This month’s dance diary has, unexpectedly, a focus on dance books. One book is quite new and is due to be released on 1 August. The others have already been published and their mention is a result of other, related news received during the month.
The Art and Science of Ballet Dancing and Teaching.A new book by Janet Karin
A new book by Janet Karin OAM, The Art and Science of Ballet Dancing and Teaching, will be released by Routledge on 1 August 2023. Karin has had an extraordinarily diverse dance career including as a performer, teacher and researcher. Her book has the subtitle ‘Integrating Mind, Brain and Body’ and examines an approach to ballet that is holistic in outlook rather than being seen and understood as a collection of steps joined together.
In her introduction, Karin has shared her thoughts about writing the book:
I have written this book for all those who, like me, have wondered what is ‘inside’ the visible reality of the dancing body. How does the miracle of beautiful, expressive dancing happen? This question has mesmerised me from my earliest ballet classes. Now, after many decades as a dancer, teacher and dance science researcher, I offer my understanding of the mystery within dance to all those who share my wonder. The book is written primarily for dancers, company ballet staff, ballet teachers, and vocational and under-graduate dance students but I hope it may be of interest to parents, audience members, health practitioners and anyone else who wishes to know more about the inner workings of the dancer’s mind and body.
The image that graces the front cover shows Robyn Hendricks and Robert Curran from the Australia Ballet in a moment from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. The photo was taken by Jess Bialek.
Here is the link to information about the book and how to purchase it from the publisher.
Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake
Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake, made for Houston Ballet and first seen in 2006 has just recently been restaged. I found the production, which I have only seen on DVD, quite absorbing from many points of view. It was of course especially notable for me as it was designed by Kristian Fredrikson. Fredrikson was the subject of my book Kristian Fredrikson. Designer, published by Melbourne Books in 2020. He created the designs for Swan Lake in 2005, the year of his death. It was his last commission.
Houston Ballet is still using those original designs after 17 or so years and the Texan lifestyle magazine Papercity included a review of the recent restaging in its edition of 13 June 2023. The review included the following:
Swan Lake’s Costume Power
Adding to the dark atmosphere are costumes and sets by Kristian Fredrikson, who borrows from the mood and palette of pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse. The ballet’s opening scene at the lake is inspired by Waterhouse’s painting The Lady of Shalott, 1888, based on Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1832 poem of the same name. Set in Arthurian times, the poem depicts the mythological tale of a female figure who, like Odette, gives her life for love and a moment of freedom, and thereby breaks a curse.
That the Pre-Raphaelites were also inspired by the Ottoman Empire likely explains Fredrikson’s Byzantinesque ballroom in Act II, ominously lit by designer Lisa J. Pinkham, where the Queen is entertaining. The impressive set has been widely praised since its inception.
I have fond memories of travelling to Houston during research for my book. Especially generous to me on that occasion was wardrobe manager Laura Lynch and, as a result of Lynch’s input, and that of others in Houston, I was able to include a reasonably extensive account of the design work for Welch’s Swan Lake. My book features a number of illustrations of aspects of the production, including one showing the set and costumes for the ballroom scene mentioned above. The genesis of the tutus for the swans is also discussed.
My book is still available from Melbourne Books and is currently being offered at a special price. Follow this link.
Philippa Cullen. Some little known footage
Evelyn Juers, author The Dancer. A Biography for Philippa Cullen, alerted me to some footage of Cullen, which she described as ‘rare’ noting that she had never seen it before. It was shot in 1975 by Stephen Raoul Jones when Cullen appeared in ‘Australia 75: Computers and Electronics in the Arts’ in the ballroom of the Lakeside Hotel in Canberra in March 1975.
More information about the footage and Jones’ recording of it is available in the text attached to the video link below.
My review of Juers’ book is at this link. Copies are available from the publisher, Giramondo, at this link.
Derek Denton (1924–2022)
Somewhat belatedly I discovered that Emeritus Professor Derek ‘Dick’ Denton AC had died, aged 98, in Melbourne late last year. Quite rightly the obituaries I have since read focus on Denton’s extraordinary career as a research physiologist. But Denton married Margaret Scott, later Dame Margaret Scott, in Cambridge, England, in 1953, and his support of Scott throughout her diverse dance career is exceptional. In particular, he was active in the many discussions with H. C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs and others, which took place in the Denton/Scott home in Melbourne and which eventually led to the establishment of the Australian Ballet and later the Australian Ballet School of which Scott was founding director.
I had much admiration for Denton, in particular for his knowledge and generosity as I set to work on my biography of Scott, Dame Maggie Scott. A life in dance, which was published in 2014 by Text Publishing. The book includes many references to Denton’s role in the growth of ballet in Australia. Some are highly surprising, such as his involvement in an operation undergone by Scott in 1951. The book is still available from the publisher. Follow this link.
Michelle Potter, 30 June 2023
Featured image: Cover for Janet Karin’s book The Art and Science of Ballet Dancing and Teaching
Every year a message from an outstanding dance artist is circulated throughout the world by the International Theatre Institute and the World Dance Alliance. In 2023 those organisations have chosen dancer and choreographer YANG Liping from China to write this annual message. YANG Liping is a member of the Bai ethnic group from Dali, Yunnan Province. She is a National First-class Dancer and the Vice Chairperson of China Dancers Association. YANG Liping’s message is available to read at this link.
