In a flash. Australian Dance Party

18 February 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Have you ever wondered what happens inside (and outside) a film studio? Well Australian Dance Party’s latest show, In a flash, gives a clue. Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, In a flash was made in response to Starstruck, a Gallery exhibition of portraits of Australian film personalities.

Party Leader Alison Plevey assembled four dancers—Adam Deusien, Gabriela Green, Leeke Griffin and Alanna Stenning—to join her for a 25 minute, fast-moving and cleverly thought through piece. The five dancers were joined by photographer Lorna Sim and graphic artist Anna Trundle who, between them, shot and edited live a series of photographs, which were displayed as they were edited on a screen in the performing space.

The piece began in glamorous style, more or less—thongs were the order of the day in the footwear area. The five dancers began outside Gordon Darling Hall and made their way, after peering through the glass panels, inside. Once inside, their dancing was slick and paid homage, music-wise at least, to Strictly Ballroom. Sometimes the early parts of the show had an air of being full-on, over the top Hollywood style. Lots of smiling, lots of make-up, lots of presenting oneself.

Opening number from In a flash. Australian Dance Party 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim edited by Anna Trundle
Early number from In a flash. Australian Dance Party, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle

But the glamour quickly gave way to more down to earth matters—behind the scene processes such as preparatory work, working up a curriculum vitae and the like. And costuming became more down to earth too when the glamorous outfits were discarded for rehearsal clothing or regular dance gear.

Adam Deusien, Gabriela Green, Lekke Griffin, Alison Plevey and Alanna Stenning in a scene from In a flash. Photo: Lorna Sim edited by Anna Trundle
(left to right) Adam Deusien, Gabriela Green, Leeke Griffin, Alison Plevey, and Alanna Stenning in a scene from In a flash. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle

There was some strong dancing too in the form of solos, duets and company pieces. I especially enjoyed a sequence featuring the tall and statuesque Griffin, who danced with a white sheet of fabric (representing a towel?), tossing it, wrapping it around herself, and using it various other ways. Sometimes when she posed, legs together, body lifted tall and slightly arched back, head held high, she reminded me of swimmer and film star Esther Williams or, more appropriately in the circumstances, the Australian swimmer and also a star performer, Annette Kellerman.

As these performances (perhaps they should be called ‘takes’) were proceeding, Lorna Sim was taking photos, with her apparatus linked to a computer. Occasionally the shots from performance were beautifully edited into portrait-style images. Very appropriate given that we were in the National Portrait Gallery.

Portrait of Leeke Griffin. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle
Portrait of Leeke Griffin. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle

It was only at the end, however, when Sim faced us and said ‘thank you’ that I realised how cleverly put together In a flash had been. Alison Plevey thinks outside the box. She puts together shows that attract attention instantly, but in the end they go beyond that instant gratification. Demanding they are, but that’s what the best dance is like. I came away pondering about whether I was meant to be sitting in the Portrait Gallery, or in a film/television studio with Lorna Sim as the link with the audience.

Michelle Potter, 20 February 2018

Featured image: Opening scene, In a flash, Australian Dance Party, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim, edited by Anna Trundle

Note: For various reasons, this is the first National Portrait Gallery dance commission that I have attended without seeing first the exhibition that was the inspiration for the show. This of course has it drawbacks. But by the same token, it means I came to the show without prejudices. Take it as it is written.

Lorna Sim. Photographer

Lorna Sim is well-known in Canberra arts circles for her exceptional dance photography, and for her generosity in allowing her work to be used freely and frequently by journalists and others writing about dance. An exhibition of Sim’s work, entitled Enigma, specifically relating to a collaborative project she worked on with dancer Eliza Sanders, opens on 19 May 2017. The venue is Canberra’s Photography Room, Old Bus Depot Markets, and the show runs Sundays only until 25 June.

What I love about Sim’s work is her ability to capture the moment with all the movement and intensity of purpose that is inherent in dance, and this in fact was the focus of the collaboration with Sanders. Of working with Sanders on this occasion, Sim says: ‘The excitement is the anticipation of what’s she’s going to do as her body moves and capturing that in a still frame.’ The images in the exhibition capture that movement not just in the body but also in the flow of fabric. In the featured image above I especially love, in addition to the flow of movement, the way Sim has captured the emotion in Sanders’ face. Two other startling images from the exhibition are below:

I have been using Sim’s photographs on this site since she first began working in Canberra with QL2 in 2009, and a little later with other artists who were creating their work in the national capital. Below is a small gallery of Sim’s images that have appeared on this site between 2010 and 2017.

Left to right: (top row) Padma Menon; Dean Cross in Walking and Falling; Gabriel Comerford, Eliza Sanders and Dean Cross in Other Moments; (middle row) dancers of QL2 and the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland; Amelia McQueen in Strange Attractor; dancer from QL2 in Night. Stir; (bottom row) Tammi Gissell in Seeking Biloela; scene from Strings Attached; James Batchelor and Amber McCartney in Island.

