Filling the Space. Quantum Leap/QL2 Dance

8 August 2019. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

As the curtain went up on QL2’s 2019 Quantum Leap production, Filling the Space, I sat up with a jolt. There were a couple of ballet barres onstage and dancers standing in ballet positions, even doing the occasional demi-plié. Not only were we faced with the barres and the pliés but the entire space of the Playhouse stage was stripped of its usual accoutrements—no legs or borders to mask the wing space or to hide the lighting or flies. Everything that is usually hidden from the audience was on show. What was this? Well, it was the beginning of James Batchelor’s Proscenium and Batchelor, now with a good number of works behind him, has never left us in any doubt that what he creates will be unusual in approach and leave us to ponder on what his works are about.

But what made Filling the Space, the overall production, so fascinating was that it showed off the diversity of the choreographic voice. We saw the work of three choreographers, Batchelor, Ruth Osborne and Eliza Sanders, and it would be hard to find three works so different in conception and vocabulary.

Batchelor’s Proscenium examines the space of the stage both within and beyond the structure that frames that space—the proscenium. It was rewarding to consider the particular use of the space he identified in the context of dance and architecture, which was the overarching theme of Filling the Space. But for me Batchelor’s use of the architecture of the stage space was not the most interesting feature of his work. His choice of movement vocabulary was the highlight. It ranged from extremely slow and intensely detailed, even introspective, movement to faster unison work with some partnering that relied on balance and support. As well there was extensive manipulation of those barres and other metal frames, some that dropped from the flies, others that looked like clothing or costume racks. At one point we watched a circus-like stunt with one dancer balancing on a narrow support joining the end parts of one of those racks while another dancer spun the whole structure with ever increasing speed in a giant circle. At another point, rows of chairs were brought onstage and dancers entered, sat down, moved some parts of the body, then rose and, with arms still in the pose they had taken while seated, made their exit. Batchelor was examining how stage space can be filled and emptied in various ways, but it was the way in which that examination occurred that was more interesting than the fact that it occurred.

A moment from Proscenium. Quantum Leap, 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Ruth Osborne’s Naturally Man-Made was danced against a background of footage shot on and around the grand staircase of Canberra’s Nishi building, a staircase made of recycled timber and a spectacular part of the building. Sometimes we saw the staircase as an installation devoid of people, at other times the footage included dancers performing on the staircase. In front of this footage dancers performed what might be called Osborne’s signature style—mass groupings of dancers with occasional break away moments. It fulfilled nicely, if in an obvious manner, the concept of dance and architecture.

Dancers of QL2 in Ruth Osborne’s Naturally Man-Made, Quantum Leap 2019. Photo:
© Lorna Sim

Eliza Sanders had a totally different take on what constitutes architecture. Her work, The Shape of Empty Space, looked at emotional responses to different spatial environments. In this work her movement vocabulary was almost like mime. It focused on two main emotions, a feeling of being wild and free in some environments, with an accompanying flinging of arms, legs, and indeed the whole body in an unrestrained way; and a feeling of being crowded into a tight space, with an accompanying restraint in movement and groupings of dancers. The work was stunningly lit by Mark Dyson with well lit spaces alternating with hidden spaces set up by black curtains hanging at intervals in the performing space. It was architecture built by light and darkness through which we watched dancers appear and disappear. The work had a sculptural ending as dancers built an architecture of their own.

Dancers of QL2 in Eliza Sanders‘ The Shape of Empty Space, Quantum Leap 2019. Photo:
© Lorna Sim

Both Batchelor and Sanders are QL2 alumni who are now working professionally as independent dancers and choreographers. Osborne is an early mentor to them. How lucky are the current dancers of QL2 that they get to work with choreographers whose creativity is so different, whose vocabulary is so individualistic, and whose work is so fascinating to watch, and so interesting to think about.

Michelle Potter, 10 August 2019

Featured image: Dancers of QL2 in James Batchelor’s Proscenium. Quantum Leap 2019. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Katrina Rank in costume for 'Birdwatching'. Credit Robert Wagner

BOLD II. 2019

Below is an expanded version of an article published in print and online by The Canberra Times on 28 January 2019.

Canberra’s remarkable performer, mentor and choreographer, Liz Lea, has once again taken on the mammoth task of presenting BOLD, a festival she founded in 2017 in anticipation of it becoming a biennial event. In that inaugural year, Lea boldly did the whole thing without any external funding. At least this year she managed to secure some financial backing so, while life for her at the moment may still hold a myriad of organisational problems, at least there are fewer financial concerns. And as BOLD patron, Dr Elizabeth Cameron Dalman of the Lake George-based Mirramu Creative Arts Centre, says:

Making a career in the arts, particularly in dance, is not an easy pathway. It requires skill and discipline, both a flexible body and a flexible mind, determination and a great deal of audacity. One needs to be ‘bold’.

