Dance diary. May 2024

  • Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship

Given the publication of my book, Kristian Fredrikson. Designer by Melbourne Books in 2020, I am always interested in the winners of the biennial award of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship. My book would never have been published without the generous donations I received via the Australian Cultural Fund, and from royalties owing to Fredrikson during the year I was struggling to assist financially with the book’s publication. The committee that administers the scholarship was hugely supportive throughout all aspects of the book’s production.

The 2024 winner of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship is Charles Davis who graduated from NIDA in 2014, and who has also studied architectural design at Monash University. He has designed for Sydney Theatre Company, West Australian Opera, Opera Queensland, Pinchgut Opera and other theatrical groups. As far as his input into dance productions goes, Davis was set designer for the Australian Ballet’s recent production of Stephanie Lake’s Circle Electric. Incidentally, another recipient of an earlier Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship, Paula Levis, designed the costumes for that same production.

  • Frank van Straten (1936–2024)

This is a somewhat belated comment on the death of Frank van Straten, who died in Melbourne in April 2024. Van Straten was an amazing historian of the theatre across a range of genres and was the first archivist at Melbourne’s Performing Arts Museum (now the Australian Performing Arts Collection). I remember him particularly for his hugely valuable contribution to Graeme Murphy’s Tivoli, a joint production between the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company, which premiered in 2001 to commemorate Australia’s Centenary of Federation. Van Straten acted as historical consultant for the work, which honoured and celebrated the Tivoli circuit and the remarkable nature of its repertoire. His input helped make Tivoli an exceptional ‘dance musical’.

Cover image for Tivoli national tour 2001

Van Straten’s knowledge of theatrical history in Australia was vast and I recall a post on this website in which, in a comment, he helped with identifying a particular Sydney-based teacher working in the 1930s named Richard White. His books on Australian performing arts history, too, have often given me information that I had struggled to find elsewhere. He was a truly generous person.

I can’t call this comment an obituary, but for what I would call an obituary see the article in Stage Whispers. Listen, too, to van Straten discuss the nature of Tivoli performances as recorded by Philippe Charluet on film at this link. Oral historian Bill Stephens has also recorded an interview with van Straten for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. It currently requires written permission for access, but that may change in the near future following van Straten’s death. Here is the current catalogue link.

  • Backstage notes

Jennifer Shennan drew my attention to a recent article in The Guardian called Wings, Wigs and Wonder. It takes the reader backstage during a performance by Birmingham Royal Ballet and is called a ‘photo essay’. It has some interesting backstage images included within the text, which was written by Katie Edwards. Read at this link.

  • Recent Reading

In my dance diary for April 2024 I wrote about Deborah Jowitt’s recent publication Errand into the Maze. The Life and Works of Martha Graham, which to my mind was not always the easiest of reads, despite Jowitt’s extensive research and very strong dance background. As fate would have it, however, while mulling over Jowitt’s publication I came across an interesting article by Marina Harss, whose work I much admire, called On Point: Martha Graham’s Perfect Partnership with Isamu Noguchi. It’s available (at least for the moment) at this link.

Currently I am reading another of the books I bought at the recent Canberra Lifeline Book Fair—Isadora. A sensational life by Peter Kurth (Paperback edition, 2003). In an early page entitled ‘Press for Isadora‘, one comment is, ‘There is never a dull moment in Peter Kurth’s action-packed biography…’. True! Much of what is mentioned does not appear in other books about Isadora, or not nearly to the same extent. Nevertheless, with its different focus it provides another perspective on her life, perhaps with the word ‘sensational’, which appears in the book’s subtitle, emerging as characterising that different focus. Dance is probably not the major focus!

  • Press for May 2024

‘Dancers perform strong farewell to Ruth Osborne.’ Canberra City News, 17 May 2024. Online at this link

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2024

Featured image: Cameron Holmes and Maxim Zenin in Circle Electric. The Australian Ballet, 2024. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Dance diary. April 2024

This month’s dance diary is distinguished by two appointments to major dance organisations—the Australian Ballet School and the Royal Academy of Dance—and one major move by a dancer from Queensland to Switzerland.

  • Megan Connelly appointed as director of the Australian Ballet School

Megan Connelly has been announced as the next artistic director and head of school at the Australian Ballet School. She takes over from Lisa Pavane, who will retire shortly. Connelly will begin her role at the end of May 2024 and will initially work alongside Pavane so that a smooth transfer can occur.

The Australian Ballet School announcement reads in part:

The Artistic Director & Head of School is a strategic and creative leadership role responsible for artistic and educational excellence and student wellbeing. This key role requires deep experience within the art form, an understanding of ballet trends, strong national and international networks and expertise in elite ballet instruction and performance.

Connelly’s career to date has been extraordinarily diverse and her qualifications and experience, as set out in the media release from the Australian Ballet School, suggest she is the ideal person to take on the role.

  • Alexander Campbell appointed to lead RAD

Sydney-born Alexander Campbell, who received his early dance training at Academy Ballet in his home town, and who then went on to dance with Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet, has been appointed to lead the Royal Academy of Dance in London. He succeeds Gerard Charles who retired in 2023. Campbell began his tenure this month, April 2024.

Read more from the Royal Academy at this link.

