Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall in 'Giselle' Act I. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Giselle. The Australian Ballet (2018)

30 & 31 August 2018, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

Maina Gielgud’s Giselle, brought back once more by the Australian Ballet for a Melbourne only season, began beautifully—so beautifully that it gave me goose bumps. Small groups of villagers moved across the stage, interacting with each other, laughing and joking, while Orchestra Victoria, masterfully led by Simon Hewett, put us in the mood for what was to follow. It all seemed beautifully real rather than staged and distant.  Much of this kind of interaction continued throughout with only a few moments where everyone stood around in a semi-circle of inactivity.

The opening night cast of Ako Kondo as Giselle and Ty King-Wall as Albrecht left me a little cold, although Kondo, who always dances superbly, was charmingly shy, perhaps even naive about what was happening to her. She needed a stronger Albrecht to give extra meaning to her portrayal. It takes two for the nature of any relationship to be seen and understood by an audience.

Andrew Killian did a sterling job as Hilarion and Lisa Bolte played Berthe as a motherly figure consumed by domesticity. I have, however, always imagined Berthe as a somewhat more feisty character, who is respectful towards the Duke (Steven Heathcote), Bathilde (Alice Topp) and their entourage, but who doesn’t behave obsequiously towards them. Perhaps the Duke was Giselle’s father? (This was an interpretation in the mind of Laurel Martyn and others and influences how Berthe encounters and interacts with the Duke and his party).

But the real stars of Act I on opening night were Brett Chynoweth and Jade Wood who danced the Peasant pas de deux. Chynoweth in particular danced spectacularly well with beautiful control and great placement at the end of those airborne tours. It was wonderful to watch him, too, when Wood was dancing her variations. There he was going from friend to friend telling them all how wonderful she was.

Brett Chynoweth, and Jade Wood in the Peasant pas de deux, 'Giselle' Act I. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Brett Chynoweth and Jade Wood in the Peasant pas de deux, Giselle Act I. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

The mad scene was adequate, but that’s about it.

Act II on opening night also began beautifully with visions of Wilis appearing in the mist as Hilarion ran through the forest in search of Giselle’s grave. But I didn’t feel moved as events unfolded, due perhaps to an ongoing lack of strength in the relationship between Giselle and Albrecht. Valerie Tereshchenko as Myrtha had a fierce look on her face but her gestures and the way she attacked the choreography didn’t quite match the facial expression, which also lessened the emotional impact one expects from Act II.

Ako Kondo, Ty King-Wall, and Valerie Tereshchenko in 'Giselle' Act II. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Ty King-Wall, Ako Kondo and Valerie Tereshcheko, Giselle Act II. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

I was lucky, however, to be at the second performance in which Leanne Stojmenov as Giselle danced with David Hallberg as Albrecht. Act II this time was the stronger of the two acts, although it was interesting to see Stojmenov’s reading of Giselle in Act I as a somewhat less naive character, a little coy at times but certainly in it (to start with anyway) for the ride. This of course made her collapse, when she realised she had been betrayed, much stronger.

Hallberg and Stojmenov gave a moving performance in Act II. She had the right ethereal, supernatural touch, he could plead for mercy from Myrtha and make us feel for him. Their central pas de deux unfolded slowly and exquisitely before our eyes. Hallberg’s solo of entrechats six was spectacular from a technical point of view and yet he managed not to look like he was dancing in an eisteddfod. At last I felt emotionally involved, even from a distance since I was sitting in the gallery (aka the gods of former times). Amy Harris as Myrtha in this cast was forceful in her gestures and body language as a whole, and so she drove the action along nicely.

I often wonder to what extent the dancers of the Australian Ballet think about the nature of the characters they are portraying in ballets like Giselle. Do they wonder what goes on inside the minds of those characters? Do they wonder what kind of existence the characters might have beyond the immediate story? And so on. And do they then consider how to encapsulate that character in movement?

But there was a lot beyond interpretation of characters to admire about this production. The corps de ballet in Act I, for example, appeared to have had someone working with them on the use of head, arms and upper body. Fluidity of movement was thus more noticeable than usual. I also admired Hewett’s leadership of Orchestra Victoria. I felt I was listening not to a concert performance of the Adolphe Adam score, but to music to accompany the story as it was unfolding onstage. It was also an experience to sit high up in the auditorium. Apart from the fact that Stojmenov and Hallberg were able to project emotion the way they did right up into the gods, I have never been so aware before of the spatial patterns of the choreography for the corps de ballet.

To finish, there were two interesting happenings with regard to curtain calls. On opening night, minor principals who only appear in Act I joined the cast of Act II for a curtain call—not a usual occurrence. Then, following the second night’s performance, as Stojmenov and Hallberg moved downstage to take another bow together, the cast of Wilis behind them broke into applause—now that’s an accolade.

