Scene from 'Great Sport!' Canberra 2016. Photo © Lorna Sim

Australian Dance Awards 2017

24 September 2017. The Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

The winners of the 2017 Australian Dance Awards were announced in a ceremony in Melbourne on 24 September. The Playhouse at the Victorian Arts Centre was packed for what turned out to be an occasion with strong emotional and political overtones. The evening was hosted by cabaret star Sarah Ward and dancer Benjamin Hancock, both of whom brought a somewhat outrageous element to the evening. (To be absolutely honest, I can never understand why hosts of such events have to behave as if the show belongs to them). The politics came in the form of references by several of the presenters to the current same-sex marriage campaign.

The first half of the program suffered from what I can only describe as ‘technical issues’ in which the digital display of images and credit lines for nominees, and the eventual winner in each category (not to mention the life dates and images in the ‘In Memoriam’ section), didn’t fit properly on the screen. This was not a good look at all and resulted in confusion in some cases when the winner’s name was not given correctly by the presenter. I had to wonder whether there had been a tech rehearsal or not! Fortunately, the problem was fixed during the interval but it didn’t make up for the poor standard of production in the first half. The printed program was, however, beautifully designed and produced.

Nevertheless, for dance in the ACT, the outstanding news was that Liz Lea took out the award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance. She received the award for Great Sport!, a site specific work that Lea directed in collaboration with Canberra Dance Theatre, the National Museum of Australia, Dance for Parkinson’s ACT, and seven different choreographers—Lea herself, Martin del Amo, Kate Denborough, Tammi Gissell, Jane Ingall, Philip Piggin and Gerard van Dyck. This was a richly deserved award that recognised Lea’s significant effort to collaborate across the community spectrum, to seek out skilled choreographers from within the ACT and elsewhere, and to make dance that is inclusive. As it happens, however, Lea was one who suffered as a result of the ‘technical issues’. Her name was not called out as the recipient of the award!

Here is a link to my review of Great Sport! following its opening performance in celebration of World Health Day 2016.

Congratulations to Lea and all those who received an award. Here is the complete list of awardees.

  • Lifetime Achievement: Helen Herbertson
  • Services to Dance: Jennifer Irwin
  • Services to Dance Education: Kim Walker
  • Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance: Liz Lea and collaborators for Great Sport!
  • Outstanding Achievement in Youth Dance: Catapult Dance (The Flipside Project) for In Search of the Lost Things
  • Outstanding Achievement in Choreography: Lucy Guerin for The Dark Chorus
  • Outstanding Performance by a Company: Bangarra Dance Theatre for OUR Land People Stories
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer: Ako Kondo (Australian Ballet) for Coppélia
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer: Benjamin Hancock (Lucy Guerin Inc) for The Dark Chorus
  • Outstanding Performance in Commercial Dance or Musical Theatre: Jack Chambers (Stage Entertainment & Chichester Festival) for Singin’ in the Rain
  • Outstanding Achievement in Dance on Film or New Media: Tara and Pippa Samaya (The Samaya Wives) for The Knowledge Between Us.

In addition, Noel Tovey was inducted into the Hall of Fame and, in an emotion-filled acceptance speech, acknowledged those who had influenced his career, going right back to Jean Alexander and Xenia Borovansky. The Ausdance Peggy van Praagh Choreographic Fellowship, an award worth $10,000, went to Kristina Chan.

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Apart from Liz Lea’s award, and its significance for the growth of dance in the ACT, from a very personal perspective, I was thrilled with the following:

