CriticalDance Forum

Australian Dance Theatre
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Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Mar 07, 2005 9:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Australian Dance Theatre

The Age of Unbeauty
Australian Dance Theatre
Queen Elizabeth Hall
4th March 2005

“The Age of Unbeauty” was created as a response to the unremitting images of misery that confront us daily on our news-screens. Artistic director Garry Stewart refers in the programme notes to the media coverage of the horrors of our age and his choreography recreates the baseness that exists in our world with an uncompromising vigour.

This work presents us with a relentless series of powerful images of suffering and brutality that are as stark and ugly as the title suggests. There is a lot of violence, much of it aimed at women: in an early sequence a woman dressed only in underwear and bound and blindfolded is manipulated with vicious cruelty by a man who may be a torturer for some twisted political regime or perhaps someone enjoying a particularly unpleasant form of sexual perversion. Either way it makes disquieting viewing.

Later we see a series of energetic kung-fu fights in which the defeated opponents are stripped naked as if to further humiliate them. The fallen are then unceremoniously dumped onto a trolley, their twisted limbs recalling the horrors of the holocaust. A row of dancers with heads bowed, all bent double with their hands behind their backs and their trousers around their ankles, substituting for leg irons, make a painful progress across the stage. This was strangely reminiscent of a scene from Grigorovitch’s “Spartacus”, where the slaves are being herded by their new masters, but no doubt subjugation looks the same in all ages.

At one point a door opens at the back of the stage, but a glass barrier prevents the nude couple behind it from gaining entry. They look strangely innocent, like Adam and Eve locked out of the garden of Eden, but we know that the paradise they seek is a fools paradise, populated by the heartless, the inhuman and the merciless.

This is a bleak view of humanity with only a very few reminders of the softer side of human nature. It’s a harsh view of the world but an honest one and the dancers portray the oppressors and their victims with great force and authority. A disturbing work that reflects the disturbing events of our times.

Author:  kurinuku [ Tue Mar 08, 2005 1:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Australian Dance Theatre

Traditional ballet gets the bird

the Independent

Stewart, the company's director as well as its choreographer, has added gymnastics, breakdance and yoga to ADT's modern-dance training. It makes for an aggressive performance style, full of wrenching kicks and break-neck dives.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Tue Mar 08, 2005 5:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Australian Dance Theatre

The Age of Unbeauty
By Debra Craine at Queen Elizabeth Hall

THERE are two questions being asked in Garry Stewart’s The Age of Unbeauty. Is there no limit to man’s inhumanity to man? And how far can you take the human body? The first question provides the theme for this 60-minute production, currently receiving its British premiere. Stewart, who directs Australian Dance Theatre, says that Age of Unbeauty was born out of a “sense of frustration and angst at being in a world where there is an extraordinary degree of inequality”.

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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Mar 13, 2005 4:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Australian Dance Theatre

Ruffling feathers with a new Swan Lake
A striking modern take on the classic ballet is getting audiences in a flap, says ANNA MILLAR in Scotland on Sunday.

AUSTRALIAN Dance Theatre’s new work, Birdbrain, will inject a modern, wry twist into the ever-enduring dance text of Swan Lake. The company’s UK tour, which kicked off last week, is already causing a stir with adoring teenage audience members throwing clothing on to the stage and the dancers being mobbed as they leave the theatre.

But then it’s not often that break-dancing, yoga and techno marry with traditional ballet and Tchaikovsky’s score. Inspired by European choreographers such as Matthew Bourne and Mats Ek, ADT’s artistic director Garry Stewart says he has found a new "vocabulary" with which to showcase his variable dance style.

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Australian Dance Theatre
Fails to move David Dougill in The Sunday Times

Very different is the style and content of Australian Dance Theatre, also on a UK tour (which included Queen Elizabeth Hall), with two strenuous programmes by its director-choreographer, Garry Stewart. I find these 11 dancers, a mix of physical types, rather charmless, but they are at one in their awesome skills, which embrace ballet, gymnastics, break-dancing, martial arts and yoga. In Birdbrain (first seen here two years ago), an enigmatic deconstruction of Swan Lake, a classical pose can suddenly segue into a hurtling tumble roll, an acrobatic clinch, a headstand. Even on second viewing, the point of Stewart’s dismantling of Swan Lake eludes me, and the raucous techno thump of Luke Smiles’s music is a pain.

