Review / Decades of dance that led to ‘Happiness’

Dance / “Happiness is…Celebrating 40 Years of Canberra Dance Theatre”. Directed by Jacqui Simmonds at The Street Theatre. October 14. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

The cast of the Canberra Dance Theatre anniversary performance “Happiness Is…” Photo by Lorna Sim

ESTABLISHED in 1978, under the artistic direction of Stephanie Burridge, Canberra Dance Theatre (originally Canberra Dance Ensemble) has enjoyed remarkable longevity as an important outlet for the creativity of dance makers from Canberra and beyond.

The 12, well-chosen works impeccably presented in this celebratory program provided an extraordinarily entertaining and persuasive demonstration of the diversity and quality of the work of this remarkable organisation and why it is so valued by the Canberra dance community.

A work inspired by a Dylan Thomas poem, “The Green Fuse”, choreographed by Carol Brown to the music of Rick Smith’s “And I will Kiss”, provided a dramatic opening.

As the lights slowly revealed the GOLD dancers, prostrate on stage, the voice of Camilla Blunden filled the theatre with the words of the Thomas  poem. Suddenly a single head popped out of the mass, then others, and as Smith’s atmospheric music took over, the dancers, each seemingly captivated by their own thoughts, created a charming sense of reverie to begin the evening.

Later in the program, the GOLD dancers showed their versatility by performing “Annette”, Liz Lea’s delightful tribute to swimmer, Annette Kellerman, first seen as part of the Australian Dance Award-winning production, “Great Sport”, at the National Museum of Australia.

CDE founding artistic director Stephanie Burridge returned from Singapore to give a mesmerising performance of her lovely solo, “Fragile”, for which the music of Saint-Saens “The Swan”, was performed live on stage by violinist Kailin Yong.

Yong performed with Anca Frankenhaeuser in the highlight of the evening, “Mist”, a stunning work choreographed by Burridge for two performers, which commenced with Yong playing his violin while lying on his back and with Frankenhaeuser blindfolded.

Other highlights included a spell-binding duet, “Hand Again”, performed by Frankenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer, a lovely performance of Elizabeth Cameron Dalman’s solo “Woman of the River”, by Amanda Tutalo, and Grace Bannister-Tyrell’s performance of a percussive solo, “Pamoja”, originally created by previous CDT artistic director Amalia Horden and remounted for these performances by Philip Piggin.

If any proof were needed as to the breadth and variety of dance styles and techniques embraced be CDT over the years, there was plenty on show in the ensemble works, which included a troupe of graceful Hilal Dancers who performed “The Other I”, choreographed by Rachael Hilton and Melissa Lee to the music of the Tawadros Brothers; Fusako Skelton’s charming “A Maze In Day” in which ballerina’s in black tutus gently competed for attention displaying their classical ballet technique to the music of Scott Joplin.

Jazida’s Fabulous Fan Dancers expertly manipulated huge multi-coloured ostrich feather fans to spectacular effect for “Because I Love You”, then later returned to dazzle with colourful silk fans for a routine entitled “Spice Girls”, both of which were choreographed by Rachel Reid.

The evening ended appropriately with a joyful ensemble work choreographed by Emma Saunders, called “Happiness Is …”, which effectively highlighted the connections between movement, dance, happiness and well-being, factors that have been driving forces behind Canberra Dance Theatre. It was a message subtly underlined by the outdoor performance by the special-needs group, the CDTeens, which preceded the main performance.


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