18 October 2019. Theatre 3, Canberra. The Chaos Project
The Chaos Project has long been a feature of the Canberra dance scene. Designed for the young and less experienced of the dancers who are part of the QL2 Dance community, each year it has a different theme. This theme is examined through a series of short works, which are combined seamlessly into one, hour-long production. Each section is choreographed by a professional choreographer and a few older dancers from the broader QL2 Dance community join with the younger ones to help the overall work move along effectively.
In 2019 the Chaos Project had the theme of power—in a variety of manifestations. The youngest performers danced out ideas of physical power, to choreography from Olivia Fyfe. The intermediate group (intermediate in age and experience) examined, through the choreography of Alana Stenning, the idea of ‘superheros’ and asked the question ‘who is the real superhero’? The older dancers performed choreography by Steve Gow and their theme centred on who abuses power and who uses it wisely. An introduction and conclusion were choreographed by Ruth Osborne and two other works completed the program, one an all-girl piece with choreography by Fyfe and Stenning, and one for boys only with choreography by Gow.
Choreographically, Power was well-constructed throughout and what always surprises me (although by now it probably shouldn’t) is how the technical limitations one might expect to see in young dancers are in fact never obvious. If they are asked to move in unison, they do. If a solo is required it always looks strong. And the sheer dedication and involvement of every dancer shows clearly. Credit here to the choreographers!
Perhaps the most fascinating part of Power was the all-girl section, ‘I Rule’, from Fyfe and Stenning. As it began the voice of a narrator could be heard telling the story of a princess in a far away land and her impending relationship with a suitor. My heart sank momentarily. But, as the dancers began to act out and dance this story, their attitude began to change. Towards the end they rejected the story and the role the princess was expected to play and by the very end their outraged voices drowned out the narrator. Feminist power at work!
The Chaos Project is a great initiative from QL2 Dance. It gives young dancers opportunities they rarely get elsewhere. Those opportunities include in particular the power to make a creative input to dance, since the dancers contribute ideas on how the work will unfold, both conceptually and technically. But it also gives them the opportunity to see how a professional choreographer works; how to use the space of the stage effectively; and more.
The Chaos Project is just one of the ways that QL2 develops and nurtures potential artists and audiences and gives work to professionals working across the arts.
8 August 2019. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre
As the curtain went up on QL2’s 2019 Quantum Leap production, Filling the Space, I sat up with a jolt. There were a couple of ballet barres onstage and dancers standing in ballet positions, even doing the occasional demi-plié. Not only were we faced with the barres and the pliés but the entire space of the Playhouse stage was stripped of its usual accoutrements—no legs or borders to mask the wing space or to hide the lighting or flies. Everything that is usually hidden from the audience was on show. What was this? Well, it was the beginning of James Batchelor’s Proscenium and Batchelor, now with a good number of works behind him, has never left us in any doubt that what he creates will be unusual in approach and leave us to ponder on what his works are about.
But what made Filling the Space, the overall production, so fascinating was that it showed off the diversity of the choreographic voice. We saw the work of three choreographers, Batchelor, Ruth Osborne and Eliza Sanders, and it would be hard to find three works so different in conception and vocabulary.
Batchelor’s Proscenium examines the space of the stage both within and beyond the structure that frames that space—the proscenium. It was rewarding to consider the particular use of the space he identified in the context of dance and architecture, which was the overarching theme of Filling the Space. But for me Batchelor’s use of the architecture of the stage space was not the most interesting feature of his work. His choice of movement vocabulary was the highlight. It ranged from extremely slow and intensely detailed, even introspective, movement to faster unison work with some partnering that relied on balance and support. As well there was extensive manipulation of those barres and other metal frames, some that dropped from the flies, others that looked like clothing or costume racks. At one point we watched a circus-like stunt with one dancer balancing on a narrow support joining the end parts of one of those racks while another dancer spun the whole structure with ever increasing speed in a giant circle. At another point, rows of chairs were brought onstage and dancers entered, sat down, moved some parts of the body, then rose and, with arms still in the pose they had taken while seated, made their exit. Batchelor was examining how stage space can be filled and emptied in various ways, but it was the way in which that examination occurred that was more interesting than the fact that it occurred.