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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Mar 20, 2005 8:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Australian Dance Theatre

The Age of Unbeauty
By Katie Phillips for The Stage

If I were to award this performance stars, I would give it five. Garry Stewart and his dancers’ fearless fascination with risk combined with the ability to sustain hard-hitting, intense dance theatre without whittling the poignancy down to its bare bones and losing the dance movement altogether is incredibly unusual.

click formore

Author:  kurinuku [ Tue Mar 22, 2005 4:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Australian Dance Theatre

Feathered friends are dancing to a different tune

the Scotland Herald

One thing they're bound to notice, however, is the extraordinary way the malevolent Rothbart moves. "We have a contortionist, Craig Proctor, who does extreme ashtanga yoga," explains McGowan.
"Legs behind the head, all kinds of twists and bends – he's pretty much a human pretzel. He's the evil sorcerer, and a shape-shifter."

Author:  Andre Yew [ Wed Apr 13, 2005 9:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Australian Dance Theatre

I just saw Birdbrain danced by ADT at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, and wow! Even if the choreography was nothing to look at (and it is very much something to look at), the dancers are fantastic: big huge lines, and very energetic movement with really great attacks and abandon. The movement was a deconstruction and reintegration of ballet movements with hip-hop (breakdancing, locking, popping), martial arts, yoga, contact improv, and probably a few other things I didn't catch. The black swans became eerie with pretty twisted and dark locking movements, invoking the visual images of static noise and fuzzy electrical waveforms in the music. A plot exposition in the middle used classical mime as its nucleus, but exploded it out into a high energy solo. Rothbart was a contortionist, adding to his creepiness. The swan transformation was more reminiscent of painful, wracked werewolf-style morphing than anything graceful and beautiful. I was surprised at the efficacy of the dance movement to invoke images of swans as they crossed the lake. For example, imagine being in a yoga bridge pose, and using your feet to propel yourself across the stage parallel to the audience.

Lots more dense imagery filled the stage, but it was all managed with a fine stagecraft that filled the stage just enough, and provided logical and seamless transitions from one part of the stage to another. At times I found my attention being directed unconsciously to the next thing happening --- like a smooth cut from one scene to another in a TV show, except done under my own power!

If it comes to your area, go see it! I think they're heading to San Diego, San Rafael, Minneapolis, and finally New York on this tour.


Author:  Andre Yew [ Wed Apr 13, 2005 9:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Australian Dance Theatre

For those who want an idea of what the dancing looks like, there's a brief video with excerpts of Birdbrain on their website:

Once you're in the main page, click on Videos, and pick the appropriate link for Birdbrain.


Author:  Andre Yew [ Tue Apr 26, 2005 5:36 pm ]
Post subject: 

Photographer Lois Greenfield Collaborates With Australian Dance Theatre in Held
Emily Quinn, Playbill

Australian Dance Theatre performs the New York premiere of Held, a work that combines choreography by artistic director Garry Stewart and images by dance photographer Lois Greenfield, tonight at the Joyce Theater.


Apparently Greenfield will be on-stage taking pictures of the dancers in realtime, and projecting them. I wonder if she's using one of those fancy digital cameras with built-in Wi-Fi to do this. It seems like a natural evolution of David Parsons's Caught.


Author:  kurinuku [ Fri Apr 29, 2005 8:18 am ]
Post subject: 

Australian Dance Theatre, Joyce Theater, New York
by HILARY OSTLERE for the Financial Times

The 11 sturdy, resilient dancers, suckers for physical punishment unseen in such a degree since Elizabeth Streb had her troupe bounce themselves off plexiglass panels, bring a no-holds-barred attack to martial arts choreography by artistic director Garry Newman.

published: April 29 2005

Author:  kurinuku [ Sun May 01, 2005 10:14 am ]
Post subject: 

Lens Life
Two ideas re stopping the action: to tease the brain and alarm the soul, to feast the eye
by DEBORAH JOWITT for the Village Voice

You have to be quick of eye to absorb the parade of striking photographs and keep track of choreography that has moved on. Yet the arrested and projected moments show us what we haven't really been able to see the live dancers do.

published: April 29, 2005
more in the second part of the linked article

Author:  kurinuku [ Fri Feb 24, 2006 7:04 am ]
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Man, machine and the mystery of which is more mechanical
by PENELOPE DEBELLE for the Sydney Morning Herald

The dance theatre's artistic director, Garry Stewart, and his collaborator on Devolution, the French-Canadian Louis-Philippe Demers, have rejected the Hollywood cliche of "man versus machines", with its vision of the tiny human dancer paling before the brutal machine.