Michelle Potter, 1 September 2018

Featured mage: Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall in Giselle Act I. The Australian Ballet, 2018. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Ako Kondo and Ty King-Wall in 'Giselle' Act I. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in 'The Black Swan', Borovansky Ballet, 1951

Edna Busse celebrates 100 years

Former Borovansky Ballet dancer, Edna Busse, has just celebrated her 100th birthday. Busse was born in Melbourne in 1918 and received her early dance training with Eunice Weston. She was for a time junior assistant to Weston but later studied with Xenia Borovansky at the Borovansky Ballet Academy and subsequently danced with the Borovansky Ballet from its earliest days. With that company she danced a variety of roles including those in Borovansky’s restaging of Anna Pavlova’s Autumn Leaves and in Frederick Ashton’s Façade staged by Laurel Martyn. She also danced in the classics as produced by Borovansky, as well as in a number of Borovansky’s own works such as L’Amour ridicule and Fantasy on Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

Edna Busse and dancers of the Borovansky Ballet in 'Autumn Leaves', 1946. Photo Hugh P Hall

Edna Busse and dancers of the Borovansky Ballet in Autumn Leaves, 1946. Photo: Hugh P Hall. National Library of Australia

By 1946 she was prima ballerina with the company and the first fully Australian trained dancer to reach the rank of principal. Her most frequent partners were Martin Rubinstein and Serge Bousloff.

Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in the Blue Bird pas de deux, Borovanksy Ballet 1940s. Photo: Phil Ward
Serge Bousloff with Edna Busse (left) and Rachel Cameron in 'L'amour ridicule', Borovansky Ballet 1940. Photo Hugh P Hall

 

(left) Edna Busse and Martin Rubinstein in Bluebird pas de deux. Photo Phil Ward; (right) Serge Bousloff with Edna Busse (left) and Rachel Cameron (right) in L’Amour ridicule. Photo: Hugh P Hall. Borovansky Ballet, 1940s. National Library of Australia

One of the most remarkable works in which she took the leading role during her career with the Borovansky Ballet was The Black Swan, Borovansky’s second ballet on an Australian theme following on from his Terra Australis of 1946. Danced to music by Sibelius and with designs by William Constable, The Black Swan was based on an historical incident in 1697 when a Captain Vlaming from the Dutch East India Company encountered and named Rottnest Island and the river on which the city of Perth now stands. He was particularly struck by the number of black swans on the river and his crew captured several and took them back to Java. A libretto, written around this incident by M. Millet, told the story of the Captain entranced by a black swan as a symbol of a new (to him) land. The work was first performed in 1949. Busse took the role of the Black Swan in productions of 1950 and 1951.

Scene from The Black Swan. Borovansky Ballet, 1951

Scene from The Black Swan. Borovansky Ballet, 1951

Busse went to London in 1952 where she danced at the Palladium in a variety of shows, including in the pantomime Cinderella in 1953. While overseas she studied with Mathilde Kschessinska in Paris but came back to Australia in 1955 when family illness required her return. In Australia she was given a contract by entrepreneur Harry Wren and continued to dance for another few years, including in the Tivoli Circuit’s production of The Good Old Days (1956–1957) and as a guest artist with Laurel Martyn’s Victorian Ballet Guild. Injury forced her to retire. Busse then taught in Melbourne for several years before opening a ballet school in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, in 1968. With the support of a local consortium she established Inland Ballet and, over many years, produced both the classics and new works for this company.

Edna Busse was interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Program in 2014 and her time in Wagga Wagga is discussed in more detail there. The interview, which has been debated somewhat on this website, is not available online but copies are available via the National Library via the ‘order a copy’ tab.

Michelle Potter, 9 August 2018

Featured image: Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in The Black Swan, Borovansky Ballet, 1950–1951. National Library of Australia

Edna Busse and Kenneth Gillespie in 'The Black Swan', Borovansky Ballet, 1950

Jean Stewart 1921-2017

Jean Stewart (1921–2017)

Jean Stewart, esteemed dance photographer, has died in Melbourne aged 95. Jean was a radiographer by profession but had studied photography at RMIT. Ballet was her passion and she created an amazing archive of photographs of Australian companies in the 1940s and 1950s, especially of the Borovansky Ballet and Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild. She also photographed Ballet Rambert during its momentous tour to Australia 1947–1949. Later she took casual shots of dancers in social rather than performance settings.

Her work is currently represented in various libraries and performing arts collections around Australia. Her material is of inestimable value to those who take an interest in our balletic heritage.

 

I first met Jean in 1996 when I was curating a National Library exhibition, Dance people, dance. I used a number of her photographs in that exhibition and since then have used her work in various of my publications, more recently in my biography of Dame Margaret Scott, Dame Maggie Scott. A life in dance. I greatly appreciated Jean’s generosity in giving permission for her work to be used.

Above is a random selection of her photographs. With the exception of the photograph of Gailene Stock and Gary Norman, all are from the collection of the National Library of Australia

Jean Stewart: Born Melbourne, 31 October 1921. Died Melbourne, 18 August 2017.

