This beautifully presented book will be treasured by contemporary dance lovers. Wakefield Press yet again have brought us a stunning medium to large sized coffee table book, in this case the history of Australian Dance Theatre, informatively, eloquently written and with superb photos.
The publication features forwards by both the current Chairman Kim Boehm and Robyn Archer, an excellent index at the back is included, and there is also a handy listing of the various dancers who performed under each of the artistic directors. The writer, Maggy Tonkin, is a leading writer on dance who resides in Adelaide .
Considered radical, daring and new, Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) is Australia’s oldest continuously running contemporary dance company. Celebrating half a century of innovation in dance performance, FIFTY blends archival research, interviews and magnificent photos to take us from its founding by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman through to the exciting performances that are taking place nowunder the current Artistic Director Garry Stewart.
ADT’s tumultuous history is divided into seven chapters (each of the artistic directors reigns) with a striking portrait of each. The book fascinatingly follows the sometimes quite different paths ADT has taken under the successive artistic direction of Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Jonathan Taylor, Lenny Westerdijk and Anthony Steel,Leigh Warren,Meryl Tankard, Bill Pengelly and Garry Stewart.
Each of the directors has pushed the boundaries of dance performance and explored new modes of movement, theatrical expression and artistic collaboration, creating a repertoire of groundbreaking works that have challenged and delighted audiences both in Australia and internationally. Throughout the book the educational and touring side of the company (national and international) is also refered to.
Cameron Dalman (who wrote the first chapter herself) established ADT in Adelaide on June 10, 1965, and in 1967 ADT became Australia’s first modern, professional dance company. This was the golden Dunstan era when interest and government support for the arts soared in a period of social and political reform . But more funding, however, meant greater responsibility and accountability and in 1974 the Australia Council insisted on a new company structure including a board, which diminished Dalman’s role as ADT’s leading light. It set in motion a problem that has persistently plagued the company ,as successive boards found reason to acrimoniously dismiss their artistic directors.
Cameron Dalman was first, dismissed unexpectedly in 1975 and Jonathan Taylor (1976-85), Leigh Warren (1987-92), and Meryl Tankard (1993-99) all were forced to leave ADT in this manner. Anthony Steel and Lenny Westerdijk were interim directors in 1986 in the period after Taylor left and a new director was sought; similarly Bill Pengelly in 1999 following the Meryl Tankard crisis. Stewart, now celebrating his 18th year with the company, has hopefully ended this pattern as he is the first Artistic Director to have a seat on the board.
What is interesting is to trace the Rambert, Australian Ballet School and Sydney Dance Company alumni influences and the cross-pollination by the various dance and theatre luminaries who have worked with the company over its fifty years. ADT’s second artistic director, Jonathan Taylor, arrived in Australia from Britain in 1974. He was a product of the famous Ballet Rambert, (now Rambert Dance) his style drawing on legendary choreographers such as Glen Tetley, Merce Cunningham and Christopher Bruce.
He moved to Adelaide specifically for the job with his wife, Ariette, with two Rambert dancers employed as his assistants. At the time, the company was well-funded, and consisted of 18 dancers. Taylor staged works by both Australian and international choreographers, including Wildstars (a multimedia spectacular) and also the works Ghost Dances , High Fliers,Flibbertigibbet and Quicksilver. There was also development of links to Victorian bases at the time.
Leigh Warren, was a SA born, Australian Ballet School graduate who had also danced with Ballet Rambert, and Nureyev and Friends, and Nederlands Dans Theatre. Warren brought an intense musicality to his works and often a sense of fun for example in Let’s Do It, Verandah, Never Mind TheBindies, Transient Pleasures and Tu Tu Wah.
Warren encouraged Australian choreographers, and commissioned works from composers and involved live musicians. During Warren’s tenure the company was also involved with VAST for the Bicentennial celebrations. Abruptly dismissed a year before his contract was due to expire, he then went on to form his own company, Leigh Warren and Dancers, and has kept working.
Meryl Tankard, another Australian Ballet school graduate,who had danced with the legendary Pina Bausch’s company in Germany, and then returned to Australia to establish her own company in Canberra, became the next artistic director. During her tenure the company was called Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre and some of her Canberra artists were included in the company.
Highlights from the Tankard era include Furioso: a landmark work that featured dancers flying at great speed above the audience suspended from ropes.Aurora was another featured work from this era. (There’s also Songs With Mara , Inuk and Kikimora for example and the involvement with Opera Australia for Orphee et Euridyce ).
ADT has evolved yet again with the advent of Garry Stewart. He has created a company for our contemporary era, focusing on technology and collaborations with experts in fields such as taxidermy, robotics , architecture and photography and architecture … in some ways he is similar to Melbourne’s Chunky Move. His dancers, trained in martial arts , breakdancing, ymnastics and tumbling , but with a ballet base as well, are renowned for their athleticism.
Under Stewarts’s direction we have seen the development of milestone works such as Birdbrain, The Age of Unbeauty, Held, Devolution, Be Yourself, Proximity and Multiverse. Under his leadership, ADT has continued its international touring, and became the first Australian dance company to perform at New York’s Joyce Theater and Paris’s Theatre de la Ville as well as conducting its own national tours .
At the very end of the book Tonkin asks – what now for the future? Who knows – hopefully it will be very exciting one.