In the ACT International Dance Day was celebrated with a gathering hosted by Ausdance ACT. The event featured a speech from the ACT’s Minister for the Arts, Tara Cheyne, and performances by Grace Peng, with a brief appearance by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, and by the multi-cultural youth group, Passion and Purpose.
Clanship. Stephen Page
Stephen Page gave the 2023 Andrew Sayers Lecture, which he called Clanship, at the National Portrait Gallery on 27 April 2023. The lecture included information on, stories about, and photographs of his extended family, as well as information about the works he made over a thirty-year period as artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre. Page was hugely popular with the audience and the more they laughed and clapped the more he responded in a theatrical way!
Page was welcomed by the new director of the National Portrait Gallery, Bree Pickering. Pickering was appointed to the position in February 2023 and, hopefully, will continue to offer dance performances in conjunction with exhibitions (as has happened frequently in the past).
.Pierre Lacotte (1932-2023)
I was sorry to hear of the recent death of Pierre Lacotte, French dancer, choreographer and director. It sent me back to my collection of programs for productions by the Paris Opera Ballet, specifically to that for Paquita, which I saw in Paris back in 2002, a full-length production that Lacotte restaged (as far as was possible) from the original production of 1846. The program gives a fascinating account of the history of Paquita, which is most commonly seen, including in Australia, in an abbreviated version of Act III only. While I have to admit I did not find the full-length production immensely appealing, I was lucky to have seen it as a complete work.
An obituary by Laura Capelle, as published in the Financial Times, is at this link. Unfortunately, like most of the obituaries I accessed, this one probably requires payment to read. I’ll keep looking for others that are free and that make worthwhile reading.
News from Lucy Guerin Inc is that the company will be appearing at the Venice Biennnale in a program curated by Wayne McGregor. Lucy Guerin Inc will be presenting PENDULUM (commissioned by RISING) and Split alongside a suite of other programming activities including artist talks, film screening, and a masterclass with Guerin. Other dance artists/companies who will be presenting include Simone Forte, Tao Dance Theater, Rachid Ouramdane, Xie Xin, Michael Keegan-Dolan, Oona Doherty, Acosta Danza, and William Forsythe.
A terrific opportunity for Lucy Guerin Inc.
Michelle Potter, 30 April 2023
Featured image: Promotional image for International Dance Day 2023. Photo credit: Yunnan Yang Liping, Art & Culture Company
Shirley McKechnie, who has died in Melbourne at the age of 96, was one of Australia’s most influential dance educators. Born Shirley Elizabeth Gorham, she was educated at Albion State School and Williamstown High School. After matriculating from secondary school, and with the prospect of a career in science, began work in Melbourne in the research laboratories of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works.Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Lucy Parakhina
But her interest in dance and movement had begun when she was very young and, while engaged with the Board of Works, she continued her interest by taking dance and composition classes with Hanny Exiner and Daisy Pirnitzer, both of whom were exponents of the European modern dance technique as brought to Australia by Gertrud Bodenwieser. Exiner and Pirnitzer were associated with the Melbourne-based Studio of Creative Dance and McKechnie also began dancing with the performance group attached to that Studio.
In 1945 McKechnie began teaching dance at a small school she established with the encouragement and support of the Ferntree Gully Arts Society. She continued to teach at this school until her marriage to Ken McKechnie in 1948. After the birth of her second child, she established a second school in Beaumaris, Melbourne, in 1955. This school became the foundation for her long career as a teacher, choreographer and dance director.
In 1963 McKechnie founded the Australian Contemporary Dance Theatre, whose dancers were drawn from the older students of her school. McKechnie was the company’s director and main choreographer between 1963 and 1973. During this time she choreographed a number of works for the company including Sketches on Themes of Paul Klee (1964), Earth Song (1965), Vision of Bones (1966), Sea Interludes (1966), Hymn of Jesus (1967), Of Spiralling Why (1967), The Other Generation (1968), Landscape of Dream and Memory (1970), The Finding of the Moon (1972), and Canon forFour Dancers (1973). During this period she also wrote and choreographed a lecture and performance titled The Dancer, the Dance and the Audience.
In the 1970s she worked closely with English dance advocate and educator Peter Brinson on two of the four momentous summer schools that took place at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, between 1967 and 1976. The summer schools were initially an initiative of Dame Peggy van Praagh and the first two had a focus on classical ballet and audience development, and had broadly speaking a lecture/discussion-style emphasis. Those in which McKechnie and Brinson were closely involved highlighted choreography and creativity. More about the Armidale summer schools is at this link.
After graduating from Monash University with an honours degree in English literature in 1974 McKechnie founded and directed the first degree course in dance studies at an Australian tertiary institution at Rusden College, now Deakin University, in 1975. In her role as dance educator and advocate for dance she was also a co-founder of the Australian Association for Dance Education (AADE), now Ausdance, founding chair of the Tertiary Dance Council of Australia, founder of the Green Mill Dance Project, and a member of the research team for Conceiving Connections, a three year-study (2002-2004) building on the research project Unspoken Knowledges. Conceiving Connections aimed to increase an understanding of dance audiences by addressing problems that had been identified by the dance industry as critical to its viability among the contemporary performing arts in Australia.
McKechnie went on to have an acclaimed academic career and received many awards and accolades. Her awards included a Kenneth Myer Medallion for the Performing Arts in 1993, the Ausdance 21 Award for outstanding and distinguished service, and two Australian Dance Awards, including that for lifetime achievement in 2001. She was made an honorary fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1998, and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2013. For a more detailed view of her academic career and her awards see Vale Shirley McKechnie AO on the Ausdance National website at this link.
