Ballet Rambert in Australia 1948

Dance diary. April 2014

  •   Ballet Rambert Australasian tour

I was delighted to find, during my recent research in the Rambert Archives in London, an album, currently on loan to the Archives for copying, assembled by dancer Pamela Whittaker (Vincent) during the Ballet Rambert’s tour to Australia and New Zealand, 1947–1949. What struck me instantly was the fact that this company enjoyed a similarly social time in Australia and New Zealand as did the Ballets Russes companies that preceded Rambert. I hope to pursue this a little further in a later post but in the meantime the featured image (above) is a photo from Pamela Whittaker’s album. Below is another image from that album.

Ballet Rambert in Australia. Horseriding excursion, 1948
Ballet Rambert on an outing in Australia, 1948. From the personal album of Pamela Whittaker (Vincent)
  • Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship 2014

The Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship for 2014 has been awarded to West Australian designer Alicia Clements. For more about Alicia’s work see her website, but below is a costume for the character of Nishi from The White Divers of Broome staged by the Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth in 2012.

Costume by Alicia Clements for Nishi in 'The White Divers of Broome'. Photo © Cameron Etchells.
Costume by Alicia Clements for Nishi in The White Divers of Broome. Photo © Cameron Etchells.

  • Australian Dance Awards 2014

The long list of nominations for the 2014 Australian Dance Awards was released during April. From a Canberra perspective it is good to see a number of nominations with strong Canberra connections, although I wonder whether any or many of them will make the short lists given the fact that so few people outside Canberra will have seen the productions in the flesh. That concern aside, however, I was especially pleased to see Garry Stewart’s Monument on the list for two awards, an individual award to Stewart for outstanding achievement in choreography and an award to the Australian Ballet for outstanding performance by a company. It was also gratifying to see Life is a Work of Art created by Liz Lea and others for GOLD, the group of mature age performers associated with Canberra Dance Theatre, nominated in the community dance category.

Scene from 'Monument', Canberra 2013. Photo: Branco Gaica
Richard House, Rudy Hawkes and Cameron Hunter in Monument, 2013. The Australian Ballet. Photo © Branco Gaica

But I noticed that Janet Karin, former director of the National Capital Ballet School, currently kinetic educator at the Australian Ballet School, and also now president of  the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, is again on the list for services to dance education. Fingers crossed for this one as her contribution to the Australian dance scene has been remarkable over many years and in many areas and she deserves recognition from her peers.

  • Island: James Batchelor

I am looking forward to the opening of James Batchelor’s new work, Island, which premieres tonight at the Courtyard Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre. Batchelor was impressive when I interviewed him earlier his month (see online link below) but seeing in production what one has written about in advance is always challenging. But Canberra needs more dance of the sophisticated variety. So fingers crossed!

James Batchelor in 'Ersatz', Bangkok 2013. Photo © NDEPsixteen
James Batchelor in Ersatz, Bangkok 2013. Photo © NDEPsixteen
  • Press for April 2014 (Online links no longer available)

‘Outstanding skills shown in diversity’. Review of Sydney Dance Company’s Interplay. The Canberra Times, 12 April 2014, ARTS 19.

‘Dedicated Batchelor’. Preview story for James Batchelor’s Island. The Canberra Times, 26 April 2014.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2014

Featured image: Ballet Rambert enjoying the Australian bush, 1948. From the personal album of Pamela Whittaker (Vincent)

Ballet Rambert in Australia 1948
Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in ‘Seven sonatas’, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Rosalie O’Connor

Dance diary. November 2013

  • Alexei Ratmansky

With Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella now playing a Sydney season with the Australian Ballet, it was a delight to hear that in 2014 Sharmill Films will be screening Ratmansky’s Lost Illusions, a work based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac and made in 2011 for the Bolshoi Ballet. It opens at cinemas around the country on 29 March 2014.

I am, however, also looking forward to the visit to Australia (Brisbane only) in 2014 by American Ballet Theatre when Ratmansky’s gorgeous work, Seven Sonatas, will be part of the company’s mixed bill  program. I wrote about this work in an earlier post. It is truly a work worth seeing.