  • Joel Woellner to join Ballet Zürich

Joel Woellner, principal dancer with Queensland Ballet since June 2021, has accepted a contract with Ballet Zürich, which is currently directed by Cathy Marston. He will start with his new company in August 2024 and will give his last performance with Queensland Ballet in Greg Horsman’s Coppélia in June. In a contribution to the just-released media statement Woellner comments, ‘It’s with mixed emotions I make this career change, but I look forward to the new challenges. This is not goodbye, but rather see you again soon.’

Portrait of Joel Woellner. Photo: © David Kelly

Woellner’s work with Queensland Ballet has always been eminently watchable. I especially enjoyed his recent performance as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But there are lots of other roles where he has shone. See this tag for my comments on Woellner’s work over several years.

  • International Dance Day 2024. The Message

Marianela Nuñez, principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, delivered this year’s message for International Dance Day. See this link for the English version of the short message and this tag for comments about Nuñez on this website.

  • Recent Reading

The latest dance book I have read has been Deborah Jowitt’s biography of Martha Graham—Errand into the Maze. The Life and Works of Martha Graham, published early in 2024. I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the extensive research that went into this book. Jowitt, as a former dancer, understands the technical side of dance and describes so well each of the many dances that she includes in the book. But I have to admit that I found the going hard. Somehow the descriptions started to get tiresome to read as one followed another, followed another, followed another, and I longed for more about Graham’s personal life. That life made an appearance now and then but it just wasn’t a strong component. It could have added a less technical note to what is quite a long book.


Michelle Potter, 30 April 2024

Featured image: Portrait of Megan Connelly. Photo: © Pierre Toussaint

Darpana: Reflections. Mudra Dance Company

2 July 2023. Lower Hutt Little Theatre

Choreography: Vivek Kinra
Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

Darpana is a retrospective program of excerpts from the past three decades of seasons choreographed by Vivek Kinra for his company, Mudra. It’s a garden of earthly delights with celestial resonance, story-telling laced with joyous cavorting. There are sudden flashes of fury whenever forces of evil are encountered. Furious stamping, piercing glares and dismissive gestures will rid us of them. Only the good survive, only the safe are free.

This vividly expressive form of Indian dance, Bharata Natyam, runs the gamut of human emotions and motives, portraying figures from the parallel realm of deities whose examples are to be followed. It’s an art form in which singing, instrumental music (mridangam drum, violin, flute) and visual rhythm (dance)—in dramatic, poetic, and abstract patterned aspects—all find equal share in the performers’ finely-tuned detail and precise geometry of the body. And then there’s the dress-ups, further feast for the eyes, with carefully gradated lighting effects from full colour to serene silhouettes, from dawn to day to dusk.

After weeks of balmy mid-winter weather, the afternoon suddenly drops 10o, feels like zero, and icy rain drenches us on the way to the theatre. Never mind, Lower Hutt is closer than India so it’s a small price to pay for the transport of joy awaiting us. Every season of Mudra since the mid 90s has revived memories of my visit to India for dance studies in the previous decade. O India, the country with the world’s richest of dance traditions. Time flies, time stands still, to be here is to be there.     

Mudra’s troupe of eight senior performers are all in full flower—joined by 15 junior dancers in bud—(one of them already on the way to stardom, but steady on, no sensible dance teacher wants a prodigy, a meteor that falls and burns out, better a star to last forever. I’ve had my eye on this youngster for 7 or so years now, and she is doing exactly as her teacher and I predicted she would).

Kinra was trained at Kalakshetra, the epicentre of Bharata Natyam teaching, near Chennai. The founder of the school, Rukmini Devi, envisaged a centre of arts and related crafts to thrive alongside community education initiatives. As a theosophist Devi visited New Zealand to connect with the Theosophical Society here, and also devoted time to animal rights’ causes. As a young dancer she had met Anna Pavlova who was touring with her company to India in 1922. Pavlova encouraged Devi in a revitalisation of Bharata Natyam away from the temple, towards the theatre. Her contemporary, Balasaraswati, was the legendary dancer who toured the world’s capitals and showed what heights a solo performer could reach, even towards the age of 70. They say Martha Graham sat in the audience and wept, and she was not alone. (If you don’t believe me, watch Bala, the film about her made by Satyajit Ray. It’s on Youtube). A century later, many cities of the world offer training in Bharata Natyam India’s gift to the world—which takes on intriguing differences depending on each locale.

Kinra’s students are drawn from all the states of India, whether born there and migrated here, or born here. Others are of Sri Lankan or Malaysian Tamil, or maybe Fiji-Indian descent. But wait, there’s a Pakeha of Anglo/Irish line among them—though you only know that from the program note, her dancing is up there with the best of the rest.

Read the BBC news item from a few days ago, a lengthy and fascinating report of the ancient and mysterious folk ritual, Theyyam practised in Kerala—where members of Dalit, the lowest caste, perform in an ancient dance-drama. High caste members are required to attend and revere them. Think about that.

Here with Mudra we watch the daughters of Brahmin neurosurgeons or scientists (so long as under-resourcing of health or academic budgets has not closed down their work places) or of the local corner dairy (so long as ram raiders or armed invaders have not knifed them to death). Many of these dancers hold professional careers in law, education, science, technology, commerce—yet their radiant performances would have you believe they are full-time professional artists.

Each of the nine works is choreographed from the subtle tension between tradition and individual dancers’ personalities, all of whom deserve praise.  One dancer leaps high and sideways, lands in ‘first position’ on the half foot, slowly continues down to a deep full plie, leans sideways then slips onto her knee and hip while sliding over the floor, then she comes back into the vertical and slowly returns to standing, all the while smiling. (Don’t try this at home. Well, the smile maybe, but for the rest you’ll need to be in training for years).

