Dance diary. May 2024

  • Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship

Given the publication of my book, Kristian Fredrikson. Designer by Melbourne Books in 2020, I am always interested in the winners of the biennial award of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship. My book would never have been published without the generous donations I received via the Australian Cultural Fund, and from royalties owing to Fredrikson during the year I was struggling to assist financially with the book’s publication. The committee that administers the scholarship was hugely supportive throughout all aspects of the book’s production.

The 2024 winner of the Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship is Charles Davis who graduated from NIDA in 2014, and who has also studied architectural design at Monash University. He has designed for Sydney Theatre Company, West Australian Opera, Opera Queensland, Pinchgut Opera and other theatrical groups. As far as his input into dance productions goes, Davis was set designer for the Australian Ballet’s recent production of Stephanie Lake’s Circle Electric. Incidentally, another recipient of an earlier Kristian Fredrikson Scholarship, Paula Levis, designed the costumes for that same production.

  • Frank van Straten (1936–2024)

This is a somewhat belated comment on the death of Frank van Straten, who died in Melbourne in April 2024. Van Straten was an amazing historian of the theatre across a range of genres and was the first archivist at Melbourne’s Performing Arts Museum (now the Australian Performing Arts Collection). I remember him particularly for his hugely valuable contribution to Graeme Murphy’s Tivoli, a joint production between the Australian Ballet and Sydney Dance Company, which premiered in 2001 to commemorate Australia’s Centenary of Federation. Van Straten acted as historical consultant for the work, which honoured and celebrated the Tivoli circuit and the remarkable nature of its repertoire. His input helped make Tivoli an exceptional ‘dance musical’.

Cover image for Tivoli national tour 2001

Van Straten’s knowledge of theatrical history in Australia was vast and I recall a post on this website in which, in a comment, he helped with identifying a particular Sydney-based teacher working in the 1930s named Richard White. His books on Australian performing arts history, too, have often given me information that I had struggled to find elsewhere. He was a truly generous person.

I can’t call this comment an obituary, but for what I would call an obituary see the article in Stage Whispers. Listen, too, to van Straten discuss the nature of Tivoli performances as recorded by Philippe Charluet on film at this link. Oral historian Bill Stephens has also recorded an interview with van Straten for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. It currently requires written permission for access, but that may change in the near future following van Straten’s death. Here is the current catalogue link.

  • Backstage notes

Jennifer Shennan drew my attention to a recent article in The Guardian called Wings, Wigs and Wonder. It takes the reader backstage during a performance by Birmingham Royal Ballet and is called a ‘photo essay’. It has some interesting backstage images included within the text, which was written by Katie Edwards. Read at this link.

  • Recent Reading

In my dance diary for April 2024 I wrote about Deborah Jowitt’s recent publication Errand into the Maze. The Life and Works of Martha Graham, which to my mind was not always the easiest of reads, despite Jowitt’s extensive research and very strong dance background. As fate would have it, however, while mulling over Jowitt’s publication I came across an interesting article by Marina Harss, whose work I much admire, called On Point: Martha Graham’s Perfect Partnership with Isamu Noguchi. It’s available (at least for the moment) at this link.

Currently I am reading another of the books I bought at the recent Canberra Lifeline Book Fair—Isadora. A sensational life by Peter Kurth (Paperback edition, 2003). In an early page entitled ‘Press for Isadora‘, one comment is, ‘There is never a dull moment in Peter Kurth’s action-packed biography…’. True! Much of what is mentioned does not appear in other books about Isadora, or not nearly to the same extent. Nevertheless, with its different focus it provides another perspective on her life, perhaps with the word ‘sensational’, which appears in the book’s subtitle, emerging as characterising that different focus. Dance is probably not the major focus!

  • Press for May 2024

‘Dancers perform strong farewell to Ruth Osborne.’ Canberra City News, 17 May 2024. Online at this link

Michelle Potter, 31 May 2024

Featured image: Cameron Holmes and Maxim Zenin in Circle Electric. The Australian Ballet, 2024. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Dance diary. January 2024

  • BOLD Bites

The BOLD Festival started as a biennial event in 2017 but it suffered in terms of being biennial as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will, however, be back in a mini form in March 2024. BOLD24 will be a ‘Bite Size’ initiative and will feature a series of events celebrating International Women’s Day 2024. It will anticipate the next major BOLD festival in 2025. BOLD Bites will, as is the focus of all BOLD activities, honour intercultural, inclusive and intergenerational dance. 

The program will take place over three days, from 8 to 10 March, in various venues in Canberra. Further information shortly on the BOLD website. Stay tuned. UPDATE: Here is a link to the schedule.

I will be involved in three conversation sessions:

BOLD critique with author Emma Batchelor on writing about dance in reviews, articles and other formats. Our conversation will be followed by an open Q & A session.