In the meantime I am looking forward to further viewings of Cinderella very soon. More later.

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2013

The dance awards in the annual Canberra Critics’ Awards this year went to Liz Lea and Elizabeth Dalman. Lea was honoured for the diversity of her contributions to the Canberra dance scene, in particular for her input into the dance and science festival she curated in collaboration with Cris Kennedy of CSIRO Discovery, and for her initiatives in establishing her mature age group of dancers, the GOLD group.

Dalman received an award for Morning Star, which she  created on her Mirramu Dance Company earlier in 2013. Morning Star was based on extensive research in and travel to indigenous communities and the final product used an outstanding line-up of performers from indigenous and non-indigenous communities and mixed indigenous and Western dance in insightful ways.

  •  Movers and Shakers

Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery was recently the venue for a short program of dance presented by two Sydney-based independent artists, Julia Cotton and Anca Frankenhaeuser. Called Movers and Shakers and held on the last weekend of the Gallery’s exhibition of photographs by Richard Avendon, the short, 30 minute program was largely a celebration of dancers Avendon had photographed over the course of his career, including Merce Cunningham and Rudolph Nureyev. Cotton and Frankenhaeuser are mature age performers and it was a joy to see that, as such, they had taken their work to a different plane in terms of technique but had lost none of the expressive power that has always been at the heart of their dancing.

Julia Cotton (left) and Anca Frankenhaeuser in Movers and Shakers, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, November 2013. Photo: © Michelle Potter

The tiny objects you see on the white pillar on the left of the image above are little decorative items representing bees, which Frankenhaeuser initially wore on her face and which she removed and stuck on the pillar at one stage in one of her solos. This part of the program referred not to a dance portrait but to Avendon’s well-known shot of a beekeeper. It was a particularly strong and confronting solo by Frankenhaeuser who danced around the pillar—and was sometimes almost completely hidden by it—using little more that fluttering hands to convey her story.

  • Hot to Trot: Quantum Leap

Hot to Trot, a program for young, Canberra-based choreographers has been around for fifteen years, although the recent 2013 program is the first one I have managed to see. As might be expected the short pieces, which included a few short dance films, were of a mixed standard. One stood out, however, and deserves a mention—Hear no evil, speak no evil. It was jointly choreographed by Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley who were also the performers. The dance vocabulary they created was adventurous and compelling and the work itself was clearly and strongly focused and well structured.

Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley in 'Hear no evil, speak no evil', Hot to trot 2013 season. Photo: Lorn Sim
Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley in ‘Hear no evil, speak no evil’, Hot to Trot, 2013 season. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Jack Riley will join the WAAPA dance course in 2014.

  • Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac

News came in November from Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac. Tankard’s acclaimed work The Oracle was performed in mid-November in Düsseldorf, Germany, by Paul White, now a member of Tanztheater Wuppertal, as part of a celebration of the legacy of Pina Bausch.

Flyer for 'The oracle'
Flyer for The Oracle

At the same time, the gallery of Mac Studios in Düsseldorf held an exhibition of more than twenty large-format portraits of Tankard by Lansac. All were produced in the summer of 1984 in the Wuppertal apartment of the American art critic David Galloway. One of Lansac’s most striking images held in Australian public collections also comes, I believe, from the shoot Lansac undertook in this apartment. Follow this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2013

Featured image: Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in Seven Sonatas, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Rosalie O’Connor

Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in ‘Seven sonatas’, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Rosalie O’Connor
'Black/GOLD' (2), The Kimberley Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, 2013

Life is a work of art. The GOLDs

28 June 2013 (dress rehearsal), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

In my June 2013 dance diary I mentioned a show at the National Gallery of Australia called Life is a work of art performed by the GOLDs, a group of performers over the age of 55. I have now received some images from that show and what follows is not a review as such, as GOLD is not a professional company, but rather some observations on some parts of the show. Life is a work of art was co-directed by Liz Lea and Jane Ingall and was a processional performance leading the audience through the National Gallery of Australia, pausing in particular galleries where specially commissioned dances were performed.

