Thursday, May 14, 2015

FORTUITY - Elizabeth Cameron Dalman

 Mirramu Dance Company

Courtyard Studio,

Canberra Theatre Centre.

May 9 – 17, 2015

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

There is a moment during this program when visiting Taiwanese dancer, Christopher Chu, performs a poignant solo entitled “Memory Lost” to the music of Liszt’s “Liebestraum”. It depicts a dancer who can no longer remember his steps, and is the only item on the program not choreographed by Elizabeth Cameron Dalman.  Fortunately Dalman suffers no such affliction, as evidenced in her meticulous recreation of all the other items, some dating back as early as 1966.

An important figure in Australian contemporary dance history, Dalman founded Australian Dance Theatre in 1965 and the Mirramu Dance Company in 2002. She continues to maintain a busy schedule, choreographing, teaching and mentoring, both in Australia and overseas. She has a particularly close association with the Taipei National University and the annual Tsai Jui-Yueh International Dance Festival, and six Taiwanese dancers participate in this program.

In a performance presented without interval, seven items were shown from a possible twelve listed in the printed program. The rest will be included in other performances throughout the season. All were presented simply on a black draped stage, with minimal props, sensitive lighting design, and in some cases costumes that appeared to be the originals.

Created in 1966 and danced to the songs of folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary, “This Train” was originally a suite of seven short dances.  Dalman chose three of these dances to open the program. They were given spirited performances by Miranda Wheen, Janine Proost, Vivienne Rogis, Fu-Rong Chen and Ming-chu Yu, and were particularly interesting inclusions because they contain many of the hallmarks of Dalman’s open, energetic choreographic style.

Vivienne Rogis - "Generation Gap"

Photo: Barbie Robinson
Another work, “Generation Gap”, choreographed in 1968, also used the songs of Peter, Paul and Mary and contained powerful solos in which both Wheen and Rogis  shone.

Yi-ching Chen & Fu-rong Chen - "Sun & Moon"

Photo: Barbie Robinson
In her entertaining introductions, given before each item, Dalman revealed how she came to form a close association with Peter, Paul and Mary.  She shared too, how, also in 1968, her fascination with Peter Sculthorpe’s music led to the creation of “Sun & Moon”, superbly danced by Yi-ching Chen and Fu-rong Chen, and how in 1987, she created for herself, a solo, “Woman of the River”, to the music of the Penguin Café Orchestra, which she has now gifted to dancer, Hsiao-Yin Peng, who went on to perform it exquisitely.

Hsiao-yin Peng - "Woman of the River"

Photo: Barbie Robinson
Dalman’s irrepressible sense of humour was to the fore in her cheeky, 1969 satirical work, “Homage to Botticelli”, gleefully interpreted by the company, and featuring Yi-chin Chen as Venus exhibiting a graceful serenity that must surely rival that of the original painting.

"Homage to Botticelli"
Christopher Chu , Miranda Wheen, Yi-chin Chen, Ming-chu Yu, Janine Proost 
Photo: Barbie Robinson
The program ended with excerpts from “Silk”, a work created by Dalman in 2002 for Mirramu. It featured Christopher Chu in a startling butoh inspired silkworm solo, and concluded with Dalman herself performing a spectacular Loie Fuller-style solo in which she manipulated huge silk wings in a touching interpretation of the life-span of a silkmoth.  

Dance students, and indeed, anyone with even a passing interest in Australian dance history should flock to “Fortuity”, not only for the  fascinating and entertaining glimpse it offers into the development of contemporary dance in Australia, but also for the opportunity be in the company of one Australia’s most import and passionate dance pioneers.     

 This review first published in the digital edition of  CITY NEWS on May 10. An edited version published in the Print edition of CITY NEWS on May 13.