exceptional artist he is as he fell head over heels for his Cinderella, and what a good technician he is as well.

Daniel Gaudiello in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby
Daniel Gaudiello as the Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. The Australian Ballet 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Stojmenov’s dancing showed how much she had absorbed the choreography into her very being. The beautiful way in which she conveyed the subtlety and nuances of Ratmansky’s vocabulary was an absolute delight. In particular she had captured the beauty and fluidty of Ratmansky’s arm movements with their distinctive swing and sway through space, and I also especially enjoyed her solo in the last act where she recalled the time she had with her Prince at the ball in the previous act.

I was also interested to hear David McAllister, in his public program conversation with David Hallberg after the show, that Ratmansky used the word ‘say’ rather than ‘do’ when setting his choreography on the dancers—‘you go over there and say such and such’. His emphasis on expression rather than simply execution is a sure reason why all the cast, but Stojmenov in particular, carry the storyline of Cinderella so well.

Another gain was seeing Eloise Fryer—there was an unexpected cast change announced just before the curtain went up—as the Dumpy Stepsister. She has a terrific sense of comedy and carried off the awkward and often hilarious choreography with great style. It was a huge romp and Ingrid Gow as the Skinny Stepsister really had to work hard to keep up with her.

The biggest loss was having to fit the show onto the stage of the Opera Theatre. I try not to make too many comments in this vein as it does nothing in the end. But in the case of Cinderella it resulted in a real loss I thought. The theatrical trick of a proscenium arch within a proscenium arch that was so clear in Melbourne was scarcely apparent in Sydney and the crammed-up feeling of the domestic scenes was unfortunate. And, while memory plays tricks I know, it seemed to me that Gaudiello’s choreography had been cut in the scenes where he travels the world searching for the owner of the slipper. Maybe I just missed some of those grands jetes in a circle and the spectacular finish where he jumped into the arms of his cortege of male friends. I’d be more than happy to be corrected!

I also missed Lynette Wills as the Fairy Godmother. While Jasmin Durham did a perfectly good job in the role, Wills brought a wide experience to her performance giving the role a strength of characterisation and sense of mystery that was missing in Sydney. I had also been looking forward to seeing once more those characters from the solar system who transport Cinderella to the ball but, while being closer had its advantages, the costumes are quite remarkable, being closer also made the sequence look a little too jumbled—too many characters that were too hard to identify individually.

But more than anything I thought the magical transformations that made the Melbourne opening so spectacular were lessened in Sydney. I was further back in the auditorium in Melbourne so maybe that had an effect but I suspect it was something else.

Nevertheless, Cinderella remains in my mind a very classy, strongly European-looking, beautifully-lit production that I look forward to seeing again and again.

Michelle Potter, 8 December 2013

My original post, and a healthy variety of comments from others, is at this link. See also my comments on David Hallberg’s performance as the Prince published by DanceTabs.

Vicki Attard. A new role

Vicki Attard at work

It was a real pleasure catching up, if only by email, with Vicki Attard, former and much admired principal of the Australian Ballet during the 1990s. Vicki was in Canberra over the past weekend to give master classes at the Canberra Dance Development Centre.

Below is the text of a Canberra Times article I wrote, which was published on 9 November. It was accompanied by a great image, shot by Canberra-based photographer Ross Gould, of Vicki in what became a signature role, that of Cio Cio San in Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly, which can be accessed on the National Library’s website.

Vicki Attard was one of Australia’s favourite ballerinas during the 1990s. As a principal artist with the Australia Ballet throughout that decade she danced leading roles in all the best known classics as well as creating roles in contemporary works. She travelled widely with the company and counts amongst the highlights of her performing career dancing the leading role of Kitri in Don Quixote on the opening night of an Australian Ballet season in Washington DC and the title role in Manon in Tokyo, also on opening night.