The section that worked best for me was staged in the Kimberley Gallery where art by Rover Thomas and other indigenous artists from the Kimberley region is on display. The section, called ‘Black/GOLD’, was choreographed by Tammi Gissell, a descendant of the Muruwari nation of northwestern New South Wales. It was performed to music composed and played by Francis Gilfedder.

Gissell wrote in her program notes:
What a wonderful opportunity for Aussie Elders from all walks of life and cultural heritage to dance together in celebration of the rhythms and memories of this land. Australia now sensed freshly with knowing eyes and ears and footsteps. Black/GOLD is concerned with claiming ownership over one’s self, for this must occur to accept your role within a mob—the second yet equally important concern of the piece.

It struck me as I watched it that what made it especially powerful was perhaps the fact that in indigenous communities everyone dances. It seemed quite appropriate for these older, non-indigenous people to be dancing in front of indigenous art. And Francis Gilfedder, who sang and played the didgeridoo, was magnificent. Reading Gissell’s program note just increased my respect for her and the work. In the case of ‘Black/GOLD’ she chose a concept that is deeply entrenched within her heritage, made it relevant to the occasion, made it inclusive of her cast, and gave it a simplicity that belied the complexity of the concept. A real gem.

I was also impressed with ’A gentle spirit’ as a wonderful example of a site specific piece. As we progressed down a ramp to the sculpture gallery on a lower floor, we passed by Carol Mackay. She had a solo piece, which she performed at the corner of the ramp under Maria Cadoza’s Starfish. While our view of it was gone in a flash as we walked by, it was perfectly sited. Music for it was composed and played live by cellist David Pereira, but as I was at the dress rehearsal, at which he was not present, I’m not sure if he was a visual part of the piece, although from the images I received it appears not.

Finally, I enjoyed two pieces in the galleries of contemporary, international art: ‘Pop Art’, a piece choreographed by Liz Lea against a backdrop of works by Andy Warhol and others from the period of the 1960s; and ‘Caught between Kapoor’, an improvisation by Luke Mulders in Gallery 3.

'Caught between Kapoor', International Galleries (Gallery 3), National Gallery of Australia, 2013

Some parts of Life is a work of art, as I mentioned in my June dance diary, worked better than others for me. Here I have simply extracted a few sections that I especially enjoyed, which is not to say that the rest of the show was not enjoyable as well. It is a wonderful community dance concept and, despite the worries that staff at the National Gallery of Australia must have had as people (carrying stools) processed past and performers danced among such precious items, I hope the Gallery will consider doing it again.

All images courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia.

Michelle Potter, 30 July 2013

Featured image: A moment from ‘Black/GOLD’, Kimberley Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, 2013

'Black/GOLD' (2), The Kimberley Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, 2013
Alison Plevery and Liz Lea, 'InFlight'. Photos: Lorna Sim

InFlight. Liz Lea & Co

31 May 2013, National Library of Australia Theatre, Canberra

The National Library’s theatre is quite unsuited to dance. It is a lecture theatre really, although capable also of acting as a cinema. It has a small, oddly-shaped area at the front of an auditorium that holds about 300 people. The auditorium is raked but anything that is ‘grounded’ movement is difficult to see unless one is sitting in the first few rows. Liz Lea did her best to accommodate the space and its severe limitations. From a practical point of view, for example, a small dais allowed some movement to be seen to better advantage, and she had some lovely black and white screens at each side of the performing space that allowed the performers to change costumes at various points. But I think she did herself a disservice by performing InFlight in the National Library Theatre.

InFlight is in two parts. Part I, ‘Aviatrix’, is inspired by the exploits of Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm and female aviation pioneers, the British woman Amy Johnson and the American Amelia Earhart. In this section, four dancers play out a fantasy of becoming aviatrixes themselves.

The choreography was severely limited by the space available. I enjoyed the dance that opened the show, a 1920s–1930s style number with fabulous black and silver costumes and gorgeous red and black feather fans. But so often the dancers, Melanie and Marnie Polamares, seemed to be just moving on the spot. It did however serve its purpose well by setting the scene in the era of pioneer aviation activities.

