Meryl Tankard: an original voice. Part eight—The voice

On 30 November 2012 the content of this post was deleted.

The background to the book is, however, worth retaining:

In 2004 I began working on the manuscript of a book, Meryl Tankard: an original voice. In that year a book about Tankard was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as part of a series called Australian Lives. The commissioning letter said, in part, that the book should:

… present a life of Meryl Tankard along with an account of her career and achievements … provide insights into her way of working, her acknowledged successes, her less well-known career highlights and her private life … [cover] key personal and professional associations … explore why she has, from time to time, been embroiled in some difficulties and controversies.

For a variety of reasons the Library decided not to proceed with publication of the manuscript as a title in the Australian Lives series. A proposal was considered again in 2008 after I had added to and significantly enhanced the manuscript once I no longer needed to adhere to a limit of 25,000–30,000 words. Again the Library decided not to proceed, with the final decision being made on the grounds that the publication would not attract enough public interest for sales to cover costs. Eventually, in 2011, I found a publisher who thought publication was a viable proposition, but other circumstances relating to copyright and permissions, which I was unable to secure, meant that once again publication did not proceed.

However, a huge amount of research went into the manuscript. Some of it was conducted overseas and some of it foregrounded works by Tankard that have not been seen in Australia or that were one-off shows. Extensive research also went into putting together a list Tankard’s choreographic works from 1977 to 2009. In addition, many, many people generously shared thoughts and material with me. It seemed a cruel fate for this research not to see the light of day. So, I published the major part of it on this website. I am delighted that the book is now available in expanded form as a self-published print production—unfortunately though without images! The print edition includes the eight chapters originally posted on this website plus a preface, introduction, bibliography, index and an updated list of choreographic works. Ordering details are at this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2012

Meryl Tankard: an original voice. Part five—Adelaide

On 30 November 2012 the content of this post was deleted.

Following requests from a number of readers for a copy of Meryl Tankard: an original voice, the book is now available in print form. The print edition includes the eight chapters originally posted on this website plus a preface, introduction, bibliography, index and an updated list of choreographic works. Ordering details are at this link.

The background to the book is, however, worth retaining:

In 2004 I began working on the manuscript of a book, Meryl Tankard: an original voice. In that year a book about Tankard was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as part of a series called Australian Lives. The commissioning letter said, in part, that the book should:

… present a life of Meryl Tankard along with an account of her career and achievements … provide insights into her way of working, her acknowledged successes, her less well-known career highlights and her private life … [cover] key personal and professional associations … explore why she has, from time to time, been embroiled in some difficulties and controversies.

For a variety of reasons the Library decided not to proceed with publication of the manuscript as a title in the Australian Lives series. A proposal was considered again in 2008 after I had added to and significantly enhanced the manuscript once I no longer needed to adhere to a limit of 25,000–30,000 words. Again the Library decided not to proceed, with the final decision being made on the grounds that the publication would not attract enough public interest for sales to cover costs. Eventually, in 2011, I found a publisher who thought publication was a viable proposition, but other circumstances relating to copyright and permissions meant that once again publication did not proceed.

However, a huge amount of research went into the manuscript. Some of it was conducted overseas and some of it foregrounded works by Tankard that have not been seen in Australia or that were one-off shows. Extensive research also went into putting together a list Tankard’s choreographic works from 1977 to 2009. In addition, many, many people generously shared thoughts and material with me. It seemed a cruel fate for this research not to see the light of day. So, I published the major part of it on this website. I am delighted that the book is now available in expanded form as a self-published print production.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2012

Meryl Tankard: an original voice. Part four—Canberra

On 30 November 2012 the conent of this post was deleted.

Following requests from a number of readers for a copy of Meryl Tankard: an original voice, the book is now available in print form. The print edition includes the eight chapters originally posted on this website plus a preface, introduction, bibliography, index and an updated list of choreographic works. Ordering details are at this link.

The background to the book is, however, worth retaining:

In 2004 I began working on the manuscript of a book, Meryl Tankard: an original voice. In that year a book about Tankard was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as part of a series called Australian Lives. The commissioning letter said, in part, that the book should:

… present a life of Meryl Tankard along with an account of her career and achievements … provide insights into her way of working, her acknowledged successes, her less well-known career highlights and her private life … [cover] key personal and professional associations … explore why she has, from time to time, been embroiled in some difficulties and controversies.

