2019 Dance Division staff

Dance diary. March 2019

  • Jerome Robbins Dance Division

In March I had the pleasure of being in New York for the first of a number of events to celebrate 75 years since the foundation of what is now the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. In the featured image, curators seated (left to right) are Madeleine Nichols, Michelle Potter, Jan Schmidt and current curator Linda Murray. Current staff are standing. Founding curator Genevieve Oswald was unable to attend and, sadly, died two weeks later in her home in California aged 97.

The event began with a tribute to Gegi Oswald with a screening of various images relating to her work, and with an interview with her by Walter Terry, which she gave at one stage during her more than 40 years as curator. Then we curators were asked to give our responses to several questions posed to us about our time with the Division. It was a nostalgic evening and wonderful to catch up with friends and colleagues to celebrate the work and vision of the Division.

Mind you it was freezing in New York. This is what it looked like in Central Park on 2 March!

Central Park under snow, March 2019
  • BOLD II 2019, Canberra

Circumstances of various kinds meant that I was unable to attend many of this year’s BOLD events. But of the events I did attend I was especially interested in Paige Gordon’s talk ‘Who’s Counting?’ in which she discussed her present work in Perth and related it back to her earlier experiences in Canberra.

It was also a treat to be at Sue Healey’s showing of several of her current initiatives with dance on film. In particular I admired her short film Weerewa. Portrait of a landscape shot in the area of Lake George just north of Canberra and recently shown at Le FiFA festival in Canada.

Still from Weerewa. Portrait of a Landscape

  • A body of work. Dancing to the edge and back a book by David Hallberg

In March I came across David Hallberg’s autobiographical book, which I had not known of previously even though it was first published in 2017. It was of course of particular interest because of Hallberg’s connections with Australia, and in particular with his rehabilitation by the team at the Australian Ballet, Paul Baird Colt, Megan Connelly and Sue Mayes, which he discusses at towards the end of the book.

Hallberg also mentions arriving in Australia for the first time and being taken aback by the beauty of Sydney Harbour from the sky: ‘The Sydney Opera House and its surroundings, first viewed from fifteen thousand feet in the air, trumped all photos I had ever seen. Here was Australia!’ It reminded me of the photo of Hallberg taking a pose on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House, and of seeing him dance in Cinderella in 2013.

David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in 'Cinderella'. Photo: Wendell Teodoro, 2013
David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro, 2013

His book is also fascinating for its insights into the exhausting schedule of those like Hallberg who travel constantly between engagements.

  • Bonchela/Nankivell/Lane

My review of Sydney Dance Company’s latest show, Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane is in the pipeline (and late due to other commitments including a preview piece on the show for The Canberra Times). It’s coming soon but I can say now that I was stunned by Melanie Lane’s thrilling WOOF.

Artists of Sydney Dance Company in Melanie Lane’s WOOF, 2019. Photo:
© Pedro Greig
  • Press for March 2019

‘Indigenous fusion fizzles with styles.’ Preview of Djuki mala. The Canberra Times, 27 March 2019, p. 26. Online version

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2019

Dancers from Paige Gordon and Performance Group in 'Shed. A place where men can dance', Canberra 1996. Photo Loui Seselja

Paige Gordon’s Shed…a recollection from the 1990s

Choreographer and teacher Paige Gordon will speak in March 2019 at BOLD II, the Canberra-based festival directed by Liz Lea now in its second manifestation. I was more than interested to hear that Gordon’s talk will have connections back to a work she made in Canberra in 1994, and which was subsequently restaged in 1996. Gordon suggests that her future pathway in dance was affected by the reaction she got, and that she herself felt, from that work—Shed. A place where men can dance. It was part of the National Festival of Australian Theatre and was made for her small but very vibrant project company, Paige Gordon and Performance Group (P G & P G). I was writing extensively for Dance Australia at the time and my review of the 1996 production of Shed appeared in that magazine in the December 1996–January 1997 issue. Here is what I wrote:

A gem about men

Shed begins slightly chaotically. Four male performers dressed in paint-splattered overalls hammer, saw, plane, paint and chisel loudly and with undisguised enthusiasm. Immediately we know that this can’t be anything but real Aussie suburban stuff, four blokes in the shed up the back, making things. With swift, deft strokes, choreographer Paige Gordon sets the scene.

The chaos subsides and the opening activities give way to a perceptive and moving exploration of a male space and its emotional landscape. Set against a wall of painted corrugated iron sheets, a design by Cherylynn Holmes, dance sequences and personal ‘shed stories’ sometimes alternate and sometimes occur simultaneously.

