Intersecting journeys. Two films by Sue Healey

11 November 2022. Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra

Sue Healey’s relatively recent initiative, Intersecting Journeys, was made up of two films, Meeting Place and Alumni, both produced by Canberra’s QL2 Dance on behalf of Youth Dance Australia, with the support of the Australia Council for the Arts. Healey says that having this commission helped her through some of the most difficult times of the COVID pandemic, and watching the films it is clear that the making of them was a challenging and demanding enterprise for Healey and her team. The result is both intriguing and absorbing.

The screening in the Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive began with Meeting Place in which eight youth dance companies teamed up and shared common practices. Working in four teams each made up of dancers from two of the eight companies, they met in four different locations to connect and collaborate. Dancers from Melbourne’s Yellow Wheel teamed up with those from Austi Dance & Physical Theatre in Austinmer, New South Wales. They met where the Yarra River meets Merri Creek. Then the Indigenous youth company, Wagana, located in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, teamed up with dancers from NAISDA College and met at Kedumba Cascades near Katoomba. Australian Dance Theatre’s youth group, Tread, was joined by Tasmania’s Stompin youth company and they performed at Sellicks Beach on the Fleurieu Peninsula out of Adelaide. Canberra’s Quantum Leap dancers teamed up with those from Newcastle’s Flipside Project run by Catapult Dance. They danced together on Newcastle Breakwater.

Harlisha Newie and Maddison Fraser from NAISDA College at Kedumba Cascades. Screenshot from Meeting Place, 2022

What stood out from these four exploratory dances was, on the one hand, the utter commitment of the young dancers who performed them and, on the other, the locations chosen, all very different but all with a watery theme. Absolutely stunning was the work of Maddison Fraser from Wagana who, without obvious trepidation, walked up the waterfall and sat down on a rock in the middle of the rushing water, as seen in the header image to this post.

But beyond the choreography, which I suspect was partly improvised, and the incredibly beautiful locations chosen, was the remarkable film work of cinematographer Richard Corfield and drone cinematographer Ken Butti, the latter seen especially strongly in relation to the Newcastle Breakwater. Their work added immensely to what was an exceptionally well directed film from Healey.

Dancers from Quantum Leap and the Flipside Project performing on Newcastle Breakwater. Still from Meeting Place, 2022

The second film was Alumni, which in many respects was a sequel to Meeting Place. Healey had identified a number of former youth company dancers who had gone on to make national and international careers in dance. As a number of them were working outside of Australia she asked all those identified to contribute footage from youth performances in which they had danced, and then to film their reaction, in a danced format, to watching that early footage. Healey then assembled the material into mini dance biographies about each dancer. It was a monumental task and Healey responded with a varied analysis of material so that the biographies, as mini as they were (given the time frame), showed up the different personalities of each dancer.

James Batchelor in a screenshot from Alumni, 2022

I enjoyed Alumni, especially when watching those whose post-youth company, professional work I have been able to follow, including James Batchelor, Jack Ziesing, Chloe Chignell, and Sam Young-Wright. But it was really Meeting Place that I found especially fascinating. Apart from the dancing and exceptional filming and directing, looking at the four locations and the way they were integrated into the dancing, I could not help thinking what a beautiful country we live in here in Australia.

Overall, however, what Intersecting Journeys made very clear was the significance of giving young dancers the positive mentoring that the best youth companies make available to them.

Watch brief excerpts from both films below.

Michelle Potter, 13 November 2022

Featured image: Maddison Fraser at Kedumba Cascades in a scene from Meeting Point in Sue Healey’s Intersecting Journeys, 2022

Big Little Things. QL2 Dance

14 October 2022. Canberra College Theatre. The Chaos Project, 2022

The Chaos Project for 2022 had some features that were a little different from previous Chaos seasons. The most obvious difference, and one that had an effect on how the show appeared (at least to me), was the age range of the dancers. In 2022, QL2 Dance opened its classes to a new, young age range—those aged 5 to 8—and some of the dancers in Big Little Things looked very young. Not only that, the oldest dancer was about 18 whereas on previous occasions dancers in their early twenties had appeared. I have nothing but praise for the way all the dancers performed—and there were many moments of interaction between the age groups. In fact some of the very young ones were extraordinarily theatrical in the way they approached the performance. But the performance definitely had a different feel. Although the Chaos Project has never been regarded as a pre-professional event, there has always been a feeling that some dancers performing in the project were destined to move ahead. That feeling didn’t emerge so strongly on this occasion and I couldn’t help wondering why?