Varshini Suresh makes a stunning position flow to the next with great grace and it’s hard to take your eyes off that as she invests her dancing with expressive joy. Banu Siva has a wonderful poetic and rhythmic clarity in every aspect of her movement. Shrinidhi Bharadwaj is the dramatic force who propels the power of story-telling to great effect. The treasured Zeenat Vintiner is most welcome back as she rejoins Mudra after several years break. Her personal life reads like something from the Mahabharata, and echoes the story of the Polish refugee children who were given haven in New Zealand 80 years ago. Her own experience is a triumph for her, her family and her teacher.

My grandchildren were agog at the stamina demanded of these performers—loved the contrasting qualities between them—and were greatly taken with the calm way the dancers managed the tiniest little ‘things’ that happened: a tiny bell from an anklet falls off onto the stage—we can see it glinting and hope that the other dancers  can too because you would not want to leap and land on that piece of metal. One dancer’s long black braid plaited with flowers comes loose from the belt which holds it in place as she twirls at speed. With great aplomb she continues dancing but ensures by various miniature twists that it not fly out and hit her fellow dancer in the face. (This is like a pilot realising that one engine is malfunctioning. Nought to do but keep calm, switch it off and use the other engine to make a faultless landing). Another dancer leaps high into a very narrow space between two others and knows her foot might catch in the swathe of silk that she’s wearing—so mid-air she leaps even higher and ever so slightly changes course. Stunning. My grandkids say ‘We love watching how these little things are managed—it makes the dancers seem more human and a little bit like all of us.’

They are equally pleased by the refreshments at intermission — the best samosa and ladoo in town—and a program note that the catering is by Awhina, the impressive New Zealand enterprise that fundraises to help women widowed by war in Sri Lanka, in a range of small scale development projects. I thank the young woman for my spicy masala tea, tell her how well the performance is going and hope she gets to glimpse some of it herself. ‘Oh I was dancing in last night’s cast—I’m just helping out front tonight.’ she smiles.

Poul Gnatt founded our New Zealand Ballet on ingenuity like that, 70 years ago. He’d have loved this performance as much as I did.  

Jennifer Shennan, 4 July 2023

Featured image: Abiraami Antony-Pillai (left) and Anika Mair in a moment from Darpana Reflections, Mudra Dance Company 2023. Photo: © Gerry Keating

Cranko. The man and his choreography. Book review

Cranko. The man and his choreography by Ashley Killar
Matador/Troubador Publishing
ISBN. 978-0-646-86603-1
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

This biography of John Cranko is a deeply researched, widely contextualised and beautifully written account of the life and work of a major choreographer of mid-20th century. There is meticulous detail in the documentation and analysis of Cranko’s vast choreographic output, both within the text and in appendices. Ashley Killar has drawn on that oeuvre, as well as many of Cranko’s letters to friends and colleagues, to evaluate the teeming imagination and artistry, musical ear, lively sense of wit and satire, the devoted loyalty to friends and colleagues, the generous personality, the frankness over frustrations when things went wrong, the ability to move on to the next thing, the excesses in a sometimes reckless lifestyle —-all the good and some of the bad in a life fully lived but ended too soon. You come to know the man through coming to know his works, not just by reading a list of titles but by experiencing the texture and timing of the choreographies. That’s skilful dance writing.

Killar was a member of Stuttgart Ballet from 1962 to 1967 so he knew Cranko well. The book Is a devoted tribute to the man and his work, but in no measure is it simply hagiography. The contexts of socio-political history and related arts that open several chapters, and are also summarised in the appendix of choreography, are welcome reminders of a 20th century world. The contrasts of living conditions and morale in South Africa (where Cranko was born, in 1927), in post-war England (where he lived, danced and began to choreograph), in a divided post-war Germany without a single national ballet company (where he flourished, from 1961 to 1973), in Russia (where there were intriguing interactions within the political control of ballet, and the dancers visiting from Stuttgart had to step through a door in an iron fire-curtain lowered to end the applause but the audience would not cease applauding), and in America (where on a number of tours, thanks to Sol Hurok, Cranko met with great success with audiences, who loved the narrative and dramatic power of his works that their own dance-makers had not produced. There was also ongoing disdain from certain critics, Arlene Croce the most vocal among them… as though to say, ‘If you love —Balanchine then you must hate Cranko’. OK, so did that mean the reverse was true?  (KIllar’s pen is wiser and more tempered than Croce’s was).  

These contextual accounts are briefly but tellingly written and the book should appeal to a much wider readership than just ballet afficionados. It places the man in his dances, his dances in society, and societies in their response to his dances. That’s resonant choreography and insightful appreciation combined.

There were seemingly unconventional work practices in all his career. Cranko never had an office but would sit in the company canteen, use the phone on the counter, and be at all times accessible to the dancers he considered members of a family—holding no truck with the typical power and control that many a ballet company director adopts in the vain pretence that this secures leadership. The accounts around England’s Royal Ballet and that company’s ethos under Ninette de Valois’ directorship, come under the spotlight. Peggy van Praagh by contrast emerges as a genuinely joyful and encouraging figure who instantly recognised Cranko’s talent and knew how to help him rein in so that his best ideas could emerge, that less would be more. Her own long life generously devoted to dance is well caught here.