Perhaps what I admired most about McKechnie’s career was her ’never give up’ approach. Dance is an art form in which so many possibilities are available as one moves through life. McKechnie found and explored so many of them. I mentioned this aspect of her life in relation to a film made by Sue Healey in 2015 when I wrote:
McKechnie has influenced many people working in the area of contemporary dance in Australia and, when a stroke left her unable to continue her own practice, she turned to writing, largely in the field of cognition. As a result, this short film is not so much about how to continue to drive the body physically as one ages, but about how to reinvent oneself in order to remain active within the field of dance.
McKechnie spent her final years at Mayflower Brighton Aged Care and I recall that she was thinking of donating her dance library to Mayflower when she entered that centre. That way she would continue to have access to what had been written about the art form that she loved so much.
Shirley McKechnie is survived by her two sons, Garry and Graeme, and their families.
Shirley Elizabeth McKechnie, AO: born Melbourne 18 June 1926; died Melbourne 5 September 2022
Note on source materials for this obituary: Much of the material in this obituary comes from items held by the National Library of Australia in Canberra, including Papers of Shirley McKechnie (MS 9553), and a short biography from the website Australia Dancing (which was established at the National Library in ca. 2002 but which has not been active since 2012). I have directly taken sections from this biography, which I wrote in 2005. The Library’s material also includes oral histories with McKechnie as interviewee, and many oral histories that she recorded with contemporary dancers and choreographers for various projects in which she was involved, or which she initiated.
This is an expanded version of an obituary written by Jennifer Shennan and published in The Dominion Post online on 2 April 2022.
Russell Kerr, leading light of ballet in New Zealand, has died in Christchurch aged 92. The legendary dancer, teacher, choreographer and producer influenced generations of New Zealand dancers. Kerr’s hallmark talent was to absorb music so as to draw out character, narrative, human interest, emotion, poetry and comedy that ballet in the theatre can offer. Thrusting your leg high in the air, or even behind your head, just because you can, is the empty gesture of perfunctory performance that he found exasperating. Shouting and sneering at dancers, telling them they are not good enough, was anathema to him. One dancer commented, ‘Mr Kerr always treated you as an artist so you behaved like one.’
Born in Auckland in 1930, the younger of two sons, Russell was already learning piano from his mother, a qualified teacher, when a doctor recommended dance classes to strengthen against the rheumatoid arthritis that ailed the child. Did that doctor follow the remarkable career that ensued from his advice? Years later Russell was asked if it was difficult, back then, to be the only boy in a ballet school of girl pupils? He chuckled, ‘Oh no, it was marvellous—there I was in a room full of girls and no competition for their attention. It was great fun.’
Kerr made impressive progress both in dancing and piano, achieving LTCL level, then starting to teach. He could have been a musician, but dancing won out when in 1951 he was awarded a Government bursary to study abroad. In London he trained at Sadler’s Wells, with Stanislaw Idzikowski (a dancer in both Pavlova’s and Diaghilev’s companies), and also Spanish dance with Elsa Brunelleschi. Upon her advice and just for the experience, he went to an audition at the leading flamenco company of José Greco. Flamenco would be one of the world’s most demanding dance forms, both technically and musically. Remarkably, he was offered the job, providing he changed his name to Rubio Caro! How fitting that Kerr’s first contract was as a dancing musician. When asked later how he’d managed it he replied, ‘Oh, I just followed the others.’
After a time, Sadler’s Wells’ leading choreographer, Frederick Ashton, declared Russell’s body not suitably shaped for ballet. ‘I’ll show you’ he muttered to himself, and so he did. In a performance of Alice in Wonderland, he scored recognition in a review (‘Kerr’s performance as a snail was so lifelike you could almost see the slimy trail he left behind as he crossed the stage.’ As he later pointed out, ‘not many dancers are complimented in review for their slimy trails’). A sense of humour and irony was always hovering.
Kerr danced with Ballet Rambert, and was encouraged towards choreography by director Marie Rambert. Later he joined Festival Ballet, rising to the rank of soloist, earning recognition for his performances in Schéhérazade, Prince Igor, Coppélia, Petrouchka among others. Nicholas Beriosov had been regisseur to choreographer Fokine in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Kerr’s work with him at Festival Ballet lent a pedigree to his later productions from that repertoire as attuned and authentic as any in the world.
The investment of his Government bursary was exponentially repaid when Russell, now married to dancer June Greenhalgh, returned to New Zealand in 1957. He told me he spent the ship’s entire journey sitting in a deck chair planning how to establish a ballet company that might in time become a national one. Upon arrival he was astonished to learn that Poul Gnatt, formerly with Royal Danish Ballet, had already formed the New Zealand Ballet and, thanks to Community Arts Service and Friends of the Ballet since 1953, ‘…they were touring to places in my country I’d never even heard of. So I ditched my plans and Poul and I found a way to work together.’
Kerr became partner and later director of Nettleton-Edwards-Kerr school of ballet in Auckland. (I was an 11 year old pupil there. It was obvious that Mr Kerr was a fine teacher, encouraging aspiration though not competition. We became friends for life). Auckland Ballet Theatre had existed for some years but Kerr built up its size and reputation, staging over 30 productions. Perhaps the highlight of these was a season of Swan Lake on a stage on Western Springs lake. He produced a series, Background to Ballet, for Television New Zealand in its first year of broadcasting, and also choreographed many productions for Frank Poore’s Light Opera Company.