Big Little Things was in seven sections, although the performance, as it always is with Chaos, was a continuous one with beautifully smooth and logical connections between the end of one section and the beginning of the next. Each section looked at different ways in which we all connect with each other and choreography was by five different artists—Ruth Osborne, Alana Stenning, Patricia Hayes Kavanagh, Stephen Gow and Lilah Gow—always in collaboration with the dancers.

Scene from Big Little Things. The Chaos Project 2022, QL2 Dance. Photo: © Lorna Sim

I especially enjoyed the opening section ‘Ripples in the Pond’, choreographed by Osborne. Its beautiful circular patterns gave real momentum to the section. But Stephen Gow’s ‘Broken Telephone’, made on the male dancers only, was also a highlight. It focused on ‘Truthless speculations, diminishing or exaggerating facts. Rumours’. It had some interesting groupings as dancers moved together and whispered to each other. It was subtle and yet obvious and contained some exceptionally fluid and expressive arm movements. I was not so thrilled with the section made for the female dancers only. Called ‘I have something to say’, it was inspired by protest and the ‘power of the voice’. A commendable subject for sure, but the very loud shouting of the sentence ‘I have something to say’ went on for too long. The point was made instantly and more dancing and less shouting would have been preferable. Ruth Osborne created the finale cum curtain call section, which was, and always is, great entertainment.

Despite a few frustrating aspects to this year’s Chaos Project, I always come away with the thrill of seeing young dancers being initiated so well into techniques of stage performance. They are always beautifully trained in how to enter and leave the stage, in how to work as a group, in how to acknowledge each other, and so on. They are always a real credit to those who work with them to produce the show.

Michelle Potter, 16 October 2022

Featured image: Scene from Big Little Things. The Chaos Project 2022, QL2 Dance. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Terra Firma. Quantum Leap

26 May 2022. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

The constant in productions staged by QL2 for Quantum Leap, the organisation’s auditioned youth dance ensemble for ages 14-26, is the way the dancers are choreographed into groupings. The nature of the groupings varies of course from choreographer to choreographer and work to work, but we can always see groups forming and breaking apart, changing in position on the stage, closing up into tight groupings, spreading apart and joining together with outstretched arms, building up a grouping with one dancer standing on another, and any number of variations on these choreographic ideas. In many respects, that the choreography is based on changing group structures is a result of the fact that Quantum Leap is not an ensemble that features particular dancers over others, or not usually. It is a group featuring everyone.

Of the three works shown as part of Terra Firma, Quantum Leap’s most recent triple bill, it was Melanie Lane’s work Metal Park that used group structures in the most engaging way. Metal Park focused on potential relationships between the human body and objects of various kinds. As the work began, we noticed large black objects in various spots on the stage, which were carried off but eventually brought back and opened up to display a variety of static objects in various shapes and colours. Throughout the work the dancers interacted with these and other objects, which included long poles that were arranged in different combinations on the stage floor. Sometimes dancers were treated as objects and were carried across the stage by other dancers.

But, to the group structures: what was most engaging was the way Lane gave groups of dancers a movement structure as well as a static one. Supported by a sound score from Christopher Clark, there were moments when the dancers moved in unison with beautifully rehearsed, often small but distinct movements of the feet, hands and upper body. It was almost militaristic in detail and performance, but was also engaging to watch.

Perhaps overall the work was just a little too long—perhaps the section with the poles and the floor design created with them could have been a little shorter. But Lane’s choreography continues to be something to keep watching as she continues her already admirable career.

Metal Park was followed by Shifting Ground from Cadi McCarthy. It focused on navigating the changing nature of the world, whether seen globally or in a more personal manner, and the cast included some dancers from Flipside Project, a youth group from Newcastle directed by McCarthy. The most obvious feature coming through the work, at least for me, was that personal relationships are sometimes difficult, which was clear not so much through choreography but through facial expressions.

Scene from Shifting Ground. Photo: © Lorna Sim

The evening closed with Tides of Time by Synergy Styles (Stephen and Lilah Gow), which set out to examine ‘temporal orientation’ and the ideas of time present, past and future. It began in a mesmerising fashion as filmed clips (created by Wildbear Digital) played across the stage space. They showed dancers, seen in a variety of poses, gliding through space as if extracted from reality. The work then moved on to live performance against a background of watery images, which provided a captivating environment for the choreography.