Ruth Osborne’s Naturally Man-Made was danced against a background of footage shot on and around the grand staircase of Canberra’s Nishi building, a staircase made of recycled timber and a spectacular part of the building. Sometimes we saw the staircase as an installation devoid of people, at other times the footage included dancers performing on the staircase. In front of this footage dancers performed what might be called Osborne’s signature style—mass groupings of dancers with occasional break away moments. It fulfilled nicely, if in an obvious manner, the concept of dance and architecture.
Eliza Sanders had a totally different take on what constitutes architecture. Her work, The Shape of Empty Space, looked at emotional responses to different spatial environments. In this work her movement vocabulary was almost like mime. It focused on two main emotions, a feeling of being wild and free in some environments, with an accompanying flinging of arms, legs, and indeed the whole body in an unrestrained way; and a feeling of being crowded into a tight space, with an accompanying restraint in movement and groupings of dancers. The work was stunningly lit by Mark Dyson with well lit spaces alternating with hidden spaces set up by black curtains hanging at intervals in the performing space. It was architecture built by light and darkness through which we watched dancers appear and disappear. The work had a sculptural ending as dancers built an architecture of their own.
Both Batchelor and Sanders are QL2 alumni who are now working professionally as independent dancers and choreographers. Osborne is an early mentor to them. How lucky are the current dancers of QL2 that they get to work with choreographers whose creativity is so different, whose vocabulary is so individualistic, and whose work is so fascinating to watch, and so interesting to think about.
22 & 23 September 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra has once again supported dance as an adjunct to its exhibition program. In conjunction with So Fine, an exhibition celebrating work made by contemporary women artists, Ruth Osborne has created four short dance pieces under the umbrella title Strong and Brave. The four works reflect selected works from So Fine and use dancers from QL2 Dance—Oongah Slater, Alana Stenning, Serene Lorimer, Akira Byrne and David Windeyer. It perhaps helps to see the exhibition before watching the dance. My observations about the relationships between the art and the dance may not coincide with those of others.
The opening item was, I decided, a reflection on the art of Valerie Kirk who expressed, in captions accompanying the exhibition, her interest in ‘textile tradition and culture’. It was a lovely bit of choreography for three women who often worked together but often also separated from each other and became absorbed in the full skirts of the costume they were wearing. It was eminently watchable dancing, and in the end it didn’t matter so much about the reference.
The most moving dance item for me was the second piece, which clearly related to images by Fiona McMonagle referencing Britain’s child migration scheme by which thousands of children were sent to Australia for ‘a better life’. Two young dancers interacted with pleasure and excitement, two grown ups offered comfort on the one hand, but demanded conformity and obedience on the other. Bouquets in particular to the two young dancers who met, interacted and stood together through it all.
The third work on the program was also moving, although in a somewhat different way. It was largely a solo and seemed quite introspective. It appeared to reflect the art work of Leah King-Smith whose portraits of her Aboriginal mother are presented in the exhibition as layered works using photographs taken by her father, The original photographs have been subjected to a range of contemporary techniques and the finished works have achieved a softly distorted appearance. King-Smith calls her work ‘photography dreaming’. Osborne has used a piece of white, gauzy material to achieve a similar look and the work is dreamlike and emotionally affecting.
The final work was the least successful, largely because it lacked the subtlety of the previous three works. It reflected the art work of Linde Ivimey who accompanied a friend on a voyage to the Antarctic and made a series of small sculptures based on that journey.
It is a privilege to have seen several of the collaborations that have developed between the National Portrait Gallery and Canberra’s dance organisations. The Gallery now has a new director and will also be closing for several months in 2019 for renovations to the building. I hope in these renewed circumstances dance/art collaborations will continue. It gives us an opportunity to ponder about art in both its visual and performing genres. That can only be a good thing.
In October the Canberra Theatre Centre released its ‘Collected Works 2018’. Canberra dance audiences will have the pleasure of seeing Australian Dance Theatre’s The Beginning of Nature, which will open its Australian mainstage season in Canberra on 14 June 2018.
Canberra Theatre Centre’s program also includes a season of AB [Intra] from Sydney Dance Company and Dark Emu from Bangarra Dance Theatre and, as part of the Canberra Theatre’s Indie program, Gavin Webber and Joshua Thomson will perform Cockfight.
The irrepressible Eileen Kramer was in Canberra recently. She made a fleeting visit to have a chat with Ken Wyatt, Minister for Aged Care, about funding for a project she is planning for her 103rd birthday in November. Kramer will perform A Buddha’s wife, a work inspired by her visit to India in the 1960s. It will be part of a project (The Now Project) featuring 10 dancers and co-produced by choreographer/film-maker Sue Healey. Read about the project and listen to Kramer and Healey speak briefly about it on the crowd funding page that has been set up to help realise the project.