The audio-visual material screened throughout Part I included the voices of Ulm and Kingsford Smith, footage of Johnson and others, still photographs of them all (interspersed with photos of the dancers dressed in aviation gear), and contemporary newspaper headlines. There was so much audio-visual material that the choreography became a side issue. This section seems to me to be more suited to being shown as something other than a dance performance. A history lesson about pioneering moments in aviation?

Part II, ‘Aviary’, leaves aviation history behind and the four dancers are transformed into birds, staking out a territory and building nests. Miranda Wheen’s solo was a highlight as she, wearing an elegant long white dress and manipulating two large white feather fans, sought a place to build her nest. Alison Plevey, dressed in red, also made a mark in another solo as a more aggressive bird. But again there was just no room for the dancers to move and no way for the audience to enjoy Lea’s usually expansive choreography. Naomi Ota’s feathery, trailing installation also got a little lost. It needed space to be seen at its best (some of it had to be hung along a side wall), and space for the dancers to manipulate it effectively. The ending was a bit of a mystery to me. Something was carried onstage in what seemed to be a piece of bark. This moment in the story was performed with great solemnity.

Lea has a great eye for the theatrical and a wonderful capacity to use all kinds of unexpected additions to her shows. But basically she is an artist working in the medium of dance. Dance doesn’t really exist without choreography and if the choreography is compromised in the way it was in InFlight, both by lack of space and by being overshadowed by audio-visual material, the show becomes something else. Perhaps it doesn’t matter? However, I think it does in this case because Lea’s choreography deserves to be seen in a situation that allows it proper range. Whatever were the political needs of performing it at the National Library, it is impossible for me to ignore the fact that Lea did herself, and her four very accomplished dancers, a disservice.

Michelle Potter, 3 June 2013

Featured image: Alison Plevey (foreground) and Liz Lea in a study for InFlight. Photos: © Lorna Sim

Alison Plevery and Liz Lea, 'InFlight'. Photos: Lorna Sim

Postscript: The photocopied handout/program did little to make me feel better about the show. It contained many of the errors that creep in when one does a cut and paste to a document and then doesn’t check and recheck for extraneous words. It was an unprofessional publication.

For more about the background to the show see ‘Come fly with me’.

Dance diary. May 2013

  • Symmetries. The Australian Ballet

Symmetries has come to and gone from Canberra. What a wonderful program it was and people are still talking about it. As a friend said, ‘It had the WOW factor’, and those who missed it are sounding regretful. And I was amused to find Monument alluded to in Ian Warden’s column on the lack of poetry in the Centenary of Canberra celebrations. ‘…the sad fact is we have marked this year almost entirely in prose (with the odd ballet about a building thrown in, of course)’, Warden wrote in The Canberra Times. Such is the instant fame of Monument in Canberra.

Here is the link to a review of Symmetries I wrote for Dance Australia online. Other material, about Monument in particular, is at this link.

  • Heath Ledger Project

The National Film and Sound Archive now has an update to its Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project website. On this site you will find details of those young artists who have been interviewed to date, including extracts from the interviews in some cases. My interviews with Joseph Chapman [now using the name Joe Chapman] and Josie Wardrope have some lovely footage included.

I am currently negotiating interviews with two recent graduates from NAISDA, which I hope will be added to the archive in the next few months.

  • Press for May 2013

In addition to articles and reviews relating to the Symmetries program, other press articles in May include a preview of Liz Lea’s InFlight for The Canberra Times, and also for The Canberra Times  a profile of choreographer Garry Stewart, which unfortunately was published more as another piece about Monument when in fact it also dealt with G and other aspects of Stewart’s work.

Garry Stewart rehearsing 'Monument' 2013. Photo Lynette Wills
Garry Stewart rehearsing Monument, 2013. Photo: © Lynette Wills. Courtesy the Australian Ballet

In addition, some of Australia’s best known contemporary dancers took part in the Dublin Dance Festival in May. The Irish Times published a story about the event in which Jordan Beth Vincent and I had some comments, although it is not available online.