BOLD Moves with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman focusing on the foundations of Mirramu on Lake Weereewa, and on the inspiration Dalman finds in nature. It will be a prequel to the premiere screening of a new film, Lake Song, choreographed by Dalman, directed by Sue Healey and featuring Canberra’s company of older dancers, the GOLDS.

BOLD Diva with Morag Deyes, former director of Dance Base in Scotland. This conversation will focus on the rich tapestry of Deyes’ career as the leader of Dance Base and as the founder of PRIME, Scotland’s premier dance company of elders.

  • New dancers for Sydney Dance Company

Sydney Dance Company has announced that five new dancers will join the company for its 2024 season—Timmy Blakenship, Ngaere Jenkins, Ryan Pearson, Anika Boet and Tayla Gartner. It was more than interesting to read a brief biography of each of these new dancers. Two have strong New Zealand connections (Jenkins and Boet); Blakenship was born, raised and trained in dance in the United States; and Pearson and Gartner are Australian with Pearson having a strong First Nations background and a memorable early career with Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Sydney Dance Company 2024. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Sydney Dance Company has always been a company of dancers with diverse backgrounds but with the new additions in 2024 that diversity is being strengthened. And from a personal point of view, after watching Ryan Pearson perform so magnificently with Bangarra Dance Theatre, I really look forward to watching him work with Sydney Dance Company. Below are brief biographies of the five new artists (taken from the Sydney Dance Company media release):

American dancer Timmy Blakenship was born on the Lands of the Arapaho Nation/Colorado, and completed his early training in contemporary dance and choreography at Artistic Fusion in Thornton, Colorado and Dance Town in Miami, Florida. He continued his training at the prestigious University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance on scholarship, graduating with a BFA in 2023 where he performed works by William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Merce Cunningham and Yin Yue.

Ryan Pearson was born and raised in Biripi Country/Taree, New South Wales and is of Biripi and Worimi descent on his mother’s side and Minang, Goreng and Balardung on his father’s side. Ryan began his dance training at NAISDA at age 16, after taking part in the NSW Public Schools’ Aboriginal Dance Company, facilitated by Bangarra’s Youth Program Team in 2012. Ryan joined Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2017 as part of the Russell Page Graduate Program and was nominated in the 2020 Australian Dance Awards for Most Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer for his performance in Jiri Kylian’s Stamping Ground.

Originally from Wadawurrung Country/Geelong in Victoria, Tayla Gartner commenced full-time training at the Patrick Studios Australia Academy program in 2018 before undertaking the Sydney Dance Company’s Pre-Professional Year in 2022, where she performed works by choreographers including Melanie Lane, Stephanie Lake, Jenni Large, Tobiah Booth-Remmers and Rafael Bonachela. In 2022, Tayla worked with and performed repertoire by Ohad Naharin and was a finalist in the Brisbane International Contemporary Dance Prix. 

Born in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Ngaere Jenkins is of Te Arawa and Ngāti Kahungunu descent. Ngaere trained at the New Zealand School of Dance, graduating in 2018. Throughout her studies, she worked with influential mentors including James O’Hara, Victoria (Tor) Colombus, Taiaroa Royal and Tanemahuta Gray. Ngaere represented the school as a guest artist in Tahiti at the Académie de Danse Annie FAYN fifth International Dance Festival and Singapore Ballet Academy’s 60th Anniversary Gala. From 2019 Ngaere was a dancer with The New Zealand Dance Company and was the recipient of the Bill Sheat Dance Award.

Raised in Christchurch, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Anika Boet is of South African and Dutch descent. Moving to Sydney in 2020, Anika completed two years of full-time training at Brent Street School of Performing Arts, receiving her Diploma of Dance (focusing on Contemporary) with Honours. Anika made her professional debut in Sydney Festival in January 2022 performing a work Grey Rhino, choreographed by Charmene Yap and Cass Mortimer Eipper. Anika completed a post-graduate course at Transit Dance, performing works by Chimene Steele Prior, Prue Lang, and Paul Malek. 

  • Ruth Osborne, OAM

Ruth Osborne, outgoing director of Canberra’s QL2 Dance, was honoured with the richly deserved award of a Medal of the Order of Australia at the 2024 Australia Day Awards. Osborne has had a distinguished career over several decades, most recently since 1999 with Canberra’s outstanding youth dance organisation, QL2 Dance. Among her previous awards are an Australian Dance Award (Services to Dance), 2011; a Churchill Fellowship, 2017; and three Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards, most recently in 2023 for her performance and input into James Batchelor’s Shortcuts to Familiar Places. For more about Ruth Osborne on this website see, in particular, this link and, more generally, this tag.

Ruth Osborne, Canberra, 2023. Photo: © Olivia Wikner

  • Meryl Tankard: a new work

My colleague Jennifer Shennan has passed on the news that Ballet Zürich has just premiered a new work by Meryl Tankard. Called For Hedy, it is part of a triple bill called Timekeepers, which looks back to the artistic achievements of the 1920s. Other choreographers represented in Timekeepers are Bronislava Nijinska (Les Noces) and Mthuthuzeli November (Rhapsodies). More information is on the Ballet Zürich website.

  • Press for January 2024

It has been a while since I have been able to add a section called ‘Press …. ‘ in a dance diary, but in January I had two items published in print outlets (which of course also appeared in an online version). The first appeared in Canberra’s City News, the second in Dance Australia for the 2023 Critics’ Choice section.

‘Flatfooted funding threatens company’s future.’ City News, 4-10 January 2024, p. 17. Online version at this link.

‘MICHELLE POTTER, Canberra’. Dance Australia: ‘Critics’ Choice’. Issue 242 (January, February, March 2024), p. 46. The text for this item is quite difficult to read against its black background, even in a blown-up version, so that text is inserted below next to a small image of the page.

Choreographer James Batchelor regards himself as a Canberran, although at this stage in his dance life he works between Australia and the rest of the world. To make a career as a professional, independent artist he goes where work is available for him and most recently has been working in Sweden with Norrdans. But he grew up in Canberra and had his dance training with QL2, Canberra’s youth dance organisation. He returns frequently to his home town and in 2023 presented Shortcuts to Familiar Places, a work that in fact had a significant connection with Canberra. It was a major highlight in the city’s dance calendar.

The work began as an investigation into the transmission of dance from one generation to another. Batchelor was especially interested in his own “body luggage” as passed on to him by his early dance teacher at QL2, Ruth Osborne, whose background had links to the work of pioneering dancer and teacher Gertrud Bodenwieser. Shortcuts to Familiar Places was the end result of this interest and investigation.

Shortcuts began with footage of Osborne giving an insight into the swirling movements of the arms and upper body that she absorbed via her own teacher, former Bodenwieser dancer Margaret Chapple.

As the footage came to an end, Batchelor appeared onstage and performed a shadowy solo that began slowly but that gathered momentum as time passed. From then on there was a beautifully conceived melding of film footage and onstage movement with Batchelor being joined by Chloe Chignell in a series of duets. It was a fascinating experience to watch the movement unfold and to feel a clear connection to what Osborne and others demonstrated and spoke about on film at various moments during the work. In addition to Osborne we saw on film Eileen Kramer, who demonstrated the movements she recalled from Bodenwieser’s Waterlilies, as well as Carol Brown and Shona Dunlop MacTavish. But it was also interesting to see how Batchelor and Chignell moved away from the movement of Bodenwieser and her followers to develop an individual but connected style.

One moment stood out in an exceptional way. It happened when, on film, Osborne stretched her arm forward in a straight line towards Batchelor and Chignell on stage as if reaching to them in a gesture of transmission, which they accepted with arms outstretched towards the footage. There it was, the lineage and its transmission for us all to see.

A driving, original score from Morgan Hickinbotham was played live and a changing pattern of light and dark came from lighting designer Vinny Jones. With dramaturgy by Bek Berger, Shortcuts was an intelligently thought through show. The idea of embodied transmission is one that is so often mentioned in dance discussions today, but with Shortcuts Batchelor showed the concept to us specifically through dance, and demonstrated in particular how a style from an older period can be developed to suit the current era. Shortcuts to Familiar Places was just brilliant to watch and consider.

Michelle Potter, 31 January 2024

Featured image: A moment during the filming of Lake Song, directed by Sue Healey and choreographed by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman (seen in the foreground, coaching from the shore), 2023. Photo: © Sue Healey

New Breed. Sydney Dance Company, 2023

9 December 2023. Carriageworks, Eveleigh (Sydney)

New Breed, an annual program of new works from four emerging choreographers, celebrated its tenth year in 2023. While I haven’t seen all ten seasons, two works from previous seasons stand out in my mind—Melanie Lane’s WOOF from 2017, which has gone on to have main stage performances and has lost none of its brilliant approach to choreography and theme, and Reign in 2015 from Daniel Riley, who is now artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre. For me, however, none of the fours works in the 2023 season, one each from choreographers Riley Fitzgerald, Eliza Cooper, Tra Mi Dinh and Beau Dean Riley Smith, had anywhere near the same impact as the two works I remember so clearly from the past. Unfortunately! But then I guess we can’t expect necessarily that every season will have a work that is so good that it remains in the memory for years.

From a purely visual point of view, Eliza Cooper’s Revenge tales and romance looked spectacular with its remarkable, colour-drenched costumes designed by Aleisa Jelbart. But it was hard to follow what exactly Cooper was getting at. After reading the program notes, it seems there were many thoughts (too many) going through Cooper’s mind as she put the work together. Brazen heroism? The appropriateness of symbolism and archetype? Legacy and canon? And so on. Dance doesn’t lend itself to a multitude of abstract ideas in my opinion and I found Revenge tales and romance entertaining in some respects, but frustrating to follow in many others.

Scene from Revenge tales and romance. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Choreographically I particularly enjoyed Tra Mi Dinh’s Somewhere between ten and fourteen, which explored the changing light of the period of dusk. Although it seemed rather long (even though it lasted just 22 minutes), it was well constructed with its group of dancers changing patterns and moving through space quite nicely. With just one major idea at its centre, it was a work that spoke clearly and allowed further, personal thoughts to emerge at times.

Riley Fitzgerald’s EverybOdy’s gOt a bOmb (and yes, the upper case O in three spots is how it was spelled) was based on several distressing events that occurred during the 1999 Woodstock Festival in Rome, New York State. Fitzgerald’s program notes says his work explores ‘raw, primal behaviours that emerge during such chaotic events’. The choreography was sometimes ugly (appropriate given the theme?) in its groupings, and it was certainly chaotic, but, a little like Cooper’s work, it was not an easy topic to follow.

Having been a longtime admirer of Beau Dean Riley Smith’s work as a dancer and occasionally choreographer with Bangarra Dance Theatre, I had been looking forward to his Gubba, a work in which he set out to examine the demolition of First Nation’s peoples over time by white colonists. It was a great topic and well worth telling through an Indigenous perspective. I admired the choreography, with overtones of Bangarra vocabulary, but it was a shame I thought that Smith chose to think of the colonists as akin to Martians. The word ‘gubba’, which gave its name to the work, is defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as ‘n. Aboriginal English, (oft. derog.) a white man’. That was enough to reflect an opinion, especially given the derogative nuance of the word, and perhaps it was somewhat unnecessary to go ‘off the planet’ as it were.

New Breed, produced with a principal partnership from the Balnaves Foundation, is a terrific initiative and, despite my various misgivings, I look forward to seeing another iteration in 2024. You never know what and who might emerge.

Michelle Potter, 18 December 2023

Featured image: (l-r) Eliza Cooper, Beau Dean Riley Smith, Tra Mi Dinh and Riley Fitzgerald. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Ascent. Sydney Dance Company

My review of the premiere of Ascent, the latest triple bill program from Sydney Dance Company, has been posted on Dance Australia. See this link.

Two of the three items in the program were world premieres. The third, Antony Hamilton’s Forever & Ever, was first staged by Sydney Dance Company in 2018. One of the most interesting features of Ascent was in fact seeing Forever & Ever once more. When I reviewed it earlier on this website—see this link—it was the extraordinary costuming that stood out for me. Seeing the work again I was prepared for the costumes, and the way they changed and changed over the course of the work. So this time there were other things to look into, in particular the pounding score by Julian Hamilton, and the remarkable choreography, especially that for the closing scene and how well it reflected that score (and vice versa).

Below are images from Rafael Bonachela’s I Am-ness, which opened the program, and from Marina Mascarell’s The Shell, a Ghost, the Host and a Lyrebird, which was the middle work. They complement the images available on the Dance Australia page.

Scene from Rafael Bonachela’s I Am-Ness. Sydney Dance Company, 2023. Photo: © Pedro Greig
Scene from Marina Mascarell’s The Shell, a Ghost, the Host and a Lyrebird. Sydney Dance Company, 2023. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Michelle Potter, 13 March 2023

Featured image: Jesse Scales meets a fellow dancer in Antony Hamilton’s Forever & Ever. Sydney Dance Company, 2023. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Dance diary. December 2022

At the end of December it is always interesting to look back on statistics for the year. During 2022, Jennifer Shennan and I have posted 58 items on the website (just over one per week) and we have received around 46,000 visits over that period. Melbourne tops the list of cities from which our readers have come, but the website attracts visitors from around the world, especially (apart from Australia and New Zealand) from the United States and the United Kingdom. May our statistics continue to improve over the year to come and I wish all our friends and colleagues a happy new year. May 2023 be filled with dance, in whatever form that may currently be for you.


In the meantime, below are some news items that emerged during December 2022.

  • Joseph Romancewicz

In a recent ‘Behind Ballet’ post, the Australian Ballet has explained why I have not seen Joseph Romancewicz onstage for some time. I have admired his dancing, and his strong stage presence, since 2018 when I thoroughly enjoyed his performance in a small role in a production of The Merry Widow, but had been a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen him recently. Well an injury in 2021 has kept him out of performances but it seems, with the help of the Australian Ballet’s health team and some surgery, he has recovered. He was an excellent Tybalt in the recent production of Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet and I look forward to seeing him again in 2023.

Joseph Romancewicz (right) as Tybalt with Jarryd Madden in Romeo and Juliet. The Australian Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud

  • Melanie Lane

Melanie Lane, whose recent work in Canberra was Metal Park for QL2 Dance’s annual Quantum Leap show, has been named Choreographer in Residence 2023-2024 by Melbourne’s Chunky Move. The Choreographer in Residence initiative will invest $120,000 in Lane’s practice over the two years including a direct contribution of $50,000 in artist fees and $70,000 towards the commission of a major work in the second year of the tenure.

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

Lane has previously been commissioned by Sydney Dance Company, where she showed her unforgettable work WOOF, and by Australasian Dance Collective, Dance North, Chunky Move, Schauspiel Leipzig and West Australian Ballet. She was the recipient of the 2018 Keir choreographic award and the 2017 Leipziger Bewegungskunstpreis in Germany.

I interviewed Lane earlier this year while she was preparing Metal Park. See this link for what I wrote as a result of the interview. I am very much looking forward too to seeing what eventuates from Lane’s work with Chunky Move.

  • La Nijinska. A new book by Lynn Garafola

How little I knew about Bronislava Nijinska before reading Lynn Garafola’s latest, intensively researched book La Nijinska. It is a very dense book but, from the countless research elements, stories and anecdotes, one or two stand out for me, largely for personal reasons. I was interested to read about the genesis of Les Noces for example: it has a whole chapter to itself. It reminded me of a performance in Canberra way back in 1982 when Don Asker, then directing the city’s resident dance company, Human Veins Dance Theatre, choreographed a version of Les Noces for a Stravinsky Festival. Asker collaborated with the Canberra School of Music and, perhaps ‘for the first time ever’, so the media reported, had the music performed as Stravinsky envisaged it. The orchestra, including four grand pianos, soloists and chorus, shared the stage with the dancers. It was a monumental undertaking and one not to be forgotten.

Perhaps the most interesting snippet for me, however, was a brief discussion of Nijinska as a potential director of a second Ballets Russes company for Colonel de Basil, one that would eventually head to Australia. The story goes:

Now, in the summer of 1936, rumours circulated about the likelihood of de Basil forming a second company that would tour Australia, while the main company danced in Germany and the United States. Thomas Armour … wrote to a friend on April 22, “I have been told de Basil really plans this year to have two companies and that Nijinska will be in charge of the second.” (Lynn Garafola, La Nijinska. New York, Oxford University Press, 2022, p. 359).

Well it didn’t happen that Nijinska came to Australia in that role. It was Leon Woizikowsky who headed that 1936 visit to Australia. One must wonder however how different ballet in Australia might have been had it happened!

  • The Dying Swan

As we begin a new year, enjoy a beautiful performance of The Dying Swan danced by Nina Ananiashvili. It comes from the Jacob’s Pillow playlist, an amazing source of dance on film from works performed over the years at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts. Watch Ananiashvili here.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2022

Featured image: A private lesson. Photo: © Tim Potter

Gloria. Co3

Digital screening, December 2022 (filmed during a September season from the Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth)

I first saw Douglas Wright’s Gloria in 1993 in Sydney when it was performed by Sydney Dance Company. Then it was a relatively new piece from Wright with its world premiere having taken place in Auckland in 1990. In 1993 I was the Sydney reviewer for Dance Australia so I am in the fortunate position of being able to look back at my reactions to that early production. In fact, a copy of that review appears on this website at this link.

The features of Gloria that thrilled me in 1993 are also powerful features of the Co3 production —its life affirming message, the witty choreography, the unusual and challenging connection (or not) between music and dance, and in general the vigour and vitality of the work. But on this occasion I saw it as a streamed event and, generously from Co3, the Perth-based contemporary company led by Raewyn Hill, I was able to watch it over a 48 hour period. This meant that I had time to go back and look more closely at certain sections. While every section had its highlights, two sections and one particular moment stood out for me.

The one particular moment came at the end of the first movement of Vivaldi’s Gloria, to which the work is danced. The dancers began with quite slow, unison movement that turned into energetic leaps, turns and fast running down the diagonal. As the dancers left the stage, and as the first movement was coming to an end, a single male dancer, Sean MacDonald whose connections with Gloria go back to a 1997 production, was left alone on the stage. His final jump ended with him lying on his back, legs and arms moving slowly as if he was running in that prone position. He rolled over, slowly stood up, and lifted his arms to the front, palms facing upwards. The lights faded but the music continued and the power of MacDonald’s final, simple movement was breathtaking.

Another section that moved me immensely was performed to the ‘Domine Deus’ section, sung (according to the credits that ended the stream) by soprano Sabra Poole Johnson from St George’s Cathedral Consort, the group that provided the vocals for the Vivaldi score. This section began with a group of five dancers moving slowly in a sculptural formation but eventually separating with four sliding off leaving one dancer (Francesca Fenton I believe) alone. She began her solo on the floor but slowly assumed a standing position and, in so doing, seemed to be exploring her physical existence before she broke into a waltz-like dance full of grace and fluidity. Like MacDonald before her, as her dance came to and end she lifted her arms, stretching them forward with palms facing upwards as if to announce she had discovered her identity, her existence, herself.

I also enjoyed the section danced to the movement ‘Et in terra pax’. It featured Claudia Alessi who had danced in Gloria in 1991 when it was staged for the Perth Festival by Chrissie Parrott. What made this section so appealing to me was the sculptural qualities of the choreography, which in fact were noticeable throughout the work, although perhaps not to the same extent as in ‘Et in terra pax’.

There were of course many other moments that continue to resonate: the joyous quality of the dance to ‘Laudamus Te’ and the duet between two male dancers (Sean MacDonald and Scott Galbraith I think) in which we witnessed the changing nature of human relationships. Also great to watch were those moments when a dancer was held and swung back and forth by two other dancers as others ran underneath and around the activity. But I guess I go back to my original review for Dance Australia and confirm more than anything that Wright’s Gloria is life-affirming whatever one might think of specific sections. Wright uses dance to convey a message about humanity. Simple but astounding.

I was lucky to be able to keep going back to watch sections of Gloria but I am sure I missed a lot by not seeing it live, especially as the music was played live by a chamber group from the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and sung live by the St George’s Cathedral Consort, with the whole conducted by Dr Joseph Nolan. Nevertheless, the sound quality of the streamed version was just beautiful and I absolutely loved being immersed in this production from Co3 of Douglas Wright’s spectacular Gloria.

Michelle Potter, 25 December 2022

Featured image: Scene from Gloria. Co3, Perth, 2022. Photo: © Shotweiler Photography

At the time of writing, the streamed Gloria is still available to watch for the small price of AUD 19. The offer is available until mid-January. See ‘Watch at home’ at this link.

Dance diary. November 2022

  • Sydney Dance Company in 2023

2023 marks Rafael Bonachela’s fifteenth year as artistic director of Sydney Dance Company and he has announced that he will continue in the role for another five years. The 2023 season will open with a triple bill called Ascent co-commissioned by the Canberra Theatre Centre. As such it will have its opening performances in Canberra followed by a season at the Sydney Opera House as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the House.

Ascent will feature a brand-new work by Bonachela, the return of Forever and Ever by Antony Hamilton, first shown in 2018, and a world premiere by Spanish choreographer Marina Mascarell. Of the program Bonachela says, ‘After the challenges of the past few years, I am so pleased to again be commissioning an international artist whose works have garnered critical acclaim around the world, alongside showcasing the work of a brilliant Australian choreographer.’

Scene from 'Forever & Ever', Sydney Dance Company 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig
Scene from Antony Hamilton’s Forever and ever. Sydney Dance Company, 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig

And I am so pleased that Canberra will be the city hosting the premiere of Ascent. Sydney Dance Company has been touring to Canberra pretty much annually (last year, 2021, is the only exception that stands out in my mind) since the 1970s. It is great to see this initiative, for which we must acknowledge the Canberra Theatre Trust for its co-commission.

Further information on the 2023 season is available on the Sydney Dance Company website. It includes information on the company’s regional tour, and its season of Up Close, a new venture to bring the company and audiences closer together and which will include a new work from Bonachela called Somos (meaning ‘we are’ in Spanish).

  • Launch of Glimpses of Graeme

Hobart, more specifically the Battery Point Community Hall, was the site for the launch of my latest book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy. The event was beautifully hosted by the Hobart Bookshop and it was a full house for the conversation between Graeme and me, which was moderated by Lucinda Sharp. Also featured were two short excerpts from works created for MADE by Murphy and danced by Sue Pickard and Laura Della-Pasqua, the official launch by Shirley Gibson from MADE, and a book signing.

In the image below, taken at the end of the event, see (l-r) Lucinda Sharp, dancer Susan Pickard, Michelle Potter, Graeme Murphy, Bronwyn Chalke (owner of Hobart Bookshop), dancer Laura Della-Pasqua (at rear), Shirley Gibson from MADE who did the official launch, and Janet Vernon.

Copies of Glimpses of Graeme are available from FortySouth online book store at this link.

  • Eileen Kramer turns 108

Early in November Eileen Kramer, once a dancer with Gertrud Bodenwieser, celebrated her 108th birthday. These days she works closely with film maker Sue Healey and a group of close friends in Sydney, where she currently lives.

See this tag for posts about Kramer on this site. My favourite is a link to a film made by Healey in 2017, which won an Australian Dance Award. Happy returns to Eileen Kramer.

Eileen Kramer, 2021. Photo: © Sue Healey
  • News from James Batchelor

James Batchelor’s Shortcuts to familiar places premiered in Berlin in October and was toured to Bangkok in November. Batchelor has recently shared two comments on the work, including one from Australian dance artist Alice Heyward. Heyward’s essay is beautifully and thoughtfully written and constructed and so worth reading. Here is the link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2022

Featured image: Publicity shot for Sydney Dance Company’s 2023 season. Photo: © David Boon


Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy. Book review

Book by Michelle Potter. Published by FortySouth Publishing, Tasmania
reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

The first word of appreciation for this book should go to its design and visual appeal. A well-made paperback volume of good weight and proportion, it feels right in the hand, and its pages stay open (instead of closing themselves as typical paperbacks annoyingly do). In addition the ink of the text sits bright on the page rather than being absorbed into the paper, so that by running your hand over the page you discover a kind of braille, a little dance for your fingertips, in a haptic pleasure I don’t recall noticing in other volumes (clever designer).   

The front cover image is Murphy the man, in dance profile and grinning, the back cover Graeme the young schoolboy, smiling his pleasure for the ice cream sundae he has just enjoyed. The front endpaper has a curtain-call lineup of applause—the back endpaper has Murphy acknowledging that applause—with a facing image of Graeme and his life and work partner, Janet Vernon, back to back. Their combined lifetime contribution to dance in Australia receives tribute in every chapter of the book (heroic couple, generous author).

The frontispiece photo has Graeme Murphy en l’air, not in some balletic cliché of soaring jeté or flying leap, limbs outspread, striving beyond gravity, where aspiration replaces destination. This is not any role performed but the man himself, right here, right now, in the middle of the page, looking straight at you, the reader. Hello.

Portrait of Graeme Murphy, 1986. Photo: © Greg Barrett

Simultaneous movement in both upward and downward directions is implied. The single vertical stroke of the svelte elevated dancer in white trousers and loose-lapelled jacket, legs pointing down with pencil sharp engaged feet in an exquisite fifth position displaying all the stylised turnout that ballet requires of a dancer, (but none of the distorted overarched eagle feet sometimes displayed by those more interested in virtuosity than in dialogue or eloquence). Meantime the upper body is that of a relaxed and graceful man, hands tucked into large pockets, an enigmatic smile hovering around his lips. The floor is not shown in the photo so the image is of a dancer enduringly airborne, not one ounce of the effort involved in an elevation of this order allowed to show. Dancing masters of the Italian Renaissance had a term for this quality—sprezzatura/‘divine nonchalance’—as though to say ‘Look—leaping like this is as easy as breathing. I’ll teach you how to do it if you like.’ Yeah right. It’s a graceful yet wonderfully cheeky portrait, inviting readers into the book (gifted dancer, clever photographer). I savoured the photo for a day before starting to read the text. Felt as though I had been dancing.

The book title is borrowed from Murphy’s first major choreography, Glimpses, 1976. The astonishing photograph from that work reveals his early theatrical vision, with Janet Vernon standing tall on the chest of dancer Ross Stretton. 

Janet Vernon and Ross Stretton in Glimpses, 1976. Photo: © David Parker

Eight chapters celebrate Murphy’s choreographic works in thematic rather than chronological treatment, mainly through excerpts selected from reviews Michelle has written over the years. It has been a colossal choreographed body of work. Over and over Murphy’s collaborations with design artists and composers are acknowledged and there is much discussion of the Australian content within the works, by dint of those collaborations rather than simply in local narratives or settings.

I thoroughly enjoyed reminders of those of Murphy’s works we have seen in New Zealand — with design by Kristian Fredrikson, the striking Orpheus for the RNZBallet’s celebrated Stravinsky centenary season in 1982, devised by artistic director Harry Haythorne.  Our company also staged The Protecting Veil the following decade.  Sydney Dance Company visited with Shining (I recall a mighty performance from New Zealand dancer Alfred Williams). They returned with Some Rooms, a fine work which appealed to audiences wider than just dance aficionados. Berlin was a major work that well warranted the trip to Auckland then, so of interest now to learn of the creative processes of its music ( with Iva Davies and Icehouse) and design (by Andrew Carter).

I also saw Mythologia in Sydney, 2000, though I retain much livelier memories of the inspired Nutcracker, The Story of Clara, and of the remarkable  Swan Lake for Australian Ballet. Harry Haythorne had roles in these two works, but it was his tap-dancing-on-roller-skates routine in Tivoli that warranted yet another trip across the Tasman, to see the hilariously entertaining yet simultaneously poignant production. The closing image has never left me.

It’s also a good memory that Murphy invited New Zealand choreographer Douglas Wright to stage his legendary Gloria, to Vivaldi, on Sydney Dance Company.

Once when I was visiting Harry in Melbourne, he took a phone call from Graeme and I recall a very long conversation, more than an hour, with loads of laughter while Harry winked and indicated I should continue browsing his bookshelf. They were clearly best of mates with a great deal of respect for each other’s work.  

There’s another synergy one can appreciate: Graeme’s work, Grand, was made for and dedicated to his mother—and Michelle has made and dedicated this book to her own mother who died recently.

The book’s text is succinct and its themes clearly delineated. My paraphrasing would not be nearly as useful as my encouragement to you to find and enjoy it for yourself (lucky reader).

Jennifer Shennan, 19 November 2022

Featured image: Cover image (excerpt) of Glimpses of Graeme. Full cover reproduced below.

Glimpses of Graeme now available and launch date set

My latest book, Glimpses of Graeme. Reflections on the work of Graeme Murphy, is now available at the FortySouth online store. This is a ‘niche book’ and only 350 copies have been printed. Buy your copy soon. Here is the link to the FortySouth store.

Glimpses of Graeme will be launched in Hobart on 18 November at which MADE (Mature Artists Dance Experience) will perform excerpts from works created for them by Murphy. For more information about the launch follow this link. Scroll down to find news of the event.

See below for a short video, created by Philippe Charluet, showing snippets from several of the works discussed in the book. In addition to showcasing the dancers from Sydney Dance Company, the footage includes music and performance by Synergy musicians.

Michelle Potter, 4 October 2022. Updated 22 October 2022

Dance diary. June 2022

  • Lauren Honcope

I was sorry to miss a recent farewell event for Lauren Honcope, who retired last year, 2021, as President of Ausdance ACT. Honcope joined the Ausdance ACT board in 2009 and became president in 2011.

In addition to her tireless work for Ausdance, including seeing the organisation through some difficult times as far as funding was concerned, Honcope has been one of Canberra’s strongest advocates for dance in the ACT. She has served on the boards of the Canberra Theatre Trust; of Canberra’s first professional dance company, Human Veins Dance Theatre, led by Don Asker; and, perhaps most memorably from that time before her work with Ausdance, of the Meryl Tankard Company. It was, in fact, Honcope who persuaded Tankard to come to Canberra for an interview to take over from Asker after he decided to leave Human Veins to take up a Churchill Fellowship.

As a practising lawyer, Honcope brought strong, professional leadership skills to all her theatrical activities. She was admired by all who had contact with her, and another Canberra resident who was unable to be present at the farewell wrote of her work for Ausdance: ‘She was always generous with her time and wisdom to support the arts, and a true advocate.’

I wish her well as she moves into new endeavours, to which I am sure she will continue to bring that same professionalism and generosity.

  • Impermanence. Sydney Dance Company

Sydney Dance Company has begun an extensive regional tour across New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia of Rafael Bonachela’s 2021 production Impermanence. The tour concludes in Melbourne where it plays at the Arts Centre from 6-10 September. Don’t miss it if it is playing near you. See Sydney Dance Company’s website for details of dates and venues and read my review from 2021 at this link.

Emily Seymour, Jacopo Grabar, and Rhys Kosakowski in 'Impermanence'. Sydney Dance Company and the Australian String Quartet, 2021. Photo: © Pedro Greig
Emily Seymour, Jacopo Grabar, and Rhys Kosakowski in Impermanence. Sydney Dance Company and the Australian String Quartet, 2021. Photo: © Pedro Greig
  • From the past …

During a major clean out of a room in my house I came across a small blue case filled with Leichner products—old sticks of grease paint in numbers 5, 5½, 9 and black, and a container of ‘theatrical blending powder (neutral)’. It was my old (very old) makeup case and, as well as the greasepaint and powder, it also contained a Leichner Make Up Chart no. 16 Ballet, very crumpled and stained. On the back was a list, missing many details, of the first shows I danced in including three Christmas pantomimes, which were the first shows for which I was paid an actors’ equity salary.

Here is the list of those early performances in which I appeared, some of which I had quite forgotten about!
Aladdin Christmas pantomime, 1959
Sydney Ballet Group, Conservatorium 1960
Mother Goose, Christmas Pantomime, 1960
Sydney Ballet Group, Elizabethan Theatre, 1962
Jack and the Beanstalk, Christmas Pantomime, 1962
Musicale, Legion House, 1963
Ballet Australia, Elizabethan Theatre, 1964
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 1
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 2
Recital, Australian Academy of Ballet, 1965
Ballet Australia, Cell Block Theatre, 1965 season 3

And below is that crumpled and stained chart. Does anyone use greasepaint these days?

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2022

Featured image: Lauren Honcope speaking at a recent Ausdance ACT event.