  • Australian Ballet principal dancer Ako Kondo took out the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Dancer for her performance as Swanilda in Coppélia. While an ADA in this category refers in particular to a performance in a particular year, not for a body of work, I have watched Kondo perform in many productions over the past few years and I could not help but think back to those many and varied times when I have had the pleasure of watching her onstage. Her technique is spectacular and in certain roles, including that of Swanilda, she just sparkles. See my previous comments at this tag.
Ako Kondo in Coppélia Act II. The Australian Ballet 2016. Photo: © Kate Longley
  • Jennifer Irwin walked away with the award for Services to Dance. Irwin has been designing costumes for major dance companies since she began working with Sydney Dance Company in the 1980s. Apart from Sydney Dance Company under Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, Irwin has had significant commissions from Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Australian Ballet. In her acceptance speech, Irwin acknowledged Graeme Murphy and Stephen Page for the influence they have had on her career. In addition, Irwin designed costumes for Dirty Dancing, the musical that had its first performances in 2004 in Australia. It featured well-known Australian dancer Joseph Brown, and the show went on to have popular seasons around the world. Irwin also designed parts of the 2000 Sydney Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. See this tag for further comments on various of Irwin’s designs.
  • Bangarra Dance Theatre received the coveted award of Outstanding Performance by a Company for OUR land people stories. This triple bill was a truly stunning example of the way in which Bangarra produces work in which dance meets theatre, meets art, meets music. It showcased the choreography of three dancers from within the ranks of the company—Jasmin Sheppard, Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley Smith—with the addition of a work from artistic director Stephen Page. It demonstrated Bangarra’s interest in bringing a wide range of Indigenous issues to the stage. Politics, kinship, and art all played a major role in the production and, as always, the show was splendidly staged and thrilling to watch.Daniel Riley accepted the award on behalf of Bangarra and acknowledged David Page, who died in 2016 and to whom the production of OUR land people stories was dedicated.Here is a link to my review of OUR land people stories.
Bangarra Dance Theatre in 'Nyapanyapa' from 'OUR land people stories,' 2016. Photo by Jhuny Boy Borja
Bangarra Dance Theatre in ‘Nyapanyapa’ from OUR land people stories, 2016. Photo: © Jhuny Boy Borja

And finally, the performances that accompanied the announcements were extraordinarily varied. I have to say I enjoyed most of all the lively Hopak Kalyna by the Lehenda Ukrainian Dance Company. The dancers smiled at us! It was a shame, though, that the Australian Ballet’s contribution, the pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty danced by Amber Scott and Ty King-Wall, somehow looked out of place amid all the cabaret, hip hop, sexually-oriented material, angst and other dance elements. It made me wonder why I love ballet as much as I do. Perhaps there needs to be a change somewhere along the line. Perhaps a more contemporary piece from the Australian Ballet, or a bit more ballet in the program?

Michelle Potter, 24 September 2017

Featured image: Scene from ‘Annette’ in Great Sport! featuring dancers from the GOLDS, Canberra’s company of senior dancers. Photo © Lorna Sim, 2016

Scene from 'Great Sport!' Canberra 2016. Photo © Lorna Sim
From the poster image for 'La danseuse'.

Dance diary. April 2017

  • La danseuse. French Film Festival 2017

The publicity for La danseuse, which was shown around Australia during March and April as part of the 2017 Alliance française French Film Festival, assures us that the film is ‘based on a true story’, or sometimes ‘inspired by a true story’, about the now ‘largely forgotten’ Loïe Fuller. Well, it depends what part of the population is being referred to as to whether Fuller is ‘largely forgotten’ or not, and ‘based on a true story’ is something of an overstatement I think. The events in the film are fictional from so many points of view that it is hard to justify the description of it as a screen biography.

The best sections of the film are those in which we see the recreations, staged by Jody Sperling, of Fuller’s dances. They look spectacular, given the contemporary equipment and facilities that are available and used in these restagings. Of course in Fuller’s time, without the benefits of today’s technical expertise and equipment, her dances would not have looked quite as spectacular, but on the other hand, with what was available in the late 19th/early 20th century, expectations would have been different and it is not hard to see that Fuller was a visionary and an astonishing artist for her time.

I was also impressed with the performance throughout of Soko, the independent actor, singer-songwriter who took the part of Fuller. She created a believable character, I thought, unlike Lily-Rose Depp who gave a somewhat shallow interpretation of Isadora Duncan, Fuller’s rival at the time.

Fuller’s own version of her life story is available (with some restrictions in certain cases) in an online version. Details at this link.

  • Homage to Carla Fracci. Daniel Schinasi

I was surprised to find, while strolling through the lovely little Italian town of Castiglioncello, an advertisement for an exhibition of paintings by Italian neo-futurist artist Daniel Schinasi, which included a painting called Homage to Carla Fracci (see below). We were very close to the venue advertised, a cafe in a nearby park, but the cafe was closed, seemingly in the throes of a small renovation. The manager, however, kindly let us in to look at the paintings.

Homage to Carla Fracci by Daniel Schinasi

Three of the paintings in the cafe were dance-related and, in addition to the Carla Fracci work with its swirling, circular patterns in the background, I was especially intrigued by one that seemed to by inspired, at least in part, by Picasso’s front-cloth for the ballet Parade, although who is it character sitting on the winged horse?

A very interesting small show of work.