I felt, as I often do with Quantum Leap productions, that the themes were easily explained in words and the social and political implications were strong and contemporary. But those themes and their implications were not always expressed well in a choreographic sense. I continue to wonder what Quantum Leap’s shows would be like without such highly detailed and theoretical scenarios. Dance can convey the deepest of meanings but the meaning has to come from the choreography, which doesn’t always happen with Quantum Leap productions.

Terra Firma was, however, beautifully produced and dressed (costumes by Cate Clelland) and the standard of performance by the dancers was outstanding. And the manner in which Quantum Leap manages its curtain calls continues to be exceptional!

Michelle Potter, 29 May 2022

Featured image: Scene from Metal Park. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Talking to Melanie Lane

My first encounter with the choreography of Melanie Lane was in 2019 when her work WOOF was part of a Sydney Dance Company triple bill called Bonachela/Nankivell/Lane. WOOF, which two years earlier had been a hit in Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed program, was for me the outstanding work on the 2019 triple bill. I had also seen Lane perform, along with Lilian Steiner, in Lucy Guerin’s SPLIT in 2018. But really I was way behind the times. Lane had already established herself as a choreographer and performer well before I had the chance to see her productions.

Lane was born in Sydney but grew up in Canberra and undertook intensive training with Janet Karin at the National Capital Ballet School. Lane recalls with pleasure and admiration the influence Karin had on her development and remembers in particular a program Karin staged in 1989 for the school’s National Capital Dancers. It featured newly choreographed works by Joe Scoglio (Midstream), Natalie Weir (The Host) and Paul Mercurio (A Moment of Choice). ‘Janet was so supportive of new choreography,’ Lane says. ‘I really got connected with contemporary movement as a result.’

After completing her school studies at Canberra’s Stirling College, Lane went to Perth to study at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) from where she graduated with a Diploma of Performing Arts, and where she developed further her interest in contemporary dance and choreography. Between 2000 and 2014 she worked with a range of companies and in a range of cities and venues in Europe as both a performer and choreographer. Now Lane is back in Canberra and her newest work, Metal Park, will be performed by Quantum Leap, Canberra’s youth dance company, in a triple bill named Terra Firma.

After the opening in Vienna in April of The Trojan Women, a theatre piece directed by Australian Adena Jacobs with choreography by Lane, and following a brief stint in Heidelberg doing preliminary work on a dance theatre piece due to open next year, Lane arrived in Canberra just two weeks before Metal Park’s opening night. I wondered how she would go about teaching the new work, and preparing the dancers of Quantum Leap for the experience.

‘I began working with Quantum Leap on Metal Park, which is the first work I have created in Canberra, in January of this year,’ she says. ‘We had an intensive two and a half weeks of development time. It was a little challenging because of the pandemic, which was at a peak. We had dancers in lockdown, dancers zooming in and a number of other difficulties. Then I had to go back to Europe. But now I’m here and I am looking forward to getting back to work in person with the dancers. I find working with young people quite inspiring. There is something magical about the sense of imagination and creativity they have, and their level of enthusiasm and energy is thrilling.’

Quantum Leap dancers rehearsing Metal Park, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Metal Park is an extension of aspects of some of Lane’s earlier works in which she has examined links between the body and objects or props. ‘It’s about zooming in on everyday reactions we have with materiality,’ she explains, ‘and using those reactions to question how we relate to our environment. It is a way too of encouraging the dancers to work with materials—objects of various kinds— as part of their practice.’ Metal Park will be performed to a sound composition by Lane’s partner, Christopher Clark, and will have lighting by Mark Dyson.

We can look forward too to further work from Lane in Canberra. In June she will be appearing at the National Gallery of Australia with Jo Lloyd (details to be confirmed). Also in June the Brisbane-based Australasian Dance Collective will present her work Alterum at the Canberra Theatre Centre as part of a triple bill, Three. She will also shortly start preliminary work on a future production in collaboration with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. Stay tuned.

Terra Firma, which will include works by Cadi McCarthy and Steve and Lilah Gow in addition to Lane’s Metal Park, is at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, from 26 to 28 May 2022.

Michelle Potter, 15 May 2022

Featured image: Melanie Lane conducting a summer intensive for her new work Metal Park, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Dance diary. April 2022

  • Australian Dance Week 2022

Ausdance ACT has welcomed the beginning of Dance Week with an opening event held at Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra, on International Dance Day, 29 April.

