When the Chitrasena Dance Company first came to Australia it was 1963. I was still a student dancer and living in Sydney. The company performed at the Elizabethan Theatre, Newtown. It hadn’t yet burnt down (that happened in 1980), and in fact I remember the startling rake on that theatre’s stage. I had never performed on a raked stage when I danced there in some Ballet Australia performances. It was somewhat confronting stepping onto that stage for the first time, especially as no one had thought to tell me in advance.
The 1960s and 1970s were heady times in Sydney and elsewhere for visits from so-called ‘ethnic’ dance companies. Along with the Sri Lankans, the Georgians came, the Mexicans (I remember in particular the Yaqui Indian Deer Dance), the Spaniards (I saw a jota for the first time) and the Mekeo dancers from Papua New Guinea. Then some time later, when I started working in various capacities at the National Library in Canberra, I discovered the photographic collection of Walter Stringer. In fact I had the pleasure of helping the Library acquire that material. He, being a Melbourne resident, had photographed most of the folkloric companies I had seen in Sydney during their visits to his home city.
It has always been a pleasure to see those companies again when, or if, they have returned to Australia. So it was with the Chitrasena company when they made their 2015 visit. Below are two of Walter Stringer’s images from the 1963 visit.
Here is the link to my review of the company’s performance in Canberra in January, written for The Canberra Times.
In August The Canberra Times published my review of Devdas the musical, a show billed as a Bollywood-style event. One dancer stood out for me. She was young but her potential was obvious. There were no programs available for the Canberra showing—someone told me they had been left behind in Sydney—so I was unable to name this dancer in my review. Since then I have discovered that her name is Divya Saxena and I am pleased to be able to post a photo of her in her role as the young Chandramukhi in Devdasthe musical.
I think her presence as a performer is clearly evident in this photo and her dancing had a similar power. I look forward to following her progress over the next few years.
Liz Lea is reworking her show from 2013 about South African anti-apartheid activist and former political prisoner, Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada. The new production will feature a reworked version of her solo from 2013—reworked into three shorter solos—along with appearances by tabla player Bobby Singh; GOLD, Canberra’s mature age dance group; Kathak dancer Shruti Ghosh; and African dance and drumming group, Troupe Olabisi.
Sadly for dance in Canberra, Lea has not been successful recently in obtaining artsACT funding for her work, so for this new show she has turned to crowd funding to assist with expenses. An online plea (now closed) for funding via Pozible is at this link. It shows excerpts from the 2013 show, including parts of Lea’s solo, and gives a clear picture of the theatrical breadth of the show.
Kathrada 50/25 (the title is explained in the Pozible footage) in its new guise is at Gorman House Arts Centre, Canberra, on 1 and 2 November 2014 (not 18 and 19 October as originally planned).
Rafael Bonachela in the Art Gallery of NSW
I continue to be surprised at the activities of Rafael Bonachela, artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, who has embraced his Australian role with unabashed enthusiasm. He and composer Nick Wales are being interviewed tomorrow (1 October) by Tom Tilley of Triple J on the inspiration they draw from poetry in the creation of their work, specifically Bonachela’s piece Louder than Words. It is part of the celebrity event series at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Press for September 2014 [Online links to press articles in The Canberra Times prior to 2015 are no longer available]
An American dream. Program article for the Australian tour by American Ballet Theatre.
‘Dance feast on the cards with two tours next year.’ Preview of 2015 Canberra seasons by the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company, The Canberra Times, 20 September 2014, ARTS p. 21.
I finally got round to getting myself a copy of the DVD Never stand still: dancing at Jacob’s Pillow. And I’m so glad I did. What is particularly satisfying about this DVD documentary is that there is no promotion of a particular company or a person and no media hype. It’s simply about dance in its many and varied forms. ‘Dancing is direct and honest,’ says Mark Morris, one of the several illustrious interviewees appearing on Never stand still. And that’s what we get: direct, honest and simply beautiful dance.
A few sections particularly stood out for me, although others will have their own favourites I am sure. I especially enjoyed segments featuring Mark Morris and his dancers, perhaps because those works of his I have seen recently have not impressed me to any great extent—Beaux danced by San Francisco Ballet and Pacific from Houston Ballet, both of which I saw earlier this year, left me feeling underwhelmed. Never stand still has some lovely footage from Morris’ Italian Concerto and LoveSong Waltzes and a brief look at a work called Falling Down Stairs, which Morris made in conjunction with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whom we also see on the DVD. The excerpts from these works show quite clearly what Morris is best known for, his astonishing musicality. And Morris is a forthright and articulate speaker in his interview segments.
I was also especially taken with Shantala Shivalingappa, a solo Kuchipudi dancer born in Madras and raised in Paris. What an amazingly expressive body she has and how she uses it to her advantage. Every movement fills the space and she seems to linger a little at the high point of each movement before seamlessly continuing to the next.
Segements featuring Suzanne Farrell speaking about her transition from Balanchine ballerina to company director make interesting viewing as do excerpts from Balanchine ballets she has set on her own company. Natalia Magnicaballi, a principal with Suzanne Farrell Ballet, is startlingly good in the lead in Tzigane.
Gideon Obarzanek makes an appearance and there are excerpts from his work I want to dance better at parties performed by Chunky Move. I also loved the all too brief footage from Bournonville’s Napoli courtesy of the Royal Danish Ballet, along with a brief discussion of the Danes making their first appearance in the United States at the Pillow at the invitation of Ted Shawn. Then there’s Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, Judith Jamison, tap, vaudeville…so much more.
Interspersed throughout the contemporary footage is rare archival material showing some of the early performances at Jacob’s Pillow along with an underlying narrative about Shawn and the founding of the this renowned festival, an annual event held at Becket, Massachusetts, in the beautiful surroundings of the Berkshire Hills. If you’ve been there it will bring back wonderful memories not just of the variety of dancing on offer, but of that glorious outdoor stage, those barns and the spectacular surrounding countryside. If you have not had the good fortune to be there Never stand still will make you want to pack your bags for 2014.
Never stand still is so worth watching and is available online at the usual places for quite a small amount of money, even with our dollar falling against the greenback. Watch the trailer below.