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2013

Dance diary. April 2013

  • ArtSound FM, Canberra: new dance segment

Beginning in May I will be hosting a ten minute monthly dance segment on ArtSound FM, Canberra’s community radio station focusing on the arts. The segment will be part of Dress Circle a program hosted by local arts identity Bill Stephens. Dress Circle is broadcast on Sundays at 5 pm and repeated on Tuesdays at 11 pm and my segment will focus on dance in Canberra and surrounding regions. Michelle Potter … on dancing, as the segment will be called, will be a feature of Dress Circle on the first Sunday of each month.

In the first program, which will go to air on 5 May, I will be talking about the Australian Ballet’s visit to Canberra with their triple bill program Symmetries, which opens on 23 May. Leading up to the program I have been talking Garry Stewart about his new work, Monument, and have been discovering some unusual and amusing stories about George Balanchine’s ballet The Four Temperaments. Monument and The Four Temperaments will be accompanied by the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain in this Canberra-only program.

I will also be sharing some information about Liz Lea’s new work, InFlight, which will premiere at the National Library of Australia on 31 May. InFlight is danced by four female performers who are inspired to become aviatrixes when they see their heros, Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, taking to the air in 1928 and breaking the trans-pacific flight record.

Alison Plevery and Liz Lea, 'InFlight'. Photos: Lorna Sim
Alison Plevey and Liz Lea in costume for InFlight. Photos: © Lorna Sim, 2012

There will be other snippets of news as well, and I hope to have time to look back on some of the dance events I have enjoyed in the previous month.

  • Elizabeth Dalman and Australian Dance Theatre

There was some lovely news earlier this month from Australian Dance Theatre—Elizabeth Dalman has been named patron of ADT for the company’s 50th anniversary year, 2015. Dalman, along with Leslie White (1936‒2009), founded ADT in 1965. White moved on to other things in 1967 and Dalman continued to direct the company until 1975. After a varied career overseas, both before and after the ten years she spent at ADT, Dalman returned to Australia in 1986 and in 1990 founded the Mirramu Creative Arts Centre at Lake George, near Canberra. She continues to direct the Centre and its associated Mirramu Dance Company. Fifty years of ADT will also mark fifteen of Mirramu.*

Elizabeth Dalman in 'From Sapling to Silver', 2011
 Elizabeth Dalman in Sapling to Silver, Mirramu Dance Company. Photo: © Barbie Robinson, 2011

I didn’t post my Canberra Times review of Sapling to Silver when it was performed in Canberra in 2011, so here is a link to the review. [UPDATE August 2020: Online link no longer available]. Here is a link to posts about Elizabeth Dalman.

  • The Fabric of Dance

In April I had the pleasure of presenting an illustrated talk, The fabric of dance, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in conjunction with the Gallery’s exhibition Ballet and Fashion.  In this talk I looked at how the tutu had developed over three centuries or so, and in particular at how its development had been influenced by changes in fashion and by new materials and fabrics that had become available. But, in putting the talk together, I found I was quite unexpectedly wanting to suggest a link between one of the costumes on show in the exhibition and Louis XIV in his famous role as Apollo in Les Ballets de la nuit of 1653, which I did. I am hoping to post the text of the talk, and the accompanying PowerPoint slides, on this site in due course.

One of the images I showed during the talk was of Paris Opera Ballet dancer Carlotta Zambelli, which I was only able to show as a black and white scan from an article first published in the Australian dance journal Brolga in 2005. My postcard of Zambelli was in colour but it disappeared as a result of being lent when that issue of Brolga was being prepared for publication. I despaired of ever seeing it again but it was returned to me a week or so after the Melbourne talk. So for anyone who was at the talk, below on the right is the image in colour, alongside another (also returned to me at the same time in the same circumstances) of Zambelli with an unknown partner in La ronde des saisons in 1906.