For a variety of reasons the Library decided not to proceed with publication of the manuscript as a title in the Australian Lives series. A proposal was considered again in 2008 after I had added to and significantly enhanced the manuscript once I no longer needed to adhere to a limit of 25,000–30,000 words. Again the Library decided not to proceed, with the final decision being made on the grounds that the publication would not attract enough public interest for sales to cover costs. Eventually, in 2011, I found a publisher who thought publication was a viable proposition, but other circumstances relating to copyright and permissions meant that once again publication did not proceed.

However, a huge amount of research went into the manuscript. Some of it was conducted overseas and some of it foregrounded works by Tankard that have not been seen in Australia or that were one-off shows. Extensive research also went into putting together a list Tankard’s choreographic works from 1977 to 2009. In addition, many, many people generously shared thoughts and material with me. It seemed a cruel fate for this research not to see the light of day. So, I published the major part of it on this website. I am delighted that the book is now available in expanded form as a self-published print production.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2012

Meryl Tankard: an original voice. Part three—Return to Australia

On 30 November 2012 the content of this post was deleted.

Following requests from a number of readers for a copy of Meryl Tankard: an original voice, the book is now available in print form. The print edition includes the eight chapters originally posted on this website plus a preface, introduction, bibliography, index and an updated list of choreographic works. Ordering details are at this link.

The background to the book is, however, worth retaining:

In 2004 I began working on the manuscript of a book, Meryl Tankard: an original voice. In that year a book about Tankard was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as part of a series called Australian Lives. The commissioning letter said, in part, that the book should:

… present a life of Meryl Tankard along with an account of her career and achievements … provide insights into her way of working, her acknowledged successes, her less well-known career highlights and her private life … [cover] key personal and professional associations … explore why she has, from time to time, been embroiled in some difficulties and controversies.

For a variety of reasons the Library decided not to proceed with publication of the manuscript as a title in the Australian Lives series. A proposal was considered again in 2008 after I had added to and significantly enhanced the manuscript once I no longer needed to adhere to a limit of 25,000–30,000 words. Again the Library decided not to proceed, with the final decision being made on the grounds that the publication would not attract enough public interest for sales to cover costs. Eventually, in 2011, I found a publisher who thought publication was a viable proposition, but other circumstances relating to copyright and permissions meant that once again publication did not proceed.

However, a huge amount of research went into the manuscript. Some of it was conducted overseas and some of it foregrounded works by Tankard that have not been seen in Australia or that were one-off shows. Extensive research also went into putting together a list Tankard’s choreographic works from 1977 to 2009. In addition, many, many people generously shared thoughts and material with me. It seemed a cruel fate for this research not to see the light of day. So, I published the major part of it on this website. I am delighted that the book is now available in expanded form as a self-published print production.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2012

Meryl Tankard: an original voice. Part two—Pina Bausch

On 30  November 2012 the content of this post was deleted.

Following requests from a number of readers for a copy of Meryl Tankard: an original voice, the book is now available in print form. The print edition includes the eight chapters originally posted on this website plus a preface, introduction, bibliography, index and an updated list of choreographic works. Ordering details are at this link.

The background to the book is, however, worth retaining:

In 2004 I began working on the manuscript of a book, Meryl Tankard: an original voice. In that year a book about Tankard was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as part of a series called Australian Lives. The commissioning letter said, in part, that the book should:

… present a life of Meryl Tankard along with an account of her career and achievements … provide insights into her way of working, her acknowledged successes, her less well-known career highlights and her private life … [cover] key personal and professional associations … explore why she has, from time to time, been embroiled in some difficulties and controversies.

For a variety of reasons the Library decided not to proceed with publication of the manuscript as a title in the Australian Lives series. A proposal was considered again in 2008 after I had added to and significantly enhanced the manuscript once I no longer needed to adhere to a limit of 25,000–30,000 words. Again the Library decided not to proceed, with the final decision being made on the grounds that the publication would not attract enough public interest for sales to cover costs. Eventually, in 2011, I found a publisher who thought publication was a viable proposition, but other circumstances relating to copyright and permissions meant that once again publication did not proceed.

