Symmetries has come to and gone from Canberra. What a wonderful program it was and people are still talking about it. As a friend said, ‘It had the WOW factor’, and those who missed it are sounding regretful. And I was amused to find Monument alluded to in Ian Warden’s column on the lack of poetry in the Centenary of Canberra celebrations. ‘…the sad fact is we have marked this year almost entirely in prose (with the odd ballet about a building thrown in, of course)’, Warden wrote in The Canberra Times. Such is the instant fame of Monument in Canberra.
The National Film and Sound Archive now has an update to its Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project website. On this site you will find details of those young artists who have been interviewed to date, including extracts from the interviews in some cases. My interviews with Joseph Chapman [now using the name Joe Chapman] and Josie Wardrope have some lovely footage included.
I am currently negotiating interviews with two recent graduates from NAISDA, which I hope will be added to the archive in the next few months.
Press for May 2013
In addition to articles and reviews relating to the Symmetries program, other press articles in May include a preview of Liz Lea’s InFlight for The Canberra Times, and also for The Canberra Times a profile of choreographer Garry Stewart, which unfortunately was published more as another piece about Monument when in fact it also dealt with G and other aspects of Stewart’s work.
In addition, some of Australia’s best known contemporary dancers took part in the Dublin Dance Festival in May. Here is a link to a preview article in The Irish Times in which Jordan Beth Vincent and I have some comments.
The buzz around Canberra is that Monument, Garry Stewart’s new work for the Australian Ballet and the Centenary of Canberra, may well be that elusive item, ‘a great work’. Monument elicits shouts, screams and whistles as the curtain falls. Audiences exit the auditorium agog and, returning for a second viewing, I was filled with anticipation and excitement. Its appeal seems to be universal—young, old, dance fans, those who don’t often go to a dance performance—so many are talking about it.
It also sent me back to Parliament House to take a look at Romaldo Giurgola’s imposing Marble Foyer, which was the inspiration for much of the visual design for Monument. It is indeed an imposing, high-ceilinged space filled with marble columns. But Giurgola has frequently expressed his pleasure that few people look for the lifts to get to the next floor. They climb the marble staircase instead. Despite its imposing qualities it exists on a human scale as well. So too Monument. The formal qualities that define it, its reference to the architectural process, do not alienate. They touch a human nerve.
I was also able to take a close look at Mary Moore’s body-hugging costumes made from white lycra with a fine black lycra trim. Three costumes, some designs on paper and a selection of rehearsal photographs are on display in a corridor just off the foyer’s central space.
Here is a link to a PDF of my Canberra Times review of the Australian Ballet’s Canberra program, Symmetries, of which Monument is part. I will be writing more about Symmetries, including Monument, for Dance Australia Reviews, coming soon. There is much more to say, especially about how Stewart has constructed and choreographed the work.
The Canberra Times review is also available online with a gallery of images [sadly no longer available—MP 26/06/2016]. The gallery is worth exploring. It gives [gave] some great views of Mary Moore’s costumes and Paul Lawrence-Jennings’ graphics. Although there is no footage, the image gallery also indicates [indicated] the nature of Stewart’s choreographic approach. The images by Karleen Minney were taken at a media call and so are unposed.
Beginning in May I will be hosting a ten minute monthly dance segment on ArtSound FM, Canberra’s community radio station focusing on the arts. The segment will be part of Dress Circle a program hosted by local arts identity Bill Stephens. Dress Circle is broadcast on Sundays at 5 pm and repeated on Tuesdays at 11 pm and my segment will focus on dance in Canberra and surrounding regions. Michelle Potter … on dancing, as the segment will be called, will be a feature of Dress Circle on the first Sunday of each month.
In the first program, which will go to air on 5 May, I will be talking about the Australian Ballet’s visit to Canberra with their triple bill program Symmetries, whichopens on 23 May. Leading up to the program I have been talking Garry Stewart about his new work, Monument, and have been discovering some unusual and amusing stories about George Balanchine’s ballet The Four Temperaments. Monument and The Four Temperaments will be accompanied by the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain in this Canberra-only program.
I will also be sharing some information about Liz Lea’s new work, InFlight, which will premiere at the National Library of Australia on 31 May. InFlight is danced by four female performers who are inspired to become aviatrixes when they see their heros, Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, taking to the air in 1928 and breaking the trans-pacific flight record.
There will be other snippets of news as well, and I hope to have time to look back on some of the dance events I have enjoyed in the previous month.
Elizabeth Dalman and Australian Dance Theatre
There was some lovely news earlier this month from Australian Dance Theatre—Elizabeth Dalman has been named patron of ADT for the company’s 50th anniversary year, 2015. Dalman, along with Leslie White (1936‒2009), founded ADT in 1965. White moved on to other things in 1967 and Dalman continued to direct the company until 1975. After a varied career overseas, both before and after the ten years she spent at ADT, Dalman returned to Australia in 1986 and in 1990 founded the Mirramu Creative Arts Centre at Lake George, near Canberra. She continues to direct the Centre and its associated Mirramu Dance Company. Fifty years of ADT will also mark fifteen of Mirramu.*
I didn’t post my Canberra Times review of Sapling to Silver when it was performed in Canberra in 2011, so here is a link to the review. [UPDATE August 2020: Online link no longer available]. Here is a link to posts about Elizabeth Dalman
‘The Fabric of Dance.’ National Gallery of Victoria
In April I had the pleasure of presenting an illustrated talk, The fabric of dance, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in conjunction with the Gallery’s exhibition Ballet and Fashion. In this talk I looked at how the tutu had developed over three centuries or so, and in particular at how its development had been influenced by changes in fashion and by new materials and fabrics that had become available. But, in putting the talk together, I found I was quite unexpectedly wanting to suggest a link between one of the costumes on show in the exhibition and Louis XIV in his famous role as Apollo in Les Ballets de la nuit of 1653, which I did. I am hoping to post the text of the talk, and the accompanying PowerPoint slides, on this site in due course.
