The latest round of the Australian Government’s RISE (Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand) funding project has revealed two interesting initiatives:
FORM Dance Projects, located in Western Sydney, has received $278,000 to assist with their 2022 commissioning activities. Part of their funding allocation will go to commissioning Meryl Tankard and composer Elena Kats Chernin to create a new work for eventual showing at the Sydney Festival. Tankard and Kats Chernin have enjoyed very successful collaborative endeavours to date, with perhaps the most interesting being Wild Swans created in 2003 on dancers of the Australian Ballet and based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name.
In another dance initiative, GWB Entertainment, with operations in the UK and Australia, has received $948,865 to collaborate with the Australian Ballet on a touring production of An American in Paris. GWB Entertainment was responsible for the fabulous production of West Side Story, which was seen in New Zealand and several Australian cities (even Canberra!!) not so long ago. As for An American in Paris, I am assuming it is the recent production adapted for the stage by Christopher Wheeldon. Time will tell.
But moving beyond government funding projects, the irrepressible and forever active Li Cunxin has announced that Queensland Ballet will establish a ‘second home’ on the Gold Coast. In 2022, in conjunction with HOTA (Home of the Arts), a Gold Coast arts organisation, Queensland Ballet will perform The Sleeping Beauty and Rooster/B-Sides, exclusively on the Gold Coast. The company is now busy planning its 2023 Gold Coast season.
But in addition, Queensland Ballet, with philanthropic support from Roy and Nola Thompson, has purchased land at Yatala on the Gold Coast to build a new production centre. The centre will eventually house Queensland Ballet’s costumes, sets and props in archivally sound conditions.
Queensland Ballet continues to broaden its horizons.
Let’s hope 2022 allows us more freedom to see these new initiatives for ourselves.
The death of Shona Dunlop MacTavish in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 18 June at the age of 99 sent me back to her autobiography, Leap of faith. It was published in 1997 and the early sections give a fascinating account of her schooldays in New Zealand and her time in Europe over four years beginning 1935. Those four years included her introduction to dance and in Leap of faith Dunlop MacTavish gives her thoughts on her early teachers, one of whom was Gertrud Bodenwieser. Of Bodenwieser and how her classes affected people, Dunlop MacTavish writes
Frau Gerty, as she was known by her students, was a small erect figure who, when not demonstrating, examined her class through an intimidating lorgnette … Although nervous at first, I began to relax and enjoy myself as it appeared she was taking little notice of me. Soon I was swept up with the rest of the class—a mass of whirling bodies with ecstatic faces.
The book continues through Dunlop MacTavish’s life in in South America on tour with Bodenwieser’s dancers; follows her experiences in Australia, China and Africa (the latter two with her missionary husband Donald MacTavish); and then moves on to the Philippines. The story then comes back to New Zealand and her home city of Dunedin where she set up a number of dance-related initiatives.
Dunlop MacTavish’s choreographic output was extensive and a list of her choreographies in Australia and New Zealand forms an appendix to Leap of faith. It is remarkable list. As one example, the first solo she created for herself was Two souls alas reside within my breast. Along with others of her early works, she danced it when her husband-to-be came to the Bodenwieser studio in Sydney to be introduced to her dancing. In her oral history interview for the National Library of Australia she explains the origin of the work:
I’d seen a young man in a nightclub with a very scarred face, beautiful on one side, all scarred on the other. It suddenly gave me the image of how many of us actually have two personalities. The title of the work was taken from some writing by Goethe. [Faust, First Part]
For more on the remarkable life of Shona Dunlop MacTavish, here is a link to an oral history interview I recorded with her for the National Library on 13 April 1998. It is available online both as audio and as a transcript. Leap of faith is also definitely worth a re-read.
Queen’s Birthday Honours list
Congratulations to Li Cunxin, Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac, who were all recognised in the 2019 Queen’s birthday honours list. Li and Tankard received an AO, Lansac an OAM.
In a recent conversation with Patrick Harding-Irmer and Anca Frankenhaeuser I also heard that Robert Cohan, founding artistic director of London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre, had also been honoured in England. Cohan influenced the careers of many Australian dancers and choreographers. He was knighted!
