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Madigan’s building honoured through dance


Dancers in the NGA. Photo: Leanne Mason

In an unusual mix of architecture, dance and art, this week the National Gallery of Australia is paying homage to its original architect, Col Madigan, through a dance work open to the public this Saturday, commissioned by the gallery.

A Sun Dance, conceived by artist Rochelle Haley with choreographers Angela Goh and Ivey Wawn, is a site-specific work which acknowledges the spirituality of the NGA’s  location on one of the axes of Burley Griffin’s Canberra, and its ability to draw in sunlight through strategically-placed windows.

“At the core of the work is a relationship between dancer, sunlight and architecture,” Haley said, “conceived in relation to the architecture of the original National Gallery building, shafts of sunlight streaming through architectural forms provide changing sets for dance over the course of a day.”

Haley told CityNews this morning that she had thoroughly researched Madigan’s architecture and the surrounding controversy.

She said A Sun Dance would also involve a soundscape of subtle percussive effects and intermittent vocalisation by the performers.

Rochelle Haley. Photo: Leanne Mason

She explained that she had what she perceived as natural music in the building too, with the air conditioning ducts resonating to the key of B, and as the light pours in the skylights at midday, other natural sounds may emanate, breath-like, from the building.

Visitors can choose where and when to view the work and are invited to enter and exit the work at will over three cycles marked by morning, midday and afternoon.

Madigan, a significant public intellectual who believed that the gallery’s location and architecture was not just material and space but a philosophic statement of belief and intent, most definitely saw his building as a work of art.

He was best-known for his Canberra masterpieces, the National Gallery of Australia and the High Court, which he designed to embody of the values and ideals of a young nation.

Later, as the building was scorned by some art aficionados who thought there should be more white walls to hang paintings on, some of the original features were covered up. A later director, Brian Kennedy, who descended from an architectural family, took pains to have the original features unveiled and celebrated.

Madigan leapt into the long-standing controversy around the gallery’s front entrance. His original entrance had been thwarted when the National Capital Development Commission suddenly changed its access into a one-way street, so that public was confused as to where the real entrance was. A new front entrance and building was opened in 2010 a year before Madigan’s death in 2011.

A Sun Dance, National Gallery of Australia, February 25. Free, ticketed performance, but bookings are essential here 


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Helen Musa

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