Gallery: (top row) Walter Gore in The Fugitive, Ballet Rambert, c. 1948; Martin Rubinstein in Le beau Danube, Borovansky Ballet, c. 1946; Eric Brown in The Sentimental Bloke, Ballet Guild, 1952. (middle row) Edouard Borovansky in Le Carnaval, Borovansky Ballet, c. 1944; Janet Karin and Ray Trickett in Voyageur, Ballet Guild, 1957; Gailene Stock and Gary Norman, Melbourne, 2012. (bottom row) Peggy Sager and Martin Rubinstein in Terra Australis, Borovansky Ballet, 1946; Laurel Martyn in Coppélia, Ballet Guild, 1952; Joyce Graeme in Peter and the Wolf, Ballet Rambert Australian tour, 1948.

Michelle Potter, 21 August 2017

Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg's Piano Concerto, in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945

Laurel Martyn (1916–2013)*

Laurel Martyn, one of Australia’s most eminent dancers, choreographers and dance educators, has died in Melbourne on 16 October, three years short of her 100th birthday. Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, as Laurel Gill, Martyn received her early dance training with Kathleen Hamilton in Toowoomba and Marjorie Hollinshed in Brisbane and in 1933 left Australia for further training. In England she studied with Phyllis Bedells and in 1934 won a choreographic scholarship from the Association of Operatic Dancing (later the Royal Academy of Dancing) with her first composition Exile. She passed all her Royal Academy exams to Solo Seal and in 1935 won the Adeline Genée gold medal, the second Australian to do so in the then short life of the competition, which began in 1931. In 1935 Martyn also arranged the dances for a production of The Waltz King and in the same year received second prize in a choreographic competition, the Pavlova Casket, for her ballet Sigrid.

Laurel Martyn in 'Exile', London 1935

Laurel Martyn in Exile, London 1935. National Library of Australia

Martyn joined the Vic-Wells Ballet (later Sadler’s Wells Ballet) in 1936. She was the first Australian woman to be accepted into the company and by 1938 was a soloist. While in England she changed her name from Gill to Martyn, also a family name. She danced in many of Frederick Ashton’s early ballets including Horoscope, Nocturne and Le Baiser de la fée and also spent time in Paris studying with the Russian émigré ballerinas Lubov Egorova and Mathilde Kchessinska.

Martyn returned to Australia in 1938 following the death of her father and took up a position in Melbourne with well-known teacher Jennie Brenan. While teaching for Brenan she was offered the dancing lead in Hiawatha, a pageant produced by T. E. Fairbairn and choreographed by Brenan, which opened in Melbourne’s Exhibition Building on 21 October 1939. The ballet cast of 80 was led by Martyn, Serge Bousloff and Lawrence Rentoul. While performing in Hiawatha Martyn was noticed by Edouard Borovansky who persuaded her to join his fledgling Borovansky Ballet, which she did in 1940. Martyn was one of Borovansky’s principal artists in the early days of the Borovansky Ballet, along with Edna Busse and fellow Queenslander Dorothy Stevenson. Martyn danced and created leading roles with Borovansky until 1945, including the Spirit of the River in Borovansky’s meditation on his Czech homeland, Vltava. While with Borovansky she also restaged Sigrid and reworked what is probably her best known work, En Saga, which premiered for the Borovansky Ballet in 1941.

Martyn left the Borovansky Ballet after her marriage to Lloyd Lawton in 1945. But in 1946, at the request of the Melbourne Ballet Club, Martyn took on the directorship of Ballet Guild, as the Melbourne Ballet Club had renamed itself. She was its director for an extended period. Ballet Guild became Victorian Ballet Company in 1963 and Ballet Victoria in 1967. Martyn was at the helm until 1973. She also established a school associated with Ballet Guild and students from the school augmented professional dancers in Ballet Guild productions. Martyn created many original works for Ballet Guild and Ballet Victoria productions and collaborated with Australian composers, including Dorian Le Gallienne, Margaret Sutherland, John Tallis, Esther Rofe, and Verdon Williams, and Australian designers, including Alan McCulloch, Len Annois, and John Sumner. Some of her works also had specifically Australian themes, notably The Sentimental Bloke (1952) and Mathinna (1954). Other significant works that Martyn made in this period included L’Amour enchantée (1950), a full-length Sylvia (1962), Voyageur (1956) and Eve of St Agnes (1966).