However, a huge amount of research went into the manuscript. Some of it was conducted overseas and some of it foregrounded works by Tankard that have not been seen in Australia or that were one-off shows. Extensive research also went into putting together a list Tankard’s choreographic works from 1977 to 2009. In addition, many, many people generously shared thoughts and material with me. It seemed a cruel fate for this research not to see the light of day. So, I published the major part of it on this website. I am delighted that the book is now available in expanded form as a self-published print production.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2012

Dance diary. July 2012

  • Moya Beaver (1918‒2012)

I was saddened to learn that Moya Beaver, whose dance links go back to Louise Lightfoot and Mischa Burlakov and the First Australian Ballet in the 1930s, had died on 13 June 2012. Beaver performed in many of the Lightfoot/Burlakov productions and was partnered often by Gordon Hamilton. She later travelled to Europe where she studied in Paris with Lubov Egorova. Beaver then performed with Egorova’s Les Ballets de la jeunesse, touring with them to Denmark. On her return to Australia she danced in the J. C. Williamson musical Funny side up before settling into family life and a long career as a teacher in Sydney.

Moya Beaver and Gordon Hamilton in 'Le Carnaval'. Photo Nikolai Ross, 1937
Moya Beaver and Gordon Hamilton in Le Carnaval, First Australian Ballet 1937. Photo Nikolai Ross. Courtesy National Library of Australia

Listen to Moya Beaver’s oral history interview, recorded for the National Library in 1994.

  • International Auto/Biography Association (IABA)

In July I presented a paper, ‘The desire to conceal: two case studies’, at the 2012 IABA conference, Framing Lives.  In this paper I looked at the problems encountered in writing a biography when a subject expresses, either directly or indirectly, a desire to conceal certain aspects of his/her life and career.

  • Kathryn Bennetts

I also had the great pleasure in July of recording an oral history interview with Australian expatriate Kathryn Bennetts who recently resigned from a seven year term as artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Antwerp. Bennetts was in Sydney briefly before returning to Europe to continue work as a much sought after teacher and as a stager of ballets, especially those of William Forsythe, for companies across the world.

  • The Oracle and Meryl Tankard

Also during July The Canberra Times published my article on Meryl Tankard’s 2009 work The Oracle, which I was inspired to write after hearing that negotiations were underway for The Oracle to tour in the United States

  • Ethan Stiefel

News came through this month too of Ethan Stiefel’s final performance on 7 July as a dancer with American Ballet Theatre. Here is a selection of online news:

Interview in TimeOut about his retirement
Article in The New York Times about his retirement
The New York Times review of the final show

I loved Roslyn Sulcas’ comments in the review: ‘His performance was daring, explosive. Pirouettes, jumps and whole phrases started at what seemed to be full power and then amazingly turned up a notch. Risk was palpable, and yet classical form was never distorted’.

After reading the reports I looked back to a letter I had written to a friend following Stiefel’s performance as Solor in La Bayadère with ABT in 2007 (with Diana Vishneva as Nikiya). I wrote: ‘Those double cabrioles in his Act I solo! So exciting to see, partly of course because he has such amazing legs in terms of strength and in terms of the long lean look they have. Then I was watching his manège of grands jetés in the same solo and was absolutely taken by the way he stretched out the front leg. You could see its trajectory carving or pushing a line in the space ahead of him.’

What a performance that was and, to my absolute surprise as I am not normally a fan of La Bayadère, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat for the entire performance.

Steifel and his partner Gillian Murphy are now back in Wellington with the Royal New Zealand Ballet where a new production of Giselle by Stiefel, in collaboration with Johan Kobborg, is something to anticipate later this year.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2012

Meryl Tankard: an original voice. Part one—Early journeys

On 30 November 2012 the content of this post was deleted.

Following requests from a number of readers for a copy of Meryl Tankard: an original voice, the book is now available in print form. The print edition includes the eight chapters originally posted on this website plus a preface, introduction, bibliography, index and an updated list of choreographic works. Ordering details are at this link.

The background to the book is, however, worth retaining:

In 2004 I began working on the manuscript of a book, Meryl Tankard: an original voice. In that year a book about Tankard was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as part of a series called Australian Lives. The commissioning letter said, in part, that the book should:

… present a life of Meryl Tankard along with an account of her career and achievements … provide insights into her way of working, her acknowledged successes, her less well-known career highlights and her private life … [cover] key personal and professional associations … explore why she has, from time to time, been embroiled in some difficulties and controversies.

For a variety of reasons the Library decided not to proceed with publication of the manuscript as a title in the Australian Lives series. A proposal was considered again in 2008 after I had added to and significantly enhanced the manuscript once I no longer needed to adhere to a limit of 25,000–30,000 words. Again the Library decided not to proceed, with the final decision being made on the grounds that the publication would not attract enough public interest for sales to cover costs. Eventually, in 2011, I found a publisher who thought publication was a viable proposition, but other circumstances relating to copyright and permissions meant that once again publication did not proceed.

