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

BOLD II. 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Didik Hadiprayitno

Indonesian cross-dresser Didik Hadiprayitno. Photographer not identified

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

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

Still from 'En route'. Courtesy Sue Heale

Still from En route. Courtesy Sue Healey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Potter, 28 March 2019

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr' Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

Gudirr, Gudirr. Dalisa Pigram

30 September 2017, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

Gudirr, Gudirr is a solo show, a dance format that we don’t see all that often. A solo show needs a strong performer for a start—someone who single-handedly can hold the audience’s attention for an hour or so. Dalisa Pigram did exactly that in Gudirr, Gudirr. But just as importantly, a solo show needs a powerful idea behind it, and a coherent structure in which the idea can develop. Gudirr, Gudirr had both the message and the structure.

Gudirr, Gudirr is a production by the Broome-based company Marrugeku, of which Pigram is co-artistic director along with Rachael Swain. The focus of the work is a small bird, called Guwayi in the Yawuru language of the Broome area, and using the bird as a pivot for her work was suggested to Pigram by a relative, traditional lawman and cultural adviser to Marrugeku, Senator Patrick Dodson. Senator Dodson is Pigram’s great uncle—her mother’s mother’s brother in the Yawuru kinship system. He explains:

The Guwayi bird flies very low across the intertidal area to warn people out on the reef that the tide is coming in. It warns people that it is time to move because the tide brings danger. It is a warning to take heed of, and not to ignore the signs. The Guwayi bird does not tell lies. I told this story to Dalisa because the story of the Guwayi bird can be used to reflect on the social challenges that Indigenous people face today. The warning sign from the Guwayi bird can go one of two ways. We are either going to drown because we are not reading the signs of our disempowerment, or we will hear the warnings and we will take steps.

Pigram believes strongly that the young people of the Broome community must read the signs and take those steps.

The work begins with words scrolling down a screen at the back of the performing space. The words were written by A. O Neville, so-called ‘Chief Protector of Aborigines’ in Western Australia from 1915 for several decades after that. The words are nothing short of confronting with their reference to ‘quadroons’ and ‘h/c’ people. But, while I was expecting the show to continue to be confronting, ultimately it was moving, powerful and totally absorbing.

In a series of disparate scenes, some accompanied by projections of the faces of people from Broome, or footage of young people engaged in a bit of a street fight, Pigram worked through her frustrations at the difficulties she believes Indigenous people face. These scenes, including the section in which pretty much every word Pigram spoke started with ‘f’, were sometimes hilarious. How quickly can the meaning and impact of a word be changed when used over and over? Great theatre!

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr'. Photo

Dalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Terry Murphy and Helen Fletcher-Kennedy

Choreographically, Pigram drew upon the variety of dance styles that have been part of her cultural heritage. In the opening moments her movement derived from silat, a Malaysian form of martial arts that Pigram learnt from a relative. At other times, Pigram’s Indigenous heritage was clear in movements that were quite grounded and recalled women’s dances where the body is bent slightly forward and the feet move with slow, tightly held walking steps.

But for me the most interesting sections were those when Pigram made use of the suspended fishing net that was part of the set/props. She has spoken of it having multiple functions, from entangling her to giving her freedom. She used it early in the piece in a joyous manner when she swung backwards and forwards and recalled with pleasure the times she spent out on the water fishing with her father. But at other times she looked as though she was indeed tangled in it, trying to escape.

I loved this show. So many emotions were expressed and felt and, while the difficult moments, such as those when Pigram dwelt on youth suicide, were indeed confronting, I felt that the anger was mine not Pigram’s. She was bent of presenting herself as a woman of mixed heritage making an effort to understand and deal with the situation in which she found herself. That we could all have the courage to confront the issues that confound us!

Michelle Potter, 4 October 2017

Featured image: Dalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr' Photo: © Heidrun Lohr

Amy Harris and Adam Bull in 'The Merry Widow'. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridle

Dance diary. September 2017

  • The Australian Ballet in 2018

Details of the Australian Ballet’s 2018 season were revealed in September and this year Canberra audiences can anticipate a program from the national company. The Merry Widow, which David McAllister has called ‘a fantastically well-constructed soufflé’, was created for the Australian Ballet in 1975 as the first full-length production commissioned by the company. It will open at the Canberra Theatre Centre on 25 May and run until 30 May. Based on the operetta of the same name, it has choreography by Ronald Hynd, a scenario by Robert Helpmann (in 1975 artistic director of the Australian Ballet), and music by Franz Lehar. It will also have seasons in Sydney and Melbourne.

But beyond soufflés, and for those who like their ballet to have more intellectual input, an interesting program is scheduled for Melbourne and Sydney. Called Murphy, it honours the contribution Graeme Murphy has made to the Australian Ballet, which he joined from the Australian Ballet School in 1968. Programming is not yet complete, apparently, but we know that the main item on the program will be the return of Murphy’s Firebird, which he created for the Australian Ballet in 2009.