Following this celebratory opening, the ACT organisation has programmed a varied selection of events over the week until 8 May. The program reflects the current focus in the ACT on community dance and dance for people with varying skills and interests throughout that community. There is a strong focus in the 2022 program on classes to try and workshops to experience. One of the most fascinating to my mind happens on 1 May and is the Chinese Tiger and Lion Dance Workshop—not something that is offered often! See the full program at this link.

In addition, QL2 Dance launched, also on 29 April, a 12 minute film, Unavoidable casualty. This film examines ways in which young dancers might express how they have felt and managed difficult, even traumatic events they have experienced, or seen others experience. Unavoidable casualty is available to watch until 8 May at this link. Watch to the end to see a beautiful finishing section in which some of the dancers are introduced one by one. Choreography is by Stephen Gow and Ruth Osborne.

Scene from Unavoidable casualty. QL2 Dance, 2022. Photo: © Lorna Sim
  • A story from my past

In 2019 I was in New York briefly for the celebration of 75 years of the Dance Division of the New York Public Library. As part of the event I was asked to talk about the acquisitions I especially remember from my time as curator there. It brought back memories of a rather amazing visit I made to a gallery in downtown Manhattan in 2007.

A small but significant collection of posters from the 1960s to the 1980s for performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was being prepared for sale in the gallery. They were the work of some of those truly exceptional artists who collaborated with MCDC during those decades: Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Morris Graves, Jasper Johns and others. The suggestion came that I should go down to this gallery and see if there was any material I would like for the Dance Division. So off I went. There I was met by Julian Lethbridge, himself a fine artist. Julian introduced me to the gentleman who was hanging the show. There he was up a ladder in his jeans. ‘Oh Michelle,’ Julian said. ‘I’d like you to meet Jasper Johns.’ Only in New York, I thought to myself.

But apart from the shock that the man up the ladder in jeans was Jasper Johns, the material was amazing and every poster was signed by Merce. And the escapade was also an example of the philanthropic generosity that keeps the Dance Division running. The items I selected were bought for the Division by Anne Bass and were appropriately hung in the Division’s 2007 exhibition INVENTION Merce Cunningham and collaborators.

I was reminded of this acquisition and the meeting I had with Jasper Johns when just recently I noticed, via Google Analytics, that views of the obituary on this website, which I wrote for Anne in 2020, had been steadily rising (around the second anniversary of her death).

  • Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina live (as opposed to the streamed version) left me a little underwhelmed, so I decided not to do a full review but simply to make a few comments. Despite the so-called ’rave reviews’ that have appeared in various places, I found it interesting but not a great production, despite some exceptional design and projections, and some fine dancing. It was highly episodic, which is hardly surprising given the length and depth of the book on which it was based. But for me that episodic nature meant that there was no strong through line to the production. My mind flicked back to Graeme Murphy’s Romeo and Juliet. It was also episodic in nature as it skipped from place to place, era to era. But one of its great strengths was the addition to the work of the symbolic figure of Death, powerfully performed by Adam Bull. Death constantly hovered in the background and drew the episodes together.

Apart from the problem of the work’s episodic nature, I still find it hard to understand why the ending, which followed Anna’s suicide, was so, so long and featured (and ended with) two secondary characters, Kitty and Levin. Wasn’t the ballet about Anna Karenina?

  • A new Swan Lake?

As part of a Mothers’ Day promotional email, I discovered that the Australian Ballet is planning a new production of Swan Lake for 2023! I was a little surprised I have to say but will wait to hear more before further comments.

Michelle Potter, 30 April 2022

Featured image: Poster for Ausdance ACT Dance Week 2022

Dance diary. December 2021

  • Season’s greetings

Thank you to all those who have accessed this website over 2021. Your loyalty is much appreciated and I look forward to your visits, and comments, in 2022. Happy New Year and here’s hoping there will be more live performances for us to see in 2022.

  • Dance and disability

Canberra has long had a strong and diverse dance program for those with a disability. Nowhere was this more clear than on 3 December, the International Day of People with a Disability—Australia. An event held at the National Portrait Gallery, led by Liz Lea, presented short works by various Canberra-based groups including ZEST—Dance for Parkinsons, the Deaf Butterflies Group and Lea’s new group, Chameleon Collective. As a particular highlight, a group of dancers from Canberra’s company of senior performers, the GOLDS, along with dancers from QL2 Dance and elsewhere also gave a performance as part of ON DISPLAY GLOBAL, a ‘human sculpture court’ initiative that began in 2015 in New York as part of a now-world-wide event celebrating the occasion.

