Liz Lea in a study for a forthcoming show, 'RED'. Photo: © Nino Tamburri

Dance diary. November 2016

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2016

The Canberra Critics’ Circle, a group of Canberra-based, practising critics from across art forms, presented its annual awards in November. Two awards were given in the dance area.

Liz Lea: For her innovative promotion of dance in the ACT exemplified by her co-ordination and presentation of “Great Sport!” at the National Museum of Australia, which spectacularly showcased the work of The Gold Company, Dance for Parkinson’s, Canberra Dance Theatre, and of a number of local and interstate choreographers, in a memorable and remarkable presentation.

Alison Plevey: For her tireless and consistent efforts as a dancer, choreographer and facilitator towards advancing professional contemporary dance in the A.C.T through her performances, collaborations, and programs, culminating in the establishment of her dance company, Australian Dance Party.

Alison Plevey (left) in 'Strings Attached', Australian Dance Party 2016.
Alison Plevey (left) in Strings Attached, the inaugural show from Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

As indicated in the citations, both Plevey and Lea have contributed to the growth of a renewed interest in dance in Canberra. A preview of Plevey’s forthcoming show, Nervous, is below under ‘Press for November 2016’. My review of Great Sport!, facilitated, directed, and partly choreographed by Lea is at this link.

  • The Nutcracker: Queensland Ballet

A second viewing of Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker, with a change of cast, had some new highlights. Neneka Yoshida was a gorgeous Clara. She was beautifully animated and involved throughout and there were some charming asides from her with other characters during those moments when she wasn’t the centre of attention. Mia Heathcote took on the role of Grandmother, a role that couldn’t be further from her opening night role as Clara. But she created a very believable character and, as we have come to expect, never wavered from her characterisation. Tim Neff was a totally outrageous Mother Ginger and Lina Kim and Rian Thompson gave us a thrilling performance as the leading couple in the Waltz of the Flowers.

Another exceptional performance from Queensland Ballet.

  • Ella. A film by Douglas Watkins

Ella, which premiered earlier in 2016 at the Melbourne International Film Festival, traces the journey of Ella Havelka from a childhood spent dancing in Dubbo, New South Wales, to her current position as a corps be ballet member of the Australian Ballet. My strongest recollection of Havelka with the Australian Ballet is her dancing with Rohan Furnell as the leading Hungarian couple in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake when I called their performance ‘very feisty’.

Scene from the film 'Ella'
Scene from the film Ella, 2016

I found the film largely unchallenging, however, and footage of Havelka dancing with Bangarra Dance Theatre was far more exciting to watch than that showing her with the Australian Ballet. Not only that, the commentary from Stephen Page on the nature of Bangarra, and Havelka’s role as an Indigenous Australian in that company, was far more pertinent and gutsy than the rather non-committal remarks from interviewees from the Australian Ballet. An opportunity missed from several points of view?

  • Royal New Zealand Ballet

Royal New Zealand Ballet is seeking a new artistic director to replace Francesco Ventriglia who will leave his position in mid-2017. Ventriglia will depart ‘to pursue international opportunities.’ Before he departs New Zealand he will take on the new role of guest choreographer to stage his own production of Romeo and Juliet in August. His planned repertoire for 2017 includes works by Roland Petit and Alexander Ekman.

  • Late news: Ruth Osborne

Ruth Osborne, artistic director of QL2 Dance in Canberra, has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to pursue her interest in developing dance projects for young people. More in a future post.

  • Press for November 2016

‘Wonderful version of Christmas classic.’ Review of The Nutcracker from Queensland Ballet. The Canberra Times, 25 November 2016, p. 37.  Online version.

‘Under the microscope.’ Preview of Nervous from Australian Dance Party. The Canberra TimesPanorama, 26 November 2016, p. 15. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2016

Featured image: Liz Lea in a study for a forthcoming show, RED. Photo: © Nino Tamburri, 2016

Liz Lea in a study for a forthcoming show, 'RED'.
Francesco Ventriglia, artistic director, Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A'’Court

Francesco Ventriglia. Royal New Zealand Ballet’s artistic director

My interview with Francesco Ventriglia, which I conducted in Wellington earlier in August, is now available on DanceTabs at this link.

Follow the tag link Royal New Zealand Ballet for more stories and reviews about the company, including posts from Wellington-based dance writer, Jennifer Shennan.

Michelle Potter, 24 August 2016

Featured image: Francesco Ventriglia, artistic director, Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A’’Court

Francesco Ventriglia, artistic director, Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: Stephen A'Court

An Australasian affair …

There was one empty seat in the front row at the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s inaugural Harry Haythorne choreographic awards last weekend…odd since a good view in a studio setting is always at a premium and the house was otherwise full to overflowing. Perhaps Harry was playing ‘the angel at the table’—occupying that seat to keep a keen eye on proceedings, pleased to see that his encouragement of emerging choreographers is being remembered, and that today’s young dancers who never met him can nevertheless tell what kind of initiative he brought to his term as artistic director here, 1981–1992. Let’s cheat Death awhile.