Fans of the film maker Paul Cox may remember her in Cox’s film The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky. Attard was the girl returning from a ball who dances with the spirit of a rose in the short work entitled Le Spectre de la rose. Spectre was first performed in 1911 with Vaslav Nijinsky dancing the Rose. Attard, who was partnered by David McAllister in the film, cannot speak highly enough of Cox.’Paul Cox was so easy to work with’, she says. ‘He has an incredible respect for artists and he is a remarkable one himself.’

Attard also spent a year performing with Sydney Dance Company in 1989. Memorably she danced the role of Chloe in Graeme Muphy’s Daphnis and Chloe. She seemed especially suited to Murphy’s choreography and later, on rejoining the Australian Ballet, danced the leading role of Clara the Ballerina in Nutcracker, again partnered by McAllister, with whom she enjoyed an exceptional artistic partnership throughout her career.

But Attard may well be best known for her performances as Cio Cio San in Stanton Welch’s production of Madame Butterfly, a role she created with the Australian Ballet in 1995. The delicacy of her performance left a lasting impression on those who saw her in this role. Attard has since staged Butterfly around the world for Welch, including in Canada for the National Ballet of Canada, in Atlanta for Atlanta Ballet, in Boston for Boston Ballet and in even in Houston for Houston Ballet where Welch is currently artistic director. Most recently she assisted Welch in reviving the work for the Australian Ballet in 2010.

After she retired from performing Attard gained a graduate diploma in dance instruction and has been teaching in a freelance capacity since then. She now heads up a special program at Academy Ballet in Sydney for students aiming for a professional career.

‘It is s small group of just eight students’, she says. ‘It’s very personal and I love working in this way. The young dancers respond beautifully to this way of working.’

Attard will be in Canberra on November 13 to conduct master classes for the Canberra Dance Development Centre. It is the final session in the school’s master class series, a program master-minded by the school’s principal, Jackie Hallahan. Attard knows that it is not so easy for east coast students in centres outside Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to have access to the kinds of experiences available in larger centres.

‘I love the idea of sharing the knowledge that took me so many years to accumulate—the hard way’, she says. ‘I very much enjoy teaching in centres where students don’t have access to all that students in bigger cities might have. I grew up in a small town called Mackay in North Queensland, so I remember what it was like.’

Attard will bring her exceptional professional experience to Canberra for this workshop series. Not only does she have sound dance knowledge and her own incomparable artistry to share, she has recently launched a program called My Pointe. She realised that it was not always possible for dance teachers to spend as much time as was needed on the specialised teaching of pointe work for girls and so began to develop a series of tutorial exercises for this very purpose. After 10 years of fine tuning My Pointe was released on DVD with an introductory section by Attard and demonstrations of the exercises by two students.

Attard has two young sons, George aged eight and Nick almost six, who keep her busy.

‘I used to think that a dance life was hard,’ she says, ‘but motherhood, plus working almost full time, rivals it.’ But despite the claims of motherhood, Attard has carved a new niche for herself in the Australian dance world and she is more than delighted to be sharing her knowledge with the Canberra community.

Michelle Potter, 14 November 2011

Paul Knobloch

Paul Knobloch, former soloist with the Australian Ballet, is back in Australia briefly to visit his family and conduct master classes in Canberra. Knobloch left the Australian Ballet in 2009 to join Béjart Ballet Lausanne.

Paul Knobloch in ‘Webern Opus 5’

Knobloch counts dancing the opening night of a season in Paris, when he partnered Russian-born Daria Ivanova in Béjart’s Webern Opus 5, as the highlight of his career to date with  Béjart Ballet Lausanne. He returns to Switzerland in September when Béjart Ballet Lausanne will begin working with Tokyo Ballet on a joint staging of Béjart’s version of Rite of  Spring. Knobloch’s own work Valetta, commissioned by David McAllister for an Australian Ballet gala in 2007, will be on the program for the Australian Ballet School’s graduate exhibition in Melbourne this September.

Michelle Potter, 16 August 2010