Fellowships, funding news, and further accolades
It was a thrill to see that Australian Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Garry Stewart, is the recipient of a 2017 Churchill Fellowship. Stewart will investigate choreographic centres in various parts of the world including in India, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.
Then, artsACT has announced its funding recipients for 2018 and, unlike last year’s very disappointing round, dance gets some strong recognition. Alison Plevey’s Australian Dance Party has been funded to produce a new work Energeia, Canberra Dance Theatre has received funding to create a new piece for its 40th anniversary, Liz Lea has funding also to create a new work, and Emma Strapps has been funded for creative development of a work called Flight/less.
Also in the ACT, Ruth Osborne has been short-listed as the potential ACT Australian of the Year for 2018. Osborne is artistic director of QL2 Dance and has made a major contribution to youth dance in the ACT. She was a 2016 recipient of a Churchill Fellowship and has recently returned from studying youth dance in various countries around the world.
Then, from Queensland Ballet comes news of some welcome promotions. Lucy Green and Camilo Ramos are now principal artists, and Mia Heathcote has been promoted to soloist.
Jean Stewart (1921–2017)
For a much fuller account of the life and work of Jean Stewart than I was able to give see Blazenka Brysha’s story at this link, as well as an interesting comment from her about one of Stewart’s photos of Martin Rubinstein.
This Poisoned Sea, Quantum Leap’s major show for 2017, took as ‘a launchpad’ (as the media says) Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Three choreographers, Claudia Alessi, Eliza Sanders and Jack Ziesing, presented separate sections, which were woven together into an evening length production, without interval, by artistic director Ruth Osborne, and with input from dramaturg Pip Buining. It was an ambitious undertaking.
The focus of the evening was largely on contemporary environmental issues, a focus that comes easily to mind given the subtext of the poem (despite that it was written at the end of the eighteenth century). But in the end we saw several different approaches, especially in terms of how references back to the poem were made.
Claudia Alessi’s work ‘My own private albatross’ made the most obvious statement about environmental issues, and perhaps, too, the most obvious reference to the poem when a voice-over clearly recited lines from the Coleridge work. Alessi’s section, which occupied the middle of the program, concerned the amount of plastic waste and other non-recyclable materials in the sea, and the effects that material is having on, for example, sea creatures. It grew out of the shock and concern Alessi felt at the amount of rubbish in the seas off Christmas Island, where she had recently spent time. The dancers used props frequently, including a long string of plastic bags and other detritus, which they dragged across the stage at various intervals.
Choreographically, however, Alessi’s section was the least interesting of the three for me. I found the movement a little too simplistic and it seemed like an addition, rather than an intrinsic part of the section.
Jack Ziesing’s ‘A hellish thing’ was the last section before Osborne’s finale. With its ongoing references to melting icebergs and black oil spills, it took quite a black view of today’s environmental issues. His work seemed the least concerned with the poem itself and more completely with a twenty-first century perspective.
The oil spills, represented by lengths of black cloth, dominated right up to the end of Ziesing’s section. The dancers draped them around their bodies, sometimes covering themselves entirely, until at the end one dancer found herself alone shrouded in black, apparently sheltering under the very material that is degrading the environment. Ziesing’s choreography was quite powerful and the dancers had some strong group sections, which they performed with gusto.
For me the standout section, however, was that choreographed by Eliza Sanders, which she had entitled ‘The poem is within us’. It followed immediately after Ruth Osborne’s introductory passage as the first section made by the commissioned choreographers. ‘The poem within us’ was subtle. It didn’t try to force us into anything, it didn’t try to be didactic, and it didn’t try to cover too many ideas within one short piece. The enduring image was that of an open mouth—’And every tongue through utter drought,/Was withered at the root’ says the poem. Was it a silent scream? Was it making the comment that the destruction of the environment is not being heard? So many thoughts surfaced.
Choreographically, too, ‘The poem is within us’ wasn’t full of forceful movement, but focused on changing patterns and on building groupings of dancers. The one jarring element was the use of live speech. A few lines of the poem were quoted by one of the dancers, but this is a trap for the unwary I think. It is never easy to hear clearly from certain parts of the auditorium and the voice-over recording that Alessi used was by far the better way to go. But that element aside, Sanders takes an unusual approach to her work and I think she is a choreographer to watch.