In 1959, New Zealand Ballet and Auckland Ballet Theatre combined in the United Ballet Season, involving dancers June Greenhalgh, Rowena Jackson, Philip Chatfield, Sara Neil and others. The program included Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor to Borodin’s sensuous score, and Prismatic Variations, co-choreographed by Kerr and Gnatt, to Brahms’ glorious St Anthony Chorale. Music as well as dance audiences in Auckland were astonished, and the triumphant season was repeated with equal success the following year in Wellington, when Anne Rowse joined the cast.
In 1960 a trust to oversee the New Zealand Ballet’s future was formed, and by 1962 Kerr was appointed Artistic Director. His stagings of classics—Giselle, Swan Lake, La Sylphide, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Les Sylphides, Schéhérazade—were balanced with new works, including the mysterious Charade, and whimsical One in Five. Kerr used compositions by Greig, Prokofiev, Liszt, Saint-Saens and Copland for his own prolific choreographic output—Concerto, Alice in Wonderland, Carnival of the Animals, Peter and the Wolf, The Alchemist, The Stranger. In 1964 he invited New Zealander Alexander Grant who had an established reputation as a character dancer with England’s Royal Ballet, to perform the lead role in Petrouchka, a superb production that alone would have earned Kerr worldwide recognition.
A fire at the company headquarters in 1967 meant a disastrous loss of sets and costumes that only added to the colossal demands of running the company on close to a shoestring budget. Kerr’s health was in an extremely parlous state. In 1969 Gnatt returned from Australia and as interim director, with the redoubtable Beatrice Ashton as manager, kept the company on the road.
Russell had worked closely with Jon Trimmer, the country’s leading dancer, and his wife Jacqui Oswald, dancer and ballet mistress. They later joined him at the New Zealand Dance Centre he had established in Auckland, developing an interesting new repertoire. The Trimmers remember, ‘…Russell would send us out into the park, the street or the zoo, to watch people and animals, study their gait and gestures, to bring character to our roles.’ Kerr also mentored and choreographed for Limbs Dance Company. The NZDC operated until 1977, though these were impecunious and difficult years for the Kerr family. But courage and the sticking place were found, and Russell, as always, let music be his guide.
In 1978 he was appointed director at Southern Ballet Theatre, which proved lucky for Christchurch as he stayed there until 1990, later working with Sherilyn Kennedy and Carl Myers. In 1983 Harry Haythorne as NZB’s artistic director invited all previous directors to contribute to a gala season to mark the company’s 30th anniversary. Kerr’s satirical Salute, to Ibert, had Jon Trimmer cavorting as a high and heady Louis XIV.
His two lively ballets for children, based on stories by author-illustrator Gavin Bishop—Terrible Tom and Te Maia and the Sea Devil—proved highly successful, but there was a whole new chapter in Kerr’s career awaiting. After Scripting the Dreams, with composer Philip Norman, he made the full-length ballet, A Christmas Carol, a poignant staging alive with characters from Dickens’ novel, with design by Peter Lees-Jeffries. (The later production at RNZB had new design by Kristian Fredrikson).
Possibly the triumph of Kerr’s choreographies, and certainly one of RNZB’s best, was Peter Pan, again with Norman and Fredrikson, with memorable performances by Jon Trimmer as an alluring Captain Hook, Shannon Dawson as the dim-witted Pirate Smee, and Jane Turner an exquisite mercurial Tinkerbell.
His sensitively nuanced productions of Swan Lake became benchmarks of the ever-renewing classic that deals with mortality and grief.
Leading New Zealand dancers who credit Russell for his formative mentoring include Patricia Rianne, whose Nutcracker and Bliss, after Katherine Mansfield, are evidence of her claim, ‘I never worked with a better or more musical dance mind.’ Among many others are Rosemary Johnston, Kerry-Anne Gilberd, Dawn Sanders, Martin James, Geordan Wilcox, Jane Turner, Diana Shand, Turid Revfeim, Shannon Dawson, Toby Behan—through to Abigail Boyle and Loughlan Prior.
An unprecedented season happened in 1993 when Russell cast Douglas Wright, the country’s leading contemporary dancer, in the title role of Petrouchka. He claimed Wright’s performances challenged the legendary Nijinsky.
An annual series named in his honour, The Russell Kerr Lecture in Ballet & Related Arts, saw the 2021 session about his own life and career movingly delivered by his lifelong colleague and friend, Anne Rowse. The lecture was graced by a dance, Journey, that Russell had choreographed for two Japanese students who came to study with him. It would be the last performance of his work, the more poignant for that.
Russell was writing his memoirs in the last few years, admitting the struggle but determined to keep going. He said, ‘Writing about my problem with drink is going to be a very difficult chapter.’ Russell had told Brian Edwards in a memorable radio interview decades back, of the exhausting time when his colossal work commitments had driven him ‘to think that the solution to every problem lay in the bottom of the bottle.’ He eventually managed to turn that around and thereafter remained teetotal for life—but by admitting it on national radio, he was offering hope to anyone with a similar burden, himself proof that there is a way out of darkness.
He viewed the sunrise as an invitation to do something with the day. He would bring June a cup of tea but not let her drink it till she had greeted the sun. Recently he took great joy in seeing photos of my baby granddaughter, rejoicing to be reminded of the hope a new life brings to a family.