  • The Rite of Spring: Stephen Malinowski’s animated graphical score

I found what I think is an excellent review of Stephen Malinowski’s animated graphical score of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I mentioned this score in a previous post without making much comment myself although what the animated score did instantaneously for me was bring me to a realisation of why I disliked Raimund Hoghe’s Sacre so much. Hoghe completely ignored the fact that the music has so much colour, drive and rhythm. The colour, drive and rhythm of the music is perfectly obvious when listening to the music of course, but seeing the animated score absolutely drives it home and opens up a new view of the intensity of the music. Here is the link to the review.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2013

* Dalman has always been a strong voice in the dance world and she argued against a name change to Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre when Meryl Tankard became director of ADT in 1993. A brief account of that interlude appears in my recent publication Meryl Tankard: an original voice (2012). In a letter to Dance Australia Dalman argued that the company should not carry Tankard’s name as it was important to ‘maintain continuity and … respect for the historical background of the company’.

Tammi Gissell, launch program, AIATSIS 2013

Centenary of Canberra. Indigenous Program Launch

The Centenary of Canberra Indigenous Cultural Program was officially launched today by Aunty Agnes O’Shea, an elder of the Ngunnawal people and local ACT identity, and Sir William Deane, patron of the Centenary of Canberra and former Governor-General. Following a welcome to country and assorted speeches, Tammi Gissell performed an excerpt from Liz Lea’s new work-in-progress Magnificus, magnificus in an outdoor setting beside the AIATSIS building on Acton Peninsula.

Magnificus, magnificus, a solo work for Gissell performed (at least on the occasion of the launch) to the accompaniment of didgeridoo and violin, builds on explorations into the habits of the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo undertaken by Lea while choreographer-in-residence at the CSIRO Discovery Centre. Both Lea and Gissell have just recently returned from Bourke, New South Wales, where they engaged in ‘back to country’ activities. Their experiences will feed into the development of Magnificus, magnificus, which will have its full-scale production in October as part of the Centenary celebrations. Of that journey home Gissell wrote (in part):

Biloela
Magnificus Magnificus
the Grandmother
and Grandfather
North-River Bourke mob
two Darlings flowing in me
still.
Black
still dusty
and still hot
— © Tammi Gissell

Prior to the launch event I noticed Gissell going through the choreography before the performance. And what a setting she chose for her mini rehearsal—the huge, red, curling, concrete ramp that is the physical end of the National Museum of Australia’s ‘Uluru-axis’. The line it takes, which begins at the entrance to the Museum and follows a pathway past the AIATSIS building, appears to end with the curling ramp but in fact continues, in a conceptual sense, north-west to Uluru.

With thanks to Tammi Gissell.

Michelle Potter, 5 February 2013

Featured image: Tammi Gissell, launch program, AIATSIS 2013. Photo:© Michelle Potter

Tammi Gissell, launch program, AIATSIS 2013

Liz Lea. More Canberra dance in 2013

When I first wrote about what Canberra dance audiences are likely to see in 2013 there was no mention of what Liz Lea, current artistic director of Canberra Dance Theatre, would be presenting over that year. Well, not surprisingly, Lea has a number of shows in development for 2013.

Over the past several months, Lea has been choreographer-in-residence at CSIRO Discovery in Canberra where she is researching bird flight, feathers and behaviour, and examining how the paths of history might inform current dance practice. Many of her plans for 2013 will build on the research and work-in-progress activities she has engaged in as part of the residency. A major venture is Seeking Biloela, which Lea will direct at the Street Theatre, Canberra, on 26 and 27 October. The show will consist of two solo works, ‘Magnificus, magnificus’ and ‘Kaught’.

‘Magnificus, magnificus’, performed by Tammi Gissell and directed by Lea, develops the work-in-progress that Lea showed at CSIRO Discovery during Science Week in August 2012 and in which Gissell made such an impression.

Tammi Gissell in rehearsal for the work-in-progress, Seeking Biloela, August 2012. Photos: © Lorna Sim

In its expanded form the work is inspired by the red-tailed black cockatoo, as indeed the work-in-progress was as well,  and the developed work will, as Lea puts it, ‘explore the nature of being a performer, where we come from and how we go forward’.