However, a huge amount of research went into the manuscript. Some of it was conducted overseas and some of it foregrounded works by Tankard that have not been seen in Australia or that were one-off shows. Extensive research also went into putting together a list Tankard’s choreographic works from 1977 to 2009. In addition, many, many people generously shared thoughts and material with me. It seemed a cruel fate for this research not to see the light of day. So, I published the major part of it on this website. I am delighted that the book is now available in expanded form as a self-published print production.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2012

A Bauschian experience in Berlin

Recently Roslyn Sulcas had a feature in The New York Times about the works of Pina Bausch that are being brought to London to coincide with the 2012 Olympic Games. The London program, called World Cities 2012—it opened on 6 June, celebrates the residencies Bausch and her company undertook in the last several years of Bausch’s life. The full program will show ten of the works Bausch made as a result of those residencies.

Sulcas interviewed a number of people for her feature, including the theatre director Peter Sellars. Sellars noted the following characteristic of Bausch’s choreographic process:

What is so extraordinary about Pina’s work is that she doesn’t start from the architectonics of movement; it starts from the autobiography of the dancers.  

The statement immediately reminded me of the Australian video documentary The Black Swan directed by Michelle Mahrer in 1995 about Meryl Tankard’s career, including her career as a dancer with Pina Bausch. The video contains archival footage from Walzer (1982) and shows a scene in which Tankard’s character outlines for the benefit of the audience various survival methods that might be pursued should one find oneself alone in the desert. Tankard’s movements are dynamic and her voice animated. She wears an alluring yellow and black striped dress in keeping with the elegance of the other dancers who, oblivious to Tankard, mingle with each other and eat supper from a long table. The scene has the glamour of a society party, which makes Tankard’s discussion of desert survival appear startlingly out of context.

When Tankard gives her explanation of how to get by in the desert she is drawing on her recollections of early trips she and her family made between Darwin, where she was born, and Melbourne, where the family would later settle for several years. She explains to the audience how the wearing of underpants on the head is a great way to keep flies at bay. On the spot she removes her own underpants and demonstrates how to wear this item of apparel on the head in the most effective manner, all the while maintaining her enthusiastic telling of the story and her exhortations and advice to the audience.

Tankard’s mother, when questioned later by Tankard, explained the rationale behind this action of wearing underpants on the head. She recalled that on one of the trips back to Darwin—and the family made the long trip between Darwin and Melbourne and back several times while living in Darwin—the flies had been so bad at one breakfast stop that she had had the idea of covering the children’s faces with underpants, newly-bought in Melbourne and made from fabric that ‘breathed’ as a result of the tiny holes that were part of the composition of the fabric.

Sellars’ remark clearly fits well in the case of Tankard and Walzer. And Tankard of course would go onto use a similar technique and draw on many memories from her childhood and young adulthood when making her own works in Australia.

But a recent experience suggested to me that there is another powerful element in Bausch’s work that is perhaps stronger than those autobiographical elements, as important as they are. I was standing on a busy street corner near Eberswalder Strasse station in East Berlin. It’s a vibrant area in the city—full of students and other, colourful characters. A woman was crossing towards my corner on the green light and as she approached the kerb it was apparent that she was shouting something. In between exhortations she was taking bites from a huge, round, flat loaf of bread—and I mean huge. It was larger than a standard-sized pizza base and thicker. She wore track pants and a parka and a woollen cap. A line of cyclists in a bike lane, who were stationary waiting for a green light to move forward, studiously avoided taking any notice of the woman, although she was clearly an eccentric character in a regular, busy street scene and was passing right in front of them. They were dressed for bike riding so were not all that dissimilar in dress from the woman who was the central attraction.

The scene could have come straight out of a Bausch work. The woman was as vibrant in her exhortations as any of the best of Bausch’s dancers. The incongruity of her activity involving the bread recalled the apparent non-sequiturs that often feature in a Bausch work and reminded me of, say, the scene in Palermo, Palermo where one of the dancers cooks slices of some kind of sausage on the hot-plate of an iron. The bike riders got on with their business just as those dancers in Walzer did, seemingly oblivious to what was happening in front of them. 

I began to think about how the major feature of Bausch’s works is not so much that she drew on the autobiographical stories of her dancers, but that she manipulated those stories and set them into a context. She was able to seduce the audience not because the stories were autobiographical but because through them she allowed art to imitate life.