In its extensive program of talks, film showings, workshops and performances, BOLD II will focus on the legacy and heritage of dance in Australia and elsewhere, but will also have a strong focus on diversity of practice and issues of gender and ethnicity.

Indigenous artists will play a prominent role. A soft launch by the senior group from Tasmania, MADE, will be held at the Dickson Tradies Tramway Bar on the afternoon of March 13. It will be followed that evening by the official launch—a performance by Vicki van Hout whose indigenous heritage is with the Wiradjuri people of New South Wales. Van Hout will perform her recently created solo plenty serious TALK TALK at QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre. The work examines the consultative process that characterises the creation of indigenous and van Hout has been reported as saying:

Even if I am on stage by myself, as an artist, I am never truly alone as I am bound to bring my family, my peers and mentors to work with me. In this piece, I decided to place the usual behind-the-scenes action of the indigenous arts making process front and centre.

Vicki van Hout in 'plenty serious TALK TALK'. Photo Heidrun Lohr

Vicki van Hout in plenty serious TALK TALK, 2018. Photo: © Heidrun Löhr

Another indigenous performer we can look forward to seeing is violinist Eric Avery, who may be remembered as the musician who played violin for Lea’s earlier work made with Tammi Gissell, Magnificus, magnificus. Avery, who also dances with Marrugeku, a company operating between Broome in Western Australia and Carriageworks in Sydney, will amongst other activities, lead a dance through Parliament House, creating choreography while playing live.

Not all performances will take place in theatre venues. In addition to Avery’s activities at Parliament House, there will be performances at the National Portrait Gallery (as happened in 2017), and several performances will take place at lunchtime on the podium outside the National Library. On March 14 Katrina Rank, who in 2018 was the recipient of an Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance, will perform her solo, Birdwatching. On the following day Canberra’s senior ensemble, the GOLDS, will also be on the podium performing Annette from Lea’s collaborative and award-winning work Great Sport! .

The GOLDs in Liz Lea's 'Annette'. Credit Lorna Sim

The GOLDs in Liz Lea’s Annette, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Several international performers are also taking part this year, including Javanese dancer Didik Hadiprayitno,whose approach to dance certainly highlights the theme of diversity of practice. He is a cross-dresser who impersonates women in his performances of traditional Javanese and Balinese dance. Lea first encountered his work in 2017 when she was appearing at a festival in Java, which Hadiprayitno was directing. Lea recalls:

It was an outdoor festival with the theme of Gods and Goddesses. It rained and there were umbrellas everywhere, even on top of lights. But it was extraordinary. I wanted to bring so many of the dancers to Australia for BOLD but in the end was only able to bring Hadiprayitno.

Didik Hadiprayitno

Indonesian cross-dresser Didik Hadiprayitno. Photographer not identified

Also coming from Asia, this time from Singapore, is violinist, Kailin Yong, whom many in Canberra will remember from last year’s 40th anniversary performance by Canberra Dance Theatre when he performed with Anca Frankenhaeuser in MIST. For BOLD II Yong will be bringing along his wife and young child, who will feature in a trio that ex-Canberran Stephanie Burridge is creating on the family. Yong is also composing new music for a solo for Frankenhaeuser, and another Canberra-based dancer, Debora di Centa, will also perform with Yong as accompanist.

Former Canberrans will also feature throughout the festival. Sue Healey, who led a dance company, Vis-à-vis Dance Canberra, for several years in the 1990s, and who has since made a career as an award-winning film maker, will show a selection of her most recent short films at the National Film and Sound Archive on March 15. They include selections from En route, a film made as part of a public art installation project for Wynyard railway station in Sydney. En route was shot at various disused stations and railway lines across New South Wales and features several performers with Canberra connections including James Batchelor and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Dalman will also feature in others of Healey’s films including in Weerewa, a collaborative venture with the Taiwanese group Danceology.

Still from 'En route'. Courtesy Sue Heale

Still from En route. Courtesy Sue Healey

Paige Gordon, whose company Paige Gordon and Performance Group was also a significant force in Canberra in the 1990s, will speak at the festival. Her talk goes back to a moving work she made in Canberra called Shed. A place where men can dance. The reaction to Shed inspired Gordon’s current path of working with people across the community, and helping them to move and be moved by dance.

A new feature for the 2019 festival, which Lea anticipates will be a permanent feature of future BOLD festivals, is the BOLD lecture in honour of Janis Claxton. Claxton, who died last year, was an Australian who graduated from the Queensland University of Technology, and who went on to make an impact on the contemporary dance world in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and America. Lea explains:

She was a feisty woman. I first saw her work in the 1990s and was impressed by the way she was promoting gender equality and working in non-traditional spaces. She contacted me just before she died and I was moved that she had done that. She was a bold artist and I wanted to honour her.

This year the BOLD lecture will be delivered by Claire Hicks, director of Critical Path the Sydney-based organisation fostering choreographic research and development. Other keynote speakers for 2019 are Karen Gallagher, Padma Menon and Marilyn Miller.