A moment from the Canberra contribution to ON DISPLAY GLOBAL, 2021. Photo: Michelle Potter
  • ‘In remembrance of times past’

When writing my post The Best of 2021 I used the phrase ’in remembrance of times past’ (a common translation of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu). I used the phrase in a specific sense, one relating to changes in the way newspapers report (or don’t) on the arts these days. But shortly after using that phrase in my post, I chanced to come across some images taken in 2010 during a day spent in Auvers-sur-Oise in France.  At the time we were there—just for a day to see the town where Vincent van Gogh spent his final days—a community dance group from Brittany was visiting. Here are some photos that date back to that day.

That controversial ballet

Not so long ago I received a message in the contact box for this website about La Bayadère. In my Dance diary. July 2021 I had posted a piece about the ballet and the issues that were arising around the world, in particular in the United States, about the Indian context of that work. Well it seems that similar issues are now arising in Australia. The contact box message came from a member of the Hindu community in Australia and was similar in content to the comments that were circulating elsewhere in the world. In part the message I received said, ‘Hindus are urging “The Australian Ballet” to discard “La Bayadère” performance from its “Summertime Ballet Gala”; scheduled for February 17-19, 2022 in Melbourne; which they feel seriously trivializes Eastern religious and other traditions.’

I am, of course, curious to know if anything will eventuate, but I think it is important to add that it is The Kingdom of the Shades scene that is being presented in Melbourne, not the full-length Bayadère.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2021 

Featured image: Sulphur-crested cockatoos enjoying seeds in a Cootamundra Wattle tree, Canberra 2021

Jareen Wee in The Point

Dance diary. November 2021

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle. Awards for 2021

The 2021 Canberra Critics’ Circle awards ceremony took place on 30 November at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. The awards were presented to recipients by Patrick McIntyre, newly appointed CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive and, as is the custom, were presented across all major art forms including performing, visual and literary genres.

Given the difficult circumstances artists across all performing genres have recently experienced, the Circle’s Dance Panel was pleasantly surprised to have such an exceptional range of dance events to consider when discussing the awards. Below is the list, with citations, of the recipients of dance awards.

LIZ LEA DANCE COMPANY
For The Point, a courageous exploration of connection and creativity across different dance styles and cultures through innovative choreography highlighted by outstanding use of music and a remarkable lighting design by Karen Norris.

Example of lighting for The Point. Liz Lea Dance Company, 2021. Photo: © Andrew Sikorski

OLIVIA FYFE and ALEX VOORHOEVE
For a collaborative blend of live music and movement that highlighted expressive connections between dancer and musician while dramatising certain effects of climate change in nature in Australian Dance Party’s Symbiosis, during an exploration of the Australian National Botanic Gardens as part of Enlighten 2021.

Alex Voorhoeve and Olivia Fyfe in Symbiosis. Australian Dance Party, 2021. Photo: © Michelle Potter

BONNIE NEATE and SUZY PIANI
For their remarkable re-imagining of Giselle, entitled Unveiled, which they produced, directed and choreographed embracing elements of classical ballet, contemporary and commercial dance to create a thrilling evening of impeccably prepared, presented and performed dance to showcase the talents of twenty pre-professional dancers chosen at open audition.

QL2 DANCE
For a beautifully structured work, Sympathetic Monsters, that examined concepts of isolation and belonging in a production that juxtaposed the group and the individual through choreography by Jack Ziesing, original music by Adam Ventoura, and a committed performance by the large ensemble.

Scene from Jack Ziesing’s Sympathetic Monsters. QL2 Dance, 2020. Photo: © Lorna Sim

MICHELLE HEINE
For her imaginative, exuberant and brilliantly crafted choreography for Free Rain Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia.

  • The Dancer. A biography for Philippa Cullen

A new book from Giramondo Publishing was recently brought to my attention. Written by Evelyn Juers, it is a biography of Philippa Cullen or, as the author puts it, ‘for’ Philippa Cullen. On one occasion Cullen said to Juers that if she (Cullen) were to die early, she would like Juers to write about her. Cullen, an Australian dancer with a remarkable approach to dance making, died in India at the very young age of 25. The dancer fulfills Cullen’s wish and becomes a biography for her. I am looking forward to reading it!