Lana Jones in Graeme Murphy's 'Firebird'. The Australian Ballet, 2009. Photo: © Alex MakeyevLana Jones in Graeme Murphy’s Firebird. The Australian Ballet, 2009. Photo: © Alex Makeyev

Here is a quote from Murphy from a story I wrote for The Weekend Australian in February 2009:

I want to give the audience the magic that they believe Firebird is. It will be a rich and opulent experience for them. Besides, the score is completely dictative of the narrative, which makes it hard to stray from the story. Firebird is imbued with Diaghilev’s thumbprint.
I am keeping all the elements of the work, the symbols of good and evil for example, but I will be focusing in a slightly different way. It will be a little like the world of winter opening up to let in the spring.

As for the rest of the season: Maina Gielgud’s production of Giselle will return for a season in Melbourne, while Sydney will have a return season of Alexei Ratmansky’s wonderful Cinderella; there is a new production of Spartacus in the pipeline, which will be seen in Melbourne and Sydney; Melbourne will have an exclusive season of a triple bill called Verve with works by Stephen Baynes, Tim Harbour and Alice Topp; and Adelaide will see The Sleeping Beauty.

For dates and further information see the Australian Ballet’s website at this link.

  • Jennifer Irwin. Frocks, Tales and Tea

Jennifer Irwin, costume designer par excellence and recipient of the 2017 Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance, will be the special guest at an event hosted by ‘UsefulBox’ on 14 October at the Boronia tea rooms in the Sydney suburb of Mosman. Irwin will talk about her creative process and what inspired her as an artist. Further information at this link.

  • Andrée Grau (1954–2017)

The death has occurred, unexpectedly in France, of Andrée Grau, well-known dance anthropologist, and long-standing staff member of the University of Roehampton. Grau’s achievements, which include work in Australia, appear on the Roehampton website at this link.

  • Press for September 2017

‘Great flair shown in austere setting.’ Review of Circa’s Landscape with monsters. The Canberra Times, 8 September 2017, p. 31. Online version.

Seppe Van Looveren and Timothy Fyffe in 'Landscape With Monsters', 2017. Photo: © Vishal PandeySeppe Van Looveren and Timothy Fyffe in Landscape With Monsters, 2017. Photo: © Vishal Pandey

‘Untangling the truth.’ Preview of Gudirr, Gudirr, Dalisa Pigram and Marrugeku. The Canberra Times, 16 September 2017, Panorama p. 16. Online version.

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr'. Photo Simon SchluterDalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Simon Schluter

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2017

Featured image: Amy Harris and Adam Bull in The Merry Widow. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridler.

Amy Harris and Adam Bull in 'The Merry Widow'. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridle

Ecocentrix. Indigenous Arts, Sustainable Acts

5 November 2013, Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank, London

Bargehouse is a four-storey warehouse named as it is because, apparently, it used to store the royal barge of James 1. Now it is a an exhibition site and between 25 October and 10 November the home of Ecocentrix, an exhibition focusing on indigeneity in the present day. ‘Performance and provocation in our times’ is its subtitle. (Why the building also has signs identifying each of the muses on one of its exterior walls escapes me for the moment).
Terpsichore, the muse of dancing
I became aware of the exhibition because it was mentioned in Bangarra Dance Theatre’s newsletter for October, which noted that Jacob Nash, resident designer with Bangarra, had recently returned from London where he had an installation in place at the Bargehouse. And indeed Nash’s installation was the highlight of the show. Up on the fourth floor (no lift, narrow staircase) and in a darkened space, a triangular curtain of white feathers hung from the ceiling. The point of this feathered triangle brushed a kind of dance space, a circle outlined with sticks and feathers, on the floor below the hanging. Onto the hanging, film of a dancer performing Stephen Page’s 2011 work Brolga was being projected.

I am sorry that my point and click camera, not to mention my lack of expertise as a photographer in such conditions, was not able to achieve a record of this installation because it was elegant and quite magical with the image of the dancer blurring into the feathers. (See update below)

But Nash and Bangarra weren’t the only Australians represented in the exhibition. On display were several costumes from works by the Broome-based physical theatre company, Marrugeku, whose work often includes stilt-work and aerial choreography. Below are two sea eagle costumes designed by Alice Lau for Buru, Marrugeku’s 2011 work for children.
Marrugeku figure

To complete the Australian representation, a film by Fiona Foley was being screened in another room of the building. With the title Vexed it was made in 2013 and focused on the breakdown of traditional kinship structures as the result of what is referred to as the theft of Aboriginal women by white men at a certain stage in the history of Aboriginal/white relations in Australia. Unlike the Nash installation and the Marrugeku costumes, Foley’s film was strongly political and was accompanied by a text taken from Germaine Greer’s controversial essay On rage. In filmic terms Vexed was distinguished by a technique of overlaying footage upon footage to create trance-like sequences, which on the one hand were in contrast to the power of the message and on the other set up a surreal quality that strengthened the message.

What a pleasure it was to see Australian artists represented in such an influential way in this show.

Michelle Potter, 5 November 2013

Update 7 November 2013:
I was delighted to be contacted by a member of the Ecocentrix team with an image of the Jacob Nash installation. It is a more than difficult situation in which to photograph and the installation itself is a constantly changing one adding further difficulties, but the image below gives an idea of the mystery and magic of Nash’s work.
Jacob Nash installation, Ecocentrix 2013
With thanks to Helen Gilbert.