Perhaps what is most interesting for Canberra audiences is the way BOLD II will reflect the legacy of Canberra dance over several decades. And as we look at the past, we can also see a future. The finale to BOLD II, however, will be less about dance and more about what Canberra has to offer visitors. On Sunday March 17 the BOLD Balloon Breakfast will take place with participants watching the launch of hot air balloons at the Canberra Balloon Spectacular. The breakfast will be followed later that morning by JUICE, a closing performance by the Canberra group Somebody’s Aunt at McKellar Ridge Wines at Murrumbateman. A wine tasting will follow.

A schedule of events (subject to change according to injuries and other matters that inevitably affect dance artists) is available on the BOLD website . It indicates the many artists and speakers from Australia and across the world who have not been specifically mentioned here.  Registrations are now open.

Michelle Potter, 28 March 2019

Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in 'Spear'. Photo Tiffany Parker

Dance diary. November 2018

  • The changing face of Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra Dance Theatre has just announced that the company is saying farewell at the end of the year to six of its dancers: Waangenga Blanco, Daniel Riley, Tara Robertson, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Luke Currie-Richardson and Yolanda Lowatta. Each has made an amazing contribution to Bangarra over recent years. Who can forget Daniel Riley’s remarkable performances in the film Spear, and his equally powerful dancing and acting as Governor Macquarie in Jasmine Sheppard’s Macq? Then it’s hard to forget, again in Spear, Kaine Sultan Babij as ‘Androgynous Man’ stalking through long grass and between trees? And there is a myriad of performances from Waangenga Blanco that stand out. As well as his role in Patyegarang, there is the ‘Angel’ duet, danced with Leonard Mickelo, in Riley, and his powerful performance in Frances Rings’ Terrain. So much more …

I wish them all well for wherever their dancing takes them and look forward to seeing them before they leave in Dubboo, opening shortly in Sydney. And of course there is the thrill of seeing new dancers in 2019.

Waangenga Blanco in 'Patyegarang', Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2014. Photo: Greg Barrett

Waangenga Blanco in Patyegarang, Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2014. Photo: © Greg Barrett

  • Robert Helpmann. The many faces of a theatrical dynamo

A new book of essays on Robert Helpmann has recently been published. It contains essays from a range of scholars and performers and is supplemented by a DVD of archival footage, including a documentary on the revival of Miracle in the Gorbals in 2014 by Birmingham Royal Ballet

My chapter, ‘Elektra. Helpmann uninhibited’ considers the origins of Helpmann’s ballet Elektra, Helpmann’s choreographic approach, and the differences, particularly in relation to Arthur Boyd’s designs, between the English production of Elektra in 1963 and that presented by the Australian Ballet at the Adelaide Festival in 1966.

Robert Helpmann book cover

Edited by Richard Cave and Anna Meadmore. Published in the United Kingdom by Dance Books in October 2018.
ISBN 9781852731793

Available from Dance Books Ltd and other retailers.

 

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards, 2018 (Dance)

Canberra Critics’ Circle, now almost 30 years old, held its annual awards in November. This years dance awards went to:

Liz Lea: For the multi-media production RED, which drew together the work of four choreographers, including Lea, in a moving, courageous and dramatically coherent exploration of the medical condition of endometriosis.
My review of RED is at this link.

Alison Plevey and the Australian Dance Party: For Seamless, an innovative, well-considered and theatrically staged comment on the fashion industry, performed with wit and skill at the 2017 Floriade Fringe.
My review of Seamless is at this link.

Seamless, Floriade Fringe 2017. Australian Dance Party. Photo: Lorna Sim

Scene from Seamless, Floriade Fringe 2017. Australian Dance Party. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Emma Nikolic and Karen Brock: For their innovative choreography for the Canberra Philharmonic Society’s production of Strictly Ballroom. Their inventive interpretations of a number of traditional ballroom dance styles allowed the large ensemble of dancers to convince as champion ballroom dance contestants.

Michelle Heine: For her choreography for Free Rain Theatre Company’s production of 42nd Street. Her choreography for the spectacular production numbers successfully captured the authentic Broadway feel of the musical and was exceptionally well danced by the ensemble.

  • James Batchelor

Canberra dance goers will be interested to learn that James Batchelor will be back working in Canberra in 2019. He will be showing his latest work, Hyperspace, at a time and a Canberra venue to be announced. Hyperspace was made in 2018 during residencies in Nottingham, England, and Bassano del Grappa, Italy, and was recently performed in the B.motion festival in Bassano and at La Briqueterie Paris. It will also be part of the Dance Massive 2019 line up in Melbourne.

Batchelor is also looking forward to creating a new full-length work for Quantum Leap. It will premiere as QL2’s major work for the full ensemble at the Playhouse in August.

  • NGA Play. Sally Smart

The National Gallery of Australia has just installed a new children’s play area that highlights aspects of the Gallery’s extensive collection of costumes from the era of the Ballet Russes. It is designed by Melbourne-based artist Sally Smart, one of whose interests is in the juxtaposition of the art of the Ballets Russes with contemporary ideas of assemblage, cut-out items and patchwork-style lengths of fabric.