‘Kaught’, created and performed by Lea, is inspired by the writings of the freedom fighter Ahmed Kathrada, who was imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela for 26 years. In particular, ‘Kaught’ focuses on Kathrada’s favourite Hindi song about a trapped bird. In addition to Lea, ‘Kaught’ will feature the ARIA Award winning tabla player Bobby Singh, along with composer and saxophonist Sandy Evans.

The creative team for Seeking Biloela 2013 also includes lighting designer Karen Norris, whose work for Bangarra Dance Theatre’s recent production, Terrain, was so impressive, and Japanese-Australian fibre installation artist, Naomi Ota.

Also during 2013 Lea will direct a company of four dancers to present InFlight, a work inspired by early Australian aviators and Australian bird life. This show has a two day season on 31 May and 1 June at the National Library of Australia. Other projects include a series of dance and science lectures at CSIRO Discovery in February; DANscienCE—a festival of dance and science at CSIRO Discovery and Canberra Dance Theatre studios for National Science Week in August; and a project in June at the National Gallery of Australia as part of Canberra’s Centenary celebrations.

More as information comes to hand but bouquets to Lea for her input into the Canberra dance scene. A bit of alternative dance life is definitely something the city needs.

Michelle Potter, 27 December 2012

Seeking Biloela. Liz Lea

Dance and science came together in Canberra recently at a CSIRO Discovery Centre open day. Liz Lea, working with dancer Tammi Gissell, showed Seeking Biloela, a work in progress based on research into the red-tailed black cockatoo, which Lea has been undertaking while choreographer-in-residence at the Discovery Centre.

Tammi Gissell in rehearsal for Seeking Biloela, 2012. Photo: © Lorna Sim

‘Biloela’ is an aboriginal word (exact language not specified) for black cockatoo and Lea’s work at the moment is truly a ‘seeking’ for the way her work will ultimately develop. Will it focus on ecological issues (some sub-species of the black cockatoo are endangered); indigenous stories (the bird is believed in some areas to be a harbinger of rain); white colonial activities (the nineteenth-century name for Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour was Biloela); the bird’s qualities as expressed in poetry about it; or something else?

Gissell, a descendant of the Muruwari nation of north-western New South Wales, is an exceptional dancer. Every part of her beautifully-honed body is expressive and she is extraordinarily flexible in moving between vocabularies. She was equally at home demonstrating and discussing indigenous movement language as she was using Lea’s particular brand of contemporary Western choreography with its occasional allusions to Indian dance. Gissell also provided some insights into the transmission of indigenous knowledge as she discussed stories about the black cockatoo as told to her by her grandmother.

Tammi Gissell in rehearsal for Seeking Biloela, 2012. Photo: © Lorna Sim

At CSIRO Lea is working with former CSIRO chief research scientist Dr Denis Saunders and researchers from CSIRO’s Sustainable Ecosystems area. Her residency with CSIRO came about as a result of a children’s show she created in 2011 about the science of flight, which was shown at Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, during National Science Week.

Michelle Potter, 13 August 2012

Featured image: Tammi Gissell in rehearsal for Seeking Biloela, 2012. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. May 2012

  • Heath Ledger Project

In May, on a very grey Parisian morning, I continued my interviewing for the Heath Ledger Young Artists Oral History Project with an interview with Hannah O’Neill. O’Neill is currently dancing on a seasonal contract with the Paris Opera Ballet, having dreamt of dancing with this company since she was a young child.

Hannah O’Neill at the Pont neuf, Paris, May 2012

O’Neill graduated from the Australian Ballet School in 2011 and in that year she also auditioned for the Paris Opera Ballet. She was placed fourth in a field of over 100 and as a result of the audition received a seasonal contract. Confident and articulate and looking every inch the dancer, she is taking Paris in her stride. She has recently had her contract extended until the end of July when she will have to audition again for a place in the company. In the meantime she is looking forward to a forthcoming season of La Fille mal gardée.

  • Meryl Tankard at the Cannes Film Festival

Over the past few years Meryl Tankard has been focusing her considerable talents on film making. She graduated from the directing course at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in 2010. It is a testament to her success in this endeavour that a short film she made called Moth was shown in May at the Cannes Film Festival. A glance at the program for the non-competitive Australian and New Zealand section of the Festival, Antipodes, puts her in exceptional company.