With regard to the Australian awards, Lansac’s work is not often acknowledged as much and as appropriately as it should be, so it is especially pleasing to see that he has been recognised. Below are a few of many photographs taken by Lansac that are part of a collection held in the National Library of Australia. His career has crossed boundaries as these images show. Here, too, is a link to an article that appeared in the now-defunct National Library of Australia News, which gives a little insight into Lansac’s early Australian collaborations and commissions. See also the tag Régis Lansac on this website.
A new book by Valerie Lawson has just been published. I have not yet had time to read the copy I have but, flicking through the pages, there are some great photographs in it that, as far as I am aware, have never been published before. Lawson also sets the scene for what is (or rather what is not) contained in the book when she writes: ‘Dancing under the southern skies is not a detailed description of professional ballet performances in Australia—the dates, the theatres, the casts, the designers—although the detail is important and, one day, might become a dictionary of ballet.’ The next paragraph in the introduction explains what is included. But I will leave that for your further reading!
‘Vale Jonathan Taylor’, Dance Australia, June/July 2019, p. 13. PDF at this link
Michelle Potter, 30 June 2019
Please consider supporting my Australian Cultural Fund project to raise money to have hi-res images made for my book on the career of designer Kristian Fredrikson, which is heading towards publication. See the project, which closes on 30 July 2019, at this link. Donations are tax deductible. [Update 1 August 2019: Project closed]
Featured image: Evelyn Ippen, Bettina Vernon, Emmy Towsey and Shona Dunlop, Bodenwieser Ballet, Sydney c. 1939. Photo: Max Dupain
Every year Canberra’s young dancers audition for the Chaos Project staged by QL2. The umbrella name suggests the chaotic situation with which the project begins—in 2018 there were 45 young dancers, boys and girls, aged from eight upwards. But of course by the time the show hits the stage the chaos is gone and, despite the age and experience of the dancers, we the audience are always treated to a wonderful evening of youth dance. The 2018 project, called Belong, had sections choreographed by Olivia Fyfe, Jodie Farrugia and Luke Fryer with Ruth Osborne adding (with her usual flair) an opening and closing section. The topic for exploration—‘belonging’—generated some interesting choreographic responses including the addiction (and disconnection from others) to smart phones and social media; supporting others in a variety of ways; bullying; and other similar matters affecting young people. Dance for the times!
Liz Lea and RED
Liz Lea will present her truly exceptional work RED in Liverpool, England, in November as part of the LEAP Festival. It will have a one-off performance on 7 November at 6pm at the Warehouse Studio Theatre, Hope University Creative Campus. RED premiered in Canberra earlier this year. Follow this link for my review of the premiere performance.
Sydney Dance Company in 2019
Sydney Dance Company has announced its season program for 2019, which will celebrate what is the company’s 50th anniversary. Season choreography will be by Rafael Bonachela, Gabrielle Nankivell, Melanie Lane and Gideon Obarzanek. Full details at this link.
While each of the three programs that will take place over 2019 promises something unusual, it will definitely be fascinating to see what Obarzanek does with a work called Us50 in which, in the spirit of the anniversary, he will use 50 dancers drawn from former and current company dancers, along with members of the community.
Oral history: Ariette Taylor
My most recent oral history interview for the National Library was with Ariette Taylor, whose contribution to the work of Australian Dance Theatre during the directorship of Jonathan Taylor has probably not been fully explored to date. In addition to a discussion of her work in Adelaide, the interview includes Taylor’s background as a dancer in Holland and with Ballet Rambert, and her work as a theatre director after the Taylor family moved from Adelaide to Melbourne.
As part of my research for the interview with Ariette Taylor I was searching for information about Mascha ter Weeme, who directed Ballet der Lage Landen, which Taylor joined in Amsterdam in 1957. I accidentally came across some news about Remi Wortmeyer, former dancer with the Australian Ballet and now principal with the Dutch National Ballet. This is old news (from 2016) but I had not come across it before so am posting it here in case any of my readers have also not heard it.