Russell concurred with the sentiment expressed in Jo Thorpe’s fine poem, The dance writer’s dilemma (reproduced in Royal New Zealand Ballet at 60):
… the thing… which has nothing to do with epitaph which has nothing to do with stone. I just know I walk differently out into air because of what dance does sometimes.
Russell Kerr was a good and decent family man, loyal friend, master teacher and choreographer, proud of his work but modest by nature, resourceful and determined by personality, honest in communication, distressed by unkindness, a leader by example. A phenomenal and irreplaceable talent, he was a very great New Zealander.
He is survived by son David, daughter Yvette and their families.
Russell Ian Kerr, QSM, ONZM, Arts Foundation Icon Born Auckland 10 February 1930 Married June, née Greenhalgh, one son (David), one daughter(Yvette) Died.Christchurch 28 March, 2022
Sources: David Kerr, Anne Rowse, Jon Trimmer, Patricia Rianne, Rosemary Buchanan, Martin James, Mary-Jane O’Reilly, Ou Lu.
Jennifer Shennan, 3 April 2022
Featured image: Russell Kerr as director of Southern Ballet in 1983
During March I watched a streamed showing of Anna Karenina from the Australian Ballet. Choreographed by Ukrainian-born choreographer (currently resident in the United States) Yuri Possokhov, this production of Anna Karenina premiered in 2021 in Adelaide with just a few performances, but its presentation in other States had to be cancelled, and cancelled, until March 2022 when it opened in Melbourne.
I was struck more than anything by the spectacular set design (Tom Pye), which for the most part was quite minimal but nevertheless evocative, and which frequently moved seamlessly to new features as locations changed. But I found the lighting (David Finn) quite dark for most of the production, with the major exception being the peasant-style ending, which I’m not sure was an essential part of the story to tell the truth. I’m not sure either if the consuming darkness was more a result of the streaming situation or part of the overall production. But the darkness was annoying.
There were some strong performances from Robyn Hendricks as Anna and Callum Linnane as Vronsky but perhaps the strongest characterisations came from Benedicte Bemet as Kitty and Brett Chynoweth as Levin. But I am not sure that this production is ideal for streaming and I am looking forward to seeing it live in Sydney in April.
But on the issue of the history of productions based on the Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina, I recently came across a ’Stage Direction’ article by Stephen A. Russell published on the website of the Sydney Opera House. It gave an interesting, short introduction to the variety of ways in which the novel has been used in a theatrical manner. The article is currently available at this link, although may not be there for the long term.
Henry Danton (1919-2022)
The death of leading dance personality Henry Danton was announced back in February. Read the obituary by Jane Pritchard published in The Guardian at this link.
Henry Danton also played a significant role in the growth of professional ballet in Australia. He was a guest artist with the Melbourne-based National Theatre Ballet over several years and during that time consistently partnered Lynne Golding, including in the National’s full-length production of Swan Lake and in Protée, staged for the company by Ballets Russes dancer Kira Bousloff before she moved to Perth to establish West Australian Ballet.
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Bangarra Dance Theatre recently announced the departure from the company of three dancers, wonderful artists who have given audiences so much pleasure in recent productions. Baden Hitchcock, Rika Hamaguchi and Bradley Smith have left the company to pursue other options. All three are beautiful dancers and I’m sure their future careers will continue to give us pleasure.
Other news from Bangarra is that the company’s children’s show Waru—journey of the small turtle, cancelled last year due to COVID, will be coming to the stage later this year. Conceived and created by Stephen Page and Hunter Page-Lochard, along with former Bangarra dancers and choreographers Sani Townson and Elma Kris, Waru tells the story of Migi the turtle who navigates her way back to the island where she was born. Waru is on in Sydney from 24 September to 9 October 2022 in the Studio Theatre at Bangarra’s premises at Walsh Bay.
Russell Kerr (1930-2022)
Prominent New Zealand dance personality Russell Kerr died in Christchurch earlier this month. Read an obituary with a great range of images at this link. I am expecting an obituary from his close friend and colleague Jennifer Shennan shortly and will publish it on this site when received. For further material on Russell Kerr and his activities on this website follow this tag.
Louis Solino was for years a member of the celebrated José Limón Dance Company of New York. He later staged many works from that company’s talisman repertoire when a tutor at New Zealand School of Dance. Louis was partner of New Zealander Paul Jenden, both of them major contributors to Wellington’s theatre life.
Early drawn to dance, Louis performed in American Bandstand, Philadelphia’s hugely popular tv music and dance show. After studies in New York, he joined the Limón Dance Company in 1968, staying for 11 years. The company toured widely, including South America, Poland and Soviet Russia, encountering interesting audience reactions to the ‘new’ art.
In 1981 Anne Rowse, director of New Zealand School of Dance, on a study tour to establish connections for possible development at the school, had a fruitful and far-reaching meeting with Louis and Paul (who was studying dance and design in New York).
Choreographies by Mexican-born Limón and fellow-artist Doris Humphrey are classics of American modern dance, timeless works of thematic power and intrinsic musicality. Anne understood the importance of that heritage, and upon learning that Paul was returning home, invited Louis to tutor at NZSD. She recalls, ‘He taught and staged wonderful repertoire, influencing many students into their subsequent careers … Carolyn Lambourn, Kate O’Rourke, Ursula Robb, Daniel Belton, Sarah Lawrey, Alannah Eliot, Alexandra Blair are only a few who come to mind.’