Laurel Martyn in 'En Saga', 1947. Photo: Ronald Esler
Laurel Martyn in 'Swan Lake', Borovansky Ballet, 1944. Photo: Ronald Esler

 

(left) Laurel Martyn as the Aggrieved Woman in En Saga, Ballet Guild, 1947; (right) Laurel Martyn in Swan Lake, Act II, Borovansky Ballet, 1944. Photos: Ronald Esler. National Library of Australia

Martyn developed a specific method for teaching dance to children, the principles of which she published in Let them Dance (1985). She also was instrumental in forming the Young Dancers’ Theatre, for which she choreographed several works in the 1980s, and the Classical Dance Teachers Australia Inc, which provided in-service training for dance teachers. She was on the steering committee for the Australian Institute of Classical Dance in the early years of its development. Martyn guested with the Australian Ballet as Mar in The Sentimental Bloke in 1985, as the mother of James in La Sylphide also in 1985, as Berthe, Giselle’s mother, in Giselle in 1986 and as Miss Maud in The Competition (Le Concours) in 1989. In 1991 she reproduced Michel Fokine’s Le Carnaval for the flagship company. In 1997 she was the recipient of the award for lifetime achievement at the inaugural Australian Dance Awards.

Martyn was interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program in 1989 and the interview is available online at this link. See also ‘Inspiring Mentors: Valrene Tweedie and Laurel Martyn’ published in July 2002 in National Library of Australia News. In addition, a special issue of Brolga: an Australian journal about dance—Issue 4 (June 1996)—was published in honour of Martyn’s 80th birthday. It contains the following articles:

  • Laurel Martyn OBE: a voyager ahead of her time by Janet Karin
  • In her own words: excerpts from an oral history interview with Laurel Martyn
  • The choreography of Laurel Martyn, 1935–1991
  • The smile of Terpsichore: notes on Laurel Martyn as choreographer by Robin Grove
  • Dancing the Bloke by Geoffrey Ingram
  • Laurel Martyn and her composers, 1946–1956 by Joel Crotty

Also published in Brolga, in its first issue of December 1994, and under the title ‘Silent stories’, is Robin Grove’s incisive discussion of Martyn’s Sylvia.

Laurel Martin Lawton: born Toowoomba, 23 July 1916; died Melbourne, 16 October 2013.

Michelle Potter, 19 October 2013

*This brief biography draws on original research I carried out, first for the National Film and Sound Archive’s Keep Dancing! project between 1997 and 2001 and then as part of the early stages of the National Library of Australia’s Australia Dancing project beginning in 2002.

Featured image: Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945. National Library of Australia

Laurel Martyn as Remorse in Fantasy on Grieg's Piano Concerto, in A Minor, Borovansky Ballet, 1945

 

Robin Grove, 2009

Robin Grove (1941-2012)

This is a belated, personal tribute to Robin Grove who died on Christmas Day 2012. Robin had a long and distinguished career as an academic but was also an acclaimed writer about and reviewer of dance. Ballet and music had been part of his life from an early age and as a young man he took classes with Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild.

Robin Grove in the Ballet Guild studios (1), Melbourne ca. 1967. Photo: Vivien Jones
Robin Grove in the Ballet Guild studios (2), Melbourne ca. 1967. Photo: Vivien Jones

Robin Grove in the Ballet Guild studios, Melbourne ca. 1967. Photos: Vivien Jones. Courtesy Elisabeth Grove

During the 1960s he choreographed several ballets for the Guild, whose company at that stage was named the Victorian Ballet Company (later Ballet Victoria). Perhaps the best known of Robin Grove’s works for the Guild was Apollon Musagète, to the score by Igor Stravinsky. A filmed (but silent) rehearsal of this work is in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive, as I was thrilled to discover while working in the Archive in the late 1990s.

The current dance literature is a little confusing with regard to performance dates for Apollon Musagète but it appears that it was given its first company performance in a short season at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, on 4–5 September 1964. It shared the program with Carnaval, Bottom’s Dream (Maxwell Collis), the pas de deux from Nutcracker and Once upon  a Whim (Martyn). Its décor was by Warwick Hatton* and the program has the additional design credit line ‘after Lionel Feininger’. A note in the 1964 program states that the work was added to the company’s repertoire ‘after its successful reception in the programme Repertoire Nights held in the Victorian Ballet Guild’s studio theatre’, although I have not yet been able to establish the date of that earlier showing. The 1964 program records that Apollo was danced by Maxwell Collis, Calliope by Barbara Warren-Smith, Poly[hymnia] by Dianne Parrington, and Terpsichore by Jillian Luke. Other Muses were danced by Pamela Baker, Elaine Kemp, Margaret Crowder, Victoria Gibaljo, Mary Long and Denise Saunders.

Anne Sims and Jilllian Ray in the Victorian Ballet Company production of 'Apollon Musagète', 1967. Photo: Walter Stringer

Scene from Robin Grove's 'Apollon Musagete', ca. 1964. Photo: Walter Stringer

Two scenes from Apollon Musagète (left, courtesy National Library of Australia; right, courtesy Elisabeth Grove) Photos: Walter Stringer

The work was reprised at least once at the Guild studio theatre by the Victorian Ballet Company in September 1967. It was part of a program of four ballets with the other three comprising The Little Mermaid (Rex Reid) The Comedians (Jack Manuel) and Dear Dorothy Dix (Michael Charnley). The program was reviewed in The Herald (Melbourne) on 1 September 1967 by H. A. Standish.