There was much to admire about This Poisoned Sea in terms of the collaborative elements. Mark Dyson’s lighting was often spectacular, and I especially liked the black and white floor pattern he conjured up at one stage. Cate Clelland’s costumes were also an excellent addition to the overall work. The pants worn by all the dancers were cut in a subtle way so that they made passing reference to costumes from centuries ago, while the addition of extra elements (the black belts in Ziesing’s work for example) distinguished each section from the others.
This Poisoned Seawas an ambitious undertaking. But it remains in my mind as one of the best shows Quantum Leap has presented. The use of a dramaturg gave the work coherence, and the evening was well structured so that the work moved smoothly from the subtlety and beauty of Sanders, to the obvious from Alessi, to a strong contemporary comment from Ziesing.
Ruth Osborne has been setting up and facilitating dance projects for the young people of Canberra since 1999. It was then that she was invited to come to Canberra from Perth to set up the Quantum Leap Youth Program for the Australian Choreographic Centre at Gorman House. Osborne had had an extraordinarily diverse dance career in Perth, involving teaching, directing and choreography across a range of institutions, including the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts and her own dance school, the Contemporary Dance Centre. In addition, in Perth Osborne was a founding board member and artistic director of STEPS Youth Dance Company for ten years.
As we sit in the beautifully green and cool courtyard of Gorman House, Osborne talks of her experience in Perth. ‘When I started working with young people in Perth, I could see the benefits of bringing them together from different places, not just from one dance school,’ she says. ‘It was about opening up minds; attracting boys into dance, and youth programs were a great way of doing that; and looking at who were our artists, and how young people might benefit from their input. The move to Canberra was an exciting prospect as it gave me the opportunity to work full-time with young people.’
Not surprisingly then, Quantum Leap quickly flourished as Canberra’s youth dance ensemble and Osborne’s vision for its development attracted financial support from the beginning. Ongoing funding, in particular from artsACT, meant that when the Choreographic Centre folded, after losing its funding in 2006, Osborne’s youth dance projects were able to continue. Over the next few years Quantum Leap, that initial undertaking, became just one strand in a larger endeavour. The Chaos initiative for younger dancers from eight onwards; Hot to Trot, a program giving young choreographers the chance to show their work; and special programs for boys became realities, as did other ventures as Quantum Leapers went on to tertiary dance study and then returned to give back to the organisation that had nurtured their early dance activities. Those programs for tertiary students included the On Course program, now ten years old, where emerging choreographers are mentored and are given opportunities to try out their ideas. A new organisational name, QL2 Dance, came into being to encompass the ever-growing range of youth activities Osborne was able to develop and offer to young people.
Over the almost two decades that Osborne has been mentoring young people in Canberra, she has received a number of awards for her work, including two Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards and an Australian Dance Award in 2012 for Services to Dance, an award that indicates the extent to which her career, both in Perth and Canberra, has been recognised by her peers.
Now Osborne has received exceptional acknowledgement, and significant financial support as well, to advance her commitment to supporting and mentoring young people through dance. In 2017 she will take up a Churchill Fellowship that will take her to the United Kingdom for around two months to explore a range of youth dance organisations from many points of view. What kinds of support do UK-based youth initiatives receive? What is their inherent nature, that is do they have an ongoing role, or do they work simply from project to project? What career trajectories have emerged as dancers from youth programs move into professional areas?
Osborne’s focus will largely be on the major British youth dance organisations, including the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland established by YDance (Scottish Youth Dance). Osborne first saw this company, led by Anna Kenrick, in Glasgow in 2014 at the Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival. Connections were established between Osborne and Kenrick and the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland was able to secure funding to come to Canberra in April 2016. The outcome was a series of joint working sessions and, in line with Osborne’s wish to support the development not only of QL2 but of other youth companies in Australia, youth groups from various parts of Australia joined Canberra’s Quantum Leap dancers and their Scottish colleagues in an intensive physical and intellectual inquiry into the choreographic process. The ten days of activity culminated in in a major public performance, Ten Thousand Miles, in which the Scottish group and the Quantum Leapers joined forces to take part in a co-production. It consisted of three new contemporary dance works and had a single, well-received showing at the Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.