Louis worked at NZSD from 1982 to 1998. Sue Nicholls on the faculty recalls, ’I have a distinct vision of Louis with a very straight back, chin slightly dropped and direct focus. I really admired his care in presenting these works, and the students showed a deep respect for him and this heritage.’ Louis, a disciplined task-master, never handed out praise before it was earned, even if then, but guarded accuracy and integrity of each choreography. These included There is a Time, The Unsung, La Malinche, Concerto Grosso, Choreographic Offering, Dances for Isadora, The Shakers, Day on Earth, Two Ecstatic Themes, Air for the G String. It was phenomenal that Louis had memorised all those works. While the notated dance scores sent from New York were interesting, he scarcely needed to consult them. Everything was in his head and heart.
Dance studies seminars in Victoria University of Wellington’s Continuing Education program offered studio showings of The Moor’s Pavane—(Louis reprised the role of Iago he had played opposite Limón’s and also Erik Bruhn’s Othello. Jenden danced The Moor, Carolyn Lambourn Desdemona, Claire Martin Emilia) allowing us insight into the jewel in the crown of Limón’s repertoire. (Years later another student Daniel Belton would dance Iago to Irek Mukhamedov’s Othello in Kim Brandstrup’s European company. This is dance lineage of the highest order).
Equally memorable was Louis’ staging of Limón’s solo Chaconne, impeccably danced by Paul Jenden, the Bach/Busoni music stunningly played by pianist Richard Mapp. Jenden in slimline dark trousers and soft silk shirt, in Adam Concert Room, at a Music Teachers’ symposium and in the Lutheran church in Newtown, filled these bound spaces with consummate control and a noble dance quality. They rank among the most exquisite performances I have witnessed.
A graduand dancer may never perform professionally again, but from Solino’s stagings they would carry memories for life. Limón’s choreographic style and aesthetic is minimalist, finely honed and paced, character embedded within the choreography, needing no embellishment, strain or added emotion. Just the moves as set.
Louis and many of his colleagues were devastated when his teaching tenure at NZSD ended. He continued free-lance teaching, working with Fleur de Thier’s Rebound dance company in Christchurch and in a number of films, but his talents were absurdly under-used.
Jenden’s theatrical output was prolific, and he made roles for Louis wherever possible—in the Hairy Maclary shows, The Gay Fandango, musicals and pantomimes at Circa or Bats, seasons of Fairy Stories (with Jon Trimmer also in the cast)—shows laced with biting satire and high-camp naughtiness. Jenden’s legendary Swan Lake and Giselle, 20 minute one-man shows, hilariously mocking perfunctory ballet productions, with Bill Sheat claiming these were the funniest things he’d seen in the theatre.
In 2013, after serious illness with cancer, Jenden created C— The Musical at Circa. Louis played the silent role of Carcinoma and musician Sue Alexander recalls him as ‘an eerie, gaunt, elegant baroque figure, dressed in a long cape which I had to pass as it lay on the floor backstage, the only position from which Louis could put it on. It was about 20 feet long and spread along the floor like a dark, densely textured Venetian corpse.’
Voluminous sky-blue silk capes are worn in Doris Humphrey’s elegaic Air for the G String (Louis left the costumes here when he returned to America, trusting us to choose the appropriate celebratory or commemorative occasions to dance it). One of the costume labels reads ‘Renata’. Renata Donovan subsequently studied nursing, and I happened to meet her in ICU of Wellington Hospital, nursing the dying Paul Jenden. She did her work with care and compassion, sat with Louis in the waiting room, then went back to nurse the patient. Just the moves as set.
Louis returned to America in 2014. Our farewell to him included Air, and a striking rendition of Two Ecstatic Themes danced by Lucy Marinkovich. Grateful students gifted him a pounamu pendant which he wore constantly, ‘a piece of Aotearoa to take with me’ so no surprise to see it still at his throat when former students, led by Michael Long, enterprisingly fund-raised to bring Louis back to Wellington for the school’s 50th anniversary in 2017. I took him to visit revered kuia, Tiahuia Gray (whose daughter Merenia and son Tanemahuta had both been Louis’ students) to bless the pounamu with a karakia. Tiahuia asked Louis his favourite word so as to name the taonga. He answered ‘Paul’.
Louis lived his last years with family in New Jersey, and died after a long illness. He is survived by his sisters, Marysue Palen, Joann Fry and their families.
Louis Solino, born 7 February 1941, Philadelphia; died 5 January 2022, New Jersey
An edited version of this obituary first appeared in New Zealand in Stuff Entertainment on 22 January 2022. Sources: Anne Rowse, Felicity Hamill, Daniel Belton, Sarah Lawrey, Jane Woodhall, Richard Mapp, Carolyn Lambourn, Sue Nicholls, Sue Alexander
Annie Greig, who has died just a few days short of her 68th birthday, was born and grew up in Launceston and took her first dance lessons there from Nelly Dova. But, as a young teenager, Greig gave up those ballet classes when her interest in school sports and physical education activities began to occupy her time. When she handed in her ballet shoes to Dova, as a symbol of her changed interests, Dova said to her ‘You will come back.’ While Greig did not go back to ballet, she did fulfil Dova’s prediction. Other forms of dance, and a whole variety of related activities, did become the major focus of her life.
After finishing school Greig undertook a course in Physical Education at the College of Advanced Education in Hobart. As part of that course she had a secondment with Adelaide’s Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), then under the direction of Elizabeth Dalman. It was working with Dalman that sparked her interest in contemporary dance and Greig regarded Dalman as the most significant influence on her career during the 1970s. While on secondment with ADT she also took mime classes at Flinders University with Zora Semberova and was influenced by the approaches of Eleo Pomare and Jennifer Barrie who were working with Dalman at the time.