One of the images I showed during the talk was of Paris Opera Ballet dancer Carlotta Zambelli, which I was only able to show as a black and white scan from an article first published in the Australian dance journal Brolga in 2005. My postcard of Zambelli was in colour but it disappeared as a result of being lent when that issue of Brolga was being prepared for publication. I despaired of ever seeing it again but it was returned to me a week or so after the Melbourne talk. So for anyone who was at the talk, below on the right is the image in colour, alongside another (also returned to me at the same time in the same circumstances) of Zambelli with an unknown partner in La ronde des saisons in 1906.
The Rite of Spring: Stephen Malinowski’s animated graphical score
I found what I think is an excellent review of Stephen Malinowski’s animated graphical score of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I mentioned this score in a previous post without making much comment myself although what the animated score did instantaneously for me was bring me to a realisation of why I disliked Raimund Hoghe’s Sacre so much. Hoghe completely ignored the fact that the music has so much colour, drive and rhythm. The colour, drive and rhythm of the music is perfectly obvious when listening to the music of course, but seeing the animated score absolutely drives it home and opens up a new view of the intensity of the music. Here is the link to the review.
Michelle Potter, 30 April 2013
* Dalman has always been a strong voice in the dance world and she argued against a name change to Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre when Meryl Tankard became director of ADT in 1993. A brief account of that interlude appears in my recent publication Meryl Tankard: an original voice (2012). In a letter to Dance Australia Dalman argued that the company should not carry Tankard’s name as it was important to ‘maintain continuity and … respect for the historical background of the company’.
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.
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
16 June 2012, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne
Let’s dance is the program that the Australian Ballet commissioned to cover the time while the main company was busy ‘taking Manhattan’. It is, on the surface, a commendable venture giving subscription audiences the opportunity to see the array of dance styles being created and performed across Australia—there’s more to dance than the Australian Ballet. But as a program I am not sure that it worked as well as we might have hoped. It turned out to be a bit of a mish-mash and there was also some choreography that I found lamentable. Perhaps the program needed some overarching curatorial plan to give it at least some thread of cohesion?
What follows is not so much a review as a series of thoughts on various aspects of the show.
I really liked Natalie Weir’s choreography for Don’t made on Expressions Dance Company. Weir’s particular strength, I think, lies in her skills in working on partnerships, whether for two people or more. For Weir a body held upside down has as much value as one held the right way up and what results has always taken the eye, slowly and calmly, in new directions. It’s a shame, I think, that the Australian Ballet has never restaged Weir’s Dark Lullaby, which is definitely worth another look. Too close to Ross Stretton perhaps?
Tim Harbour’s choreography for Sweedeedee was another highlight, not because it was hugely innovative but because he found a way to make two older dancers (‘stars’ is a better word probably for Justine Summers and Steven Heathcote), and two emerging younger dancers (Mia Heathcote and Lennox Niven from the Australian Ballet School) appear together and look as though they all belonged in the work. It was simple, clear movement that told the homey, folksy story well.
I honestly could have done without Dance North’s Fugue, which was choreographed by Raewyn Hill and which I thought looked like nothing more than a clump of limping dancers engaged in the same moves over and over again. If you read the program notes there is a reason behind the choreography looking the way it did as the work reflects, apparently, a 16th century European ‘dancing plague’. But it was certainly not to my taste, neither aesthetically nor theatrically (despite the Sass & Bide costumes).
I love watching Sydney Dance Company’s dancers, on this program dancing an excerpt from Rafael Bonachela’s recent work, 2 one another. His dancers have such clean lines in their movements. Nothing is murky or foggy, each tiny aspect of a movement is clear. Chen Wen particularly stood out for me in this program, although he often does. I love so many technical things about how he dances, especially the way his legs, so straight, stretch into infinity, and the way that, when he tilts the body forward, he maintains the strength of his back as he does so.
As for Mia Heathcote who played the Girl in Harbour’s Sweedeedee, if things go well for her as I hope they do, she has all the makings of a future star. It has been a long time since a dancer has given me goose bumps, but this member of the Heathcote family did before she had even danced a step. I look forward to following her career.
The designer whose work I most admired was Lexi George whose simple, white costumes, patterned with black designs, for Sweedeedee were so appropriate for the piece. Their simplicity belied their elegance. I also liked Bill Haycock’s black and white dresses for the women in Don’t with their variations in length, fitting and general style. Again Natalie Weir is moving in a well-considered direction with her ongoing commissioning of Haycock.
As for lighting I enjoyed Benjamin Cisterne’s designs for both 2 one another and Sweedeedee. Like much else that I liked about this show, his lighting designs were spare and clear. I especially admired the changing, neon-style, vertical columns of light that accompanied the Bonachela piece. Very smart and modernistic and in keeping with Bonachela’s choreography.
Two works had appeal that invited little analysis: Ivan Cavallari’s Ombra leggera danced by two artists from West Australian Ballet, and Francois Klaus’ excerpt from Cloudland, danced by two artists from Queensland Ballet. Both were charming, if light pieces and were nicely executed.
Tasdance contributed a short film, Momentary, with choreography by Anna Smith, and Australian Dance Theatre was represented by an excerpt from Garry Stewart’s Be your self. Neither really fitted well into the program. Which goes back to my original comment: the program needed a curator. This is not to say that the works had no merit. Stewart, as ever, gave something that required intellectual as much as dancerly input and his dancers, like those of Sydney Dance Company, have extraordinary physical capacity. But Stewart, to his credit I have to say, is out on his own really and looks best by himself.