Wortmeyer was, in 2016, the recipient of the beautifully named Mr Expressivity Award at the international ballet festival, Dance Open, in St Petersburg. The trophy, I understand, replicates the lower leg of Anna Pavlova!
Wortmeyer’s website is at this link and the images above are from this site.
Jacob’s Pillow (again)
The latest post from Jacob’s Pillow is a series of video clips with the links between the clips centring on black costuming. There is a clip of David Hallberg dancing Nacho Duato’s solo Kaburias, which makes me think back to that wonderful piece, Por vos muero, which was at one stage in the repertoire of the Australian Ballet but not seen for a number of years now. For my New Zealand readers there is a short clip of an early piece by Black Grace, Minoi, seen at the Pillow in 2004. Then there is a mesmerising clip from Un ballo, a work choreographed by Françoise Adret,with perhaps a nod to Duato, for Lyon Opera Ballet. Lots more. Check out the Pillow’s dance interactive site .
Meryl Tankard’s TwoFeet
I have long regretted that Meryl Tankard’s solo show TwoFeet has never been revived. Well news just in from the Adelaide Festival 2019 is that Tankard is reviving the work for next year’s festival. It will feature the remarkable Natalia Osipova. I imagine tickets will fly out the door!
Press for October 2018
‘Bravissimo bringing ballet gala to town.’ Preview of World Superstars of Ballet Gala, Bravissimo Productions. The Canberra Times, 1 October 2018, p. 20. Online version
‘Uneven but often impressive show.’ Review of Happiness is …, Canberra Dance Theatre. The Canberra Times, 16 October 2018, p. 20. Online version
9 June 2018, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
A death scene begins and ends Ballet Prelocaj’s Snow White. As the ballet opens, we see Snow White being born and gathered up by her father as her mother writhes on the floor and dies. As the ballet ends the stepmother (the Queen) is forced to dance in burning shoes until she dies. Both moments are compelling and there is nothing sweet and charming (or Disney-like) in this version of the story. Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj has gone back to the original story by the Brothers Grimm, and grim it indeed it is. Having said that there is one truly delightful moment at the beginning when, while holding his new-born child in his arms, the father (the King) passes behind an upstage screen and emerges on the other side with a beautiful little child holding his hand. This theatrical moment showed the passing of time but was enhanced by the absolute delight of the little girl at being on stage.
Choreographically Snow White had one truly astonishing sequence. After having the poisoned apple shoved (and I mean shoved with absolutely vile intent) down her throat by the Queen, Snow White’s apparently lifeless body is discovered by the Prince. He and she have met before and have already established a relationship so he is bereft to find her in this state. A pas de deux begins and what makes it remarkable is that there is exciting partner work here as the Prince lifts and flings Snow White’s apparently lifeless body around him until the apple is dislodged. They then continue the pas de deux with delicious softness and romanticism.
I also enjoyed the moments when we met the seven miners who discover Snow White asleep in the forest that is their workplace. They were not little people in this Snow White but their occupation was clear as we watched them moving up and down a sheer rock face (sets by Thierry Leproust) using ropes to aid the process. Discovering Snow White lying exhausted on the forest floor they were curious about her. The dance they performed together (in between getting on with their climbing activities) demonstrated their close-knit ties to each other and their curiosity about Snow White. I have to admit I was reminded of Meryl Tankard’s works at this point, partly as a result of the use of ropes as part of the choreography. But there were moments of choreography that looked quite linear or geometric and my mind went back to the Hungarian dancers in Tankard’s Wild Swans.
Other parts of the choreography were not quite so engrossing. The early scene, when Snow White and her father sat on their elevated thrones and watched their subjects dancing, contained some interesting moves that seemed to me to look back to court dancing. But this sequence was far too long and in the end seemed like a fill-in rather than part of the story. Despite this, for the most part you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium throughout this show. It was gripping theatre and included some remarkable costumes, although perhaps not always to my liking, by Jean Paul Gaultier.