"Our dancers are quite violent," Stewart says. "Their vocabulary is the antithesis of that kind of beauty and lyricism, so, in many ways, the movement of the dancers has referenced the angularity and staccato rhythms of the machinery - not that I've got the dancers getting around onstage looking like machines. But we have tried to create a choreographic connection between the machinery and the dancers."

published: February 24, 2006

Author:  David [ Sun Mar 11, 2007 11:15 am ]
Post subject:  Held

‘Held’ - Australian Dance Theatre
Derngate, Northampton, UK; March 10th, 2007

Dance taking still or video photography as a partner is nothing new. A number of choreographers have experimented with projecting still or video images on to screens as the performance unfolds in front of them, it has to be said not always successfully. When ADT director Garry Stewart teamed up with highly respected New York dance photographer Lois Greenfield though they were after something a little different.

Greenfield has made a name for herself capturing those moments that are too fast for the human eye to catch. Put this together with Stewart’s athletic choreography and you get a series of quite stunning photographs that capture the dancers in flight, often horizontal to the ground, as if they are somehow defying gravity.

So, does it work? Initially the dance is exhilarating as the dancers rush on and off and hurl themselves around the Darrin Verhagen’s thumping score. Greenfield squats centre-front of the stage taking pictures that are a split second later shown on two giant screens to each side. But immediately there is a problem and it’s the one that seems to afflict most experiments like this. Do you want me to watch the dance or the pictures? What happens of course is that everyone continually switches from one to the other, the flash of the camera (extremely annoying by the way) quickly producing a conditioned response to change focus.

The photography is stunning, and somehow the fact that they are black and white only adds to their impact. Sometimes they are taken from the front of the stage and sometimes to back, but they do get a little predictable and Greenfield seems only to look for the spectacular mid-air shot, ignoring everything else. Only twice do we see something new, first when she uses a rapid fire device that produces six shots a split second after each other, making them look like some sort of multi-limbed god or goddess. Later, she uses a zoom lens to get right in close on particular parts of individual bodies, although this doesn’t really work and sometimes leaves you wondering quite what you are looking at.

So what of the dance in amongst all this photographic wizardry? Stewart has a wonderfully athletic group of dancers who certainly throw themselves around with abandon. But just as Greenfield’s photography gets rather repetitive, so does Stewart’s choreography. There are moments of adage in among the frenetic action and which allows the audience to catch their breath, but as a whole it really doesn’t go anywhere. Much of the choreography appears to have been engineered for the camera and to produce good pictures. But good pictures do not necessarily make good choreography. Greenfield isn’t giving us another eye on a dance performance; the dancers are her tools. They are there for her. It is the camera that is king in what in reality is a 55-minute photo shoot. An amazing shoot, but a shoot nevertheless.

The audience reaction at the end suggested they liked it. “Held” feeds the audience a diet of fast, athletic, gymnastic and daring dance, performed by a very talented company. It gives us a series of quite stunning photographs. The problem is they take away from each other. I can imagine that the process of creating the work was interesting, stimulating and challenging. Unfortunately that doesn’t always lead to a great product. It’s an interesting experiment and worth seeing for Greenfield’s pictures alone, but it doesn’t provide any answers as to whether and how dance and photography can be equal partners in performance. One sadness, the pictures only exist for as long as the audience sees them on the screens. They are not saved in any way. Like the dance they happen and then they are gone forever.

“Held” continues on tour to High Wycombe, Bradford, Truro, Woking, Salford and Edinburgh.

Author:  kurinuku [ Sun Mar 11, 2007 5:39 pm ]
Post subject: 

A review I have missed.

Gone in a flash
by DAVID DOUGILL for the Sunday Times
published: February 25, 2007

The idea is to capture a movement the eye might not catch, most of these being arrested in midair, since Stewart’s eclectic style — martial arts and acrobatics, especially — is full of flying, the dancers rocketing on and hurtling over each other. It is not always easy to take in both live action and photographic record, and one jump when isolated can look much like another. But Greenfield achieves some clever and intriguing effects, as when a solo dancer sprouts extra limbs (on screen), or two are multiplied into a lineup.

Author:  ksneds [ Fri Apr 06, 2007 4:55 pm ]
Post subject: 

Australian Dance Theatre
March 30, 2007
Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Spring is finally arriving in Edinburgh, and along with the haar – Edinburgh's own brand of all-enveloping sea fog – the changing winds have also blown in the fascinating Australian Dance Theatre. In this, the last stop on a six-week, 11 city 2007 UK tour, the company introduced Edinburgh audiences to a unique blend of music, dance and photography in the innovative "Held", an onstage collaboration with renowned dance photographer Lois Greenfield.