Further information is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2021

Featured image: Jareen Wee in The Point. Liz Lea Dance Company, 2021. Photo: © Andrew Sikorski

Jareen Wee in The Point

Dance diary. October 2021

  • The Australian Ballet in 2022

The Australian Ballet is returning in 2022 with a program that perhaps more than anything reflects the strong international background of artistic director David Hallberg. One work, John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, is well-known already to Australian ballet audiences but the rest of the offerings are not quite so well-known.

Anna Karenina is familiar to Australian audiences but not in the version that Hallberg has secured. This Anna Karenina has choreography by Yuri Possokhov and has a commissioned score by Ilya Demutsky, which includes a mezzo-soprano singing live on stage. It was meant to be danced by the Australian Ballet in several locations in 2021 but, in the end, it received just a few performances in Adelaide. It is slated to be seen in 2022 in Melbourne and Sydney and I hope that will eventuate. I tried three times to see it this year but three times I had to cancel! I have been a fan of Possokhov’s work since 2013 when I saw his Rite of Spring for San Francisco Ballet. Bring it on.

A work from a several collaborating choreographers, Paul Lightfoot, Sol León, Marco Goecke and Crystal Pite will also be shown in Melbourne and Sydney. With the name Kunstkamer it promises to be an eye-opener. Originally made for Nederlands Dans Theater, notes on that company’s website say:

Inspired by Albertus Seba’s The Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (1734), the choreographers use the stage to be their own Kunstkamer that presents NDT as its own multifaceted ‘Company of Curiosities’.

Musically eclectic as well (Beethoven, Bach, Purcell, Britten, Janis Joplin, Joby Talbot and others) eye-opener is perhaps too gentle a word?

Dimity Azoury in a study for Kunstkamer, 2021. The Australian Ballet Season 2022. Photo: © Simon Eeles

Then there is the triple bill for the year, Instruments of Dance, a name that I find somewhat unmoving, or at least uninviting. It will feature a new work by Alice Topp, a 2014 work from Justin Peck called Everywhere We Go, and Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear made in 2016 and featuring an all-male cast. While I am a definite fan of McGregor I have seen Obsidian Tear and to me it is not one of his best works. Here is part of what I wrote about the work as danced by the Royal Ballet in 2018:

The opening work, McGregor’s Obsidian Tear, left me a little cold and its choreography seemed stark and emotionless—but then I guess obsidian is a hard substance. Everything seemed to happen suddenly. Lighting cut out rather than faded and movement, while it showed McGregor’s interest in pushing limits, had little that was lyrical.

Royal Ballet artists in 'Obsidian Tear'. © ROH, 2016. Photo: Bill Cooper
Artists of the Royal Ballet in Obsidian Tear. © ROH, 2016. Photo: Bill Cooper

My full review of that Royal Ballet season is at this link.

There are aspects of the season that I have not mentioned here. The full story is on the Australian Ballet’s website. My fingers are crossed that 2022 will be the year we go to the ballet!

  • Wudjang. Not the Past. Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company

Bangarra Dance Theatre is joining forces with Sydney Theatre Company to produce a new work by Stephen Page to be shown at the Sydney Festival in January 2022 and then two months later in Adelaide. Page has described it as ‘an epic-scale contemporary corroboree’ and it will be performed by seventeen dancers, four musicians and five actors.

Publicity image for Wudjang. Not the Past. Photo: © Daniel Boud

The narrative for the work is written by Page and Alana Valentine and Page has described the inspiration for that narrative:

In the deep darkness just before dawn, workmen find bones while excavating for a dam. Among the workers is Bilin, a Yugambeh man, who convinces his colleagues to let him keep the ancestral remains. This ancestor is Wudjang, who, along with her young companion spirit, Gurai, longs to be reburied in the proper way. With her young companion spirit, Gurai, she dances and teaches and sings of the past, of the earth, of songlines. With grace and authentic power, a new generation is taught how to listen, learn and carry their ancestral energy into the future. Wudjang: Not the Past follows the journey to honour Wudjang with a traditional resting place on Country.

The production features poetry, spoken story-telling, live music and the choreography of Page. Something to look forward to as we (hopefully) come out of the difficulties of the past two years. 