A gripe: I was shocked by the format of the acknowledgment of the traditional custodians of the land on which the Sydney Opera House stands. It was so badly amplified that it was all but impossible to make out what was being said. Western civilisation gone mad!
A second gripe: It is always frustrating when roles are shared by two or more dancers but there is no indication of which of the dancers is appearing at a specific performance. Even a stand with cast list in the lobby of the theatre, or near the doors to the auditorium, or anywhere, would be good. Photographs in a program are not always helpful given that make up and costume (including wigs) often change appearances quite markedly.
Just recently a colleague in France suggested I might enjoy a BBC radio program she had just heard in a series called Sound of Dance. The particular program, ‘The Contemporary Ballet Composer’, was hosted by Katie Derham and concerned music specially commissioned for dance. It included, as it happened, excerpts from two works we are shortly to see in Australia—’In the garden’ by Max Richter from the score for Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, and ‘Mad Hatter’s tea party’ and ‘Cheshire cat’ by Joby Talbot from the score for Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.* The program also contained excerpts from an interview with composer Sally Beamish, currently working on a score for David Nixon’s The Little Mermaid for Northern Ballet, on how she approached composing for dance.
But ‘The Contemporary Ballet Composer’ finished with a brief excerpt from Elena Kats-Chernin’s Wild Swans (which is largely why my colleague suggested I listen—the rare mention of an Australian on the BBC!). What I found somewhat alarming though was that, while choreographers’ names were mentioned for every other piece of music played, Meryl Tankard didn’t get a mention as choreographer of Wild Swans, a ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name. It sent me back to sections from my biography of Tankard, and to the various articles and reviews I had written in 2003–2004 about Wild Swans**:
‘Wild and woolly. Meryl Tankard knits a new ballet’ The Australian Ballet News, Issue 31, 2003, pp. 6–8
‘Dance a wild and wonderful tribute.’ The Canberra Times: Panorama, 10 May 2003, pp. 4–5
‘Wild Swans and the art of collaboration.’ Brolga, June 2003, pp. 26–31
‘Wild Swans and peevish reviewers.’ Australian Art Review, November 2003–February 2004, pp. 41–42
Meryl Tankard. An original voice (Canberra: Dance writing and research, 2012)
As I wrote in the Tankard biography, Elena Kats-Chernin’s music for Wild Swans was
… a luscious and evocative ninety minute score for small orchestra and soprano voice, which has had an ongoing life. A concert suite from Wild Swans is commercially available on compact disc and extracts from it, especially ‘Eliza’s Aria’, receive regular airplay. ‘Eliza’s Aria’ was also used in the United Kingdom in a series of six television and cinema advertisements in 2007 for the financial institution Lloyds TSB thus bringing the musical composition to a much wider (and enthusiastic) audience.
The ballet itself, with its extraordinary and beautifully fluid projections by Régis Lansac and arresting costumes by Angus Strathie, its references to Hans Christian Andersen’s fascination with paper cut-outs, and some spectacular choreographic segments, was a joint commission from the Australian Ballet and the Sydney Opera House in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Opera House. It premiered in Sydney in April 2003.
Sadly, Wild Swans, the ballet, has never been revived and, not only that, it seems Tankard’s name is often disregarded when the music is played, even though she was the choreographer whose work allowed the score to be created. That this happens, and it happens to other choreographers in addition to Tankard, highlights the problems faced by contemporary choreographers in gaining long-term acceptance and understanding of their work and their processes.