You could look at the listing of dancers in the Stuttgart company and fledgling choreographers stimulated and nurtured  by Cranko—they are among the best in the world, and New Zealand gets an entry. There is further resonance for New Zealand in that Martin James danced the title role of Eugene Onegin many times, rating it one of the most demanding and rewarding in his own remarkable performing career. It is but one example of how the dance profession becomes a kind of country in its own right, crossing over the political and historical boundaries defined by nationalism and history.

Cranko’s longstanding friendships with designer John Piper, and with composer Benjamin Britten (whose Gloriana, Peter Grimes, Prince of the Pagodas, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bouquet Garni were choreographed to) are covered. Figures in the English ballet world include Cranko’s relationship with the somewhat caustic de Valois, the idiosyncratic Frederick Ashton, as well as his camaraderie with Kenneth MacMillan, and are notable. It is Peggy van Praagh who emerges as an independent thinker and visionary to my mind.  I was intrigued to hear of the early influence on Cranko of the work of Rudolf Laban and Kurt Jooss—and later of his appreciation of the technique and style of Martha Graham, and suspect van Praagh was instrumental in this open-mindedness. Cranko’s partnership with Anne Woolliams as influential teacher at Stuttgart and her later appointment to the Australian Ballet, where van Praagh was a pioneering and spirited leader, provide a further connection to ballet in this part of the world.

From a hugely prolific body of work it is probably the early Cranks revue, the now largely forgotten Prince of the Pagodas, his The Lady and the Fool, Romeo & Juliet, Onegin and The Taming of the Shrew for which he is most remembered.

Marcia Haydée was legendary dancer and company stronghold at Stuttgart for many years. Among the young dancers in his company whose choreography he encouraged and nurtured are John Neumeier, Jiri Kylian, Gray Veredon (New Zealand’s own) and Ashley Killar himself (artistic director of RNZBallet 1992-1995, whose No Exit and Dark Waves were among the most dramatically incisive works in the company’s entire repertoire).

Cranko’s legacy speaks volumes and Killar has done him proud.

Jennifer Shennan, 13 December 2022

Cranko. The man and his choreography is available through Bloch’s ballet centres (including by mail order). Alternatively, the book is available to order through bookstores, or direct from www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/biography/cranko/ 

Go to www.crankobiography.com for more information.

Writing Dancing

The art of writing about dance has been on my mind for a while just recently—more so than usual that is. Several recent occurrences have sparked off my current bout of thinking. First, a colleague in New Zealand sent me an email in which she asked if I had read Zadie Smith’s article Dance lessons for writers, first published in The Guardian in 2016. I hadn’t read it, but it sounded interesting so I quickly got myself a copy. Then, Canberra-based dancer and writer, Emma Batchelor, gave a talk at the recent BOLD Festival in which she discussed the Smith article—one of those strange co-incidences that happen occasionally. Not long after, I read that Clement Crisp, renowned English dance writer and critic, had died.

The Zadie Smith article included six short analyses, or comparisons really, of the dancing styles of well-known figures, which Smith puts side by side: Fred Astaire/Gene Kelly, Michael Jackson/Prince, Rudolf Nureyev/Mikhail Baryshnikov and others. But it was Smith’s opening section that was the strongest element in the article. She based her opening comments around a remark addressed to dancers by Martha Graham:

There is a vitality, a life force, and energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

Smith asked what an art of words could take from the art that needs none. She mentioned the ideas of position, attitude, rhythm and style. It’s a terrific quote by Graham and an interesting concept by Smith of writers learning from what dance offers. Problem is that Smith didn’t really pick up in her following comments/analyses the ideas she found apparent in Graham’s paragraph. At least she didn’t in my mind!

Then along came Emma Batchelor! In her paper, Batchelor posed slightly rearranged subtitles following on from Smith’s Dance lessons for writers. She discussed for example Writing lessons learned from dance and Writing lessons for dancers. Ultimately she wrote:

The dance work I most respond to has an intellectual rigour. The thought process behind movement, the development of an idea. An understanding of what you want to convey and how.

Legibility. How legible is an idea, a movement.
Experimentation and play. Testing.
Literality. Opening or closing down space for interpretation.
Striving for a sense of ease, making the complicated look effortless.

Batchelor then examined a particular work by choreographer Chloe Chignell, Poems and other emergencies, which Batchelor believed demonstrated some of the ideas set out in her talk. While watching Chignell’s work, Batchelor realised she wanted to write about it and concluded, ‘Could the movement exist without words? The words without the movement? They were entwined.’

It was a thrill to hear Batchelor speak on this topic and her comments made clear to me that, while Smith had a terrific opening paragraph or two, she didn’t really develop, as I mentioned earlier, the thoughts she had presented in the comments that followed.

As for Clement Crisp (1931-2022), his writing over many decades has been remarkable and his death is a major loss to the dance world. But I lost much of my admiration for his work when he began to use the offensive word ‘Eurotrash’ for works that did not appeal to him. (He was not the only critic to use the word, I hasten to add). I prefer to stand by the words of American writer Marcia Siegel. I reviewed a collection of her writing entitled Mirrors and Scrims and the quote below is from that review:

[She says], ‘I see myself as both a demystifyer and a validator, sometimes an interpreter, but not a judge.’ She fearlessly carries through with this stance. In an analysis of the position of the much-admired critic Arlene Croce (as understood from her reviews), Siegel writes:

‘I think a critic has to take even mavericks and crackpots at their word. In not doing so, Arlene Croce places herself above the artists. She implies she knows better than they do what’s right for dance. To my mind, that’s the one thing a critic isn’t allowed.’