Greig began teaching after completing her course in Hobart and then, following a recreational trip trip to Europe in 1977, she received a Fulbright scholarship in 1979. The Fulbright enabled her to undertake a Master’s degree in dance and dance education at New York University. It was in New York that she developed her interest in film and video production and won awards in that area in the early 1980s at the American Dance Film and Video Festival. As well as gaining her Master’s degree, in New York she worked for a year with choreographer Alwin Nikolais, especially on cataloguing the records of the Alwin Nikolais Company and of the creative career of Nikolais and Murray Louis. Nikolais she regarded as another major influence on the direction her life took. He was, Greig said, ‘such a holistic artist, creating his own sound scores, costumes, lighting designs as well as his ingenious choreographic works.’
Greig returned to Australia in the early 1980s and, after a brief stay in Tasmania, worked freelance in Sydney, taking on a range of teaching positions as well as undertaking advocacy and volunteer work for Ausdance NSW. But in 1986 she was offered a position as co-ordinator at the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA). There she developed the organisation’s touring program and oversaw the accreditation of NAISDA’s curriculum. She returned to Tasmania in 1991 where Jenny Kinder, then artistic director of Tasdance, offered her the position of general manager and, later, liaison officer with the company.
Greig was appointed artistic director of Tasdance in 1997, a position she held until she retired in 2015. Her contribution was recognised by the Tasmanian Parliament when Andrea Dawkins, a Greens parliamentarian in the House of Assembly, moved that the House recognise and acknowledge that Greig had ‘developed Tasdance into a vital force in Tasmania’s cultural landscape and into the national arts arena,’ and that under her guidance ‘Tasdance had forged a reputation for quality mainstage performances, as well as innovative community and educational programs.’ During her tenure as artistic director of Tasdance, Greig also undertook an AsiaLink Residency in 2001, which resulted in opportunities for Tasdance to perform in Asia, including in Korea and India. Under Greig’s direction Tasdance performed over 70 works, of which at least half were choreographed by young, emerging artists. Greig’s last production was Affinity, which focused on Tasmanian born or oriented creators including Graeme Murphy, Stephanie Lake and Peter Sculthorpe.
When speaking in 2017 to Liz Lea, director of Canberra’s BOLD Festival where Greig was an invited participant, Greig described herself as a ‘facilitator’. ‘Making things happen is what floats my boat,’ she said. ‘I am always excited by thinking up a new project and then setting up the people connections, the artistic ingredients and other possibilities.’ Her multi-faceted career is a clear indication of the extent to which she investigated many of those ‘new possibilities’. Her last project looked back, in a way, to her work with Alwin Nikolais in New York in the 1980s. Greig was working to document information on the whereabouts of material in various formats relating to the career of Graeme Murphy, and was adding to those records.
Among the many honours and accolades Greig received throughout her lifetime were a Centenary Medal in 2003 and an Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance in 2014. She was also listed on the Honour Roll for Women in Tasmania in 2010 and made an honorary life member of Ausdance having served as President of Ausdance NSW and Vice-President of Ausdance National.
Towards the end of her life Greig sent out a newsletter to her friends and colleagues. It was entitled Exit stage left. What a wonderful life. That newsletter also carried photos of Greig in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne with one showing Greig and her partner, Jen Brown, toasting that life with champagne and oysters. Vale Annie Greig. A wonderful life indeed.
Annie Christine Greig: Born Launceston, 15 November 1953; died 2 November 2021
Michelle Potter, 3 November 2021
Featured image: Portrait of Annie Greig, c. 2014. Photographer not identified
Elaine Vallance, who has died aged 89 in Melbourne, was a much admired member of the Bodenwieser Ballet from 1949 to 1954 before moving to Melbourne in 1955. In Melbourne she opened a dance school, keeping up connections with Dory Stern, Bodenwieser’s music director, and also teaching at schools in Melbourne, including Ivanhoe and Camberwell Girls’ Grammars. She continued to teach for the rest of her life, stopping only shortly before her death.
Vallance began dancing as an eight year old with Gertrud Bodenwieser at her Sydney school and by 1948 had been chosen as a demonstrator for classes. On joining the Bodenwieser Ballet in 1949 she performed with the group in Sydney and toured with them to South Africa and New Zealand in 1950, then across Australia in 1951 as part of the Arts Council’s Jubilee Tour to celebrate the establishment of Federation.
When a small group of dancers accompanied Bodenwieser to India in the second half of 1952, Vallance, along with Emmy Taussig, took charge of the Bodenwieser School in Sydney. Then, on Bodenwieser’s return and throughout 1953, Vallance danced with the Bodenwieser Ballet on an extensive tour of regional towns in New South Wales and in a variety of concerts in and around Sydney. The following year, 1954, Vallance performed and toured as one of the Spirits of the Whirlwinds, along with others from the Bodenwieser company, in Beth Dean’s Corroboree, staged in celebration of the visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II.
During her time with the Bodenwieser Ballet, Vallance appeared in most of Bodenwieser’s major works and many smaller works as well. Her solo, The Moth, from Life of the Insects, became a popular inclusion in Bodenwieser programs and Vallance, in a costume of draped grey chiffon, received constant praise from critics with words such as ‘a vision of beauty and grace’.