Wild Swans was filmed by ABC Television in 2003 and a documentary, ‘Wild Swans’: behind the scenes, was also made in the same year. Unfortunately, neither is readily available commercially. But looking at the documentary again, and rereading what I wrote about the work and the process, it is clear that Wild Swans was an exceptional collaboration. In terms of the score, Tankard and Kats-Chernin worked closely together over an extended period. Kats-Chernin came to early rehearsals with some preliminary musical sketches but admits that she used very little of this material. Giving further insight into the collaborative process relating to Wild Swans, in which on this occasion, given that there was a narrative structure to the piece, Tankard worked in a relatively logical order, Kats-Chernin has written:
We met regularly around my piano, about twice a week and went through everything scene by scene. Meryl would work out the structure and describe the images in her head, and I would improvise all kinds of different versions, and at some point Meryl would say—“yes, that’s it”—and then I would write everything down. In a couple of days she would visit again and we would check the past material as well as try and work on the next scenes. It was good to work in the “running order”, as this way we kept the rhythm of the whole piece in “real time”. We were also lucky that the Australian Ballet arranged for a draft recording of the whole ballet with the Orchestra of Victoria. That way Meryl had a chance to hear all the orchestral colours that I had imagined and which were sometimes very hard to describe in words. Meryl and the dancers then rehearsed with the recording and in the last week of that phase I joined in and we found ourselves working out the final order of which pieces worked and where.(Boosey & Hawkes website)
Occasionally during the process, Kats-Chernin’s contributions were edited out. She has spoken in a quite matter of fact tone about this process:
I’m not precious about discarding material. Composition of this kind is a very practical activity. The audience isn’t coming to hear a concert but to see action and be stimulated by the music. The music is to remind people of the drama and it can’t always be the centre of attention. (‘Wild and Woolly’, p. 7)
The dancers, too, sometimes had their contributions discarded and, reflecting on the dancers’ reaction to the process of creating Wild Swans, Tim Harbour, who played one of Eliza’s eleven brothers, has said:
The work had a very slow evolution. It was quite exhausting really. There was a constant review and editing process. Every day things changed. Sometimes there was a lot of frustration, even indignation amongst the dancers because we’d spend so much time creating steps, the mood, and the emotion and then Meryl would edit it out.
[But], I would have regretted not being part of it. The more you put in in the early stages, the more you get out in the end. And in the end I think the dancers felt an incredible sense of pride in what we as a team achieved. There has never been anything like it in the Australian Ballet. Until now people had to leave the Australian Ballet to get his kind of creative experience. (Meryl Tankard. An original voice, p. 110)
Looking back at my Wild Swans material, and without being at all critical that the score still (deservedly) enjoys popularity, it continues to bother me that the ballet has never been revived. As a work of extraordinary, and absolutely hands-on collaboration it deserves to be seen again.
Michelle Potter, 23 June 2017
* The program is available until c. 16 July 2017 at this link. Podcasts of this series, apparently, are available only in the UK. ** None of these items is available online.
In February I had the pleasure and privilege of recording an oral history interview with Michelle Ryan for the National Library’s Oral History and Folklore Collection. Ryan is currently artistic director of the Adelaide-based Restless Dance Theatre.
Canberra audiences may remember Ryan as a member of the Meryl Tankard Company. She joined in 1992 so was only seen during the last year of the company’s four year stint in Canberra. When the company moved to Adelaide in 1993, becoming Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre, Ryan went with them. She danced in all the works Tankard staged in Adelaide and was an especially wonderful tap-dancing fairy in Aurora. In the interview she explains that tap had been one of her childhood specialties when she was learning to dance at the Croft Gilchrist School of Dancing in her home town of Townsville.
Ryan’s story, including her struggle with the ravages of multiple sclerosis, is an amazingly courageous one and is told with honesty and integrity. She has not placed restrictions on the interview and it will be available as online audio over the National Library’s website in due course. [Update: Here is the link to the online audio]
Stella Motion Pictures
In February I also caught up with Melbourne-based film maker Philippe Charluet who has been in Canberra working on a project called The Heritage Collection. Charluet filmed most of Graeme Murphy’s productions during Murphy’s artistic directorship of Sydney Dance Company and The Heritage Collection will showcase excerpts from many of those shows. It is still in its early stages but what a nostalgic look back it gives already. And oh the beautiful Katie Ripley in the Grand promo (to choose just one artist).