I can’t remember when I first met Robin—it may have been at a Green Mill dance conference in Melbourne around 1992, but he worked with me to establish Brolga: an Australian journal about dance, which appeared for the first time in December 1994. I valued his support and his input as Brolga developed as an idea and then blossomed as an enterprise. He was a member of the advisory panel from that first issue onwards and later, when I went to work in New York in 2006, he became co-editor (with Alan Brissenden) until December 2008.

He contributed Silent Stories, a wonderful analysis of Laurel Martyn’s 1963 work Sylvia, to the first issue of Brolga, and he continued to contribute on a number of occasions after that. It was he who suggested that we devote an entire issue to the work of Laurel Martyn, and the issue—a kind of Festschrift—appeared in June 1996 in celebration of Martyn’s 80th birthday. In addition to Robin’s article, The smile of Terpsichore: notes on Laurel Martyn as choreographer, that issue included articles by Janet Karin, Geoffrey Ingram, JoAnne Page and Joel Crotty. It also contained extracts from an oral history interview with Martyn and a list of her choreography from 1935 to 1991. In my opinion the Laurel Martyn issue remains one of the best we produced.

Robin brought to Brolga an amazingly wide-ranging attitude to what we could publish in a dance journal. His background in music and literature was invaluable and I trusted his opinion unreservedly when he read articles that I thought needed a second opinion with regard to publication. Of his own articles, what I loved was the way he was able to place his material into a wide cultural context. But I guess what I loved most was that he believed that ballet was an art form worthy of consideration at the highest level.

I regret that our lives did not cross after my return from New York. An obituary, published in The Age in April 2013, is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 18 August 2013

Featured image: Robin Grove, Melbourne 2009. Courtesy Elisabeth Grove

Robin Grove, 2009

NOTES

* I have not been able to find information about Warwick Hatton’s design work and would be pleased to hear from readers who may know of his background. The costumes, as far as I can ascertain from the Stringer images, recall some features of the designs for David Lichine’s Protée, which was seen in Australia during the Ballets Russes tours and which was designed by Giorgio de Chirico.

** Of the two Stringer photos above the image on the left is from the collection of the National Library of Australia and is dated 1967. The dancers’ names on the Library’s catalogue record do not coincide with those on the 1964 program. The Stringer image on the right was kindly supplied by Elisabeth Grove.

 

Valerie Grieg (1922–2013)

‘Good dancers love dancing’ (Valerie Grieg, 2011)

Valerie Grieg, who has died in Melbourne on 27 March in her 91st year, was an inspired teacher of ballet whose deep understanding of the classical technique and how it can best be taught are contained in her publication Inside ballet technique: separating anatomical fact from fiction in the ballet class. Inside ballet technique was first published in 1994 by the Princeton Book Company and remains an essential guide to body mechanics and the anatomical laws behind classical ballet.

Valerie Grieg, 1951Valerie Grieg modelling Prestige Ltd fabric, taken during the filming of ‘Fabrics in Motion’, Melbourne, Victoria, 1951. Courtesy Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Reproduced with permission

As a child in Melbourne Grieg studied ballet before going on to work with Elisabet Wiener, proponent of the Central European modern dance style. But ballet, with its strong technical underpinning, was where her interests and commitment lay and in the 1940s she joined Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild. It was an extraordinarily creative time at the newly-formed Guild and Grieg’s colleagues at the time represented a roll call of Melbourne-based artists of the day. They included Martin Rubinstein, Strelsa Heckelman, Corrie Lodders, Max Collis, Graham Smith and Eve King. With Ballet Guild, Grieg performed in many of Martyn’s original compositions, including Sigrid in which she danced the title role, as well as in classics of the repertoire such as Serge Bousloff’s staging of Le Carnaval in which she appeared as Chiarina.

Teaching soon became an important aspect of Grieg’s career. In 1950 the Guild established a branch in Hamilton, Victoria, and Grieg became its director. A newspaper report in 1952 claimed Grieg had flown over 40,000 miles to give classes since taking on this role. Later she taught for the Guild on the Mornington Peninsula.

Grieg left the Guild, and Australia, in the early 1950s to work and study in the United Kingdom. In London she came under the influence of esteemed teacher Audrey de Vos whose approach to a number of technical issues Grieg absorbed into her own developing career as an educator.

After returning to Australia briefly Grieg left in the early 1960s to pursue her dance interests in the United States. She studied in New York at the Juilliard School where she especially admired the warmth and strength of Martha Hill, and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she worked with Ohio Ballet. She was also the founding coordinator of the Dance Department at the University of Akron, Ohio. Eventually, Grieg returned to Manhattan where she coached, choreographed and taught master classes. She came back to Australia on frequent occasions to teach and coach. Later she returned permanently to her country of birth living first in Canberra and then in Melbourne.

