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Now and then: a journey in dance


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Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Australian Dance Theatre founder and current artistic director of Mirramu Dance Company, features prominently in L, a collection of dances that celebrate her 50 years of involvement in contemporary dance.

It is impressive that Dalman, now in her 80s, is still choreographing and dancing: in she either dances or is on stage as a presence as she reflects on her youth, achievements, inevitable ageing and the way contemporary dance has evolved over five decades.

In a fitting tribute to the pioneer, and to celebrate ADT’s 50th anniversary, dancers from the company now led by artistic director Garry Stewart opened Saturday’s performance at the Adelaide Festival Centre with excerpts from their successful work Be Your Self. The dancers were dressed simply in white singlets and skirts, but their movement was athletic, energetic and explosive.

Be Your Self begins with a solo dancer, Kimball Wong, moving minimally but with incredible control as a narrator explains the intricate details of which parts of the body are used every time a person moves. We forget how complex we are as beings just as we sometimes take for granted how difficult the movements are that we see dancers perform.

With Brendan Woithe’s soundscape, dancers move to sounds of electricity and machines: they do it beautifully and with precision, confidence and style.

There are numerous occasions in this dance when the coordination of lighting, sound and movement are extraordinary, and the visual explorations of what it is to be human are constantly changing and inspiring. As it begins, a single dancer rounds off the excerpt as a voice states: “We are identified and defined by our one and only body.”

Be Your Self is exhilarating, imaginative and stimulating, and it must have been rewarding for Dalman that her exploratory work 50 years ago paved the way for artists such as Stewart and the current company to explore dance in a new context and for a new audience.

ADT has had its fair share of controversy, including the dismissal of artistic directors and choreographers, but it was Dalman’s vision to create such a company that led to opportunities for world-class choreographers such as Jonathan Taylor, Meryl Tankard and Leigh Warren. Garry Stewart is currently enjoying an exceptional run as artistic director.


Elizabeth Dalman. Photo: Barbie Robinson

Another aspect of Dalman’s legacy is that audiences were introduced to new music or learned to hear the music in everyday sounds. Peter, Paul and Mary may not appear revolutionary now, but their music was novel in dance when Dalman was at the helm.

The audience could have been forgiven for believing it had been transported back in time to the ’60s and ’70s while watching L, because some of the works performed were from that era. While gently exploring social issues, the chosen pieces employed classic dance moves of the time: lots of reaching out, gliding, twirling and soul-searching.

There was plenty of historical interest, with an excerpt from Limousine for Janis, choreographed by Eleo Pomare, which was quite hard-hitting in its day with its graphic depiction of Janis Joplin injecting heroin.

Dance Party and Memories simulated the swinging ’60s, and there were some very fine duets and trios with three generations of women that demonstrated both the vitality of dance and the grace of the dancers.

Tree Spirit, performed by Dalman and Hans David Ahwang, reminded us that just as contemporary dance came about as a fusion of classical dance and modern ideas, companies such as Bangarra were conceived by fusing modern dance and traditional Aboriginal movement.

L was well worth seeing as it presented a mini history of contemporary dance in Adelaide, while acknowledging the incredible contribution Elizabeth Dalman has made to dance in Australia. She has established the conditions for new generations of dancers and choreographers to create dance forms that explore the contemporary world in unique and exciting ways.

Mirramu Dance Company presented one performance only of L at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Dunstan Playhouse. Australian Dance Theatre is currently touring the full version of Be Your Self, with performances at the Barossa Arts & Convention Centre on August 5-6, and at Marion Cultural Centre on August 7.



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