Dance features in a series of projections of dancer Brooke Stamp improvising in homage to and inspired by the dances of the Ballets Russes era (with a nod to Javanese dance). Stamp performed live (a one-off performance) at the opening of the play area early in November.

Brooke Stamp improvises for 'NGA Play. Sally Smart', 2018

Brooke Stamp improvising at the opening of the National Gallery of Australia’s children’s installation. Photo: Michelle Potter

  • Press for November 2018

’Rudolf Nureyev.’ Program article for La Scala Ballet’s Australian season, 2018. This article contains two very interesting, casual photos of Nureyev (one with Fonteyn), which I have not come across before.

‘Movement and message fail to link.’ Review of Australian Dance party’s Energeia. The Canberra Times, 22 November 2018, p. 20. Online version

 

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2018

Featured image: Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in Spear. Photo: © Tiffany Parker

Elma Kris and Daniel Riley in 'Spear'. Photo Tiffany Parker

 

James Batchelor in ‘Hyperspace’. Photo: Morgan Hickinbotham

Dance diary. August 2018

  • James Batchelor

James Batchelor has been busy touring his recent works, including Deepspace, in the United Kingdom and Europe. Deepspace will also be shown back in Australia in November. See this link for details.

Batchelor also has news of his latest production, Hyperspace, which is the third and last work to focus on his explorations into the world of Antarctica. He writes:

The premise of HYPERSPACE is to study the body in relation to the deep unknowns of the universe, into spaces beyond the reach of human touch. What is the role of the body in discovery? HYPERSPACE is an awakening of this infinite body but also a speculation of the unknown future body. It is a science fiction as performance, contributing to contemporary conversations taking place in science and art that are dealing with the role of the body in relation to discovery and our future in space.

Hyperspace has just been shown in Italy at a festival in Bassano del Grappa.

  • Eileen Kramer book

Eileen Kramer, former dancer with the Bodenwieser Ballet and now advocate for many aspects of dance for older people, has been spending time recently writing a memoir about her youth in 1930s bohemian Sydney and how she came to the arts. Kramer’s memoir is being published by Melbourne Books and a crowd-funding appeal to assist with publishing costs is current until mid September. See this link.

The subtitle of the book—’Stories from the Philip Street Courtyard’—is interesting. So many dancers from the 1930s and 1940s mention Sydney’s Phillip Street as a place where they lived, including Tamara Tchinarova Finch who lived in a Phillip Street apartment with her mother when they decided to stay in Australia in 1939 after the tour by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet. I have always been left with the impression that it was a hotbed of alternative practices.

And how appropriate is the publication of this book, given that Sue Healey’s beautiful short film, Eileen, has been short-listed for an Australian Dance Award! Results early in September at the awards ceremony in Brisbane. Read more about Eileen Kramer from this website here.

  • Anouk van Dijk leaves Chunky Move

Chunky Move is searching for a new artistic director following the recent resignation of Anouk van Dijk after seven years at the helm.

Chunky Move Chair Leigh O’Neill thanked Ms van Dijk and acknowledged her contribution to the company saying:

Anouk has introduced a fresh perspective on contemporary dance to Melbourne, and to Australia, whilst continuing Chunky Move’s legacy of supporting the development of artists and leading important cultural conversations through the company’s work.

She brings a highly rigorous and visceral approach to choreography, centering the dancer as a key creative force, and has nurtured a new generation of dancers and artists across disciplines.

Read van Dijk’s biography here.

  • DirtyFeet

DirtyFeet, the Sydney-based not for profit organisation supporting independent artists, is holding its Out of the Studio season in September. Two choreographers will present works in this season—Sara Black and Lucky Lartey. Lartey, based in Sydney and originally from Ghana, will show Full Circle, which draws on both his traditional dance culture and contemporary dance. Black, the recipient of a Helpmann Award in 2008, trained in Canberra and is presenting a work based on our heart beat, pulse, and life source.

DirtyFeet flyer

The program takes place at Shopfront Arts Co-Op, 88 Carlton Pde, Carlton NSW on 21 and 22 September. More information at this link.

Image: Dancer Jessica Holman. Photo Hayley Rose

  • Press for August 2018

‘Quantum Leap into glorious past.’ Review of Two Zero, Quantum Leap’s 20th anniversary program. The Canberra Times, 13 August 2018, p. 18. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2018

Featured image: James Batchelor in Hyperspace, 2018. Photo: Morgan Hickinbotham

James Batchelor in ‘Hyperspace’. Photo: Morgan Hickinbotham

Dance diary. July 2018

  • New patron for Canberra’s QL2 Dance

It has just been announced that Canberra’s youth dance organisation QL2 Dance has a new patron, Sydney Dance Company’s artistic director Rafael Bonachela. He joins Shirley McKechnie, AO, as co-patron following the retirement of Sir William Deane, AC, KBE, QC and Lady Deane who had been much respected patrons for fourteen years.