There is much to think about, across many areas, as we who write about dance pursue our work.

The review of Mirrors and Scrims is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 13 March 2022

Featured image (overwritten): Jareen Wee in Liz Lea’s The Point. Photo: © Andrew Sikorski

Coralie Hinkley (1922–2021)

Coralie Hinkley, who has died in Sydney in her 99th year, was born in the inner-Sydney suburb of Glebe to Vera and John Hinkley. She was a fifth generation Australian and was educated at Maroubra Junction Primary School, then at a boarding school in Springwood in the Blue Mountains, and finally at SCEGGS (Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School). The Hinkley name was a prominent one across Sydney after Coralie’s father established the exclusive jewellery store, Hinkley’s Diamonds, in busy Castlereagh Street in 1920. Although the enterprise was sold by the family on John Hinkley’s death, the Hinkley name was retained by the new buyers and the store was active for close to 100 years.

Coralie Hinkley first became interested in dance while at school when an afternoon concert featured dances by ‘a visiting European dance group’.1 She later began serious dance studies with Gertrud Bodenwieser, whose dancers she had seen at that afternoon concert, and eventually became a member of the Bodenwieser Ballet and a teacher for the Bodenwieser enterprise. She often wrote of her lasting admiration for Bodenwieser, saying on one occasion:

… the experiences dancing with Gertrud Bodenwieser heightened my creative awareness contributing to the freeing of imaginative sources so that now I am able to activate the creative energy not only in dance but in the expressiveness of the world … 2

The photograph below on the left is dedicated to Bodenwieser and is inscribed on the back with the words, ‘To Madame. Your devoted pupil always. Love Coralie.’

In 1956, while still with Bodenwieser, Hinkley choreographed Unknown Land, based on imagery she found in the poetry of Rex Ingamells. It was danced to a commissioned score by John Antill and it formed part of her application for a Fulbright Scholarship, which she was awarded in 1957. As the first Australian dancer to be awarded a Fulbright for graduate study in modern dance, she spent the next three years in the United States where she studied with Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Louis Horst and Merce Cunningham. Each of these choreographers she credited with giving her new insights into dance and performance, but of Doris Humphrey she wrote, ‘It was largely due to the influence and teachings of Doris Humphrey that I began to create and choreograph.’3

On her return to Australia after her Fulbright studies she continued to pursue her choreographic interests. In the 1960s and 1970s she staged several works for Ballet Australia, the choreographic company established by Valrene Tweedie in 1960. Those works included Éloges, Day of Darkness, Improvisations, L’Isle joyeuse, The Forest and Ritual for Dance Play and Magic. A number of these works were first performed by the Fort Street Dance Group, which Hinkley had established as part of her teaching program at Fort Street Girls’ High School. Hinkley started this creative dance program in 1963 and continued teaching until 1975, with that last year being conducted at Fort Street High School, with the name change reflecting the fact that the school had become co-educational.

Scene from Éloges with (l-r) Helen Lisle, Keith Bain, Coralie HInkley and Lesma von Sturmer. Ballet Australia, 1962 (?). Photo: © Denise Fletcher
Scene from Ritual for Dance, Play and Magic. Photo: © Leone Vining-Brown

Her work during that time was filmed on occasions. Choros, for example was filmed by the Physical Education Department at Sydney University and was awarded a special prize for cultural and educational merit. The Chairs was filmed by the Commonwealth Film Unit as part of the series Australian Diary and was shown around Australia and overseas.

Following the Fort Street experience, Hinkley went on to pursue tertiary teaching activities over a number of years most significantly with Catholic Colleges of Education from 1976 to 1984. In 1989 she worked with students taking the Diploma in Dance Education at the Sydney Dance Development Centre, and gave creative workshops at the Centre for Human Aspects of Science and Technology at the University of Sydney.

Following her 1980 publication Creativity in Dance, Hinkley wrote several books of poetry, which are intended as source material for creative movement, as well as books related to her creative practice.

Hinkley’s sources of inspiration for her choreography were many and varied. She often found inspiration in the visual arts. Of her work The Forest, made for the Fort Street Dance Group, she wrote, ‘The dancers represent the emaciated sculptural beings of Giacometti—and his conception of life—of man’s inability to communicate with his fellow man.’4 Poetry was also inspirational for her, going back to 1956 with Unknown Land and the work of Rex Ingamells. Musically, her taste was eclectic and she favoured Australian composers when she could, again going back to Unknown Land and John Antill. And, while the choreographers she worked with in the United States as a Fulbright scholar continued to have an influence on the structure of her works, she probably was always influenced most by her earliest mentor, Gertrud Bodenwieser.

‘As dancers our “creative personality” was brought into focus by Gertrud Bodenwieser, who in her search for truth and beauty could touch the human spirit … that is why I stayed so long.’5

Coralie Hinkley died in Sydney on 21 September. She is survived by her daughter, Sancha Donald.