Harry Haythorne
Harry Haythorne

A small group of Harry’s colleagues and friends had met to plan these awards, the idea and koha for which grew from the spirited party held in his memory back in January, in tandem with the festive gathering in Melbourne. It’s interesting to ponder on the New Zealand and Australian inter-twinings in our company over decades. Harry for starters, himself Australian through and through, yet we think of him as a New Zealander emeritus. Australian Mark Keyworth as company manager, navigated with him.

Promising young choreographer Loughlan Prior won both the panel’s and the people’s award, with the striking imagery of his work, Eve, set to song and spoken poetry. Loughlan was born in Melbourne though did later training in New Zealand.

On present membership, over one third of the RNZB dancers are from Australia, and/or trained there, so more threads are in the weave. Cast a thought back to the middle decades of the 20th century, when the Borovansky Ballet’s regular tours were so welcome here. It was their 1952 tour that brought dancer Poul Gnatt, who looked around, hunched that New Zealand might like a ballet company, returned to found one the following year—and the rest is history.

Peggy van Praagh was involved in staging several productions for New Zealand Ballet in early years here, not least Tudor’s Judgment of Paris. She and Russell Kerr arranged for dancer exchanges between Australian and New Zealand companies, and also masterminded two landmark fortnight-long residential courses of dance appreciation at University of Armidale in NSW. Both schemes should have continued ever since. I still treasure my notebooks from things we saw and heard there in 1967 and 1969—from van Praagh, Algeranoff, Beth Dean, Marilyn Jones, Garth Welch, Karl Welander, Keith Bain, Eric Westbrook—films of Martha Graham and of Jose Limon—good things that last, seeding an awareness of dance for a lifetime.

Many here have wished that we might have seen more of Graeme Murphy’s choreography in New Zealand over the years. There was his searingly memorable Orpheus, commissioned by Harry for the Stravinsky Celebration season in 1982. Sydney Dance Company brought the greatly admired Some Rooms to the first Arts Festival here, and Shining followed soon after that. Then Matz Skoog in 1997 brought Murphy’s quietly powerful The Protecting Veil, a work that suited our company particularly well…but we could have done and seen so much more of his remarkable oeuvre. Harry brought Jonathan Taylor’s impressive Hamlet, and ‘Tis Goodly Sport—suiting our company so well. Kristian Fredrikson, local boy made good, began his training here in Wellington, and continued to design and dress so many memorable productions on both sides of the Tasman, adding to the ties that bind. RNZB have also toured a number of seasons in Australia over the years.

But with the brand new ballet from Liam Scarlett, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pioneering as a co-production with Queensland Ballet, there’s an inspired possibility of further exchanges within the choreographic repertoire, with rich benefits for those two companies and their audiences on both sides of the Tasman. Directors Li Cunxin in Queensland and Francesco Ventriglia in Wellington will no doubt be already thinking ahead. They could be onto a winner here. I’m just going to see one more performance of this scintillating faerie ballet shortly, and will then write about it. It’s quite on the cards that many who were so enchanted by the premiere season here will want to travel to Queensland next year to catch it on the rebound. Nothing wrong with falling in love again. I’m sure Harry would agree.

 Jennifer Shennan, 15 September 2015

Featured image: Harry Haythorne as Father Winter in Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1991. Photographer not known

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

Jon Trimmer as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in 'A Servant of Two Masters'

Harry Haythorne. A tribute from Jennifer Shennan

From Jennifer Shennan

In September 2013 Anne Rowse and I flew to Melbourne for the Arts Festival…mainly in pursuit of Fabulous Beast, with Keegan-Dolan’s astonishing double-bill of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. We relished equally the chance to catch up with dear Harry, knowing he would say yes to the suggestion of a performance, an exhibition, a forum, with coffee dates, dinners and suppers tucked in everywhere. We knew he would have seen half the Festival already, and would offer us incisive and helpful opinions on what was what. Good times coming.

Tor and Jan Gnatt, bless them, met us at the airport. We were all so excited to connect so soon after the launch of Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty that the Gnatt boys forgot where in the airport they had parked their car. We had lots of conversation catch-up while they hunted every floor of the car park for the elusive vehicle. (Their father, Poul, would have remembered the rego plates of the vehicles he had parked next to, and been mortified by this scenario.)

We found an el cheapo hotel, and fell into welcoming Melbourne as though we had always lived there.

Harry had already seen Fabulous Beast, and had a number of reservations about it. He nonetheless joined us for the forum, and had the grace to acknowledge afterwards that the incisively brilliant mind and wit of Keegan-Dolan helped him to retrospectively re-evaluate the choreography.