Grieg’s students continue to teach and perform in the United States, Australia and elsewhere and many continue to develop and expand upon her influential approach to teaching. Her friend and colleague, Janet Karin, recalls Grieg’s influence:

‘In the 1950s, Valerie was a ballet teacher well ahead of her time. Her experience in modern dance, her anatomical knowledge and her enquiring, analytical mind enabled her to see the fundamental truths behind traditional teaching. As my mentor in my early teaching years, she was always generously encouraging. Her interest in discussing esoteric technical points inspired me then, and was still inspiring me as she reached the age of 90. Valerie helped lay the foundations of my teaching career.’

Grieg’s legacy lives on. She is survived by her nephews, Christopher Zegelin in the United States and Peter Zegelin in Australia.

Valerie Grieg: born Melbourne, 4 September 1922; died Melbourne, 27 March 2013.

Michelle Potter, 28 March 2013

Strelsa Heckelman Lording (1925−2012)

Portrait of Strelsa HeckelmanStrelsa Heckelman, 1950. J. C. Williamson collection. National Library of Australia 

Strelsa Heckelman Lording, who danced under her maiden name Strelsa Heckelman in several early Australian ballet companies in the 1940s and 1950s, has died in Melbourne aged 87.

Described by friend and dancing colleague Athol Willoughby as ‘a sparkling dancer with a strong technique’, Heckelman began dancing early in her life in her home town of Brisbane. By the time she was thirteen she had passed all her Royal Academy of Dance examinations and shortly afterwards she was invited to take part in classes with Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe during the company’s 1940 Brisbane season. De Basil then invited her to follow the company to Sydney, which she did.

But, despite impressing de Basil, she did not join the Ballets Russes. Instead she continued her training as a full-time student with Hélène Kirsova in Sydney at Kirsova’s studios at Circular Quay and, when Kirsova started a ballet company herself in 1941, Heckelman joined it. She danced with the Kirsova Ballet until the company folded in 1944. With Kirsova she was part of the unique collaborative activities that Kirsova initiated when she commissioned composers, including Henry Krips, and designers such as Loudon Sainthill to work with her company.

Heckelman then joined Edouard Borovansky’s Borovansky Ballet performing in the company’s regular repertoire as well as in musical shows that Borovansky choreographed for the J. C. Williamson organisation. Later she danced with Laurel Martyn’s Melbourne-based company Ballet Guild, and in the early 1950s danced again in J. C. Williamson musicals, including Song of Norway and Oklahoma. Leading performers in musicals in the fifties were almost always brought in from overseas and Heckelman danced to considerble acclaim in both Song of Norway and Oklahoma with star American jazz dancer Matt Mattox.

Her final professional performances before retiring in 1953 to have her children were with the National Theatre Ballet in Melbourne. With the National her repertoire included the full-length Swan Lake, the Giselle peasant pas de deux, which she danced with Ray Trickett, and the Head Girl in Kira Bousloff’s staging of Graduation Ball. She also alternated with Valrene Tweedie as Columbine in Tweedie’s 1953 production of Carnaval for the National. 

Strelsa Heckleman in the peasant pas de deux from 'Giselle'. National Theatre Ballet, 1952. Strelsa Heckelman in the peasant pas de deux from Giselle. National Theatre Ballet, 1952. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia

Athol Willoughby recalls a somewhat incredible feat that took place during a rehearsal for the National’s Swan Lake. He says: ‘Our rehearsals for the 1952 season were conducted in a large church hall in the suburb of Hawthorn. At a rehearsal for “Swan Lake” Act 3, Strelsa was dancing in a cardigan because she had a cold. She began the 32 fouettes of the coda when her nose began to run. Without missing a beat she took a handkerchief from a pocket in the cardigan, blew her nose, put the hanky back in the pocket concluding the series of fouettes without moving from the spot. That seemed to me to be quite an achievement!’

In between jobs with a ballet companies, Heckelman worked in a photographer’s studio and later in the perfume department of the Melbourne department store, Georges. Following her stage career she established her own ballet school and also taught for other teachers in the Melbourne area. She remained active in the dance world in her later years and in 2002 became patron of the Tasmanian Ballet Company.

Heckelman once recalled that she never tired of dancing. She thought of every night as an opening night and always relished the overture starting, the curtain going up and seeing the lights in the theatre. That was the magic of the theatre for her.

Strelsa Heckelman married Jack Carruthers in 1951. After the death of Carruthers, Heckelman married Tom Lording in 1984. He died the following year. Heckelman is survived by a son, Ian, and a daughter, Lynn, from her first marriage.