And below, Sanders in a different guise.

Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders in 'Other moments'. QL2, 2016. Photo: Lorna Sim
Eliza Sanders in Other Moments at the National Portrait Gallery, 2016.

Other photographers whose work is on show alongside that of Sim at the Photography Room are Maurice Weidemann and Dörte Conroy. Canberra’s dance community may remember Weidemann who photographed the National Capital Dancers at various times. Some of his dance photographs are part of the National Library’s dance collection, two of which are reproduced at the end of this post.

Michelle Potter, 18 May 2017

Featured image (below in full):  Eliza Sanders. Photo by Lorna Sim from the exhibition Enigma, 2017

All photographs above © Lorna Sim.

Photographs below © Maurice Weidemann, part of the Janet Karin Collection at the National Library of Australia.

Dance diary. June 2015

  • Mirramu Dance Company

The dancers of Elizabeth Dalman’s Mirramu Dance Company are currently in residence at Mirramu Creative Arts Centre, on the shores of Lake George, Bungendore, rehearsing for L. The current Mirramu company consists of Dalman herself, Vivienne Rogis, who co-founded the company with Dalman, Miranda Wheen, Janine Proost, Amanda Tutalo, Mark Lavery and the newest recruit, Hans David Ahwang, a recent graduate from NAISDA.

(l–r) Hans David Ahwang, Amanda Tutalo, Vivienne Rogis, Miranda Wheen, Mark Lavery, Janine Proost, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: © Barbie Robinson, 2015

L is the story of a vibrant life, that of Elizabeth Dalman. It began as Sapling to Silver in 2011 and in that form won a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award. Dalman is reworking it and tightening the production, and she has renamed it L for its upcoming performances in Queanbeyan and at a gala event in Adelaide in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Australian Dance Theatre. L is the roman numeral for 50 and also the first letter of Liz, the name by which Dalman was known as founding director of ADT. While L is autobiographical, Dalman sees it as an Everyman story, the story of every dancer and every artist facing the pleasures and the difficulties of a creative life. It is also the story of every human being facing the ageing process and pondering how to communicate knowledge to a younger generation. As such it seems a perfect way to celebrate 50 years of ADT as well as the contribution Dalman has made across those 50 years.

L is at the Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, on 15 July; and at the Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide, on 18 July.

  • Hans David Ahwang

Meet the newest member of Mirramu Dance Company.

Hans David Ahwang. Photo: Barbie Robinson 2015
Hans David Ahwang. Photo: © Barbie Robinson, 2015

Ahwang is a Torres Strait Islander from St Paul’s Community of Moa Island. He graduated from NAISDA in 2014 with a Diploma of Careers in Dance Performance. As well as performing with a range of companies during his time at NAISDA, Ahwang was a model at the first Indigenous Fashion Week in April 2014. I look forward to his performances in L, and to following his dance career.

  • Strange attractor: the space in the middle

Now in its third year, Strange attractor, a Canberra-based initiative, brings together several independent choreographers, and a range of other contributors, in a choreographic lab where the choreographers have freedom to explore a particular project. This years lab was facilitated by Margie Medlin and choreographers were Alison Plevey, Amelia McQueen, Janine Proost, Laura Boynes and Olivia Fyfe. I can’t say I really understood what was behind every project and I have always disliked program notes that refer to concepts that are beyond the ken of many in the audience. Nevertheless, there was some interesting dancing and some quite stunning dance photography by Lorna Sim.

Amelia McQueen in her 'Strange Attractor' project #2. Photo: Lorna Sim, 2015
Amelia McQueen in her Strange Attractor project #2. Photo: © Lorna Sim, 2015

Although I can’t say Amelia McQueen’s first project, which was an audio piece, thrilled me much, I enjoyed her dancing in her second project, in which she re-enacted a duet between dancer and guitarist. I was also fascinated by Alison Plevey’s work with its ‘strange attractions’ of dancers hidden in black costumes but sporting some kind of lighting tube on their costumes.

Strange attractor is an important project. Choreographers need the space to experiment without fear of criticism before their projects are fully formed. But to the organisers, please remember the (future) audience. Dance will only survive if an audience will come and see what has been created. It doesn’t have to be simplistic, but it can’t be abstruse.

  • Kathrine Sorley Walker

I learnt just recently of the death in April of Kathrine Sorley Walker at the grand age of 95. Australian dance historians (and others) must be eternally grateful to her for bringing the Ballets Russes Australian tours to the fore in her book De Basil’s Ballets Russes, first published in 1982. Her chapter on Australia certainly informed my work on those momentous tours, including my initial foray into that time for my undergraduate honours thesis in the Department of Art History at the ANU.

Her other contribution to Australian dance history is her work on Robert Helpmann, which appeared in book form and in a series of articles in Dance Chronicle. I have always felt she saw Helpmann through rose-tinted glasses but, as with her Ballets Russes work, it provides a great starting point for further research.

An obituary published by London’s Telegraph is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2015