Osborne is enthusiastic about reconnecting with YDance and its team of dancers and other personnel. ‘I was especially interested in the breadth of what YDance was doing and I would like to build the possibility of more exchanges, not just for dancers but also for emerging choreographers as well,’ she says. “The Churchill Fellowship will give me the opportunity to talk face to face with YDance and other such organisations and bring about closer ties with them.’
But why youth dance? What is it that attracts Osborne as she prepares to take up her Churchill Fellowship? Apart from what motivated her while in Perth, Osborne feels strongly about broadening the way young people experience dance.
‘Youth dance practice for me,’ Osborne says, ‘is about building the young artist and developing individuality. It is about discussion, research, writing, collaboration, cultural and gender differences and professional learning. What I hope to do is give young people more than training. I want to give them a broad outlook, I want to develop their own creativity and the ability to collaborate. I want them to be able to look at their activities from an intellectual point of view as well as from a physical one.’
In addition to exploring a range of ideas associated with youth dance companies, as part of her Churchill experience Osborne hopes to examine the nature and potential of an unusual English scheme for young people aged from 10 to 18 who show exceptional promise and a passion for dance. The Centres for Advanced Training, or CATs as they are known, were set up in 2004 and are a British government initiative. They offer students, who must audition, training in various dance styles and other related activities out of regular academic school hours. The scheme is a network of centres allowing young people to work together on national dance projects across the country, from London to Newcastle, Swindon to Ipswich. It is a model that has potential to be followed in Australia.
Osborne readily admits, of course, that not everyone who comes through a QL2 program is going to be a dancer. But she sees youth dance programs as preparation for life. Her Churchill Fellowship—and she acknowledges her gratitude that the Fellowship Committee chose to recognise youth dance—will be an opportunity not only to look at the development of emerging artists but also to focus on ways to expand her belief in ‘dance for life.’
‘Dance schools give young people a solid training. But I think there is also a space for youth programs that develop young people by bringing in outside mentors who can influence them, who can help them develop through the process of discussion, research, writing, collaboration, and professional theatrical learning. And to be able to stand up and talk about your work, to be part of a forum, to challenge yourself—these are skills for life.’
The young people of Canberra and surrounding areas will have much to look forward to when Osborne returns.
Michelle Potter, 21 December 2012.
This is a slightly expanded version of an article first published in The Canberra Times—Panorama, 17 December 2012, p. 14, as ‘In step with youth’. Online version at this link.
The Canberra Critics’ Circle, a group of Canberra-based, practising critics from across art forms, presented its annual awards in November. Two awards were given in the dance area.
Liz Lea: For her innovative promotion of dance in the ACT exemplified by her co-ordination and presentation of “Great Sport!” at the National Museum of Australia, which spectacularly showcased the work of The Gold Company, Dance for Parkinson’s, Canberra Dance Theatre, and of a number of local and interstate choreographers, in a memorable and remarkable presentation.
Alison Plevey: For her tireless and consistent efforts as a dancer, choreographer and facilitator towards advancing professional contemporary dance in the A.C.T through her performances, collaborations, and programs, culminating in the establishment of her dance company, Australian Dance Party.
As indicated in the citations, both Plevey and Lea have contributed to the growth of a renewed interest in dance in Canberra. A preview of Plevey’s forthcoming show, Nervous, is below under ‘Press for November 2016’. My review of Great Sport!, facilitated, directed, and partly choreographed by Lea is at this link.
The Nutcracker: Queensland Ballet
A second viewing of Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker, with a change of cast, had some new highlights. Neneka Yoshida was a gorgeous Clara. She was beautifully animated and involved throughout and there were some charming asides from her with other characters during those moments when she wasn’t the centre of attention. Mia Heathcote took on the role of Grandmother, a role that couldn’t be further from her opening night role as Clara. But she created a very believable character and, as we have come to expect, never wavered from her characterisation. Tim Neff was a totally outrageous Mother Ginger and Lina Kim and Rian Thompson gave us a thrilling performance as the leading couple in the Waltz of the Flowers.
Another exceptional performance from Queensland Ballet.
Ella. A film by Douglas Watkins
Ella, which premiered earlier in 2016 at the Melbourne International Film Festival, traces the journey of Ella Havelka from a childhood spent dancing in Dubbo, New South Wales, to her current position as a corps be ballet member of the Australian Ballet. My strongest recollection of Havelka with the Australian Ballet is her dancing with Rohan Furnell as the leading Hungarian couple in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake when I called their performance ‘very feisty’.