Bonachela has worked with many former QL2 dancers some of whom have joined Sydney Dance Company to pursue their professional careers, including Sam Young Wright now dancing in Germany with Jacopo Godani’s Dresden Frankfurt Dance Company. Other alumni include Daniel Riley now dancing with and choreographing for Bangarra Dance Theatre, Jack Ziesing formerly with Expressions Dance Company, now with Dancenorth, and James Batchelor, independent artist. Bonachela has recognised the qualities of alumni of QL2 saying:

It is an honour and a privilege to be the QL2 Dance Patron for 2018. QL2 Dance truly sets the example for quality dance in Canberra and nationwide. Over my choreographic career I have worked with many artists that have passed through their doors and commend them all on their professionalism, technique and creativity. The training and performance platform that QL2 offer to youth dancers and emerging artists in Australia is of the highest standard; an invaluable asset to the local community. I look forward to joining and supporting QL2 on their journey into the future.

Quantum Leap, the QL2 performing arm, will celebrate its twentieth anniversary from 9–11 August at the Canberra Theatre Centre with a production called Two Zero. Choreography will be by Eliza Sanders, Stephen Gow, Sara Black, Ruth Osborne, Alison Plevey, Dean Cross and Daniel Riley, with the Quantum Leap Ensemble.

Sam Young-Wright and Chloe Leong in ‘Variation 10’ from Triptych, Sydney Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Peter Grieg

  • Dame Gillian Lynne (1926–2018)

I was sorry to hear of the death of Gillian Lynne early in July, although I had heard when last in London that she was not at all well. In my April Dance Diary I recalled briefly her work for Robert Helpmann in Australia and more recently for Birmingham Royal Ballet, and also commented on how much I enjoyed reading her autobiography A dancer in wartime. Here is a link to an obituary published in London by The Guardian.

Some time ago now (in 2011 to be exact) when I was working on an article for Dance Research about the Dandré-Levitoff tours, I posted an article on Alexander Levitoff. Very recently a comment on that article was made and in it was included an extremely interesting catalogue of photographs, including some of Levitoff. But there are many others that I have not seen elsewhere.  Here is the link to the 2011 post. Scroll down for the comments and the link.

  • Press for July 2018

‘Dark Emu lacking in structure.’ Review of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Dark Emu. The Canberra Times, 30 July 2018, p. 20. Online version at this link.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2018

Featured image: Portrait of Rafael Bonachela (detail), 2013. Photo: © Ben Symons

James Batchelor in DeepSpace. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Deepspace. James Batchelor & Collaborators

23 December 2017. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

How to write about Deepspace, the work James Batchelor has created as a result of time spent aboard the RV Investigator in the Southern Ocean? To begin with, we were not seated in an auditorium but, in Canberra anyway, we found ourselves being ushered onstage to wander the space and surround the action. Batchelor has used this technique before in Island when, just as an aside, I think it worked better, perhaps because of the smaller audience and the more intimate space of the Courtyard Studio on that occasion? Deepspace is an extremely introspective work with a lot of very fine detail in the movement. Sometimes it was not easy to see the detailed action with 50 or 60 other people crowding to get a closer look. It was also quite tiring standing onstage for around 60 minutes, to the extent that some members of the audience left the stage and sat in the auditorium, while others took to sitting cross-legged on the stage. Neither ideal for seeing the action.

Nevertheless, as we have come to expect from Batchelor, who worked on this occasion with one of his long-term collaborators, Amber McCartney, there was much to ponder upon. The opening section reminded me of Merce  Cunningham and his notion of ‘body time’. Morgan Hickinbotham’s soundscape seemed not related specifically to the movement, although I enjoyed the ‘distant’ and somewhat surreal quality it had. But Batchelor and McCartney moved together in the opening section with the kind of unison I have always seen from Cunningham artists who understand so well the concept of body time.

Other sections reminded me of the practice of artists like the American-Japanese pair Eiko and Koma, who always declined to say that their work was Butoh (out of respect) but who moved with an intensity, an emphasis on tiny details and a slowness that was Butoh-like. Butoh-inspired movement came to mind at various times throughout Deepspace but especially in the closing section when McCartney placed a series of small stones on Batchelor’s back and he proceeded to change position and allow the stones to move along his back, and eventually on to the floor. It was certainly mesmerising, but of course one couldn’t help wondering if they would fall off at the wrong time. (They didn’t).

Another section with the same feel came midway through the work when Batchelor, on all fours, moved slowly upstage with McCartney balanced on his back. On reaching the wall at the end of the stage space they both proceeded (very slowly indeed) to stand up, with McCartney eventually reaching Batchelor’s shoulders. In this stacked up position they moved sideways along the wall with McCartney feeling her way with spider-like hands. As well as the Butoh aspect of it all, the notion of balance and support was paramount.