  • QL2 Dance: Not giving in

Like so many dance organisations, QL2 Dance, Canberra’s much-loved youth dance organisation, has had to cancel so many of its activities over the last several months as a result of the ACT’s covid lockdown. Not giving in is the organisation’s answer to the situation. Watch it below. (Link removed. Video no longer available)

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2021

Featured image: Nathan Brook in a study for Instruments of Dance. The Australian Ballet Season 2022. Photo: © Simon Eeles

Daniel Riley. Australian Dance Theatre’s incoming artistic director

The dance world is agog with the news that Daniel Riley is to take over the directorship of Australia’s longest standing contemporary dance company, Australian Dance Theatre, when Garry Stewart retires from the role at the end of 2021. Riley traces his bloodline to the Wiradjuri clan of Western New South Wales, particularly around Wellington and Dubbo. As such he is the first Indigenous director of Australian Dance Theatre (ADT).

But, as Riley told a Dubbo-based journalist in 2014, he did not grow up ‘on country’ but in Canberra. He went to Telopea Park High School and Canberra College and he began dance classes with Jacqui Hallahan at the then Canberra Dance Development Centre.

A fact barely mentioned in the stories that have so far surrounded Riley’s appointment is that he is in fact an alumnus of QL2 Dance, Canberra’s youth dance organisation—a place were the nurturing of future dance artists is of prime importance. One of QL2’s current patrons is the artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela, and he recognised QL2’s impact on dance in Australia when, following his acceptance of the role of patron, he said:

I have worked with many artists that have passed through [QL2’s] doors and commend them all on their professionalism, technique and creativity. The training and performance platform that QL2 offer[s] to youth dancers and emerging artists in Australia is of the highest standard.

Riley joined QL2 in 1999. It happened as the result of a suggestion from Elizabeth Dalman, artistic director of ADT from 1965-1975, and her colleague Vivienne Rogis, both of whom had worked on a project with Riley’s father in the 1990s. In 1999 QL2 had just started up and Riley performed in the very early productions, Rough Cuts and On the Shoulders of Giants. He then danced in every QL2 project from 1999 to 2003 before taking up a degree course at QUT in 2004. While undertaking his degree he returned whenever possible to Canberra and worked as a choreographer for various QL2 projects, which he has continued to do throughout his professional career to date.

Daniel Riley rehearsing QL2 dancers for the Hit the Floor Together program, 2013.

His commissioned work Where we gather, made in 2013 for the QL2 program Hit the Floor Together, explored the idea of young people from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds working together. In performance it showed Riley’s exceptional use of organic and rhythmic movement patterns, and his remarkable feel for shape, line, and the space of the stage. It was remounted in 2018 as part of QL2’s 20th anniversary, Two Zero.

Most recently Riley was back at QL2 in January 2021 on a residency where he continued work on an independent project still in the planning stage.

Daniel Riley during a QL2 residency, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra, 2021. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But of course his work as a professional dancer and choreographer with Bangarra Dance Theatre, which he joined 2007 after graduating from QUT, as well as his his work with Leigh Warren and Dancers, Sydney Dance Company, Chunky Move, and companies overseas, including Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Fabulous Beast (now Teac Damsa), have opened up new horizons.

I have strong memories of the first work he choreographed for Bangarra in 2010. Called Riley, it was a celebration of the photography of a cousin, Michael Riley. What was especially impressive was the way in which Riley’s choreography looked quite abstract and yet also managed to link back to the photographs, which were projected during the work. Then, I cannot forget the strength of his performance as Governor Macquarie in Jasmin Sheppard’s Macq, and also his role as Governor Philip in Stephen Page’s Bennelong, both productions for Bangarra.

Beau Dean Riley Smith and Daniel Riley in a scene from 'Macq'. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2016
Daniel Riley (on the table) as Governor Macquarie with Beau Dean Riley Smith in Macq. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2016. Photo: © Greg Barrett

I also was interested in Reign, a work he made for Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed season in 2015.

The four New Breed 2015 choreographers . Photo: Peter Greig
Daniel Riley (front right) with Fiona Jopp, Kristina Chan, and Bernhard Knauer in a media image for Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed, 2015. Photo: © Peter Greig

Reign examined the idea of women in power and the forces that often end their reign. Choreographically it seemed to have strong Indigenous overtones. It began with Janessa Dufty covering her limbs with sand from a pile in a downstage corner of the performing space. It recalled an early section of Bangarra’s production of Ochres when a dancer uses yellow ochre in a similar fashion. Much of the movement, which was organic in look and usually quite grounded, also seemed Bangarra-inspired. And yet the theme seemed quite Western to me and I struggled to reconcile the movement with the theme. Later I began to wonder whether it mattered what vocabulary was used for what theme and was impressed and moved by the strength and very clear structure of the work.