Like so many of her Bodenwieser colleagues, Vallance continued to be aware of the impact Gertrud Bodenwieser had on her life and career. Writing to Barbara Cuckson, director of the Rozelle School of Visual Arts, she recalled:
I was intrigued and fascinated by the comprehensive way in which she explored movement. When Bodenwieser had a new movement idea she always explored it to the full. A movement could be done in different directions, forwards, sideways, backwards; it could be performed on different levels, standing, kneeling, sitting, lying. There were different intensities to try out, flowing, swinging, impulsive, or it could be done with strength, possibly using straight lines or sharp angles. There was the possibility of the movement being performed in opposition or parallel to the rest of the body, and of course carried into space with steps, jumps or turns. Then came the option of combining any two or three of these aspects, or combining the new movement with another previously explored, and the exploring the various relationships of these two movements.
Vallance often returned to Sydney where she taught master classes and oversaw reconstructions of Bodenwieser works at the Rozelle School of Visual Arts. Her last visit was in 2017 when she worked on a reconstruction of Sunset.
Elaine Vallance is survived by her daughters, Julia and Sue, and their respective families.
Elaine Vallance(Featherstone): born Sydney, 20 January1932; died Melbourne, 3 October 2021
Michelle Potter, 3 October 2021
Featured image (detail): Elaine Vallance in her solo as the Moth from Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Life of the Insects. Photo: Sun Newspapers. Full image below.
NOTE: The death of Elaine Vallance means that there is now only one dancer from those early Bodenwieser days who is still living. It is Eileen Kramer who is approaching her 107th birthday in November.
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’.1She 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.
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.
Coralie May Hinkley: born Sydney, 23 September 1922; died Sydney, 21 September 2021
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.
Houston Ballet has, as a result of concerns and protests from various groups, removed its production of La Bayadère from its current season. The ballet looks back to the nineteenth century when ‘orientalism’ or interest in ‘exotic lands’ beyond Europe was a much-used theme in ballets and other theatrical productions. Recent media reports from Houston have suggested that the ballet contains ‘orientalist stereotypes, dehumanizing cultural portrayal and misrepresentation, offensive and degrading elements, needless cultural appropriation, essentialism, shallow exoticism, caricaturing’ and more.
In Australia, in addition to the middle act, ‘Kingdom of the Shades’, which has often been seen out of its context within the full-length ballet, we have seen three different productions of the full-length Bayadère. Two have been performed by the Australian Ballet—Natalia Makarova’s production staged by Makarova herself during the directorship of Ross Stretton and seen in 1998, and Stanton Welch’s production made originally for Houston Ballet, which is the one recently cancelled, staged on the Australian Ballet in 2014. As well, Greg Horsman produced a new version for Queensland Ballet in 2018.
I have no intention of commenting on the issues raised in Houston, although I am especially interested in ideas about cultural appropriation. But I will say that I thought Greg Horsman’s rethink of the work for Queensland Ballet was a winner from a number of points of view. Horsman has commented to me that he thought his restaging was not, in general, well received. Horsman’s version turned the story on its head somewhat and gave audiences much to ponder, so it is a shame that it hasn’t been shown and discussed more widely. Here is a link to my review of the Horsman production.
Philip Chatfield (1927–2021)
Philip Chatfield, who has died aged 93 on the Gold Coast just south of Brisbane, came to Australia in 1958 on the momentous tour by the Royal Ballet. He and his wife, Rowena Jackson, stand out in my memories of that tour, especially for the roles of Swanilda and Franz in Coppélia. Just a few months before they left London on that tour, Chatfield and Jackson married and at the end of the tour settled in New Zealand where Jackson was born. Chatfield became artistic director of the New Zealand Ballet (1975–1978) and they both taught at the National Ballet School, now New Zealand School of Dance. Chatfield and Jackson moved to the Gold Coast in 1993 in order to be closer to family members.
Jennifer Shennan’s obituary for Chatfield is not yet available, but a link will be added in due course. UPDATE: Follow this link to read the obituary.
For more on the Royal Ballet’s Australasian tour of 1958–1959 see this link. There is contentious material contained in that post and in the several comments it received (although not about Chatfield and Jackson).
Sydney Choreographic Centre
The recently established Sydney Choreographic Centre, a project headed by artistic director Francesco Ventriglia and managing director Neil Christopher, has moved into its new premises in Alexandria, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. It will be the home of the Sydney Choreographic Ensemble and will offer a range of courses and open classes. A launch has been postponed due to the Sydney lockdown.
For more information about the Centre, and the courses that will commence once covid restrictions have been lifted, see the Centre’s website at this link.
And we danced
The third episode of And We Danced, a three part documentary charting the growth of the Australian Ballet, has now been released and all three episodes are currently available (for a limited time) on ABCiview. The second episode remains in my mind the strongest and most interesting, but the third episode does contain some interesting material and again has a focus on social and political matters as they have affected the Australian Ballet. A longer post on the third session follows soon but at this stage I can’t help but mention how moving I found the archival footage of Simone Goldsmith as Odette in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. Goldsmith was the original Odette in this production and her immersion in the role was exceptional.
For just the second time in 60 or so years of watching dance (and even performing it), I walked out of a show. I found Joel Bray’s I liked it but …. unwatchable. I left because I really couldn’t accept the way that various dance styles were described. Perhaps it changed later after I had left, I don’t know, but basically I am opposed to dance, in whatever format, being put down, often in a way that seems ignorant of the true nature of that format.