HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN DANCEARTISTS
In 1993 independent choreographer Norman Hall, inspired by working with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman on her solo program Bella Donma, applied for an Australia Council grant to work with four generations of Australian dance artists.
4 Generations (1994)
These were Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Susan Barling and Gideon Obarzanek, all prominent dancers, and the concept was to present aspects of their lives, personal and professional, individual and collective, about being dancers. It was titled 4 Generations. It played at Sydney’s old Performance Space for 3 weeks to excellent reviews, and 93% audience capacity.
Australian Dance Artists
In 1995 the production 4 Generations was invited to perform in Taiwan, and the name Australian Dance Artists (A.D.A.) was created to give us a more specific identity in a country which did not know of the four individuals and their histories ( as they were in Australia).
SITE / Choreographic Centre (1997-99)
Norman had long been an admirer of the work of sculptor Ken Unsworth, and had contacted him in the early 1990s to discuss the possibility of working together. Ken was invited to see the original 4 Generations in 1994 and was impressed with the performers, (Elizabeth Dalman, Patrick Harding-Irmer, Susan Barling and Gideon Obarzanek), and the nature and structure of the performance.
Various grant applications were made to funding bodies to explore new work involving sculpture/installation, movement and theatre. None were successful.
When 4 Generations was invited to perform at the Green Mill Dance Festival in Melbourne in 1996, Norman discussed with Mark Gordon, director of the Choreographic Centre in Canberra, the prospect of applying for a fellowship to research new work.
The themes to be researched and explored would be the nature of specific sites, and then involving the processes of transforming these experiences into movement and image, and eventually, transferring these into a man-made site as a theatricalized presentation.
In 1997 a Choreographic Centre fellowship was granted to Norman and he invited Elizabeth, Patrick, Susan and new member Ross Philip, along with Ken Unsworth, to be involved in creative site-specific research on and around the environs of Lake George near Canberra where Elizabeth lived and worked at her Mirramu Creative Arts Centre.
Over a period of two years the group would work at Mirramu in different seasons, experiencing the variations of weather and effects, embodying them into movement scenes, and also on one occasion creating art installations in nature with Unsworthian “artifacts” on the dry lake bed.
Composer Steve Blau also was invited to be involved, and he provided a wonderful range of evocative musical sounds to accompany and enrich the movement scenarios.
Eventually two theatre presentations evolved, called SITE, where site-specific work was theatricalized and transferred from nature to a different site, a man-made built site.
The first, Site 1 was presented in 1998 at the Canberra Artspace, a white-walled, open art gallery and then Site 2 another evocation, at the black-boxed Choreographic Centre in 1999. Even then we were still exploring the nature of different sites.
These Site presentations were refined further and re-worked into another evocation:
Moving Earth (2001)
Ken was involved with the latter, and in December 2001 a reworked version, called Moving Earth, was presented in Sydney for a brief season with Anca Frankenhaeuser replacing Elizabeth Dalman. These site-evolutions were all presented under the name of Australian Dance Artists.
In 2004 Ken invited ADA to be involved in a new project designed for the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW), which owns several of his works. Called Outandabout, two performances were given where the sculptural objects and ideas of Ken were combined with movement in a glassed-in performance space at the end of the main entrance gallery.
It was free to the public, and some enchanting images were created, some referencing art works like Picasso’s Deux Femme Courant Sur La Plage. Other scenes involved huge cartoon-ish strap-on heads, and large sculptural basket cane frames manipulated by the dancers.
Ken’s work often references themes from other works, often featuring pianos, and in this presentation, Anca dances in high-heeled boots on the internal strings of a piano, creating quite unexpected sounds, as well as shapes.
Lettus Botanicus (2005)
In 2005, the New South Wales government department DADHC (Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care) commissioned a performance to celebrate the annual Seniors Week, to be held in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
Australian Dance Artists researched the site and created a botanically themed work called Lettus Botanicus or Up the Garden Path, using the interior and exterior of the Lion Gate Lodge. The senior citizen audience was treated to an originally conceived performance quite whimsical and delightful. This was presented in a one-off performance, but a filmed version was made for ADA’s archives.
A Ringing Glass ( Rilke ) (2009)
Due to the ill health of Ken’s wife Elisabeth, creative work stopped until he invited ADA to be involved with A Ringing Glass (Rilke) to honour and commemorate her life. This was presented in a momentous one-night only event on Cockatoo Island in May 2009, along with four sculptural installations.
Within the cavernous Turbine Hall, Ken constructed a grand ballroom, replete with huge mirrors on the new walls, as well as crimson velvet drapes and long elegantly laid tables for the four course banquet. Accompanying this was a new parquetry dance floor, because Ken’s plan was to have the invited guests (all of whom knew Elisabeth) make a grand entrance in a formal social dance scene. This required teaching the guests the choreography for the entrance promenade, and for this classes were held in various places. Anca and Norman even traveled to Melbourne for a one-day intensive.
The dance music was supplied by the Sydney Lyric Orchestra led by English composer-musician Jonathan Cooper. This was the beginning of a long-term collaboration with Jonathan and also singer Natalie Gamsu, who complemented the music with her dynamic voice.
Requested by Ken, a new performance work called Our Kenundrum was devised by the dancers as a present, only to be revealed to Ken on the occasion. It actually became a birthday present as he turned 78 on the day of the event.
Our Kenundrum referenced some of the props and concepts from previous works by Ken and was at times like a physicalised version of some of his previous art works. The whole evening was filmed, and subsequently a DVD presentation was there, to supplement the installations, for casual visitors to the island to view for the following month.
The House of Blue Leaves (2010)
August 2010 saw The House of Blue Leaves commissioned by the AGNSW. A performance space was set up in the main entry hall of the gallery, with Ken providing images and movable constructions for the dancers to respond to creatively.
Each scene created a new world, including: white carts lead not by horses, but by white-wigged females galloping into a narcissist’s mirrored world; a table full of metallic sinks from which emerged the heads of boy sopranos who vocalized evocatively and sang beautifully; a multi-coloured maze to separate two lovers’ tragic relationship; and grand wooden towers traversing the stage, featuring the wonderful sounds of an enclosed chanteuse, Natalie Gamsu.
As I Crossed the bridge of Dreams (2011)
Presented in one of the many covered industrial spaces on Cockatoo Island in 2011, this work showed the increasing complexity of both ideas and technical requirements, with long silver coated rectangular boxes providing a sculptured space as they were raised and lowered on mechanized chains. The dancers interacted with, on, and at times, in them. Ken again provided the framework of the special installations, and most of the ideas were left to the dancers to interpret.
Performance features included: Interactions between the dancers and their “super-heads”, specially cast from life, which they wore like crowns; Patrick carrying a huge wooden birdcage on his back, replete with live birds; Ross with angelic wings of a gargoyle on his back; composer Jonathan Cooper at the piano coping with the addition of a pissing angel on his instrument.
As with A Ringing Glass (Rilke) in 2009 invited guests were ferried to the island. It was to be the last Ken/ADA presentation to be held there partly due to the costs, including the transport of Ken’s huge constructions by barge.
Soiree Sforza (2013)
In 2013 Ken’s studio in Alexandria was re-configured to enable this production to take place there. Working in-house allowed the technical crew to work site-specifically, and gave the performers more on-site rehearsals with the actual space and sculptural objects.
Being able to create and rehearse in the performance space was a very different experience. Fitted out with a revolve, plus some fly mechanisms, the studio was transformed into not just the creative home, but the in-house theatre for Soirée Sforza and future works to come.
The Arrangement (2014)
Ken Unsworth Studio Sydney 2014