Friends from the Bodenwieser days, Eileen Kramer and Coralie Hinkley, 2018. Photo: © Sue Healey

Coralie May Hinkley: born Sydney, 23 September 1922; died Sydney, 21 September 2021

Michelle Potter, 22 September 2021

Featured image: Coralie Hinkley in costume for O World (detail), Bodenwieser Ballet, 1950s. Photo: © Margaret Michaelis

Notes
Coralie Hinkley was interviewed twice for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. Neither interview is available online due to restrictions placed on them by Hinkley. Transcripts are available but cannot be accessed at present given that the National Library is currently closed due to COVID lockdown in the ACT. This situation has limited the scope of this obituary for the moment.

1. Coralie Hinkley, ‘Reflections on dance at Fort Street.’ In The Fortian, 1976, p. 77.
2. Coralie Hinkley, ‘Vision’. In Bettina Vernon-Warren and Charles Warren (eds), Gertrud Bodenwieser and Vienna’s Contribution to Ausdruckstanz (Harwood Academic Publishers, 1999) p. 167.
3. Coralie Hinkley, Innovisions. Expressions of Creativity in Dance (Cygnet Books, 1990) p. 12.
4. Hinkley, ibid, p. 40.
5. Hinkley, ibid. p. 5.

Moon Water performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Photo: © Liu Chen-Hsiang

Moon Water. Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

Choreography Lin Hwai-min to Bach solo cello suites, cellist Mischa Maisky. Video screening by Sadler’s Wells, via YouTube until 22 May 2020

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

Moon Water, choreographed by Lin Hwai-min, to Bach’s six solo cello suites, is performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, one of the world’s most accomplished and respected dance ensembles. In lieu of Cloud Gate’s planned season at Sadler’s Well’s, this free screening is being made available on YouTube throughout the week, until Friday 22 May.  Lin speaks in the introduction: ‘In these times of uncertainty, I hope this lyrical dance will bring you joy and peace.’  He’s right about ‘the times’ and his hope is realised in a sublime work of light shining out of shadow, and of the dancers’ calm and supple strength that accepts and yet conquers the force of gravity. As inspiration for the making of Moon Water, Lin quotes the mantra for Tai Chi practitioners: ‘Energy flows as water, water’s spirit shines as the moon’, as well as the associated Chinese proverb: ‘Flowers in the mirror and moon on the water are both illusions.’ These are all the program notes we need. 

I first saw Moon Water performed at the cultural festival which acted as prelude to the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

[The hugely impressive dance program within that festival also included Masurco Fogo, Pina Bausch’s choreography by Wuppertal Dance Theatre, The Cost of Living, Lloyd Newson’s choreography by DV8, as well as seasons by Sydney Dance Company in Graeme Murphy’s work on the Olympics in Ancient Greece, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and The Australian Ballet].

As the world’s media turns to the Olympic Games every four years, with typically spectacular Opening and Closing Ceremonies framing the sports contests, it has always seemed a pity that the associated arts festivals that act as precursor to the Games receive next-to-no international media promotion or coverage. Lucky I was to get to Sydney for so many memorable performances in 2000. I’ve been in love with Cloud Gate ever since.

The company was formed in 1973 by Lin Hwai-min and has remained under his consistent and visionary leadership for decades. Performing exclusively his choreography, the company’s extensive international touring has made it one of the world’s leading and most respected dance enterprises. The extensive repertoire grows from Lin’s deep searches into the philosophy, lifeways and art forms of Chinese history and traditions. Each work is a model of meditative calm and clarity as a single concept is explored—yet there’s an undertow of complexity and passion there for those who would see it. If you want novelty, fashion, sensation and display of virtuosity for its own sake, yawn yawn, you should probably look elsewhere.

Moon Water performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Photo: © Liu Chen-Hsiang

Cloud Gate’s movement vocabulary and aesthetic grows from the suppleness, strength and flow of Tai Chi meditative and martial art, intertwined with contemporary dance, somewhat after Martha Graham technique. The play of vertical and horizontal is not in contrast but in segue, and there is astonishing control as a dancer moves from standing then into a deep plié, then onto the floor, then back to standing as though this is just one sequence of movement, and it fair slows your breathing. A line becomes a curve becomes a circle becomes a wheel becomes a windmill. A standing figure of eight has become a reclining infinity sign. In Moon Water there are solos, duos and a chorus grouping that take us through a night where the moves of dancers clad in white silk clad are bathed in light that reflects on backdrop, overhead, and finally beneath them, in the water which slowly washes across the stage. Mostly adagio, with the occasional subito, there are images that evoke a large bird standing (crane or heron, kotuku) or flying (gannet, albatross, toroa). The presence and power in their contained energy somehow also includes the qualities of tenderness towards a newborn, a trusting child, a calm adult, a weak but hopeful elder, all slowly moving towards a life-affirming first white light before dawn.

I visited Taiwan in 2017 and had the loveliest of times with Cloud Gate. I could write about them forever but reading that would be a waste of your time when you could be watching Moon Water.  

And a tribute to all that a second company, Cloud Gate 2, was formed to create opportunities for dancers to choreograph new repertoire.Upon Lin Hwai-min’s retirement last year, the leader of that ensemble, Cheng Tsung-lung, was appointed as the new artistic director of the main company. How affirming to see the wisdom and generosity of spirit involved in managing this company’s heritage—a rare achievement among the competitive politics of many a professional dance company you and I could think of.  

