Choreographed by Belle Beasely & Skip Willcox –
Designed by James Drinkwater
Music composed by Joseph Franklin.
Dancers: Alexander Abbott, Nicholas Jachno, Cassidy
McDermott-Smith, Mitchell Christie.
Musicians: Joseph Franklin, Ollie McGill, Sam Gill,
Gallery Canberra. June 24, 2023. Reviewed by BILL
The opening of a major exhibition of works by James
Drinkwater at the Drill Hall Gallery provided the opportunity for Canberrans to
experience excerpts from a dance work commissioned by Drinkwater to celebrate
fellow-artist, William Dobell’s association with Lake Macquarie.
Drinkwater himself draws inspiration from ballet as
an art form and began taking lessons in 2013 to extend his practice both
pictorially and lyrically. His experience with dance has influenced his
iconography and use of colour for almost a decade, beginning with his early
body of work The Boy and the Ballet.
Approaching Wangi and other Desires, commissioned for the 2023 Lake
Macquarie Dobell Festival, Drinkwater embraced the ethos of the Ballets Russes,
famous for its collaborations with composers Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel and
artists Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky.
He designed the set and costumes himself and
commissioned Victorian composer, Joseph Franklin, to compose an original score.
Choreographers, Belle Beasley and Skip Willcox collaborated to choreograph the
ballet in the neo-classical style favoured by the Ballets Russes and later by
The excerpts performed at the Drill Hall Gallery
were presented sans Drinkwater’s settings but with the four dancers, Alexander
Abbot, Nicholas Jachno, Cassidy McDermott-Smith and Mitchell Christie wearing Drinkwater’s
striking costumes, and surrounded by his towering impressionistic art works.
Joseph Franklin’s atmospheric score was performed
by an excellent quartet comprising the composer himself on piano, together with
Ollie McGill (keyboard), Sam Gill (Saxophone) and Cloe Kim (percussion).
The work began with the dancers entering one at a
time to gaze intently at the art works. Thereafter, they joined hands, broke
away, grouped to form sculptural shapes, executed sharp jerking movements,
hugged each other and sometimes and performed impressive athletic movements;
all with an air of intense seriousness,
Though it was fascinating to watch these movements,
and appreciate the skill of the dancers performing the carefully reconstituted neo-classical
choreography in a style rarely seen now, but beloved of dance satirists and
familiar from the photographs of photographers of the ilk of Baron and George
Platt Lynes; without setting and context, it was not immediately obvious how
the choreography related to the life of William Dobell, his Wangi Wangi home or
However, the joyful fascination created by sharing a rare and unique experience created by Drinkwater and his talented collaborators, surrounded by his stunning artworks in the rarefied ambience of the Drill Hall Gallery has satisfied a long held curiosity about what it would be like to attend such an event in one of New York’s most hip galleries.
These images by Ben Adams feature the original cast.
This review also published in Australian Arts Review. www.artsreview.com.au