Scene from the film Ella, 2016
I found the film largely unchallenging, however, and footage of Havelka dancing with Bangarra Dance Theatre was far more exciting to watch than that showing her with the Australian Ballet. Not only that, the commentary from Stephen Page on the nature of Bangarra, and Havelka’s role as an Indigenous Australian in that company, was far more pertinent and gutsy than the rather non-committal remarks from interviewees from the Australian Ballet. An opportunity missed from several points of view?
Royal New Zealand Ballet
Royal New Zealand Ballet is seeking a new artistic director to replace Francesco Ventriglia who will leave his position in mid-2017. Ventriglia will depart ‘to pursue international opportunities.’ Before he departs New Zealand he will take on the new role of guest choreographer to stage his own production of Romeo and Juliet in August. His planned repertoire for 2017 includes works by Roland Petit and Alexander Ekman.
Late news: Ruth Osborne
Ruth Osborne, artistic director of QL2 Dance in Canberra, has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to pursue her interest in developing dance projects for young people. More in a future post.
Press for November 2016
‘Wonderful version of Christmas classic.’ Review of The Nutcracker from Queensland Ballet. The Canberra Times, 25 November 2016, p. 37. Online version.
‘Under the microscope.’ Preview of Nervous from Australian Dance Party. The Canberra Times —Panorama, 26 November 2016, p. 15. Online version.
10 September 2016, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery continues to commission short dance works as public program events associated with its exhibitions. Other moments, made in response to a photographic exhibition, Tough and tender, was given twelve performances on two successive weekends by dancers from QL2—Gabriel Comerford, Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders. The portraits on display in Tough and tender revealed young people, often in intimate settings or situations, tough on the outside (mostly) but often appearing to be quite vulnerable. The dance work set out to suggest moments before and after the single moment captured by a photograph.
The choreography, by Ruth Osborne (in collaboration with the dancers), and the performance itself captured a beautiful range of emotions, from tough to tender as was appropriate, but also sometimes amusing and often intense. With its range of solos, duets and trios, and its variety of costuming, it also highlighted different kinds of interpersonal connection.
Dean Cross and Eliza Sanders in Other moments. QL2, 2016.
Gabriel Comerford (left) and Eliza Sanders (right) in Other moments. QL2, 2016
As she did in Walking and Falling, a previous work for the National Portrait Gallery, Osborne showed her skill in working with a minimum of space and little in the way of design. A wooden bench and an array of costumes was all that she needed to make this compelling short work. And of course good dancing from three strong, versatile performers.
The Canberra Critics’ Circle annual awards ceremony took place on 23 November and, in a special moment for dance in the Canberra region, Elizabeth Dalman was named ACT Artist of the Year. A well deserved award in a year when Dalman, currently teaching in Taiwan, worked extraordinarily hard to bring attention to the diverse history of Australian Dance Theatre, which celebrated fifty years of creativity in 2015.
Among the Circle’s general awards, which go to innovative activities in the performing and visual arts, and literature, two dance awards were given for 2015. Dalman received an award for her works Fortuity and L, both of which highlighted the range of her choreography dating from her time as director of Australian Dance Theatre to her recent work for her Mirramu Dance Company. Ruth Osborne, director of QL2 Dance, received an award for her work Walking and Falling, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and made in conjunction with its World War I exhibition All that Fall.
Eight emerging (and not so emerging) choreographers have been selected as finalists in the 2016 Keir Choreographic Award. Two have strong Canberra connections: James Batchelor and Chloe Chignell. Canberra audiences will remember their joint show earlier this year, when Batchelor showed Metasystems and Chignell Post Phase. The two have worked together frequently over the past few years with Chignell often appearing in works choreographed by Batchelor.
The other finalists are Sarah Aiken, also a finalist in the first Keir Award in 2014, along with Ghenoa Gela, Martin Hansen, Alice Heyward, Rebecca Jensen and Paea Leach. The eight finalists will each show a work, commissioned by the Keir Foundation, in Melbourne at Dancehouse in April 2016. Four works will then be selected by a jury and shown in Sydney at Carriageworks in May 2016, where the winner will be chosen.
Shona Dunlop MacTavish, former dancer with the Bodenwieser Ballet, recently visited Sydney from her home in New Zealand and, to celebrate the occasion, some of her Bodenwieser colleagues gathered in Sydney for a special get together. The image below shows Eileen Kramer (left) now 101 and Shona Dunlop MacTavish now 96. In the background they can be seen in a photograph in which they are dancing in Gertrud Bodenwieser’s Blue Danube, one of their best known roles.