In one section John Hunt, tall and lanky with a winning expression that suggests he could talk his way out of anything, suddenly reveals himself as vulnerable and even romantic as he explains how his father used his hands to make an assortment of things for his children. In the background James Berlyn, Martin O’Callaghan and Jonathan Rees-Osborne roll gently from one side of the performing space to the other, pausing occasionally to become involved in gentle and intricate movements that focus on the hands. The hands clench together, they press onto the floor, they cut through the air. Dance and storytelling comment on each other and, while the choreography is simple, sometimes setting up apparently naive connections, its quiet subtlety speaks volumes.

Other sections are less romantic. One, led by James Berlyn, is full of anger and frustration. Stories about projects gone wrong are followed by a cathartic passage in which the four dancers hurl themselves at the corrugated iron walls, banging, shouting and kicking. But this hot-tempered scene is followed by another in which these men seem gently aware of their innate capacity for tenderness as they slowly run their hands and bodies along the same corrugated iron that had just served as a whipping post for their anger.

Shed, made in 1994, is a work of rare rigour. Tightly structured, it sets the scene, gets on with it and doesn’t get bogged down trying to say the same thing for too long. I guess it’s laconic in a good Australian way. And its unselfconscious and unpretentious simplicity seems very Australian too. The work is also unusually personal. You almost feel like talking to the performers and telling your own similar stories, yet you know the work is, rightly, too self-contained and theatrically coherent for that. But the extent of involvement that the piece allows is remarkable.

Humour and pathos, laughter and sadness, insight and much self-recognition spill though the piece. Shed is a gem, a distinctively Australian gem.

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James Berlyn from Paige Gordon and Performance Group in 'Shed. A place where men can dance', Canberra 1996. Photo Loui Seselja

James Berlyn from P G & P G in Shed. A place where men can dance, Canberra 1996. Photo; © Loui Seselja, National Library of Australia

I also spoke to Gordon for a Dance Australia article published in the issue of April-May 1995, and for a story in the National Library of Australia Magazine (March 1997). In both instances she spoke of making Shed, stressing that she had been involved in a number of works with an all female cast and that she was interested in working, by contrast, with an all male cast. ‘I wanted a chance to come up with things that were as magical and as gentle and as emotional as was possible with the female-inspired things I had been involved in,’ she said. Shed. A place where men can dance won Gordon a Canberra Critics’ Circle Award in 1994.

What will Gordon say for her BOLD presentation? Registration for BOLD II is via this link.

Michelle Potter, 29 January 2019

Featured image: Dancers from P G & P G in Shed. A place where men can dance, Canberra 1996. Photo: © Loui Seselja, National Library of Australia

Dancers from Paige Gordon and Performabnce Group in 'shed. A place where men can dance', Canberra 1996. Photo Loui Seselja

Images published with permission of the National Library of Australia.

Katrina Rank in costume for 'Birdwatching'. Credit Robert Wagner

BOLD II. 2019

Below is an expanded version of an article published in print and online by The Canberra Times on 28 January 2019.

Canberra’s remarkable performer, mentor and choreographer, Liz Lea, has once again taken on the mammoth task of presenting BOLD, a festival she founded in 2017 in anticipation of it becoming a biennial event. In that inaugural year, Lea boldly did the whole thing without any external funding. At least this year she managed to secure some financial backing so, while life for her at the moment may still hold a myriad of organisational problems, at least there are fewer financial concerns. And as BOLD patron, Dr Elizabeth Cameron Dalman of the Lake George-based Mirramu Creative Arts Centre, says:

Making a career in the arts, particularly in dance, is not an easy pathway. It requires skill and discipline, both a flexible body and a flexible mind, determination and a great deal of audacity. One needs to be ‘bold’.

In its extensive program of talks, film showings, workshops and performances, BOLD II will focus on the legacy and heritage of dance in Australia and elsewhere, but will also have a strong focus on diversity of practice and issues of gender and ethnicity.

Indigenous artists will play a prominent role. A soft launch by the senior group from Tasmania, MADE, will be held at the Dickson Tradies Tramway Bar on the afternoon of March 13. It will be followed that evening by the official launch—a performance by Vicki van Hout whose indigenous heritage is with the Wiradjuri people of New South Wales. Van Hout will perform her recently created solo plenty serious TALK TALK at QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre. The work examines the consultative process that characterises the creation of indigenous and van Hout has been reported as saying:

Even if I am on stage by myself, as an artist, I am never truly alone as I am bound to bring my family, my peers and mentors to work with me. In this piece, I decided to place the usual behind-the-scenes action of the indigenous arts making process front and centre.

