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Report, 11-18: Earthdancer
Oz Celebrates Russell Page
By Suzanne Davidson
Copyright 2003 Suzanne Davidson
SYDNEY -- Earthdancer
was a specially produced event -- the first at the new Sydney Theatre
-- held Friday to commemorate and celebrate the life of Russell
Page, the Bangarra Dance Theatre member who
committed suicide in July 2002.
The youngest of 12 brothers,
with Stephen and David Page Russell comprised a sort of Australian
dance royalty. Stephen was one of Sydney Dance Company's most popular
dancers before founding Bangarra, and has choreographed some of
Australia's most celebrated events, including for the opening ceremonies
of the 2000 Olympics. Currently he is artistic director of the 2004
Adelaide Festival. David Page's compositions for Bangarra are an
integral part of that company's development into one of Australia's
leading artistic dance entities.
Russell, who as a young
boy was a bit of a larrikin, full of enthusiasm and a total lack
of fear, became one of the most charismatic dancers Australia has
ever produced. The Page brothers were a unique trio: hugely talented,
creative and proud of their Aboriginal heritage. The Australian
dance world continues to mourn his passing, and on Friday the cream
of the nation's dance companies paid tribute to his contribution,
both artistic and personal.
Directed by Stephen
Page, the program was presented in two parts. It opened with a moving
tribute in song by Djakapurra Munyarryun. Then Robyn Nevin, artistic
director of the Sydney Theatre Company, welcomed the audience, telling
us that the theater was actually giving its first ever performance
that evening, to the consternation of some of its technical staff,
who felt not quite ready. But nothing went wrong that we in the
audience could see.
Stephen Page introduced
the first section of the program: excerpts from Random Play, the
Sydney Dance Company's forthcoming evening of new creations choreographed
by some of its dancers. We were shown previews of Gavin Mitford's
"Emotor," Wakako Asano's "Know End," Simon Turner's "Urst" and Josef
Musically, each piece
seemed set to similarly insistent rhythm. This floor-covering/Musak-type
of sound must be today's 'in' version of a musical score. Personally,
I wouldn't mind if I never heard a music collage again. These collages
don't drive the choreography; they don't even have much relationship
to it, and they certainly don't seem to assist the creative process.
In fact, when one reaches the point of wishing that the choreographer
had resisted the temptation of repeating his/her more successful
moments (or even whole sections) of a work, one is left to simply
recognize the section as having been already used, which just robs
it of its original magic. Some musical solace would go a long way
in helping one to continue to enjoy the work despite any creative
limitations. Despite all of the above and bearing in mind that these
were all "excerpts," I am still curious to see the completed works.
At Saturday's performance,
Chylie Cooper had the whole audience in the palm of her hand in
"Urst," as she moved seamlessly and elegantly in the most amazing
red top, performing what can only be described as a tightly controlled
meditation, totally focused, right up to the last note of music.
Although I was impressed
by Andrea Briody and Katherine Arnold-Lindley in "Know End," none
of the excerpts from Random Play (apart from "Urst") touched me
emotionally, despite their faultless technical performance.
"Inside Out," One Extra
Dance Company's contribution, followed. Christina Chan and Clare
Holland moved in a way at times reminiscent of two rag dolls, or
two puppets, and at times even of two contortionists. They moved
in perfect unison. But why? It was quite interesting, but I didn't
care a jot whether they went on or whether they stopped after the
first few bars. It was like watching eurythmics.
Then David Page reminisced
about his little brother, giving us intimate glimpses of the Page
brothers as children. The love between these boys was tangible.
Then he brought Russell's children on stage and introduced them
to the audience. The girls each recited a poem about their beloved
father, while their older brother was too shy to speak. It was one
of the saddest moments I have ever had to witness in a theatre.
David McAllister, artistic
director of the Australian Ballet, then introduced the next piece,
"Totem," a solo choreographed by Stephen Page to music by David
Page, featuring traditional songs performed by Djakapurra Munyarryun
and Wilson Gunnamparr. The piece had been created for Steven Heathcote's
20th Anniversary with the Australian Ballet, and he performed it
again here. This was artistry at its height -- a classical ballet
dancer performing an indigenous/contemporary solo with such natural
style that watching him, one couldn't imagine him moving in any
other style. Heathcote is not an acknowledged international star
for nothing. It was the perfect last piece before the interval.
After the Interval,
Matthew Doyle spoke briefly, before Gideon Obarzanek reminisced
about Russell. The he introduced the contribution by his company,
Chunky Move: "Corrupted II." I am a fervent believer in Obarzanek's
choreographic talent, but this work also left me uninvolved. It
was performed faultlessly, but again I wondered: Why? Not why faultlessly,
but why at all?
During this piece I
am afraid my mind began to wander off in the general direction of
choreography, contemporary choreography as opposed to the classics,
and about what qualities in a choreographed work make for a satisfying
experience for an audience, or for me, at any rate. I came to the
conclusion that what is missing in most new work seen here is the
capacity to involve one on some level. I am not necessarily looking
for anything revolutionary. I am not even looking for anything technically
spectacular. But I do want to be able to enjoy on some level,what's
unfolding on the stage. I do want to care. I want to be left wanting
more, rather than to having to watch an interesting piece of choreography
or an unusual effect repeated over and over. Whilst I don't believe
that you can make a choreographer, or that you can teach anyone
to become one, I do believe that it should be possible to advise
II," Francis Rings, Russell Page's former dance partner, came on
to talk about her unique artistic partnership with Russell, and
we were privileged to watch some superb footage of them dancing
together in "Brolga," before Rings introduced Simone Goldsmith and
Robert Curran in a pas de deux from Stephen Baynes's latest ballet,
Now this was a houseful
of contemporary/modern dance aficionados through and through, definitely
not an audience of classical ballet cognoscenti. So the reaction
to this piece of faultless artistry was all the more unexpected.
At the end of the pas de deux there was a second of dead silence
and then the place erupted in a storm of applause, yells, stamps
and whistles. Small wonder; this highly musical choreography had
been danced to some beautiful music by Handel, by two artists with
the sort of bodies which made their own music.
The evening ended with
the Sydney Theatre Company's Jo Dyer introducing the last segment,
a moving "In Memoriam" comprising excerpts from filmed interviews
with Russell and his brothers Stephen and David. Then Bangarra Dance
Theatre performed "Ceremony," an excerpt from the superbly evocative
"Bush," choreographed by Frances Rings with Stephen Page.
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