Other sections were somewhat obscure I thought, although I suspect they related to things that may have happened, or discoveries that may have been made on board the Investigator. I rather enjoyed a fast ballroom/waltz-like episode with Batchelor and McCartney moving quite speedily in a circular pattern. But were they skating? On thin ice perhaps? I think that the emphasis that has been placed on the fact that this work grew out of Batchelor’s trip to the Antarctic has led us to ponder too much on how the dance and the expedition relate. What I have enjoyed about Batchelor’s earlier works is that we have been left to ponder meaning without such an obvious lead-in. But then perhaps I was just irritated by the discomfort of having to stand up and often peer through groups of people to see properly.

Michelle Potter, 24 December 2017

Featured image: James Batchelor in a Melbourne showing of Deepspace. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

James Batchelor in DeepSpace. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

The Golds in a scene from 'Great Sport!'

Dance picks 2016

Recently, arts writers and critics for The Canberra Times were asked to choose their top five shows for 2016 for publication immediately before and after Christmas. We wrote and filed our stories in mid-December and, for various reasons I chose only four productions.

But mid-December was before the names of successful applicants for artsACT project funding were made public. The announcement made it very clear that a massive cutback had been made to project funding (more than 60% less money was made available for arts projects than in the previous round). Just one dance project was funded: James Batchelor received $30,000 to develop ‘a large-scale new dance performance’ at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Had I written the story a little later I would have changed one part of my article. Rather than saying, as I did, But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year and may that continue as well, and be recognised by local and national funding bodies, I would have written ‘But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year, and it is a sad indictment of the current ACT government that it has not chosen to recognise the vibrancy of dance being produced in Canberra by locally-based artists, artists who have worked tirelessly to show that Canberra is a place where dance can flourish throughout the year.’

Perhaps I would also have changed my final sentence as well, but that would have assumed that locally-based artists might have given up. But dancers don’t give up. They find ways to keep moving right along.

Here is my Canberra Times story as published this morning, although slightly altered to include what was cut and, for variety, with a slightly different selection of images. The story is also available online at this link.

Much of the dance that audiences have seen in Canberra in 2016 has been refreshingly ‘underground’ in that it has been a little non-conformist in terms of where it has been performed and who has performed it. Our national cultural institutions have, for example, been active in hosting small dance performances, sometimes, as with the National Portrait Gallery, as an adjunct to their various exhibitions or acquisitions. We have, of course, seen Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Dance Company, who, to our ongoing pleasure and gratitude, continue to visit Canberra and bring with them their outstanding, more mainstream work. Let’s hope that such visits continue as they have done over the past several decades. But locally made dance has been particularly strong this year and may that continue as well, and be recognised by local and national funding bodies.

Without a doubt the dance highlight for me was Great Sport! a site-specific production that took place in various parts of the National Museum of Australia, including outdoors in the Garden of Australian Dreams. The brainchild of Liz Lea, the production was a celebration of movement and sporting history. It continued the focus Lea has had since arriving in Canberra in 2009 on working in unusual spaces and, in particular, on using the Canberra environment and its cultural institutions as a venue, and as a backdrop to her work.

Scene from 'Great Sport!'

Scene from Liz Lea’s ‘Annette’ in Great Sport!

The show had its first performance on World Health Day and, given that the program featured Canberra’s mature age group, the GOLDS, as well as two Dance for Parkinson’s groups, Great Sport! was also a program that focused on healthy living through movement.  Great Sport! showcased the work of several professional choreographers, some from Canberra, others from interstate, all commissioned by Lea to make different sections of the work. One of the most interesting aspects of Great Sport! was, in fact, the way in which the choreographers, all very different in their approaches and choreographic style, were able to maintain and make visible those inherent stylistic differences, while working with community groups in which movement skills were, understandably, quite varied.

What we saw was innately theatrical: outrageous at times, more thoughtful and serious at others and bouquets are due to Lea for her persistent focus on Canberra as a place where dance happens. Great Sport! was an exceptional piece of collaboration and a spectacularly good event.

Then, in a major development for dance in Canberra, Alison Plevey launched a new contemporary company, Australian Dance Party. Plevey has been active as an independent artist for some time now but has often spoken of the need for a professional dance company in Canberra. In 2016 she made this vision a reality and her new contemporary dance company has already given two performances to date: Strings Attached, the opening production staged in collaboration with several musicians from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra in a pop-up theatre space in the Nishi building, and Nervous, a work staged in a burnt-out telescope dome at Mt Stromlo. Again, Plevey is committed to making dance in Canberra and has been persistent in her drive and determination to make this happen.

Dancer Alison Plevey and harpist in Strings Attached, Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim

Alison Plevey in Strings Attached. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Beyond locally created dance, and of the more mainstream live ventures to come to Canberra, Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker was a pre-Christmas treat. This Nutcracker was danced to perfection by Queensland Ballet now directed by the highly-motivated Li Cunxin, who has moved the company from a not-so-interesting regional organisation to one that has everything to offer the most demanding dance-goer. Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker was a heart-warming performance of a much-loved ballet and it was thrilling to see Queensland Ballet as a major force in the world of Australian ballet. May the company return many times to Canberra.