Strelsa Heckelman Lording: born Brisbane, 20 July 1925; died Melbourne, 28 December 2012

Michelle Potter, 7 January 2013

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Dance diary. September 2011

  • Publication news

In September The Canberra Times published my preview of the Australian Ballet’s 2012 season, a review of the recent book The Ballets Russes in Australia and Beyond under the title ‘Dancing round a few home truths’, and my review of Graeme Murphy’s new take on Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet has certainly sparked some discussion and the amount of traffic that the extended review has generated over this website has been quite astonishing. It has more than quadrupled the previous record of visits to any one post. The suggestion that this Romeo and Juliet is just not a profound work has been made, not only in published comments but also in other communications to me. But whatever we think, it appears to be selling remarkably well and it will be interesting to see what Sydney audiences make of it when it opens there in December.

Editing and design began in September on an article of mine to be published in the December issue of The National Library Magazine. This article looks at the ballet designs of Arthur Boyd for Robert Helpmann’s Elektra, and those of Sidney Nolan for Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite of Spring. Both ballets were given their premieres by the Royal Ballet in London in the early 1960s. We’ve never seen the MacMillan Rite of Spring here in Australia, but Elektra was staged by the Australian Ballet in 1966 when there were some interesting changes to Boyd’s designs, which in fact had already undergone changes before they even made it to the Covent Garden stage.

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Joseph Janusaitis in make-up for Elektra, the Australian Ballet, 1966. Photo by Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia, permission pending

  • Nijinsky’s costume for Le Dieu bleu

While the Romeo and Juliet post has attracted instant interest, the post from late last year on Nijinsky’s costume for the Blue God quietly continues to generate visits. I was recently contacted by author Denise Heywood, whose book Cambodian dance: celebration of the gods was published in 2008 in Bangkok by River Books. The book is an interesting examination of the history of Cambodian dance and reproduces some remarkable photographs from across many decades. Denise suggests in her recent communication with me that it is not just the costume has links to the Khmer culture, as I suggested in the post, but the choreography for the ballet Le Dieu bleu must surely also have been influenced by Khmer dance, especially the ‘slow, statuesque movements’.

  • The Royal New Zealand Ballet

The Royal New Zealand Ballet has just announced its 2012 season, its first full year under the directorship of Ethan Stiefel. Stiefel will begin the year in February with a very American program entitled NYC, ‘New Young Classic’ (although the other meaning of that acronym is in there too). NYC will feature works by Larry Keigwin, Benjamin Millepied and George Balanchine. Keigwin has a big following in New York and he will create a new work on the dancers of RNZB. Millepied is now probably best known for his contribution to The Black Swan, but he has been making dances for several years for a range of high profile companies including New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opera Ballet. RNZB will dance Millepied’s 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini (2005).  The program will also include Who Cares?, Balanchine’s popular and beautifully polished work set to songs by George Gershwin.

Later in the year RNZB will restage its production of Christopher Hampson’s Cinderella and in November Gillian Murphy will take the lead role in a new staging of Giselle to be co-produced by Stiefel and that exceptional interpreter of the role of Albrecht, Johann Kobborg.

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Tonia Looker in a study for Giselle 2012. Photo: © Ross Brown. Courtesy Royal New Zealand Ballet

  • Memory lane

Canberra is currently in the middle of Floriade, its annual celebration of spring (although the weather is decidedly cold). I have never forgotten a remarkable Floriade, the only one I have ever attended I have to admit, back in 1990. The Meryl Tankard Company was then Canberra’s resident dance company and Tankard staged Court of Flora outdoors against the backdrop of Commonwealth Gardens.

Inspired by the engravings in J. J. Grandville’s book, Les Fleurs animées first published in 1847, Court of Flora was given eleven performances in October 1990. Its spectacular costumes, designed by Sydney-based couturier Anthony Phillips, drew sighs of delight from audiences. So too did the ability of Tankard’s dancers to pose decoratively behind bushes and around trees while at the same time investing the flowers that they represented with clearly discernible human qualities, as indeed Grandville had done with his illustrations. In particular, an impish Paige Gordon as Thistle and an elegant Carmela Care as Rose still remain in the mind’s eye.

  • The Little Mermaid

I continue to be confounded by Rex Reid’s Little Mermaid, the version he made for Laurel Martyn’s Victorian Ballet Company in 1967. All sources seem to indicate that it opened as part of a mixed bill on 1 September 1967, but reviews seem to have appeared in Melbourne papers on the same day, 1 September. There is probably a simple explanation—perhaps there was a preview before 1 September to which reviewers were invited? But if anyone was there and can assure me that it did open on 1 September, despite reviews appearing on the same day, I would be thrilled to hear.

  • Site news

Traffic across the site during September increased by over 20% compared with August, due largely to the exceptional interest in Romeo and Juliet. The review attracted a large number of visits, more than any other post in the two year history of the site. Not surprisingly visits from Melbourne topped the list. Other Australian cities generating significant numbers of visits during September were, in order, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide.

Some small updates will be made to the site in the next few weeks. On the home page I am having a link to the full tag cloud inserted under the list of top 20 tags. This will facilitate searching from the home page.