  • Australian Dance Awards

The long list of nominations for the 2017 Australian Dance Awards includes four groups/artists from the Canberra dance scene. Philip Piggin has been nominated for Services to Dance; Australian Dance Party for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance for Nervous; QL2 for Outstanding Achievement in Youth Dance for Connected, and Liz Lea and collaborators for Outstanding Achievement in Community Dance for Great Sport!  Congratulations to all, and good luck for the next round, which will produce the short list.

Dancers from the GOLD group in a scene from Great Sport! Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

Michelle Potter, 29 April 2017

Featured image: Soko as Loïe Fuller in La danseuse. From the poster advertisement for the film.

From the poster image for 'La danseuse'.
BOLD press release detail

Dance diary. January 2017

  • BOLD Festival, Canberra

Canberra will be the venue for a bold new dance festival, which will take place over five days in March. Its scope is broad, its speakers and performers have wide-ranging experience across the art form, and it is supported by the nation’s major collecting agencies. Check the BOLD website for daily program and details of how to register.

  • Australian Dance Awards 2017

Nominations for the 2017 Australian Dance Awards close on 28 February. Despite huge funding difficulties, the 2017 Awards will go ahead and be held in Melbourne in November (exact date to be confirmed). For details on how to nominate in all categories go to the Australian Dance Awards website, in particular to this link. These awards are given for outstanding achievement in Australian professional dance. Nominate now!

  • Press for January 2017

‘The transformative power of dance.’ Feature on a new venture by Padma Menon. The Canberra Times, 18 January 2017, p. 18. Online version

Padma Menon. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Padma Menon, 2017. Photo: Lorna Sim

‘Dancer’s journey a rainbow of colours.’ Feature on Philip Piggin, creative program officer at Belconnen Arts Centre. The Canberra Times, 25 January 2017, p. 20. Online version

Philip Piggin. Belconnen Arts Centre. Photo: © Robyn Higgins

Philip Piggin. Belconnen Arts Centre. Photo: © Robyn Higgins

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2017

Featured image: BOLD press release (detail)

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Great Sport! Liz Lea and collaborators

7 April 2016 (World Health Day), National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Canberra’s GOLDS (joined briefly on this occasion by two Dance for Parkinsons groups) have once again surprised me. Great Sport! was a site specific production that took place in various parts of the National Museum of Australia, including outdoors in the Garden of Australian Dreams. The production was a celebration of movement and sporting history but, given that the show had its first performance on World Health Day, and given that the program also included a segment by the two Dance for Parkinsons groups, Great Sport! was also a program that focused on healthy living through movement.

The production began with ‘Annette’, a celebration of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman. Choreographed by Liz Lea, joint artistic director of the GOLDS, it was full of glitz and glamour, as was befitting of the subject given that Kellerman was not just a swimmer but an advocate for female issues and a star of Hollywood in the early twentieth century. We saw spangly costumes, 1900/1920s-style cozzies, lots of feathers, fans and froth, and some gorgeous, fun-filled choreography that suited these dancers so well.

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Great Sport! Scenes from ‘Annette’. Choreography by Liz Lea

‘Annette’, which was accompanied in part by an original musical composition/poem by Chrissie Shaw, made wonderful use of the Museum’s surrounding spaces—a pool; swirling, curving pathways; an ancient tree trunk; and soaring architecture.

A piece by Gerard van Dyck called  ‘First and Last’ also looked good outdoors, especially against a huge, curved metal wall covered in shadows. ‘First and Last’ used the men of the GOLDS and focused on the practising of sporting activities in a non-competitive environment. The theme suited the company beautifully and the men performed with their usual commitment. There is nothing to prove. Just dance!

Great Sport! Scene from 'First and Last' , Photo: Michelle Potter, 2016

Great Sport! Scene from ‘First and Last’. Choreography by Gerard Van Dyck

We the audience moved from indoors to outdoors, from outdoors to indoors, taking our lead from Lea as compere for the event. One indoor piece, ‘I used to run marathons’, was particularly moving. Choreographed by Philip Piggin and Jane Ingall (also co-directors of the GOLDS) using people living with Parkinson’s Disease, it was performed to the well-known theme from Chariots of Fire. It took place on a circle of chairs and within the space formed by those chairs, and the circular theme was picked up by the choreography and reflected the Olympic symbol of five connecting rings. While the music had something to do with the feeling of transcendence I got, that each of the dancers had such a different capacity for movement, but that each was completely immersed, was also part of that feeling.