Beyond the live stage, Canberra dance audiences had the opportunity to see Spear, a film from Bangarra Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Stephen Page. Following showings at film festivals in Australia and elsewhere, Spear had a season at the National Film and Sound Archive early in 2016. It was a challenging and confronting film that used dance and movement as a medium to explore the conflicting worlds of urban Aboriginal people: it touched on several serious issues including suicide, alcoholism, substance abuse and racism. Cinematically it was breathtaking, especially in its use of landscape and cityscape as a background to the movement. It was tough, fearless, uncompromising and yet quietly beautiful.

Aaron Pedersen as Suicide Man in 'Spear'. Photo: © Giovanni de Santolo

Aaron Pedersen as Suicide Man in Spear. Photo: © Giovanni de Santolo

Art attracts art. Dance attracts dance. The dance scene in Canberra is looking more exciting than it has for many years.

Michelle Potter, 27 December 2016

Featured image: The GOLDS in a scene from Gerard van Dyck’s ‘First and Last’ from Great Sport! Photo: Michelle Potter

The Golds in a scene from 'Great Sport!'

James Batchelor in 'Smooth translation', 2016. Photo: Michelle Potter

Smooth translation. James Batchelor

5 November 2016, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

James Batchelor never ceases to surprise with his new choreographies. Smooth translation, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and performed by Batchelor and visual artist and designer Madeline Beckett, was no exception. And, as is usual, it was only later that the thought behind the work became clear to me—or, perhaps better stated, that I was able to make a personal interpretation of the work.

Smooth translation began with a pile of bean bag-like items piled in a heap in a corner of Gordon Darling Hall at Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery. Slowly, from underneath the pile, human hands began to emerge, then legs and finally two bodies.

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The bodies (now clearly Batchelor and Beckett) proceeded to manipulate the bean bags in various ways.

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There was one moment, too, when the two performers left the bean bags and strode purposefully out of the performing space via the exit doors and onto the paved entrance area. They kept going, to the surprise of the audience, who wondered whether the show was in fact over. Well it wasn’t, and on reaching the end of the entrance plaza they turned around and, just as purposefully, marched back into Gordon Darling Hall.

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Later they carefully emptied pebbles out of small bags onto a long sheet of clear plastic.

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And so it went on with a series of mysterious but absorbing actions.

So what was Smooth translation about? In his notes, Batchelor acknowledges the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth as inspiration and remarks that the work ‘examines carving as an entry point to the interiority of matter. It is a choreography of sculpting, building and forming a landscape, a moment of translation from one body to another.’ As has so often happened for me when I encounter Batchelor’s work, I wondered what the words meant and how the actions related to those words. But after a while thoughts came crowding in. I loved the idea that a a work of art, and the ideas for such a work, were emerging in the opening scene. I loved the thoughtful traversing of the room by the two performers, while lying back in the bean bags as if pondering how to develop the work. I loved those moments when Batchelor and Beckett seemed to be measuring the space and objects in Gordon Darling Hall as if deciding on how large the work in  progress should be. I loved the exit from the performing space as if they had decided it was all too hard, only to return to complete it. And so on.

There is not doubt that Batchelor has a deeply intellectual approach to choreography. And such an approach may not be to everyone’s liking especially when it isn’t immediately apparent what is going on! But personally I love being able to ponder and Batchelor always gives me the opportunity to do so. His work allows the construction  of a narrative around the choreography, whether or not such as narrative was the intention of the choreographer or not.

Michelle Potter, 6 November 2016

Featured image: James Batchelor moves around Gordon Darling Hall in Smooth translation

All photos: Michelle Potter

James Batchelor in 'Smooth translation', 2016

Dance diary. September 2016

  • Degas. A new vision

In September I had the pleasure of visiting the National Gallery of Victoria’s recent exhibition of works by Edgar Degas, entitled Degas. A new vision. I enjoyed discovering his non-dance paintings and drawings, in particular those that gave an insight into his family and social life. But I especially enjoyed some of his lesser known (to me anyway) dance works, including the two below: Little girl practising at the barre (1878–1880), although it is a shame about the turn-out being forced onto that little body, and Russian dancer (1985).

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  • Australian Dance Awards 2016

The 2016 Australian Dance Awards were held in Perth in September and list of awardees is on the Australian Dance Awards website.

Elma Kris in 'Sheoak'. Banggara Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Elma Kris, winner of ‘Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer’ at the 2016 Australian Dance Awards seen here in Sheoak from the Bangarra Dance Theatre program lore, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

  • National Portrait Gallery: coming soon

The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra continues to offer short dance events as part of its public programs with Dances for David scheduled for October and a work by James Batchelor coming in early November.