I am also having two new sub-pages added to the Resource page. One will be for National Library of Australia articles and will allow me to separate articles written for National Library of Australia News/The National Library Magazine from other online publications. The second will be for articles written for theatre programs.

Michelle Potter, 1 October 2011

Dance diary. August 2011

  • The Dancers Company

During August The Canberra Times published my Canberra preview for Bangarra’s current production, Belong, and also my review of the Canberra season of the Dancers Company production of Don Quixote. The Dancers Company was a breath of fresh air for dance goers in the national capital, especially for those interested in ballet as a genre of dance.

I was especially impressed by Hannah O’Neill and Benedicte Bemet. It is well known now that Hannah O’Neill has a seasonal contract, beginning this month, for the Paris Opera Ballet, so it was good to see her in this early stage of her professional career. She was dancing beautifully as one of Kitri’s friends. She also took the role of the Queen of the Dryads in the dream sequence and it is not too much to say that her serenity in the Queen’s solo, in part deriving from her technical assurance, was thrilling to watch.

But it was Benedicte Bemet, also dancing as one of Kitri’s friends, and as Cupid in the dream scene, who really captured my attention. She too handled skillfully the quite different but equally demanding technical requirements of Cupid’s solo. But what really stood out was her engagement with the art form rather than with just the technique. Her dancing appears to come from deep within the soul. I hope she doesn’t lose such a rare and wholly engrossing quality as she moves into a professional company.

Benedicte Bemet in 'Paquita', 2011
Benedicte Bemet in ‘Paquita’, 2011

    Photo: Sergey Konstantinov.  Courtesy: The Australian Ballet School

  • Ted Shawn and Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild

Ted Shawn was the subject of an August post that drew some comments, including one regarding the sponsorship of the Shawn visit by Laurel Martyn’s Ballet Guild. While on the hunt for information about a production of The Little Mermaid, a work choreographed by Rex Reid and designed by Kristian Fredrikson for Martyn in 1967, I discovered that Shawn was a patron of Martyn’s company, which was variously called Ballet Guild, Victorian Ballet Company and Ballet Victoria depending on the date. Shawn’s name appears on programs as a patron of the company from at least 1958 through to at least 1968 (and perhaps before and after those dates? I have yet to examine earlier and later programs).

  • Paul De Masson

In last month’s dance diary I mentioned Paul De Masson and indicated that he was to perform in the Melbourne season of Checkmate in the Australian Ballet’s British Liaisons program. I have since discovered from Paul that this is no longer happening. It is unclear why, although it seems not to be his health!!

  • Jennifer Irwin

In August I also had the pleasure of recording an oral history interview for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection with costume designer Jennifer Irwin. Long standing followers of Sydney Dance Company will remember her many costume designs for Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, while those who have followed Bangarra will recall that she and Peter England produced costumes and sets for some of Bangarra’s most celebrated productions across the two decades of its history to date.

Irwin’s other design credits include the ‘Awakening’ section of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Opening Ceremony, much of the Closing Ceremony and the musical Dirty Dancing. In October audiences will see her designs for Stephen Page’s production of Bloodland for Sydney Theatre Company, and in 2012 her commissions include two new works for the Australian Ballet.

  • Land, sea and sky: contemporary art of the Torres Strait Islands

While in Brisbane for the Queensland Ballet Gala, I took the opportunity to visit an exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art called Land, sea and sky: contemporary art of the Torres Strait Islands. The exhibition included a variety of dance materials. Particularly interesting were several ‘dance machines’, hand held objects manipulated by dancers to give extra strength to the narrative line of the dance. I loved the one made by Patrick Thaiday and commissioned especially for the exhibition. It comprised 20 ‘machines’ each constucted as a stylised, blue cumulus cloud, made of wood and painted with white stars. From each cloud radiated a series of small, movable, dark red poles each with a white star at its top point. It was easy to imagine a dance representing the movement of the stars across the sky using these devices as a major inclusion.

Footage of Dennis Newie teaching dances on the beach to Islanders of various ages was another important feature of the show.

  • The Australian Ballet’s 2012 season

Late in August the Australian Ballet announced its season for 2012, its 50th anniversary year. What a great program it looks like too. In May I posted on the English National Ballet’s Swan Lake and remarked how satisfying it was to see a traditional version of this ballet, as much as I love Graeme Murphy’s new take on it. So I am especially looking forward to seeing Stephen Baynes’ new but old version, which will be seen first in Melbourne in September before moving on to Sydney in November.

The year will open with a triple bill of  new works by Australian choreographers: Graeme Murphy, Stephen Page and Gideon Obarzanek. Something to anticipate!

  • Statistics

In August the Australian Ballet’s Concord season of 2009 finally lost its top place as most accessed post of the month. My dance diary for July and my post on the Queensland Ballet gala shared top spot with Concord coming in in third place.

Michelle Potter, 30 August 2011