Jennifer Shennan, 17 May 2020

Featured image: Moon Water performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Photo: © Liu Chen-Hsiang

Moon Water performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Photo: © Liu Chen-Hsiang

Wiggle Room. Alison Plevey & Solco Acro

29 September 2016, Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra

Wiggle Room? The name arouses curiosity. But on arriving at the Ralph Wilson my heart sank. ‘This is a standing show,’ we were told. I rather like sitting down to see a show. But, as it happened, the show was a stunner and, for ageing bodies like mine, there were stools for sitting on, when that was possible given the nature of the show.

Wiggle Room was part of a new program in the ACT, Ralph Indie, named for Ralph Wilson, who died in 1994 and who was both a former principal of Canberra High School and a producer of unconventional and thought-provoking theatre shows in Canberra. Wiggle Room was performed by dancer Alison Plevey, singer Ruth O’Brien, and Cher Albrect and Deb Cleland, two artists from the Canberra-based women’s aerial dance and circus arts group, Solco Acro. Like Wilson’s shows, Wiggle Room was also unconventional and thought-provoking.

The work was inspired by and named after an essay by Sara Ahmed and examined the politics of space. Who can occupy a certain space? Who must move aside to let another take up the space? And this explains the need for it to be a ‘standing show’. The entire space of Ralph Wilson Theatre was used by the performers and for those of us sitting on stools, and indeed those standing around the edges of the space, there was the need on occasions to move so that the performers could occupy the space we were inhabiting. No such thing as a designated aisle and seat number.

Some of the movement happened on swinging hoops, or with the performers twisting themselves around lengths of red cloth hanging from the ceiling. Some took place against the walls with the performers attached to a kind of harness. There were moments when bikes were driven at break-neck speed around the space. Even the usual seating in the Ralph Wilson Theatre had been folded back and this fold-back space used by the performers.

wiggle-room-5-photo-justin-ryan

The work was, however, more than simply about space. The notion of the politics of space came over loud and clear, on the one hand through spoken word and song, and on the other by the interpretations of the words by the performers. There were feminist references, references to workplace issues, and issues about personal space, for example.

But what made Wiggle Room a work to be reckoned with was the way in which these issues surrounding the politics of space were addressed in such an engaging and often hilarious way. It was so easy to recognise the situations presented to us, it was so easy and pleasurable to laugh at what was happening. And yet there was always the lingering knowledge of a political message.

Perhaps my favourite moment came when the three performers found themselves together in the confined space of a slip-off mattress cover made from flimsy material—shades of Martha Graham’s Lamentation, without the 1930s seriousness. I have to admit to thinking  ‘Eat your heart out, Martha.’ This was so much more enjoyable.

wiggle-room-4-photo-justin-ryan

All in all a funny, strangely serious, and rather remarkable evening.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2016

Featured image: Scene from Wiggle Room.

All photos © Justin Ryan

An Australasian affair …

There was one empty seat in the front row at the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s inaugural Harry Haythorne choreographic awards last weekend…odd since a good view in a studio setting is always at a premium and the house was otherwise full to overflowing. Perhaps Harry was playing ‘the angel at the table’—occupying that seat to keep a keen eye on proceedings, pleased to see that his encouragement of emerging choreographers is being remembered, and that today’s young dancers who never met him can nevertheless tell what kind of initiative he brought to his term as artistic director here, 1981–1992. Let’s cheat Death awhile.

Harry Haythorne
Harry Haythorne

A small group of Harry’s colleagues and friends had met to plan these awards, the idea and koha for which grew from the spirited party held in his memory back in January, in tandem with the festive gathering in Melbourne. It’s interesting to ponder on the New Zealand and Australian inter-twinings in our company over decades. Harry for starters, himself Australian through and through, yet we think of him as a New Zealander emeritus. Australian Mark Keyworth as company manager, navigated with him.

Promising young choreographer Loughlan Prior won both the panel’s and the people’s award, with the striking imagery of his work, Eve, set to song and spoken poetry. Loughlan was born in Melbourne though did later training in New Zealand.

On present membership, over one third of the RNZB dancers are from Australia, and/or trained there, so more threads are in the weave. Cast a thought back to the middle decades of the 20th century, when the Borovansky Ballet’s regular tours were so welcome here. It was their 1952 tour that brought dancer Poul Gnatt, who looked around, hunched that New Zealand might like a ballet company, returned to found one the following year—and the rest is history.

Peggy van Praagh was involved in staging several productions for New Zealand Ballet in early years here, not least Tudor’s Judgment of Paris. She and Russell Kerr arranged for dancer exchanges between Australian and New Zealand companies, and also masterminded two landmark fortnight-long residential courses of dance appreciation at University of Armidale in NSW. Both schemes should have continued ever since. I still treasure my notebooks from things we saw and heard there in 1967 and 1969—from van Praagh, Algeranoff, Beth Dean, Marilyn Jones, Garth Welch, Karl Welander, Keith Bain, Eric Westbrook—films of Martha Graham and of Jose Limon—good things that last, seeding an awareness of dance for a lifetime.

Many here have wished that we might have seen more of Graeme Murphy’s choreography in New Zealand over the years. There was his searingly memorable Orpheus, commissioned by Harry for the Stravinsky Celebration season in 1982. Sydney Dance Company brought the greatly admired Some Rooms to the first Arts Festival here, and Shining followed soon after that. Then Matz Skoog in 1997 brought Murphy’s quietly powerful The Protecting Veil, a work that suited our company particularly well…but we could have done and seen so much more of his remarkable oeuvre. Harry brought Jonathan Taylor’s impressive Hamlet, and ‘Tis Goodly Sport—suiting our company so well. Kristian Fredrikson, local boy made good, began his training here in Wellington, and continued to design and dress so many memorable productions on both sides of the Tasman, adding to the ties that bind. RNZB have also toured a number of seasons in Australia over the years.