© Michelle Potter, 9 June 2012

Postscript, 1 July 2012: Here is a link to a podcast made by The Financial Times in relation to the World Cities 2012 program. It features dance critic Clement Crisp and Alistair Spalding, artistic director of Sadler’s Wells. (Update August 2020: 2012 link no longer available)

Dance diary. May 2012

  • Heath Ledger Project

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

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

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

  • Meryl Tankard at the Cannes Film Festival

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

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

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

  • Pablo Picasso’s curtain for Parade

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

'Parade' curtain
Curtain for Parade (detail). Photo: Michelle Potter

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

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

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

  • Canberra dance

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

  • New York Public Library

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

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

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

Michelle Potter, 30 May 2012

Canberra dance. A professional company?

Canberra hasn’t had a professional dance company for some time now and, as Dance Week 2012 approached, an article appeared in The Canberra Times in which Neil Roach, director of Ausdance ACT, suggested that the city should aspire to have an ‘emerging professional dance company … like those already being successfully funded by the Australia Council—Kate Champion, Lucy Guerin, Chunky Moves [sic]’. Well to put it bluntly, there is no reason why we in Canberra should expect to have a funded dance company. It is not a right.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to one of course. Nor that we don’t want one. But Canberra isn’t Sydney or Melbourne. It’s an unusual place and those who have watched several professional companies come and go in Canberra since 1980, when Don Asker’s Human Veins Dance Theatre became Canberra’s first professional dance company, will all have an opinion as to what suits Canberra.

Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised when I say that for me the most vibrant time for dance in Canberra was 1989 to 1992 when the Meryl Tankard Company was the city’s resident dance company. The place was buzzing then—art attracts art—and if we look back to that period there is much upon which we can draw to make a case for what will inspire the Canberra population to embrace a dance company.

I have always been taken by the words of Stefanos Lazaridis, who directed Orphée et Eurydice for Opera Australia in 1993, which Tankard choreographed after she had left Canberra. He said on an Imagine program on SBS Television in ca. 1994:

The word ‘choreography’ did not apply as far as I am concerned. I wanted this dimension [of the opera] to be dealt with by somebody who has the demonic dance talent of Meryl Tankard, who is a woman of total theatre.

Tankard brought to Canberra something more than ‘just dance’. She brought that ‘total theatre’ that Lazaridis was smart enough to recognise and to declare in such a public forum.  In my opinion that’s just what a small city needs. The population of Canberra at the moment is just 360,000. With that number of people, if  a dance company aspires to be ongoing and viable it needs to be able to attract an audience from across the visual, literary and performing arts. A company that doesn’t aspire to attract, or isn’t capable of engaging audiences beyond the confines of the local dance community, will never make an impact.

Court of Flora. Photo Regis Lansac
Tuula Roppola as the Rose in Court of Fora, Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Australia, 1991. Photo: Régis Lansac. Courtesy Régis Lansac

Tankard was always proud that her 1989 work  Banshee, shown at the National Gallery of Australia in conjunction with an exhibition of Irish gold and silver, largely Celtic jewellery, attracted a small punk audience. And I can never forget Court of Flora first staged in 1990 at Floriade, Canberra’s annual outdoor spring event. It drew large crowds, who delighted in Anthony Phillips’ spectacular costumes and in the ability of Tankard’s dancers to imbue the floral characters they represented with human characteristics. The work was repeated many times in a variety of Canberra venues between 1990 and 1992. Marion Halligan wrote about Tankard’s work. The Embassy of France and the Goethe Institute in Canberra supported the company.

But what was also interesting about those years was that Tankard and her partner in art and life, Régis Lansac, embraced the Canberra community, its institutions, its landscape and its resident artists. They lived in the city. Lansac exhibited his photographs with other local artists. Tankard made a short film in the Federal Highway Park Quarry just out of the city. Lansac incorporated photographs of a local landmark, Mount Ainslie, in projections that accompanied Two Feet. Lansac received a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award for ‘his constant searching for, and discovery of, new frontiers in stage design’. And ultimately Tankard was made ACT Citizen of the Year in 1992 for having ‘brought the arts in Canberra to both national and international attention’ and for ‘enriching [Canberra’s] reputation as one of great diversity and creativity’. It was a heady time for dance in the ACT and one that has not been equalled since in my opinion.

So yes, I too would love there to be a professional dance company in Canberra. But I don’t think it should be an experimental, contemporary company with interests that attract only a minority of dance aficionados. Leave that to larger cities. Canberra needs a dance company that the wider community can feel belongs to Canberra, not just to dance.

Michelle Potter, 28 April 2012.