So what will Riley bring to Australian Dance Theatre? Looking at the way he has worked over the years with QL2, he will bring I am sure the same integrity and respect for his colleagues that has brought him back over and over again to the organisation that developed his skills, gave him an understanding of a collaborative manner of working, and that realised that a future in dance lay before him. Thinking of the way he dances, always inhabiting a role with strength and understanding, I suspect he will be an excellent coach for the dancers in the company. And considering, on the one hand, the themes he has chosen for his choreographed works, which so often examine the diverse social and cultural roles of the people around him, and, on the other hand, the way his choreographed works have all been so clearly and strongly structured, I feel he will bring a huge strength of purpose to ADT.

But no one could put it better than Elizabeth Dalman, founding artistic director of ADT. She has said:

He is a wonderful performer, a talented choreographer and already has a great vision for the company. ADT has a long tradition as a revolutionary company pushing boundaries and presenting innovative and exciting works. Daniel plans to champion diversity and develop the company’s cross- and inter-cultural potentials. From the very beginning we set out to be a company exploring our Australian identity, our Australian artistic expression and cultural diversity, so I feel this is a strong continuation of the original aims of the company.

Michelle Potter, 10 June 2021

Featured image: Promotional image for Australian Dance Theatre’s appointment of Daniel Riley as artistic director.

REBEL. Then. Now. When? Quantum Leap Ensemble

20 May 2021. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

The latest offering from the Quantum Leap Ensemble, an intrinsic part of the structure of Canberra’s QL2 Dance, has the title REBEL (short version). For a while I thought of this as a noun—who has not been a rebel at some stage in one’s life? But, as the work unfolded, it was clear that the title was more properly seen as a verb—it is the action that is at the heart of the work, although of course those who carry out the action are nevertheless the rebels.

As the full title suggests, REBEL was in three parts. It began with Then, a look back at the rebellious period of the 1960s and its moving into the 70s. Hippydom was before our eyes in the outrageous fashion, the hugely expressive dance moves, and the pleasure of being oneself.

This section, choreographed by Ruth Osborne and Steve Gow, had the audience clapping and cheering the dancers along, and no doubt dancing along themselves—in spirit.

But there was more to the Hippy era than this freedom to love, dance, and dress as one pleased. Vietnam was a focus of demonstrations, the feminist movement was strong, and it was a period of rebellion in many areas. This aspect was made clear by background footage, often archival and drawn from the era, assembled and projected by Wild Bear Digital.

What followed was mostly angry and confrontational. The second section, Now, was subtitled ‘Problem child’ and was choreographed by Jack Ziesing. It began with a spoken tirade from one of the performers, Toby McKnight, speaking with full-on anger at what was seen as the unacceptable social conditions of the present time.

Ziesing’s choreography worked to explain those conditions. It began with highly organised and geometrically structured movement and groupings but slowly broke into more dramatic scenes that sometimes looked like street dancing and other times as an effort to break free from conventions, or to be included as part of a wider community.

Mark Dyson’s lighting added particular strength to this section, which at times was lit red and, as a result, added a sense of anger to the action. The commissioned score from Adam Ventoura also added to the theme of anger. It was relentless, loud and percussive and brilliantly suited to the action, and vice versa.

As this section concluded, the angry young man reappeared and finished off his tirade of anger. Now slowly morphed into When?, choreographed by Jodie Farrugia. The dancers continued their anger but I missed the point of the women balancing books on their head. It reminded me of the June Dally Watkins 1950s manner of teaching young people good posture and deportment. Was it meant to suggest perhaps that books and greater knowledge hold the key to overcoming problematic issues?

But the continuing anger towards perceived unacceptable conditions was very clear towards the end as protest placards were held up and the performers crowded the stage and glared accusingly out at the audience. Somehow, however, this demanding ending left me cold. Is the future really so hopeless? And the brief return to the joy of life after the curtain calls did little to appease.

For me the opening section was the most successful of the three. It was clearly structured, true to the period, and engaging as well thought provoking. But what struck me about this show in particular (although it probably is a feature of every QL2 show), was the commitment, intensity and strength of contemporary technique these young dancers show as they perform. I loved too the strong production values (again an ongoing feature of QL2 productions).

But surely the world is not all gloom and doom?

Michelle Potter, 22 May 2021

All photos © Lorna Sim. And what a fabulous collaboration there is between Sim and QL2!

Featured image: Final scene from ‘When?’ in REBEL. Photo: © Lorna Sim