But with the brand new ballet from Liam Scarlett, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pioneering as a co-production with Queensland Ballet, there’s an inspired possibility of further exchanges within the choreographic repertoire, with rich benefits for those two companies and their audiences on both sides of the Tasman. Directors Li Cunxin in Queensland and Francesco Ventriglia in Wellington will no doubt be already thinking ahead. They could be onto a winner here. I’m just going to see one more performance of this scintillating faerie ballet shortly, and will then write about it. It’s quite on the cards that many who were so enchanted by the premiere season here will want to travel to Queensland next year to catch it on the rebound. Nothing wrong with falling in love again. I’m sure Harry would agree.

 Jennifer Shennan, 15 September 2015

Featured image: Harry Haythorne as Father Winter in Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 1991. Photographer not known

L. Mirramu Dance Company

15 July 2015, Q Theatre, Queanbeyan

Elizabeth Dalman’s L begins with a solo dance, ‘The firebird’, performed by Miranda Wheen. Wheen wears a red tutu that Dalman herself wore as a young ballet student in Adelaide and, as Wheen finishes her solo and makes her exit, a red feather drops from her costume. It is picked up by Dalman who enters as Wheen exits. The feather, Dalman exclaims, holds the story of ‘a vibrant life’. What follows is indeed the story of Dalman’s life in dance, largely the 50 years since Dalman established Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide in June 1965. L has in fact been made in celebration of that 50th anniversary. The name of the work, L, is the Roman numeral for 50 and also the first letter of Liz, the name by which Dalman was known when she directed ADT between 1965 and 1975.

Miranda Wheen as the Firebird in 'L'. Photo: © Barbie Robinson

Miranda Wheen as the Firebird in L. Photo: © Barbie Robinson

is a reworking of an earlier evening-length piece, Sapling to Silver, which Dalman made in 2011. Although Sapling to Silver also celebrated Dalman’s career in dance, L has an even stronger focus on Dalman and has clearly benefited from the input of a dramaturg. It is tightly constructed and follows a logical, easily understood pathway.

Some of the dance segments are drawn from the early ADT repertoire. They feature choreography in the style of those who influenced Dalman at the time—Eleo Pomare, Martha Graham and others of that era—and music and songs by the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Yoko Ono and other artists of the 1960s and 1970s. Other segments are newer and have been made during the time Dalman has spent at her Mirramu Creative Arts Centre on the shores of Lake George at Bungendore just north of Canberra.

The separate elements of L are drawn together by the story, narrated by Dalman over the course of the various sections, of a eucalyptus tree that grows and flourishes before dying—a metaphor for life. The narrated storyline is accompanied at times by danced segments, including ‘Sapling’ to music by Colin Offord. ‘Sapling’ is strongly danced by Vivienne Rogis and Rogis’ constant and commanding presence throughout L highlights another strand of Dalman’s career. In 2000, Rogis was co-founder with Dalman of Mirramu Dance Company.

One of the most moving segments in the work is ‘Tree spirit’, danced by Dalman and, as the spirit of the tree, the newest member of Mirramu Dance Company, Hans David Ahwang. Ahwang seems possessed by that tree spirit as he dances around Dalman, crouching, hovering, leaping. His body quivers at every move and his eyes dart and then focus strongly. The choreographic detail he displays is spellbinding.

Tree Spirit Photo Barbie Robinson
Elizabeth Dalman and Hans David Ahwang in ‘Tree Spirit’, Mirramu Dance Company, 2015. Photo: © Barbie Robinson

As this section finishes Dalman holds up a stone she has gathered from the spot on which her tree used to stand. It has, she says, the face of a young woman written on it and, as Dalman leaves, Miranda Wheen begins a solo, ‘Young Woman’, in which she flies through the air, turning and twisting with all the vigour of youth. These two sections work beautifully together as a juxtaposition of dancing generations.

L then takes on a more sombre tone as Dalman dances ‘Old Woman’ with choreography by Adriaan Kans, followed by ‘Dyin’ Time’ to music by the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary and danced by the whole Mirramu company. I wondered about these last sections. At 81 Dalman, to her credit, never tried in L to pretend she was still a young dancer. But ‘Old Woman’, which Dalman performed with remarkable power and strength, was perhaps a little too long, and maybe  ‘Dyin’ Time’ was unnecessary, even though the words expressed what Dalman hopes to achieve—that is to pass on her heritage to her company of dancers? But the celebratory tone of the finale, into which Dalman had choreographed the curtain calls, removed the darker notes of the previous two segments. On balance, L is indeed a celebration of Dalman’s truly vibrant life.

The Queanbeyan performance was a precursor to a gala event in Adelaide to be held on 18 July. Dalman was not impressed that public funding for an ADT gala in Adelaide was pulled. So, determined that ADT’s 50th anniversary should not go unnoticed, she self-funded L to be performed at the Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre where the program will include an excpert from Garry Stewart’s Be Your Self performed by the current ADT dancers.

Michelle Potter, 17 July 2015