Vicki van Hout in 'plenty serious TALK TALK'. Photo Heidrun Lohr

Vicki van Hout in plenty serious TALK TALK, 2018. Photo: © Heidrun Löhr

Another indigenous performer we can look forward to seeing is violinist Eric Avery, who may be remembered as the musician who played violin for Lea’s earlier work made with Tammi Gissell, Magnificus, magnificus. Avery, who also dances with Marrugeku, a company operating between Broome in Western Australia and Carriageworks in Sydney, will amongst other activities, lead a dance through Parliament House, creating choreography while playing live.

Not all performances will take place in theatre venues. In addition to Avery’s activities at Parliament House, there will be performances at the National Portrait Gallery (as happened in 2017), and several performances will take place at lunchtime on the podium outside the National Library. On March 14 Katrina Rank, who in 2018 was the recipient of an Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance, will perform her solo, Birdwatching. On the following day Canberra’s senior ensemble, the GOLDS, will also be on the podium performing Annette from Lea’s collaborative and award-winning work Great Sport! .

The GOLDs in Liz Lea's 'Annette'. Credit Lorna Sim

The GOLDs in Liz Lea’s Annette, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Several international performers are also taking part this year, including Javanese dancer Didik Hadiprayitno,whose approach to dance certainly highlights the theme of diversity of practice. He is a cross-dresser who impersonates women in his performances of traditional Javanese and Balinese dance. Lea first encountered his work in 2017 when she was appearing at a festival in Java, which Hadiprayitno was directing. Lea recalls:

It was an outdoor festival with the theme of Gods and Goddesses. It rained and there were umbrellas everywhere, even on top of lights. But it was extraordinary. I wanted to bring so many of the dancers to Australia for BOLD but in the end was only able to bring Hadiprayitno.

Didik Hadiprayitno

Indonesian cross-dresser Didik Hadiprayitno. Photographer not identified

Also coming from Asia, this time from Singapore, is violinist, Kailin Yong, whom many in Canberra will remember from last year’s 40th anniversary performance by Canberra Dance Theatre when he performed with Anca Frankenhaeuser in MIST. For BOLD II Yong will be bringing along his wife and young child, who will feature in a trio that ex-Canberran Stephanie Burridge is creating on the family. Yong is also composing new music for a solo for Frankenhaeuser, and another Canberra-based dancer, Debora di Centa, will also perform with Yong as accompanist.

Former Canberrans will also feature throughout the festival. Sue Healey, who led a dance company, Vis-à-vis Dance Canberra, for several years in the 1990s, and who has since made a career as an award-winning film maker, will show a selection of her most recent short films at the National Film and Sound Archive on March 15. They include selections from En route, a film made as part of a public art installation project for Wynyard railway station in Sydney. En route was shot at various disused stations and railway lines across New South Wales and features several performers with Canberra connections including James Batchelor and Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Dalman will also feature in others of Healey’s films including in Weerewa, a collaborative venture with the Taiwanese group Danceology.

Still from 'En route'. Courtesy Sue Heale

Still from En route. Courtesy Sue Healey

Paige Gordon, whose company Paige Gordon and Performance Group was also a significant force in Canberra in the 1990s, will speak at the festival. Her talk goes back to a moving work she made in Canberra called Shed. A place where men can dance. The reaction to Shed inspired Gordon’s current path of working with people across the community, and helping them to move and be moved by dance.

A new feature for the 2019 festival, which Lea anticipates will be a permanent feature of future BOLD festivals, is the BOLD lecture in honour of Janis Claxton. Claxton, who died last year, was an Australian who graduated from the Queensland University of Technology, and who went on to make an impact on the contemporary dance world in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and America. Lea explains:

She was a feisty woman. I first saw her work in the 1990s and was impressed by the way she was promoting gender equality and working in non-traditional spaces. She contacted me just before she died and I was moved that she had done that. She was a bold artist and I wanted to honour her.

This year the BOLD lecture will be delivered by Claire Hicks, director of Critical Path the Sydney-based organisation fostering choreographic research and development. Other keynote speakers for 2019 are Karen Gallagher, Padma Menon and Marilyn Miller.

Perhaps what is most interesting for Canberra audiences is the way BOLD II will reflect the legacy of Canberra dance over several decades. And as we look at the past, we can also see a future. The finale to BOLD II, however, will be less about dance and more about what Canberra has to offer visitors. On Sunday March 17 the BOLD Balloon Breakfast will take place with participants watching the launch of hot air balloons at the Canberra Balloon Spectacular. The breakfast will be followed later that morning by JUICE, a closing performance by the Canberra group Somebody’s Aunt at McKellar Ridge Wines at Murrumbateman. A wine tasting will follow.

A schedule of events (subject to change according to injuries and other matters that inevitably affect dance artists) is available on the BOLD website . It indicates the many artists and speakers from Australia and across the world who have not been specifically mentioned here.  Registrations are now open.

Michelle Potter, 28 March 2019