Another indoor section, Grand Finale, was choreographed by Martin del Amo. It was gorgeously costumed (based on a concept by del Amo) with the women garbed in long evening dresses, all different. Program notes stated that these women were ‘engaged in a mysterious game, collectively celebrating diverse individuality, on their own terms.’ And it was certainly mysterious as the ten or so women moved amongst each other, forming and reforming various patterns. As seems typical (to me anyway) of del Amo’s work, Grand Finale operates at a level that is somewhat obscure or arcane and, while I often find this aspect of del Amo’s work frustrating, that Grand Finale was meant to be mysterious, or obscure, or arcane, was made absolutely clear by the dancers. They moved through the choreography with distant looks on their faces and with no acknowledgement of each other.

But the pièce de resistance was Kate Denborough’s ‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives’ (a quote from Jane Austen). It was a spectacular and unexpected end to the program and showed the exceptional theatricality that is at the heart of Denborough’s work.

This final piece began with the women of the GOLDS dressed in scarlet dressing gowns and sporting bright red wigs. They began the piece in what initially appeared to be a narrow and quite dark cul-de-sac off the main outdoor area of the Museum. But at the end of this space was a set of double doors and, after performing together for a few moments, the dancers moved towards this door, opened it, and let in a flood of light and a water view (Lake Burley Griffin). They proceeded to open red umbrellas, and then to my surprise undid the dressing gowns to reveal a red swimming costume underneath. They then tripped the light fantastic to the water’s edge, sat down and dabbled their toes in the water, and we watched as a woman with red wig and red gown, paddled a red canoe past them. The play of light and shadow, water and land, and so many other things was breathtakingly beautiful. The canoe became a journey of life. Amazing.

Great Sport!, with its beautiful opening ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ choreographed by Tammi Gissell, was a remarkable event and continues the focus of Liz Lea on working in unusual spaces and, in particular, on using the Canberra environment and its cultural institutions as a venue, and as a backdrop to her work. But apart from the bouquets that are due to Lea for her persistent focus on Canberra as a place where dance happens, one of the most interesting aspects of Great Sport! was the way in which the choreographers, all very different in their approaches and choreographic style, were able to maintain and make visible those differences while working with a community group in which movement skills are understandably quite varied. In addition, the GOLDS get better and better in their very individual manner and responded with gusto on this occasion to the work of choreographers with the professionalism to be able to draw out the very best from a community group. The courage and commitment of the GOLDS knows no bounds, and nor does the power and understanding of the choreographers involved.

Michelle Potter, 10 August 2016

Featured image: Great Sport! Scene from ‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives’. Choreography by Kate Denborough

All photos: Michelle Potter, 2016

Dance diary. June 2014

  • Dame Maggie Scott: a life in dance

My biography of Dame Margaret Scott is now in the editing and design phase and is scheduled for release in October 2014. I originally interviewed Dame Margaret for the National Library’s oral history program in 1993 and, while that interview provided a skeleton plan, there was much more to discover, or at least many details to investigate further. And who would have thought I would find material in the Imperial War Museum in London, or the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra? But I did. Dame Margaret’s life is quite remarkable, apart from the role she played in the establishment of the Australian Ballet Foundation and as inaugural director of the Australian Ballet School.

Potter_Scott_flyer_001

The commission to write the book came unexpectedly and I had a very short time in which to complete the manuscript. But what an exciting journey it has been so far. It has meant, however, that posts to my website have been a little meagre over the past few months. I hope to rectify that situation shortly.

  • Honours

It was a real, pleasure to see two dance leaders honoured during June. Cheryl Stock was awarded an AM in the Queen’s Birthday honours list and Louise Howden-Smith was the recipient of the West Australian of the Year award for arts and culture.

Stock is Associate Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. Before turning to academia, she had a distinguished career as a dancer, choreographer and artistic director with a wide range of companies in Australia and elsewhere.

Howden-Smith made a major contribution to dance over a ten year period as executive director of West Australian Ballet. I have happy memories of her generosity to the media during those years. She is now director of Ochre Contemporary Dance Company, founding director as it happens. The company aims to promote Aboriginal culture through contemporary dance.

It was also good to see that Philip Piggin, who has been involved with community dance in the ACT for many years now, received a 2014 Churchill Fellowship to travel to the USA and the United Kingdom to develop skills and experience in teaching dance to people with Parkinson’s disease.

  • Press for June 2014 [Online links to press articles in The Canberra Times are no longer available]

‘Shadowland showcases masters of movement.’ The Canberra Times, 25 June 2014, ARTS p. 6.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2014