Arts / Dancer’s past springs to life

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Australian Dance Theatre founder Elizabeth Cameron Dalman… still dancing at 81.
Australian Dance Theatre founder Elizabeth Cameron Dalman… still dancing at 81.
AS the Australian Dance Theatre gears up to celebrate its 50th birthday in Adelaide on June 10, there’ll be a Canberra window on the festivities.

For the founder of Australia’s first contemporary dance company and director for its first 10 years, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, has lived and worked in this region for the past 26 years, so we’ll get more than a look-in.

Elizabeth Dalman from 1967. Photo by the late Jan Dalman
Elizabeth Dalman from 1967. Photo by the late Jan Dalman
The Adelaide party will be on the actual birthday in the Adelaide Arcade, where Dalman and current ADT director, Garry Stewart, will join past and present dancers, and the Governor of SA and the Lord Mayor of Adelaide will also speak.

But here in Canberra, from May 9 to 16 in the Canberra Theatre Centre – also 50 – Dalman is staging “Fortuity”, a historical tribute to the company she formed in 1965, with a nod towards her continuing artistic work at “Mirramu” on the shores of Lake George, from which she has conducted workshops and productions for many years.

But in a production that will feature former Mirramu Dance Company works such as “Silk” and “Tango Lament”, she will both dance and narrate, looking back on a fortuitous lifetime of dance.

As well, there will be “tasters” from early ADT works showing the technique and the philosophy that derived from her mentor Eleo Pomare, who in turn was a student of Jose Limon, the disciple of dance trailblazers Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham. Incidentally, during 1966 in New York, Dalman spent three months in classes with Graham.

Humphreys and Graham, she explains, “went back to the basics of movement, they taught breathing, walking, running and asked how the body works”.

Often guided by Indian, Asian and American indigenous dancers, their approach was “so very different from ballet, where dancers are always trying to leave the ground”.

Dalman has had a long connection with Aboriginal dancers, a high point of Mirramu’s work in recent years, but that had already begun when the ADT staged “Sun and Moon”, based on an unusual Aboriginal legend. In a nice twist, this will be now danced by Taiwanese guest dancers.

That Taiwanese connection with Mirramu, well-known in Canberra, in fact goes back to 1971, when the ADT toured to Taipei and instantly became known as Australia’s premier contemporary dance company. “Those days we had to go overseas to be recognised,” she says.

To Dalman, music and dance go hand in hand. Conjuring up the ‘60s, there’ll be some Peter, Paul and Mary, The Doors and The Beatles, moving to Peter Sculthorpe and a live performance by cellist David Pereira.

As ADT turns 50, Dalman turns 81, and she’s not slowing down. She’ll be performing in the program at the Courtyard Studio, although she’ll hand over her famous dance rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes-Benz” to collaborator Vivienne Rogis to perform.

“It’s essential to pass on my work to solo dancers who are younger than me”, she says.

“Fortuity”, Courtyard Studio, May 9-17, bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

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