Harry instructed us which exhibitions to visit, and suggested a local dance group’s performance, preceded by a meal with his friend Robin Haig (they had worked together in 1940s in London…a typical Harry trait…ever loyal to his many friends and colleagues). The meal was great fun but the performance, which entailed the slow lighting of many candles, then their being equally slowly extinguished, then equally slowly re-lit, we found suffocatingly pretentious. (In all his years in New Zealand Harry always attended everything, and was supportive in principle of all dance endeavour, but was occasionally heard to mutter upon leaving ‘Well, the best thing about it is that they’re doing it.’ After leaving this particular evening he muttered, ‘Well, the worst thing about it is that they’re doing it).’

But as we rode the tram back into Melbourne central, an extraordinary event took place. A young Aboriginal woman, striking in appearance, but in a state of very great distress, was remonstrating up and down the tram carriage with all the world about many things. Not drunk, but totally out of control, in a wrath of emotion and heartbreak, pain, confusion and grief that was moving, even terrifying, to witness. No one knew how to help. Harry quietly started speaking a commentary to us, tracing various chapters of Australia’s colonial history, engaging us to listen, and to thus avoid making eye contact with the woman pacing the tram, as any such eye contact can become a trigger to further volatility. There was such an informed sympathy, empathy even, in Harry’s words…no judgment, no reproof. His calm, informed, sad summarising of history, at the same time offering us a degree of protection from a potentially explosive situation, was much as I imagine Thomas Keneally might have behaved.

Bi-cultural issues and opportunities within dance were part of Harry’s long-term thinking. During his time at Royal New Zealand Ballet (‘the happiest years of my life’ he was often heard to say), he commissioned Tell Me A Tale from Gray Veredon, with design by Kristian Fredrikson, to music by New Zealand composer Matthew Fisher. In that talisman piece, with leading roles created by Jon Trimmer and Kerry-Anne Gilberd, was an encounter between Maori and Pakeha, a haka within the ballet given extraordinarily powerful expression by Warren Douglas. No more telling moment has occurred in the company’s entire repertoire history, and it is a great loss that the work has not been retained.

Warren was also spectacular as the hilarious Cook in the Veredon/Fredrikson Servant of Two Masters, with Jon Trimmer as Pantalone and Harry as Dr Lombardi, tottering about wearing a twelve foot long striped scarf that threatened to trip him and everybody else on stage all evening. A fine film of this ballet is held in the New Zealand Film Archive, and is well worth the three hours it lasts. (We subsequently lost Warren to AIDS and many hearts were broken).

Harry took his title of Artistic Director Emeritus very seriously. He wrote to Ethan Stiefel upon his appointment, wishing him well, highlighting the related arts in New Zealand as a context for choices of ballet repertoire, and encouraging an awareness of Maori issues. Despite clearly failing health, Harry was still taking an interest in the news of the appointment of Francesco Ventriglia in late 2014. He asked us to send reports on any indications or statements of artistic vision as they appeared. This company was Harry’s baby, and he loved it as parents love their children.

Harry’s own term as artistic director, from 1981 to 1993 with business manager Mark Keyworth, was a resilient team effort and there has probably never been a stronger partnership between artistic and business directors in the company’s history. What those two achieved on the miniscule resources of the day was breathtaking. Harry also maintained a very close relationship with the New Zealand School of Dance under the direction of Anne Rowse. They shared so much knowledge and awareness of repertoire in the wider dance world that the students were fortunate beneficiaries of that rapport, also the strongest partnership in the history of both institutions.

The chapter Harry wrote for the book, Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty, recounts many highlights of his term. It was an inspired early move to celebrate in 1983 the company’s 30th anniversary with a Gala season, inviting each previous director to select a choreography. We had No Exit from Ashley Killar (this was Harry’s choice, and a pearler) and Bournonville from Poul Gnatt. Perhaps the abiding achievement of this project was Harry’s diplomacy in welcoming Poul back to his adopted country after various chapters of less than happy history since his departure in 1963.

In 1986, Harry’s production of Swan Lake, again in tandem with Fredrikson, was a theatrical tour de force. He always remained very sad it was not retained in the company’s repertoire. Harry was a youngster in vaudeville performance. His formal schooling had turned into supervised backstage correspondence while on tour, but his bright brain and fabulous memory ensured a lifelong passion for learning across many disciplines. Harry’s close rapport with Graeme Murphy saw him in several cameo roles … as Court Photographer in that astonishing Swan Lake, a charming friend of Clara in the inspired Nutcracker, only upstaged by his tap dancing on roller skates in Tivoli (and was certainly worth my trip across the Tasman to check it out).

In an adult education course I will teach in Wellington early in 2015, one of the sessions will be dedicated to a survey of Harry Haythorne’s term as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet …’the happiest years of my life’. Well, you said it Harry.

Jennifer Shennan, Wellington, December 2014

Featured image: Jon Trimmer (left) as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in A Servant of Two Masters, 1989. Photo: Martin Stewart, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. PACOLL-8050-36-04

Jon Trimmer as the wealthy Pantalone and Harry Haythorne as Dr Lombardi in 'A Servant of Two Masters'