Tankard’s website has the following to say about Moth:

Moth is the story of three young women’s determination to be free, and is inspired by the stories from many reform schools in Australia in the 60s and 70s, and the brutal methods used to discipline the girls.

  • Pablo Picasso’s curtain for Parade

It was a surprise to discover hanging in the still quite new Pompidou Centre in the north-eastern French city of Metz the curtain from the 1917 Ballets Russes production of Parade. Conceived for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes by Jean Cocteau and first performed in Paris in May 1917, Parade had choreography by Léonide Massine, music by Erik Satie and costumes and settings by Pablo Picasso. The curtain is hanging in an exhibition entitled 1917, which has drawn together an array of visually disparate items, including some associated with war as well as with art in many of its manifestations. 1917 sets out to question the links between destruction, reconstruction and creation in a decisive year of World War I.

Curtain for Parade (detail). Photo: Michelle Potter

The exhibition carries some additional items relating to Parade, including a program and some interesting photographs of the 1917 cast. But it was, of course, the curtain that attracted my attention. Although it is of monumental proportions, it is quite an intimate, even gentle piece of art. Its colours are soft and blend easily with each other and the picture is built on exceptionally complex, allegorical imagery. In gives no clue to the strident characteristics of the performance and the antics of the dancers in Parade whose role is to attract an audience into the circus tent, which we see before us on the curtain.

I was in the fortunate position of being able to see a performance of Parade in 2005 when it was staged by the Ballet of Bordeaux at the Diaghilev Festival held in Groningen, the Netherlands. The article I wrote for The Canberra Times about the Festival was also published online by the magazine of the ballet.co site. Here is what I wrote about Parade:

Leonide Massine’s Parade was one of the most anticipated works of the festival and it did not disappoint as a significant collaborative work of the period. With designs by Pablo Picasso, libretto by Cocteau and music by Erik Satie, which incorporated the assorted sounds of a siren and a typewriter and several pistol shots, Parade was created in response to the well-documented demand from Diaghilev to Cocteau—’Astonish me!’ It was also inspired by the Cubist movement in the visual arts and brought Cubism off the canvas and into the theatre. Set outside a travelling theatre with the slight narrative centring on the attempts of the characters to entice an audience into the show, the work premiered in 1917 in Paris and was recreated by the Joffrey Ballet in the 1970s. In Groningen it was performed by the Ballet de Bordeaux and, while it will perhaps always remain slightly eccentric, its apparently simplistic and unadorned choreography is a perfect foil for its idiosyncratic designs and music.U

  • Canberra dance

I was not in Canberra in May when Liz Lea presented her latest staging of 120 Birds. It also had a brief showing in Sydney at Riverside, Parramatta, after the Canberra season. Lea has a site that gathers together reviews of 120 Birds, including those for the 2012 Canberra/Sydney staging. In addition, here is a link to a preview piece I wrote for the one-woman version of 120 Birds, made for the National Gallery of Australia early in 2011 in conjunction with its exhibition Ballets russes: the art of costume.

  • New York Public Library

Over the past two months I have been following with considerable interest the upheavals at the New York Public Library, which have been reported upon in The New York Times and other outlets. The most comprehensive background account of the situation is ‘Lions in winter’ by journalist Charles Petersen and appears in n+1 at this link.

Many have wondered why I left New York in 2008 after eighteen months as curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, given that it appeared to be the job of a lifetime for me. Well the issues that led to my resignation are complex (and it was not to get married as one report suggested!), but the majority can be grouped under questions of professionalism and accountability (or lack thereof in my opinion) in certain areas of the Library. In addition, I was dismayed by attitudes to curatorial autonomy, which in most cases did not fit with mine. It should, therefore, be fairly obvious where my opinions lie with regard to the present discussions.

Whether the Dance Division, and other research divisions at Lincoln Center, will be affected in the short or long term by the new plans reported upon by Petersen and others is not clear. However, I believe that the Dance Division is now but shadow of its former self and has been heading this way for some time.

Michelle Potter, 30 May 2012