Shona Dunlop MacTavish (right) and Eileen Kramer, Sydney 2015. Photo: Barbara Cuckson
Oral history interviews with Shona Dunlop MacTavish and Eileen Kramer are available online. Follow the links to the National Library of Australia’s online oral history site: Shona Dunlop MacTavish; Eileen Kramer.
Ian Templeman (1938–2015); Glenys McIver (1949–2015)
I was saddened to hear of the deaths in November of two former colleagues from the National Library of Australia, Ian Templeman and Glenys McIver. While perhaps not widely known in the dance community, both made a significant contribution to the growth of my career as a dance writer, historian and curator. Glenys appointed me as the Esso Research Fellow in the Performing Arts at the National Library in 1988. Among my many activities in that position, I began recording oral history interviews for the Library, which I continue to do now some 25 years later.
Ian was appointed Assistant Director General Public Programs at the National Library in 1990 and proceeded to expand the Library’s publishing program. This involved establishing the monthly magazine National Library of Australia News (now renamed The National Library of Australia Magazine and published quarterly), and the quarterly journal Voices (now no longer active). He encouraged my dance writing for both publications and was responsible for commissioning my book A Passion for Dance (now out of print), which consisted of a series of edited oral history interviews with some of Australia’s foremost choreographers.
Both Glenys and Ian made significant other contributions to my career. I will always be grateful for their mentorship.
Dance rattles (tied around the ankles during performance) from Bondé, New Caledonia
Ruth Osborne, artistic director of QL2 Dance, has made a wonderfully moving vignette of dance for the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Called Walking and Falling, it features three beautifully costumed dancers, Dean Cross, Gemma Dawkins and Caitlin MacKenzie. All three are former Quantum Leapers who have gone from their student days with Canberra’s youth program to become professional dancers.
The work follows, in just 15 economical minutes, the life of a man who goes to war and returns shaken from the experience, unable to participate in the warmth of his family life as he could before he left. It opens with a charming scene around a table as the man and the two women in his life drink tea and eat scones to the sound of the patriotic wartime song Keep the Home Fires Burning. One of the women discovers a white feather in the pocket of the man’s jacket, but he does go off to war leaving the women to devote themselves to their daily chores. They pause often to think of him.
The scene shifts to the battle field and we see the man engaged in combat. Osborne has made smart use of the space available to her and of the simple props that she uses—a table, three chairs and a poster on a side wall. The table from that opening family meal of tea and scones becomes a form of shelter and protection for the man at war and it divides the small foyer area in which the dance unfolds into two separate spaces. There is one particularly poignant moment when the man shelters behind the overturned table to read a letter from home. On the other side of the table one of the women writes a letter and, in a flash, we see two worlds.
The man returns home, physically anyway. But he is emotionally scarred. The work closes as it began around the family table, but there is no longer the joyous engagement between the three. To the sound of And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, a song on the futility of war, we watch as emotional silence engulfs the small group, a group that was once filled with life.
What is so attractive about this work is its simplicity. It achieves its huge emotional impact without any fuss or unnecessary razzamatazz. It moves smoothly from segment to segment and demands our attention from opening minute to its closing scene. All three dancers convey their thoughts and hopes strongly through movement, gesture, and eye contact with each other, or lack of it at the end as they struggle to cope with what has happened. As the work closes, we are left with an aching heart for the man, for the women in his life, and for their indescribable loss.
Walking and Falling is a tiny pearl of a dance commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to accompany its exhibition, All that Fall, which examines sacrifice, life and loss during World War I. The exhibition couldn’t have a more perfect addition than Walking and Falling. Bouquets to Osborne and the dancers.
The Portrait Gallery exhibition contains a collection of items from World War I including posters, personal mementos, and art works of various kinds. One of the most moving items is a work, also commissioned especially for the exhibition, by Canberra-based artist Ellis Hutch. She has created an installation of wax panels and light projections as a contemporary response to an uncompleted World War I memorial. The proposal and design for the original memorial was prepared by Theodora Cowen* and it was meant to honour the men who fell in World War I.
Ellis Hutch, Last light, 2014–2015
* There seems to be some controversy about the spelling of Theodora Cowen’s last name. Is it Cowen or Cowan? I have gone with the spelling used by the Portrait Gallery.