Choreographed by Garry Stewart, "Held" is a high-energy blend of dance, both live and in images captured on film by Lois Greenfield. The piece was conceptualized a way to allow audiences to see the moments in dance that normally flash by too quickly to be noticed, an idea accomplished by the melding of live dance with both real time photography and studio images by Lois Greenfield projected on to two large screens. The resulting 55-minute long collage of dance segments is an innovative if not always even piece of performance art.

"Held" begins with Greenfield center stage, snapping away as the dancers, alone and in groups, begin to move to Darrin Verhagen's pulsing music. The images she captures – in black and white until the very end - are immediately projected on two large screens, which act both as screens and as a frame for the action center stage. It's sometimes difficult to decide whether to pay attention to the live dance or the still image, or both if you possibly can. These are powerful, diverse dancers; each with a distinct style that draw you in, but the images themselves are utterly fascinating. It's mind boggling to see a dancer upside down, completely horizontal or balanced on their head. And humbling, because you realize how little of the dance you actually see, how much happens when you are looking elsewhere, blinking or not focusing.

Later on, in one of the most striking sequences, Greenfield uses a strobe to catch the dancers' movements in quick series. The resulting images reveal the dancers looking like Hindu gods or goddesses with multiple arms and legs, the sequence of the limbs tracing the movement of the dance. It is taking apart the motion so the human eye can appreciate the minutest of movements.

In a separate series live sequence of photographs, Greenfield works with a zoom lense, focusing on the detail of the dancers bodies. Here it is the twisting, the texture, the juxtaposition of body parts that is captured by the camera. It is transfixing because these are close-up images that would never be apparent when watching the dancers themselves, but yet in a way unsettling, because the images are often of body parts we are not used to seeing close up.

Gary Stewart managed never to let the photography overwhelm the dance, and that is in no small part due to his impressive dancers. Australian Dance Theatre's dancers come from a wide range of dance background, but they are all well grounded in the high energy, highly kinetic blend of contemporary dance, martial arts move, breakdance and ballet that Stewart demands from them. And they rise to his challenge of throwing themselves into space – often exploring the horizontal as well as the vertical, yet coming down to earth in an elegant, controlled way.

The specific choreography seems tailored to each dancer's strengths, with two of the most affecting sections coming sections to slower, almost classical music. In one, a couple move together in synchronization, flowing, rippling to the music, never losing the thread even as their movements become more jagged and energetic. In another, the a lone male dancer – clearly one with more ballet training than the others (Alex Leonhartsberger ?) dances center stage in a corner formed by the two screens pushed together, all now bathed in a green glow. The gentle jingling of bells around his neck compliments his slow, inwards twisting solo. Stewart was trained as a ballet dancer at the Australian Ballet School, and it's clear that while he draws from many art forms, he has not abandoned what he learned early on, and the willingness to blend the classical into the very contemporary is refreshing.

If there is a weak link in "Held", it is that there is perhaps too much to handle in one 55-minute blast. In addition to the live photography, there are countless segments of non-photographed dancing, all interspersed with film clips of the company projected on to the two screens. And in trying to do too much, Stewart hit at least one off note in a segment where groups of dancers on a darkened stage were lit at intervals by flashes of strobe lights. Strobe lighting can be used to stunning effect - think David Parsons' "Caught" – but here there didn't to be any rhyme or reason to the timing of the flashes, so it just looked like a half lit piece.

The black and white costumes by David Bonner and Michelle Robinson, though creative in creating a unique look for each dancer, sometimes didn't quite mesh. Ranging from shorts, to bikini tops and bottoms to tank tops and t-shirts, the outfits sometimes hid bodyline, which would have been nice to see on camera. More jarring however, was outfitting of male dancers in black lace dance-belt bottoms. The juxtaposition of such a feminine undergarments with the powerful dance seemed silly, especially in the unforgiving close up of the digital images. It was as if they'd raided their younger sister's lingerie drawer and out of context with the rest of the piece.

Dancebelt gaffs aside, Australian Dance Theatre has scored a success with this provocative and innovative dance-photography collaboration. One hopes that Stewart and Greenfield will continue tinkering with the blend to remove some of the weaker bits so that the fabulous majority of the piece can continue to amaze audiences.

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