Press for February
‘Staging unique challenge’. Review of A Tale of Two Cities, The Canberra Times, 7 February 2014, p. Arts 6. [Online version no longer available]
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, SevenSonatas, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Philippe Charluet of Stella Motion Pictures has kindly given me permission to use clips from some of the work he has done with Meryl Tankard. They include excerpts from a short documentary, Meryl Tankard: a unique choreographic voice, made for Spring Dance in Sydney in 2011, and some excerpts from Tankard’s work Possessed, made for the Barossa Arts Festival in 1995 in conjunction with the Balanescu Quartet. The clips give a glimpse of Tankard’s extraordinarily diverse output (apart from being so beautifully filmed and edited) and make me wonder why works like Two Feet, Nuti and so many others have never been made available commercially.
Here are Charluet’s clips:
The unauthorised book about Tankard
I still have a few copies of my unauthorised biography, Meryl Tankard: an original voice, available for sale. Ordering details are at the end of this post. The book outlines the story behind Tankard’s magical works. Here are the last couple of paragraphs to my story:
Many people have shared her journeys—her family and friends, her partner in life and art, her audiences, her dancers, and those creative artists she especially admires and who admire her. But there are perhaps two ‘last words’ to this story. One belongs to Meryl Tankard herself: ‘I don’t want to go into a battlefield’, she is reported to have said as she prepared to leave Canberra for Adelaide in 1992. ‘I just want to work’. The second comes from Jim Sharman who recalls seeing Tankard performing for the first time in Wuppertal in 1980: a piece by Pina Bausch, Bausch’s eulogy, or ‘memento mori’ as Sharman puts it, for her recently deceased partner and designer for Tanztheater Wuppertal, Rolf Borzik. Sharman writes:
At one point, a very familiar accent cut the air. Australian dancer Meryl Tankard entered to reminisce about having lost her sunglasses in Venice. It was my first thrilling glimpse of this great artist and future choreographer.
These two comments encapsulate two features of Tankard’s life and work in art. Firstly, her comment about just wanting simply to work highlights her commitment to, and pursuit of excellence no matter what obstacles might be placed in her way or whom she might cross in making her work. Secondly, Sharman’s remark encapsulates Tankard’s ability to couch the serious—in this case loss—behind humour and zaniness. Tankard is perhaps Australia’s one truly original dance voice.
(The ‘battlefield quote’ is from an article by Tracey Aubin in The Bulletin in 1992; the quote by Jim Sharman is from his 2008 autobiography Blood and Tinsel: a memoir).
Canberra is in the somewhat odd position of having no professional dance company but of having a strong youth company in QL2 and a group called the GOLDS that consists of older performers (over 55) most of whom have never been professional dancers. The GOLDS, which is directed by the irrepressible Liz Lea, recently gave four sold-out performance at the National Gallery of Australia as part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations. Called ‘Life is a work of art’, the event took place in front of various works of art and I hope to report a little more fully a little later when I have a little more information—I was at the dress rehearsal and no program notes were available. Suffice it to say for the moment that some pieces worked better than others but that as a whole this was a more than interesting event.
Admirers of Hannah O’Neill, and there are many if my web statistics are anything to go by, may be interested to read the following post on Laura Capelle’s website Bella Figura. In addition to what is written on the site, there is a link to an article written by Capelle for the American dance magazine Pointe. The article was published in the February/March issue of Pointe and Capelle has done a great job in getting O’Neill to open up about her experiences, including some of the difficulties she has faced in Paris.
UPDATE August 2020: The Bella figura website seems not to be available these days and I have removed the non-operational link. I did find, however, a Laura Capelle article about Hannah O’Neill at this link.
A news story on the Bodenwieser project being led by Jochen Roller, which I mentioned in last month’s dance diary, was screened on SBS TV a few days ago. The SBS story is available below.
Below I have reproduced a photo of Marie Cuckson, who with Emmy Taussig assembled the Bodenwieser archival material and kept it in good order until she donated it to the National Library and the National Film and Sound Archive in 1998. The acquisition was part of the Keep Dancing! project, which was the forerunner to Australia Dancing. Marie Cuckson is seen in her home in Sydney in August 1998 with the material packaged and ready to be transported to Canberra.
Oral history collections
As a result of the Athol Willoughby interviewconducted recently I retrieved the listing of dance-related oral histories in the National Library and the National Film and Sound Archive that used to be part of Australia Dancing. I have updated that list (an old version is on the PANDORA Archive). Here is the link to the updated version. It is a remarkable list of resources going back to the 1960s with early recordings by pioneer oral historian Hazel de Berg and, in the case of the NFSA, to the 1950s with some radio interviews from that period. It includes, for example, interviews with every artistic director of the Australian Ballet—Peggy van Praagh, Robert Helpmann, Anne Woolliams, Marilyn Jones, Maina Gielgud, Ross Stretton and David McAllister—and with three of the company’s administrators/general managers—Geoffrey Ingram, Noël Pelly and Ian McRae. But it is not limited by any means to ballet and in fact covers most genres of dance and the ancillary arts as well.
That material held by the National Film and Sound Archive is included reflects the origins of the list, which was begun in the early days of the Australia Dancing project when the NFSA was a partner in the project (and in fact the major collecting partner in its initial stages). I have also posted the list on the Resources pageof this website and will update it periodically as information about new interviews comes to light. It deserves to be more obvious than it is now—that is hidden in PANDORA in an outdated version—especially as it is not a static resource.
February saw a huge jump in visits from France due largely to the post on the Paris Opera Ballet’s production of Giselle, which was the most accessed post during February by a runaway margin. Critics in France were curious about the reaction of Australian audiences and critics.
Coming in at fourth spot was a much older post on the Paris Opera Ballet’s production of Jiri Kylian’s Kaguyahime, which was having a return season in Paris in February. Interest in these two posts saw Paris become the fourth most active city after Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
The second most accessed post in February was an even older one, my review of Meryl Tankard’s Oracle, originally posted in 2009. Tankard is currently touring this work in the United States. At third spot was a post on Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring perhaps reflecting the wide interest in 2013 in the many dance activities associated with the 100th anniversary of the first performance of the Stravinsky/Roerich/Nijinsky Rite of Spring, of which the Tankard tour is one.
Hannah O’Neill is now half way through her second year with the Paris Opera Ballet, having successfully negotiated another temporary contract at the annual examinations the company conducts each year.
In her second year with the company O’Neill has taken particular delight in performing in George Balanchine’s Serenade, part of a program of three Balanchine ballets that began the 2012‒2013 season. Sadly for her Australian admirers however, she is not coming to Sydney for the Paris Opera Ballet’s season of Giselle to be staged in January‒February. She says that, as she is still on a temporary contract, she wasn’t expecting to tour but that the bonus is that she will be performing in Paris in February in Jiri Kylian’s Kaguyahime. With a company of over 150 dancers, the Paris Opera Ballet has the luxury of being able to tour while maintaining a regular program in Paris at the same time. Kaguyahime, a spectacular piece of theatre, will be O’Neill’s first experience dancing a contemporary work since she has been in Paris.
Michelle Ryan: new artistic director at Restless Dance Theatre
Early in December Michelle Ryan was appointed artistic director of Restless Dance Theatre in Adelaide. Many will remember Ryan I am sure from her performance days with Meryl Tankard. She joined the Meryl Tankard Company in Canberra in 1992 and then moved to Adelaide in 1993 remaining with Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre until it disbanded. More recently Ryan has been working as rehearsal director with Dance North.
For more about the history of Restless Dance, a contemporary company working with people with and without a disability, the National Library holds an extensive interview with Kat Worth, artistic director of Restless Dance 2001–2006.
Meryl Tankard: an original voice
Here are some shout-lines from some who have read Meryl Tankard: an original voice: ‘It has a sense of drama but also balance, and it brings Meryl and her work to life’; and ‘The best and most comprehensive study of Tankard I have read’.
I am always interested to see which tags are being accessed most frequently by visitors to this site. It usually changes slightly from month to month depending on what has been posted in any particular month. But it is perhaps more telling to look at which tags have been accessed over a full year. In 2012 the Australian Ballet topped the list. Here are the top ten: