Houston Ballet has, as a result of concerns and protests from various groups, removed its production of La Bayadère from its current season. The ballet looks back to the nineteenth century when ‘orientalism’ or interest in ‘exotic lands’ beyond Europe was a much-used theme in ballets and other theatrical productions. Recent media reports from Houston have suggested that the ballet contains ‘orientalist stereotypes, dehumanizing cultural portrayal and misrepresentation, offensive and degrading elements, needless cultural appropriation, essentialism, shallow exoticism, caricaturing’ and more.
In Australia, in addition to the middle act, ‘Kingdom of the Shades’, which has often been seen out of its context within the full-length ballet, we have seen three different productions of the full-length Bayadère. Two have been performed by the Australian Ballet—Natalia Makarova’s production staged by Makarova herself during the directorship of Ross Stretton and seen in 1998, and Stanton Welch’s production made originally for Houston Ballet, which is the one recently cancelled, staged on the Australian Ballet in 2014. As well, Greg Horsman produced a new version for Queensland Ballet in 2018.
I have no intention of commenting on the issues raised in Houston, although I am especially interested in ideas about cultural appropriation. But I will say that I thought Greg Horsman’s rethink of the work for Queensland Ballet was a winner from a number of points of view. Horsman has commented to me that he thought his restaging was not, in general, well received. Horsman’s version turned the story on its head somewhat and gave audiences much to ponder, so it is a shame that it hasn’t been shown and discussed more widely. Here is a link to my review of the Horsman production.
Philip Chatfield (1927–2021)
Philip Chatfield, who has died aged 93 on the Gold Coast just south of Brisbane, came to Australia in 1958 on the momentous tour by the Royal Ballet. He and his wife, Rowena Jackson, stand out in my memories of that tour, especially for the roles of Swanilda and Franz in Coppélia. Just a few months before they left London on that tour, Chatfield and Jackson married and at the end of the tour settled in New Zealand where Jackson was born. Chatfield became artistic director of the New Zealand Ballet (1975–1978) and they both taught at the National Ballet School, now New Zealand School of Dance. Chatfield and Jackson moved to the Gold Coast in 1993 in order to be closer to family members.
Jennifer Shennan’s obituary for Chatfield is not yet available, but a link will be added in due course. UPDATE: Follow this link to read the obituary.
For more on the Royal Ballet’s Australasian tour of 1958–1959 see this link. There is contentious material contained in that post and in the several comments it received (although not about Chatfield and Jackson).
Sydney Choreographic Centre
The recently established Sydney Choreographic Centre, a project headed by artistic director Francesco Ventriglia and managing director Neil Christopher, has moved into its new premises in Alexandria, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. It will be the home of the Sydney Choreographic Ensemble and will offer a range of courses and open classes. A launch has been postponed due to the Sydney lockdown.
For more information about the Centre, and the courses that will commence once covid restrictions have been lifted, see the Centre’s website at this link.
And we danced
The third episode of And We Danced, a three part documentary charting the growth of the Australian Ballet, has now been released and all three episodes are currently available (for a limited time) on ABCiview. The second episode remains in my mind the strongest and most interesting, but the third episode does contain some interesting material and again has a focus on social and political matters as they have affected the Australian Ballet. A longer post on the third session follows soon but at this stage I can’t help but mention how moving I found the archival footage of Simone Goldsmith as Odette in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. Goldsmith was the original Odette in this production and her immersion in the role was exceptional.
For just the second time in 60 or so years of watching dance (and even performing it), I walked out of a show. I found Joel Bray’s I liked it but …. unwatchable. I left because I really couldn’t accept the way that various dance styles were described. Perhaps it changed later after I had left, I don’t know, but basically I am opposed to dance, in whatever format, being put down, often in a way that seems ignorant of the true nature of that format.
And we danced, a three part documentary from the ABC produced by WildBear Entertainment, looks at the first six decades of the Australian Ballet. The series makes use of archival footage held by the Australian Ballet, and that footage is complemented by photographs and interviews with former and current company staff and dancers, and with commentary from Ita Buttrose, current chairperson of the ABC.
I was originally going to wait until all three episodes had been screened before making comments. But the second episode, covering the two decades of the eighties and nineties, was so full of memorable moments that I decided I just had to comment on the second episode and mention some of those moments—the ones that especially moved me in some way.
It was always going to be hard to cover in 58 or so minutes everything of significance that occurred over two decades, especially when the two decades covered in the second episode were tumultuous in so many ways. There was the strike of the early 1980s and the various changes of artistic directorship that ensued; the AIDS epidemic; Paul Keating’s Creative Nation and the strong arts funding that developed under Keating; the era of Maina Gielgud and her eventual departure from the company; the arrival of Ross Stretton and his very different management style and artistic aesthetic; and more.
And we danced needed to be selective in what it covered in detail, but what I found especially engaging was the examination of how the company began to move from a pioneering company in its earlier years to one that was a mature arts organisation. While there were many ways in which an Australian identity began to emerge, and various social and cultural contexts were mentioned, particularly poignant were the comments by Stephen Page as he talked about Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Australian Ballet working together on Rites under the directorship of Ross Stretton.
Then, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the incredible range of choreography that those of us who were lucky enough to have been audience members at the time were able to experience. One of the most interesting sections concerned the last program curated by Maina Gielgud before she left the company. Her triple bill of Stanton Welch’s Red Earth, Meryl Tankard’s The Deep End, and Stephen Page’s Alchemy was so strongly Australian and the comments on why (or how) this program happened were well contextualised. And of course it was great to see footage of Stanton Welch’s Divergence, another exceptional work from the Gielgud period.
I also enjoyed the discussion of Spartacus. It has never been one of my favourite ballets, neither in the Laszlo Seregi (Australian Ballet premiere 1978) version nor the more recent one by Lucas Jervies. But looking at the brief footage shown of the Seregi production I was bowled over by Steven Heathcote in the main role. The drama he injected into every movement was just brilliant. And then there was the wonderful story of the poster with the sexy image of Heathcote that was consistently stolen when the production was taken to the US.
It was also interesting to see and hear comments from former dancers and directors, especially Marilyn Rowe and Marilyn Jones who played major roles in the 1980s. More of the full project later.
Michelle Potter, 26 July 2021
Featured image: Scene from Stanton Welch’s Divergence. Still from And we danced.
One of Australia’s best known and most admired ballerinas, Lucette Aldous, has died in Perth at the age of 82.
New Zealand-born, Lucette Aldous trained in Brisbane with Phyllis Danaher and then in Sydney at the Scully-Borovansky School where her main teacher was Kathleen Danetree. She was awarded the Frances Scully Scholarship to continue her training overseas and entered the Royal Ballet School in London in 1955.
In 1957 she began her professional career with Ballet Rambert where she danced not only the classics like Giselle and Coppélia and but also early works by Antony Tudor, Frederick Ashton, Walter Gore, John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan. Her time with Rambert also included a 1957 tour to China.
Following her time with Rambert she danced with London Festival Ballet and then with the Royal Ballet (second company). It was while working with the Royal Ballet that she first performed with Rudolf Nureyev, partnering him in Nutcracker during a European tour.
Her partnership with Nureyev blossomed after she returned to Australia in 1970. She joined the Australian Ballet that year and danced the role of Kitri to Nureyev’s Basilio in Don Quixote, jointly directed by Nureyev and Robert Helpmann. The role of Kitri particularly suited Aldous’ vivacious and effervescent personality. She also performed with extraordinary technical accomplishment both on stage and in the film version, which premiered in 1973, when she truly gave Nureyev a ‘run for his money’ —no easy feat. Over her career she did, however, dance the role with others.
Aldous danced a wide variety of roles while with the Australian Ballet and another milestone in her career occurred in 1975 when Ronald Hynd created the role of Valencienne on her in his production of The Merry Widow. During the 1970s Aldous continued to guest with companies in England, America and Europe and had a featured role with Fernando Bujones in the film The Turning Point.
After retiring from full-time performing in the mid 1970s Aldous taught at the Australian Ballet School and then in 1982 joined the faculty of the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Edith Cowan University, Perth. She and husband Alan Alder, whom Aldous had married in 1972, also spent a number of months in St Petersburg studying the teaching methods and philosophy behind the Vaganova system of training as espoused by the Kirov ballet school. Aldous has also been an advocate of Boris Kniaseff’s floor barre as a system of training.
After retiring from full-time work at WAAPA, Aldous continued to live in Perth and to coach, adjudicate and teach.
In 1999 Aldous received an honorary doctorate from Edith Cowan University while at the Australian Dance Awards she received the award for Services to Dance in 2001 and Lifetime Achievement in 2009. In the Australia Day Honours List of 2018 she was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
Lucette Aldous is survived by her daughter, Floeur Alder.
Lucette Aldous: born Auckland, New Zealand, 26 September 1938; died Perth, Australia, 5 June 2021
Michelle Potter, 6 June 2021
Some resources: Lucette Aldous was interviewed for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program in 1999. The interview is available online and is full of information about her background as well as containing many fascinating anecdotes about those she worked with during her extensive career. Listen at this link.
Aldous has also featured in a 2001 film by Michelle Mahrer, The Three Ballerinas. She appears along with Marilyn Rowe and Marilyn Jones in the trailer below.
She also appears in Sue Healey’s On View Series. Read a little about it at this link.
Featured image: Portrait of Lucette Aldous as Kitri in Don Quixote. The Australian Ballet, 1970. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia
David McAllister awarded Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award
Congratulations to David McAllister, recently retired artistic director of the Australian Ballet. McAllister received the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award at a special event in Sydney, an award administered by the Royal Academy of Dance. McAllister joins a group of extraordinary individuals from the world of ballet who have been recipients of this award. They include Frederick Ashton, Maina Gielgud, Robert Helpmann, Gillian Lynne, Rudolf Nureyev and Marie Rambert. McAllister has had what is perhaps an unprecedented career with the Australian Ballet. Following training at the Australian Ballet School beginning in 1961, he was a performing artist with the company for 18 years followed by a role as artistic director for another 20 years.
But in particular see (and listen) to this enticing McAllister story from the National Portrait Gallery inspired by the Peter Brew-Bevan portrait used as the featured image above.
Tammi Gissell and Mundaguddah
Mundaguddah is a dance/music collaboration between composer Brian Howard and dancer/choreographer Tammi Gissell. It will premiere on 9 May 2021 at the National Gallery of Australia during Australian Dance Week and is a co-presentation by Ausdance ACT and the Canberra International Music Festival. It will have two showings only, at 12pm and 2 pm.
In Mundaguddah (the spirit of the Rainbow Serpent in Murrawarri language), Gissell explores the idea of personal pre-history in a tribute to the Murrawarri spirit who demands we look, listen, and keep moving in the right direction.
Tammi Gissell has featured previously on this website, especially for her work with Liz Lea. Follow this link to read earlier posts. To buy a ticket to Mundaguddah, and to read a little more about the legend of the Rainbow Servant, follow this link.
The GOLDS. Tenth anniversary
It’s a little hard to believe that the GOLDS, Canberra’s dance group for older people, is ten years old. But the group celebrated its tenth anniversary in April 2021 with performance excerpts from some of its previous shows, along with a new work, Forever Young, from founder of the GOLDs, Liz Lea. Perhaps the most memorable performance excerpt for the evening was that from Martin del Amo’s Grand Finale, which was originally one section from Great Sport!, an award-winning production held at the National Museum of Australia in 2016. Program notes written by del Amo for the Great Sport! show described Grand Finale as, ‘A team of elegantly clad men and women. engaged in a mysterious game. Collectively celebrating diverse individuality. On their own terms…’
The celebratory event also included short speeches by a number of people connected with the GOLDs group, including two of the current directors of the group, Jacqui Simmonds and Jane Ingall; founder Liz Lea; and Ruth Osborne who spoke on the role the GOLDs have played with QL2Dance. For more about the GOLDs and their performances see this tag.
Australian Dance Week 2021
In the ACT Australian Dance Week 2021 was launched at Belconnen Arts Centre on 29 April, International Dance Day, by ACT Minister for the Arts, Tara Cheyne. The event celebrated diversity in dance and included a message from Friedemann Vogel at Stuttgart Ballet, along with performances of Indigenous dance as part of the Welcome to Country, as well as short performances of pop n lock, Indian and burlesque dance.
Check out the latest playlist from Jacob’s Pillow featuring clips from performances at the Pillow from flamenco dancers. Here is a link. I have never seen flamenco ‘on pointe’ before, but Irene Rodriguez in the 2019 performance clip from Amaranto shows us how it is possible. Amazing work from her.
Updates and fixes were carried out on the website during April. The main fix was to the search box. It had somehow collapsed and was not retrieving search terms as it should. It is now fixed, thankfully. I also had added, thanks to the team at Racket, a new ‘subscribe’ option. It is now on the home page just under the box headed ‘View full tag cloud’.
Visits to the site have increased dramatically over the past few months with page views going from around 3-4,000 to 8-9,000 a month. Perhaps not surprisingly the most visited area during April was the tag Liam Scarlett.
Thanks to all those who follow On dancing.
Press for April 2021
From Michelle: Review of The Point by Liz Lea Dance Company. Limelight, 30 April 2021. Online magazine only at this link.
From Jennifer: Obituary for Liam Scarlett. Dominion Post, 30 April 2021, p. 19. Online version,
17 April 2021 (matinee). Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
The first thing to say about this first Sydney program for 2021 from the Australian Ballet is that the dancers look fabulous. They are in terrific form in a technical sense and seem absolutely to relish being back onstage after a grim 2020. Watching them perform was a real thrill.
The program was certainly an interesting one and at the end it became clear what the ‘dialect’ of the title was (or was not) all about. The language of each of the three works, Serenade and The Four Temperaments, both by George Balanchine, and Watermark by Pam Tanowitz, was very much about the vocabulary of ballet (contemporary and otherwise) and the way that vocabulary can be arranged onstage. I’m not sure, however, that this is specifically a New York dialect, except that the two choreographers are or were New Yorkers. If we think of dialect as being a form of language specific to a particular region, it seems to me that what we saw was a choreographic dialect from people who happen to be New Yorkers. I guess I didn’t much like the title of the program. But I did like the dancing and in some cases the choreography.
Serenade has always been a beautiful way to start a program. Although Balanchine liked to say his ballets didn’t usually have a story behind them, I love those moments when there is a backstory there. In Serenade there is the girl who arrives late, for example, and also the mystery ending when two dancers embrace and one is then lifted high and carried into the distance. What has happened? What will happen? Then there’s the opening scene. It always generates a frisson of delight, even though it is expected.
Throughout the work, Balanchine’s masterful groupings and use of the stage space, and his particular take on the classical vocabulary, are clearly on view. A work to watch over and over.
Second on the program was a new work from Pam Tanowitz, Watermark. I have to ignore that title because it seemed meaningless in relation to the work. Tanowitz’s vocabulary was quirky in parts, with its beats done with feet as if in first position, its jerky arm and hand gestures and its frequent use of drooping bodies. Tanowitz counts former Cunningham dancer Viola Farber as one of her mentors and where the vocabulary was not so eccentric it reminded me a lot of the Cunningham style with its off centre movements and its jetés that never tried to look as though they were like splits in the air.
I also wondered why a line of dancers, midway through the piece, needed to come onstage from the auditorium? And I couldn’t enjoy the ending when the stage space was virtually empty and all the dancers were lined up along the wings. It just seemed like trying too hard to be different. This is the second work by Tanowitz that I have seen and I can’t say I have really enjoyed either of them.
The Four Temperaments was beautifully danced. Some of Balanchine’s vocabulary in this work might also be called quirky but its flow and role in the overall piece was arresting rather than seeming out of place. There is a coherence there.
The Sydney Opera House was making an exceptional effort with its COVID plan, even though the venue was pretty much at 100% capacity. But one aspect of it all was exceptionally annoying. Cast sheets were not available so it was not always possible to identify the performers with accuracy (and so I have not mentioned any names in this review). There was the option to scan a cast list onto one’s phone but how would that list look on a screen the size of a phone, apart from the fact that there is nothing more annoying than audience members looking at their phones during a performance. At least there could have been a cast sheet affixed to a board somewhere in the foyer. Next time I guess I need to print off a cast list from the Australian Ballet’s website and trust that it will be accurate on the day? Perhaps we could have been warned in advance? Or did I miss something along the line?
I have to admit to being slightly taken aback when I heard that Garry Stewart would relinquish his directorship of Australian Dance Theatre at the end of 2021. He leaves behind an incredible legacy I think. My first recollection of his choreography goes back to the time in the 1990s when he was running a company called Thwack! I recall in particular a production called Plastic Space, which was shown at the 1999 Melbourne Festival. It examined our preoccupation with aliens and I wrote in The Canberra Times, ‘[Stewart’s] dance-making is risky, physically daring and draws on a variety of sources….’ I also wrote program notes for that Melbourne Festival and remarked on three preoccupations I saw in his work. They were physical virtuosity, thematic abstraction and technology as a choreographic tool. Most of Stewart’s work that I have seen with ADT has continued to embody those concepts.
Although since the 1990s I have seen fewer Stewart works than I would have liked, the three that have engaged me most of all have beenG (2008), Monument (2013), which I regret was never seen outside Canberra, and The Beginning of Nature (2018), which won the 2018 Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Performance by a Company.
At this stage I don’t know where life will lead Garry Stewart after 2021 but I wish him every success. His contribution to dance in Australia has been exceptional.
Marguerite and Armand. The Royal Ballet Digital Season
The last time I saw Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, made in 1963 for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, was in 2018. Then I had the good fortune to see Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli leading a strong Royal Ballet cast. It was in fact the standout performance on a triple bill. I also remember seeing a remarkable performance by Sylvia Guillem as Marguerite when the Royal visited Australia in 2002, although I was not so impressed with her partners. (I saw two performances with different dancers taking the male role on each of those occasions).
The streamed performance offered by the Royal Ballet recently featured Zenaida Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle. It was filmed in 2017 and was Yanowsky’s farewell performance with the Royal Ballet. She is a strong technician and a wonderful actor and her performance was exceptional in both those areas. Yet, I was somewhat disappointed. Bolle was perhaps not her ideal partner. Yanowsky is quite tall and seemed at times to overpower Bolle. But in addition I found her take on the role a little cold. She was extraordinarily elegant but I missed a certain emotional, perhaps even guileless quality that I saw in Ferri and Guillem.
La Fille mal gardée. The Royal Ballet
The Royal Ballet is once more streaming a performance of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, this time featuring Steven McRae and Natalia Osipova in the leading roles. But, as I was investigating the streaming conditions and watching the trailer, I came across a twelve minute mini-documentary about the ballet, focusing especially on its English qualities. It is a really entertaining and informative twelves minutes and includes footage of the beautifully groomed white pony, called Peregrine, who has a role in the ballet. We see him entering the Royal Opera House via the stage door and climbing the stairs to the stage area. Isn’t there a adage that says never share the stage with children or animals? Well Peregrine steals the show in this documentary! But there are many other moments of informative and lively discussion about the ballet and the documentary is worth watching. Link below.
The Australian Ballet on the International Stage. Lisa Tomasetti’s new book
Lisa Tomasetti is a photographer whose work I have admired for some time. She has a great eye for catching an unusual perspective on whatever she photographs. Late in 2020 she issued a book of photographs of the Australian Ballet on various of its international tours, including visits to London, New York (and elsewhere in the United States), Beijing, Tokyo and Paris. This book of exceptional images is available from Tomasetti’s website at this link.
Coming in April: The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet
The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet has been a long-time in production but it will be released in April. The book is extensive in scope with a wide list of contributors including scholars, critics and choreographers from across the world. Here is a link to information about the publication. The list of contents, extracted from the link, is at the end of this post.
Sir Robert Cohan (1925-2021)
I was sorry to hear that Sir Robert Cohan had died recently. He made a huge impact on contemporary dance and its development in the United Kingdom, and his influence on many Australian dancers and choreographers, including Sydney-based artists Patrick Harding-Irmer and Anca Frankenhaeuser, was exceptional. An obituary in The Guardian, written by Jane Pritchard, is at this link.
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments
The Canberra Times recently published a review of Kristian Fredrikson. Designer in its Saturday supplement, Panorama. The review was written by Emeritus Professor of Art History at the Australian National University, Sasha Grishin. Here is the review as it appeared in the print run of the paper on 16 January 2021.
The review is also available online at this link and is perhaps easier to read there.
CONTENTS FOR THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF CONTEMPORARY BALLET
Acknowledgments About the Contributors Introduction On Contemporaneity in Ballet: Exchanges, Connections, and Directions in Form Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel and Jill Nunes Jensen Part I: Pioneers, or Game Changers Chapter 1: William Forsythe: Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and the Forsythescape Ann Nugent Chapter 2: Hans van Manen: Between Austerity and Expression Anna Seidl Chapter 3: Twyla Tharp’s Classical Impulse Kyle Bukhari Chapter 4: Ballet at the Margins: Karole Armitage and Bronislava Nijinska Molly Faulkner and Julia Gleich Chapter 5: Maguy Marin’s Social and Aesthetic Critique Mara Mandradjieff Chapter 6: Fusion and Renewal in the Works of Jiří Kylián Katja Vaghi Chapter 7: Wayne McGregor: Thwarting Expectation at The Royal Ballet Jo Butterworth and Wayne McGregor Part II: Reimaginings Chapter 8: Feminist Practices in Ballet: Katy Pyle and Ballez Gretchen Alterowitz Chapter 9: Contemporary Repetitions: Rhetorical Potential and The Nutcracker Michelle LaVigne Chapter 10: Mauro Bigonzetti: Reimagining Les Noces (1923) Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel Chapter 11: New Narratives from Old Texts: Contemporary Ballet in Australia Michelle Potter Chapter 12: Cathy Marston: Writing Ballets for Literary Dance(r)s Deborah Kate Norris Chapter 13: Jean-Christophe Maillot: Ballet, Untamed Laura Cappelle Chapter 14: Ballet Gone Wrong: Michael Clark’s Classical Deviations Arabella Stanger Part III: It’s Time Chapter 15: Dance Theatre of Harlem: Radical Black Female Bodies in Ballet Tanya Wideman-Davis Chapter 16: Huff! Puff! And Blow the House Down: Contemporary Ballet in South Africa Gerard M. Samuel Chapter 17: The Cuban Diaspora: Stories of Defection, Brain Drain and Brain Gain Lester Tomé Chapter 18: Balancing Reconciliation at The Royal Winnipeg Ballet Bridget Cauthery and Shawn Newman Chapter 19: Ballet Austin: So You Think You Can Choreograph Caroline Sutton Clark Chapter 20: Gender Progress and Interpretation in Ballet Duets Jennifer Fisher Chapter 21: John Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet: A Legacy E. Hollister Mathis-Masury Chapter 22: “Ballet” Is a Dirty Word: Where Is Ballet in São Paulo? Henrique Rochelle Part IV: Composition Chapter 23: William Forsythe: Creating Ballet Anew Susan Leigh Foster Chapter 24: Amy Seiwert: Okay, Go! Improvising the Future of Ballet Ann Murphy Chapter 25: Costume Caroline O’Brien Chapter 26: Shapeshifters and Colombe’s Folds: Collective Affinities of Issey Miyake and William Forsythe Tamara Tomić-Vajagić Chapter 27: On Physicality and Narrative: Crystal Pite’s Flight Pattern (2017) Lucía Piquero Álvarez Chapter 28: Living in Counterpoint Norah Zuniga Shaw Chapter 29: Alexei Ratmansky’s Abstract-Narrative Ballet Anne Searcy Chapter 30: Talking Shop: Interviews with Justin Peck, Benjamin Millepied, and Troy Schumacher Roslyn Sulcas Part V: Exchanges Inform Chapter 31: Royal Ballet Flanders under Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui Lise Uytterhoeven Chapter 32: Akram Khan and English National Ballet Graham Watts Chapter 33: The Race of Contemporary Ballet: Interpellations of Africanist Aesthetics Thomas F. DeFrantz Chapter 34: Copy Rites Rachana Vajjhala Chapter 35: Transmitting Passione: Emio Greco and the Ballet National de Marseille Sarah Pini and John Sutton Chapter 36: Narratives of Progress and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal Melissa Templeton Chapter 37: Mark Morris: Clarity, a Dash of Magic, and No Phony Baloney Gia Kourlas Part VI: The More Things Change . . . Chapter 38: Ratmansky: From Petipa to Now Apollinaire Scherr Chapter 39: James Kudelka: Love, Sex, and Death Amy Bowring and Tanya Evidente Chapter 40: Liam Scarlett: “Classicist’s Eye . . . Innovator’s Urge” Susan Cooper Chapter 41: Performing the Past in the Present: Uncovering the Foundations of Chinese Contemporary Ballet Rowan McLelland Chapter 42: Between Two Worlds: Christopher Wheeldon and The Royal Ballet Zoë Anderson Chapter 43: Christopher Wheeldon: An Englishman in New York Rachel Straus Chapter 44: The Disappearance of Poetry and the Very, Very Good Idea Freya Vass Chapter 45: Justin Peck: Everywhere We Go (2014), a Ballet Epic for Our Time Mindy Aloff Part VII: In Process Chapter 46: Weaving Apollo: Women’s Authorship and Neoclassical Ballet Emily Coates Chapter 47: What Is a Rehearsal in Ballet? Janice Ross Chapter 48: Gods, Angels, and Björk: David Dawson, Arthur Pita, and Contemporary Ballet Jennie Scholick Chapter 49: Alonzo King LINES Ballet: Voicing Dance Jill Nunes Jensen Chapter 50: Inside Enemy Thomas McManus Chapter 51: On “Contemporaneity” in Ballet and Contemporary Dance: Jeux in 1913 and 2016 Hanna Järvinen Chapter 52: Reclaiming the Studio: Observing the Choreographic Processes of Cathy Marston and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa Carrie Gaiser Casey Chapter 53: Contemporary Partnerships Russell Janzen Index
The Australian Ballet’s 2021 season will include performances of George Balanchine’s work, The Four Temperaments, a ballet that had its world premiere in 1946. Then it was performed by Ballet Society, the forerunner to New York City Ballet, in the auditorium of the Central High School of Needle Trades in Manhattan (now the High School of Fashion Industries). For an explanation of the title of the ballet see this link from the George Balanchine Trust website.
Researching the ballet, ahead of its (hopefully live) performances in 2021, has uncovered some fascinating stories, articles and recollections by those who have danced in it over the years, and about the company that first performed it, Ballet Society. According to Bernard Taper in Balanchine. A Biography, Ballet Society was ‘a most peculiar venture’ that was organised by Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein to encourage the production of new works. It was to be an organisation that ‘would cater only to an elite subscription audience’. The press was not invited to the first production, which consisted of The Four Temperaments and Maurice Ravel’s The Spellbound Child (L’enfant et les sortilèges) as staged by Balanchine with an English translation of a text from Colette. The press, however, managed to get to see the show by ‘buying their own subscriptions’ or ‘sneaking into the auditorium on performance nights’. So began a ballet that was ground breaking then and is still remarkable today. It is more often than not described as ‘A dance ballet without plot’ (Balanchine’s subtitle), but according to Taper ‘[it] seemed to demonstrate that ballet could do anything that modern dance could do—and more.’
It was not (and is not) an easy ballet to dance. In the beginning there were the costumes to contend with. The original costumes were designed by Swiss-American artist Kurt Seligmann and were somewhat extravagant and not easy to wear. In Barbara Newman’s Striking a balance, Tanaquil LeClercq, who danced in the corps de ballet in the original production, recalls:
I had a large nylon wig that came down to about my rear end. It had a large pompadour, and it had a large white horn in the middle like a unicorn’s, which made it difficult to do all the things [Balanchine] had made. That was number one. Very irritating. You come to dress rehearsal, and if you swing your arm close to your head, suddenly there’s a horn. The other thing was that [Kurt] Seligmann had made wings, red wings, fingers enclosed, and there was no place to get out. If you got into your costume and then got something in your eye or wanted to unzip yourself to get out, you couldn’t. Once you tied your toeshoe ribbons, that was it. It gave you a feeling of claustrophobia I can’t describe. All enclosed. Not even gloves with fingers—no fingers at all. It was hideous.
The Seligmann costumes were eventually abandoned and were replaced from 1951 by simple practice clothes, black leotards for the women, and black tights and a white T-shirt for the men, which are still worn today.
Then there was the choreography. Merrill Ashley, in her memoir Dancing for Balanchine, speaks of some of the choreography she found difficult. She danced the leading role in the Sanguinic section when the work was revived for New York City Ballet after slipping out of the repertoire for some years. She writes:
There was one movement about which [Balanchine] was particularly concerned. He wanted me to step backward on pointe and then, without traveling at all, put my heel down flat on the floor and let my body fall back—without losing control. Actually the step was meant to make me look as if I had fallen off pointe suddenly, and was therefore falling back. It was very difficult, especially lowering the foot without moving the heel at all. I wasn’t able to do it right, but when Balanchine told me that no one else had ever done it correctly either, I felt a little better. Although I come closer to it now, I still move my foot as I lower my heel.
Quite recently the NYCB website published an article by NYCB’s Manager, Editorial and Social Media, Madelyn Sutton. It is well worth a read and it also contains two video snippets. Read and watch at this link.
In Australia, The Four Temperaments premiered in 1985 when the Australian Ballet was under the directorship of Maina Gielgud. The ballet was staged by Victoria Simon and appeared on a program with Balanchine’s Serenade and the first performance of Robert Ray’s The Sentimental Bloke. (It is perhaps of interest to note that in 2021 The Four Temperaments will be part of a similarly constructed program, which will also include Serenade and the first performance of a newly commissioned work from New York-based choreographer Pam Tanowitz). Later, in 2003, Australian audiences saw it on an Australian Ballet program called American Masters, which also included Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries and Jerome Robbins’ In the Night. Again it was staged by Victoria Simon. It was brought to Australia by New York City Ballet in 1997 when that company toured to the Melbourne Festival, and was last performed here by the Australian Ballet in 2013 as part of its Vanguard season. Then it was staged by Eve Lawson. I am curious to know who will stage it in 2021.
Michelle Potter, 13 January 2021
Featured image: Backstage at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, during the 1958 tour to Australia by New York City Ballet, 1958. Photo: Walter Stringer, National Library of Australia.
(The Four Temperaments was not performed during this 1958 tour. I just like the image and my use of it reflects difficulties associated with permission to use images of The Four Temperaments. The article by Madelyn Sutton mentioned above contains some very nice images.)
Ashley, Merrill. Dancing for Balanchine (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1984)
Balanchine, Georg, and Francis Mason. Balanchine’s Festival of Ballet (New York: W. H Allen & Co, 1984)
Newman, Barbara. Striking a balance. Dancers talk about dancing. Revised edition (New York: Limelight Editions, 1982)
Taper, Bernard. Balanchine. A Biography (New York: Times Books, 1984)
The best of everything to those who have followed this website over the past year. Thank you for your loyalty. And here’s hoping that 2021 will be one that is filled with dance, even live dance perhaps? Stay safe and healthy.
Highlights of 2020 (on and off stage)
I was very fortunate to see the opening night performance of Graeme Murphy’s The Happy Prince. It had a short run in Brisbane in February but showings elsewhere were cancelled due to the pandemic. I really would like to see it again as there was a lot there that needed a second look. I hope we will see it again, given that the leadership of the Australian Ballet has changed.
By mid year we were still not back in the theatre but Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party created Lake Marchin which, over several weekends in August, eight dancers, accompanied by two musicians, made their way around Canberra’s three lakes. They paused briefly on occasions to engage with each other and with the rather surprised audience of joggers, bike riders and so on who were also using the lakeside for exercise. Lake March won Plevey a Canberra Critics’ Circle award in December. The citation read:
For courageously working within the restrictive conditions generated by COVID-19 to bring an innovative and entertaining production of dance and live music, presented in several outdoor venues, to an audience of dance goers and the wider Canberra community. Alison Plevey for Lake March.
In October we were able to venture into the theatre for a QL2 Dance program featuring a work called Sympathetic Monsters by Jack Ziesing. It was an absorbing work in terms of its choreographic structure and in its thematic content.
Of course I watched many streamed performances over the course of 2020. It was more than interesting to see close-up images of faces and expressions and also details of costume. Nothing can replace a live performance but I derived much pleasure from streamed performances, especially from companies I wouldn’t normally see. Borrowed Light from Finland’s Tero Saarinen Company in collaboration with Boston Camerata was perhaps the most outstanding example. I was transfixed by this performance and have Jacob’s Pillow to thank for streaming it as part of the Pillow’s Virtual Festival 2020.
Sunil Kothari (1933–2020). Indian dance critic
I was saddened to hear of the death of Indian dance writer Sunil Kothari from complications of COVID-19. He visited Australia on a number of occasions and I recall a talk he gave in Canberra for the Canberra Critics’ Circle, several years ago now. He was a passionate advocate for dance and was a mentor to Padma Menon, who performed extensively in Canberra during the 1990s.
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments
Kristian Fredrikson. Designer featured as the ‘Publishing Spotlight’ in the Summer 2020–2021 edition of the newsletter of the Friends of the National Library of Australia. The review was written by Friends Committee Member and well known Canberra-based arts and craft specialist, Meredith Hinchliffe. Follow this link to read the review.
Ever since the announcement that David Hallberg was to become the new artistic director of the Australian Ballet, there has been speculation about what he might bring to the company. With his extraordinary background across the world, including extended periods as a dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York and Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, as well as guest seasons with major companies around the world, including an extended position as principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet, it has seemed obvious that he would have much to offer. His contacts, and his wide personal experience, would ensure that he would be able to bring a diverse repertoire of works to the Australian Ballet. The announcement of the Australian Ballet’s season for 2021 shows exactly that.
The season is made up of a gala opening program in Melbourne, two mixed bill programs and three full-length works. Sound familiar? Looking more closely, however, the individual content of each season might be seen as somewhat unexpected. The opening season for Sydney dance goers is New York Dialects. It consists of two works by George Balanchine, Serenade and The Four Temperaments, which show somewhat different aspects of Balanchine’s output; and a newly commissioned work from Pam Tanowitz. Who could not look forward to Balanchine? But I am curious to see what Tanowitz produces as the one work of hers that I have seen (Solo for Russell for a New York City Ballet streaming program) left me cold I have to say.
The other mixed bill has two vastly different works both based on the balletic vocabulary—Petipa’s third act from Raymonda and William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite. I had the pleasure once of seeing the full-length Artifact but have never seen the Suite that Forsythe created from the full-length version. I look forward to the Suite and I am sure it will contain all the startling aspects (blackouts, lowering of the front curtain in mid-performance, and so on) that characterise the full production. An interesting choice from Hallberg.
As for the full-length works, we will get to see (I hope, anyway) Anna Karenina with choreography by Yuri Possokhov, whose choreography I admire immensely; John Cranko’s familiar Romeo and Juliet; and Alexei Ratmansky’s revival of the long-lost Harlequinade, originally created by Petipa in 1900.
What has impressed me so far is the way Hallberg speaks about the repertoire for the 2021 season. His words are straightforward and clear but they don’t dumb things down at all. His discussion of the Counterpointe program, for example, he says
The juxtaposition of Raymonda and Artifact Suite shows the evolution of classical ballet. Raymonda adheres to tradition and pageantry; Forsythe took this history and ‘imitated’ it, creating a work that overwhelms both dancers and audience with gestural references given new meaning. These seminal works both counteract and perfectly complement each other.
It has also been interesting rereading his autobiography A body of work. Dancing to the edge and back (New York: Atria Paperback, 2017). Now he is the new artistic director, the sections in his book where he talks about seeking to understand more about the nature of ballet take on a new meaning. During the reread I especially admired his enquiring mind, and his interest in an analytical approach to certain aspects of his career.
Hallberg has good connections already with the Australian Ballet as a result of guesting with the company on various occasions, and from the extended time he spent in Melbourne being treated for injury by the company’s rehabilitation team. He is an exceptional dancer (oh those beats!) and I clearly recall the first time I saw him in 2010 in Kings of the Dance. ‘Hallberg danced with classical perfection,’ I wrote. But despite all the positive signs, he has to prove that he can direct a company successfully. A new era? Fingers crossed.
The recently released online tribute to retiring director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister, has much to enjoy. Titled Celebrate David McAllister, it is hosted by Virginia Trioli with concept and curatorship from Fiona Tonkin. Tonkin, towards the end of the stream, explains the origin of the initiative.
We never gave up David. We had mainstage galas set for you, we had a one-off ‘gala-ette’, and now we have this online streaming tribute. We could not let COVID-19 stop us offering you a collective, heartfelt thank you
In three parts, it covers first up McAllister’s performing career with some wonderful footage—those fabulous turns in La Fille mal gardée—; the second looks at what Trioli refers to as ‘some of the milestones David has achieved’ during his term as artistic director; and in the final section artists from around the world—dancers, choreographers, directors, crew and others—pass on memories and good wishes for the future.
I especially enjoyed the final section. Some messages were a little tearful, others somewhat hesitant, but all were heartfelt. I loved Liz Toohey leaning forward towards the camera and saying ‘best partner in the world’. Then there was Lisa Pavane stringing together adjectives that began with D, then A, then V, then I and then D again. And just fancy Richard Evans, Executive Director 2002-2007, being taught Giselle in his kitchen (by David of course). ‘I can’t look at Giselle the same way again,’ Evans admits ‘It was a famous night.’
Below is a link to the full feature.
As a sideline to the above, a short video made by the National Portrait Gallery to celebrate the Peter Brew-Bevan photograph, part of the NPG collection, is also a good watch, even though it has no focus on the retirement. See this link.
And on a personal note, David launched two of my books A collector’s book of Australian dance (2002) and Dame Maggie Scott. A life in dance (2014). He is a terrific speaker! Now there’s a potential future.
Michelle Potter, 15 December 2020
Featured image: David McAllister and Liz Toohey in the Bluebird pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty. The Australian Ballet, 1984. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia