Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and Falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Walking and Falling. QL2 Dance

10 July 2015, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Ruth Osborne, artistic director of QL2 Dance, has made a wonderfully moving vignette of dance for the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Called Walking and Falling, it features three beautifully costumed dancers, Dean Cross, Gemma Dawkins and Caitlin MacKenzie. All three are former Quantum Leapers who have gone from their student days with Canberra’s youth program to become professional dancers.

The work follows, in just 15 economical minutes, the life of a man who goes to war and returns shaken from the experience, unable to participate in the warmth of his family life as he could before he left. It opens with a charming scene around a table as the man and the two women in his life drink tea and eat scones to the sound of the patriotic wartime song Keep the Home Fires Burning. One of the women discovers a white feather in the pocket of the man’s jacket, but he does go off to war leaving the women to devote themselves to their daily chores. They pause often to think of him.

Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in Walking and Falling, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

The scene shifts to the battle field and we see the man engaged in combat. Osborne has made smart use of the space available to her and of the simple props that she uses—a table, three chairs and a poster on a side wall. The table from that opening family meal of tea and scones becomes a form of shelter and protection for the man at war and it divides the small foyer area in which the dance unfolds into two separate spaces. There is one particularly poignant moment when the man shelters behind the overturned table to read a letter from home. On the other side of the table one of the women writes a letter and, in a flash, we see two worlds.

Dean Cross in 'Walking and Falling', 2015. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dean Cross in Walking and Falling, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

The man returns home, physically anyway. But he is emotionally scarred. The work closes as it began around the family table, but there is no longer the joyous engagement between the three. To the sound of And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, a song on the futility of war, we watch as emotional silence engulfs the small group, a group that was once filled with life.

What is so attractive about this work is its simplicity. It achieves its huge emotional impact without any fuss or unnecessary razzamatazz. It moves smoothly from segment to segment and demands our attention from opening minute to its closing scene. All three dancers convey their thoughts and hopes strongly through movement, gesture, and eye contact with each other, or lack of it at the end as they struggle to cope with what has happened. As the work closes, we are left with an aching heart for the man, for the women in his life, and for their indescribable loss.

Walking and Falling is a tiny pearl of a dance commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to accompany its exhibition, All that Fall, which examines sacrifice, life and loss during World War I. The exhibition couldn’t have a more perfect addition than Walking and Falling. Bouquets to Osborne and the dancers.

Michelle Potter, 11 July 2015

Featured image: Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in the closing scene of Walking and Falling, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in 'Walking and Falling', 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

 Dean Cross, Caitlin MacKenzie and Gemma Dawkins in the closing scene of Walking and Falling, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Postscript:
The Portrait Gallery exhibition contains a collection of items from World War I including posters, personal mementos, and art works of various kinds. One of the most moving items is a work, also commissioned especially for the exhibition, by Canberra-based artist Ellis Hutch. She has created an installation of wax panels and light projections as a contemporary response to an uncompleted World War I memorial. The proposal and design for the original memorial was prepared by Theodora Cowen* and it was meant to honour the men who fell in World War I.

Last light Ellis Hutch

Ellis Hutch, Last light, 2014–2015

* There seems to be some controversy about the spelling of Theodora Cowen’s last name. Is it Cowen or Cowan? I have gone with the spelling used by the Portrait Gallery.

Dance diary. February 2015

  • Kristian Fredrikson

Now that my book, Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dancehas been published, I have returned to my research into the life and art of Kristian Fredrikson. My article ‘Undercover designs’ will appear in the forthcoming issue (March 2015) of The National Library of Australia Magazine. The research behind this article reflects part of the work I did on the film Undercover (costume design by Kristian Fredrikson) while the recipient of a Scholars and Artists in Residence Fellowship at the National Film and Sound Archive in 2012. [Update: Here is the link to the article].

  • Blonde Ambition at the National Portrait Gallery

National institutions in Canberra often use dance in the public programs associated with their exhibitions. The National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia, in particular, have been active lately. Most recently, Blonde Ambition, the female trio who investigate through dance the ideal of the feminine, appeared at the National Portrait Gallery for two shows on 28 February in conjunction with the exhibition In the Flesh.

Blonde ambition 3

Wearing their trademark, light-coloured, contemporary version of the corset, they showed us their choreographed poses, their attitude to physical activity, to eating, and a host of other areas in which women find themselves performing. They move well, this trio of women, and manage to inject a good dose of humour and smart social comment without it being overblown or too exaggerated. They performed to a collage of bird sounds, the clip clop of horses and a variety of songs interspersed with narrative. Bouquets.

  • Harry Haythorne

Recently, while expanding on my obituary for Harry Haythorne for another purpose, I came across an article Haythorne had written in 2001 for a special Australian edition of the journal Choreography and dance: an international journal (volume 6, parts 2 and 3). This issue, which I had forgotten about until now I’m afraid, was edited by Meg Denton and focused on influences and trends in Australian dance. Haythorne’s article ‘How I became a dancer—Aussie style—in the 1930s’, is an exceptional account of Haythorne’s early training and childhood performances in Adelaide, and gives a good idea of terms that are no longer current, ‘fancy dancing’ and the like. Highly recommended.

  • Press for February 2015 (Update May 2019: Online links to articles published in The Canberra Times are no longer available)

‘Understanding the dance unlocks supreme equation.’ Review of Metasystems and Post phase: the summit is blue, The Canberra Times, 14 February 2015, ARTS, p. 20.

Michelle Potter, 28 February 2015

Featured image: Fabric samples for Kristian Fredrikson’s costumes for the film Undercover, from the article Undercover Designs.

All photos: Michelle Potter