Dances for David—four dances reflecting moments in the career of David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet—will be performed by Anca Frankenhaeuser, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Julia Cotton and Elle Cahill.  Each work is inspired by a photographic image of McAllister. Dances for David takes place on 15-16 October and 29-30 October.

In November James Batchelor will present Smooth Translation, a commission from the Portrait Gallery, which is being advertised as ‘an ode to Barbara Hepworth’. Batchelor’s works are often about process of some kind and Smooth Translation purports to be concerned with the process of sculpting a landscape. Intriguing? But then all Batchelor’s works are. Smooth Translation is on 5–6 November.

Check the National Portrait Gallery website for more details.

  • The Australian Ballet in 2017

The Australian Ballet, the national ballet company, once again will not be visiting Canberra, the national capital, in 2017!

  • Press for September 2016

‘Blood ties.’ A look at the career of Bangarra dance Luke Currie-Richardson as Bangarra heads to New York and Paris. The Canberra TimesPanorama, 17 September 2016, pp. 8–9. Online version.

‘Circa attains right balance.’ Review of Carnival of the Animals. The Canberra Times, 19 September 2016, ARTS p. 34. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2016

Featured image: Theatre box (La loge) detail, 1880

Degas box

Elizabeth Dalman in the Silk Moth 2014. Photo Barbie Robinson

Dance diary. August 2016

  • Elizabeth Dalman

When I interviewed Elizabeth Dalman in July for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program she told me, off the record, of a potential performing opportunity that she hoped might come her way. Well, the potential opportunity is now a reality and Dalman is currently in Ireland rehearsing for the role of the Mother in a new Irish production based on the story of Swan Lake. This Swan Lake is being created by Michael Keegan-Dolan, former director of Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, which closed down in 2014. Keegan-Dolan’s present company has the name MKD Dance.

The opportunity came via a casting call on Keegan-Dolan’s Facebook page for ‘a woman aged between … 60 and 70.’ The notice went on: ‘The Mother needs a powerful presence and ideally she should have long white hair.’ Dalman is now in her eighties so didn’t fit exactly into the age range. But she certainly has presence and long white hair. She got the role.

This Swan Lake, danced to an original score based on traditional Irish and Nordic folk music played live on fiddle, nyckelharpa, cello, voice and percussion, will premiere as part of the 2016 Dublin Theatre Festival. Its Dublin season will be from 28 September to 8 October, after which it goes to Aarhus in Denmark and then to Sadler’s Wells, London, with 2017 seasons planned for Stuttgart and Luxembourg with other venues in the planning stage.

  • News from James Batchelor

James Batchelor is currently working at Tasdance in Launceston on Deepspace, a production emerging from his expedition to Antarctica on board the RV Investigator earlier this year. His Tasdance residency is supported by the Australia Council and is being conducted in conjunction with visual artist Annalise Rees (also part of the Investigator expedition), performer Amber McCartney and sound artist Morgan Hickinbotham. Later this year there will be another development at Arts House in Melbourne as part of the CultureLAB program. The work is set to premiere in 2017.

Read my previous post on the Investigator expedition here. Footage of Batchelor’s work on board the Investigator is below.

 

  • Joseph Skelton, Royal New Zealand Ballet

Having had the pleasure of seeing Royal New Zealand Ballet in performance recently, I was interested to learn that RNZB dancer Joseph Skelton will be appearing as guest artist with the Australian Ballet shortly. He will dance the leading role of Albrecht in a New South Wales regional tour of Giselle. ‘The Regional Tour’ appears to be a new name for the Dancers Company, which name seems to have quietly left the vocabulary of the Australian Ballet. The Australian Ballet website notes that this production will feature ‘artists from The Australian Ballet and graduating students from The Australian Ballet School.’

Whatever is behind the mysterious name change, Joseph Skelton’s performances will be worth watching. In Wellington earlier this month, I admired his performances in the Stiefel/Kobborg production of Giselle. I saw him in the peasant pas de deux (with Bronte Kelly), and as the Older Albrecht (a character unique to the Stiefel/Kobborg production), where his quiet but commanding presence was impressive.

Joseph Skelton in Giselle rehearsals. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo Stephen A'Court

Joseph Skelton in rehearsal for the Ethan Stiefel/Johan Kobborg production of Giselle. Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

  • On the subject of musicals …

For those who love musicals with lots of dance, a new production of Mamma Mia will be part of the 2017 Australian musical theatre scene. The Canberra Theatre Centre has just announced that the Australian premiere of the new production will be in Canberra in November 2017 ahead of performances in other Australian cities. No details yet of cast or creatives (who will be the choreographer?). More information when it becomes available.

  • Press for August 2016

‘Strings attached.’ Preview of the debut performance by the Australian Dance Party. The Canberra TimesPanorama, 13 August 2016, p. 15. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 31 August 2016

Featured image: Elizabeth Dalman in The Silk Moth, 2014. Photo: © Barbie Robinson

Elizabeth Dalman in the Silk Moth 2014. Photo Barbie Robinson