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A Rare Chance to See Dance from Down Under

By: Susan Reiter
Date: Apr 26, 2019


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The Joyce Theater presents its first-ever Australia Festival


Australia has an active and varied dance scene, but New York audiences rarely have an opportunity to sample any of what goes on there. The expense of traveling to the U.S. makes it difficult for Australian companies to visit, plus they're usually busy touring their own cosmopolitan continent. That's why it's so exciting that the Joyce Theater is presenting notable troupes from Oz in its first-ever Australia Festival.

Attractor (April 29-May 1), a collaboration between Dancenorth and Lucy Guerin Inc, kicks things off, followed by Australian Dance Theatre (May 3-6) and The Australian Ballet (May 9-12), which have both been around for more than half a century. "The festival will really show a diverse range of dance from the continent," says Martin Wechsler, the Joyce's longtime director of programming, who put the event together before retiring in 2017.

The Australia Festival is reminiscent of previous Joyce events that spotlighted multiple troupes from the same region, such as its recent Cuba festival. Although these fests take years to coordinate because of all the logistics involved, the Joyce's executive director, Linda Shelton, insists the effort is worth it. "It helps when you can put some context around the performances -- particularly the smaller companies," she explains. "A festival helps the audience get access, and makes a lot of sense from a marketing point of view."

Attractor is co-choreographed by Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek, two Australians with strong, adventurous reputations. They collaborated with the band Senyawa, an Indonesian duo, to shape a contemporary piece inspired by the Javanese tradition of entering trance through dance and music. Prearranged audience volunteers are integrated into its final section, breaking down the barrier between artists and amateurs.

Australian Dance Theatre's The Beginning of Nature explores themes of metamorphosis and transformation set to a score sung in Kaurna, an indigenous language and culture from the Adelaide Plains of South Australia. "There is a tenor of ritualism that underpins the piece," explains artistic director Garry Stewart, who's marking his 20th anniversary at the helm of ADT. "I worked with the dancers on the idea that they are manifesting and circulating energy through the space and through each other. The work is primarily an evocation of the rhythms in nature, which comprises an infinite complex of rhythmic patterns."

Since the piece is about the birth of life on our planet, Stewart was adamant that English, a relatively new language in the scheme of things, not be used. "It's only been spoken in Australia for 230 years!" Stewart points out. "Instead, I wanted to work with a local indigenous language." He chose Kaurna since ADT is based in the Adelaide Plains, and enlisted Jack Buckskin, an expert in the language, as consultant.

Finishing up the festival is The Australian Ballet, which last appeared in NYC in 2012 at Lincoln Center. Although the company usually performs on larger stages, it's presenting three smaller-scale works that suit the more intimate Joyce, including Alice Topp's Aurum, inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi. Although she has created several works for The Australian Ballet and is acclaimed in her homeland, her choreography isn't known in New York, which is why the Joyce awarded Aurum its annual $25,000 Rudolf Nureyev Prize for New Dance to help bring her work stateside.

Writing about Aurum's Melbourne premiere, the critic for Dance Australia described Topp as "a rapidly maturing, fresh and different choreographic voice that is unafraid of beauty, fragility, and a depth of feeling too often missing in contemporary ballet." Two recent works by the company's resident choreographers, Stephen Baynes and Tim Harbour, complete the program, which should give a well-rounded overview of the company -- just as the festival gives an illuminating sampling of the dancing going on Down Under these days.


TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for all three Australia Festival programs: Attractor in seating range A and B; Australian Ballet Theatre in seating range A and B; and The Australian Ballet in seating range A and B. Go here to browse our current offers.

Susan Reiter regularly covers dance for TDF Stages.

Top image: The Beginning of Nature by American Dance Theatre. Photo by Chris Herzfeld Camlight Productions.

Susan Reiter covers dance for TDF Stages.