Étoiles From Paris and Stars From Australia: A Dance Preview of the 2012 Lincoln Center Festival

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The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre as The Full Moon and Tides in Stephen Page's Warumuk - in the dark night. Photo by Jeff Busby.

The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre as The Full Moon and Tides in Stephen Page's Warumuk - in the dark night. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Lincoln Center, David H. Koch Theater (unless otherwise noted): June 12 – August 5 (the Lincoln Center Festival begins July 5)

Please see below for schedule.

The Australian Ballet, which tends to tour “overseas” once a year, will come to Lincoln Center first, in June, with Australia’s main indigenous contemporary dance company the Bangarra Dance Theatre (based in Sydney). The Australian Ballet is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year as Australia’s national ballet company. Ballet goes back slightly farther in history in Australia (where old is a relative term, see below) than 1962, the year  Ninette de Valois’ protégé Peggy van Praagh came to Melbourne to be the first artistic director of the new secure national company. The Borovansky Ballet was the main ballet company until 1960, the year Edouard Borovansky died, though many of his dancers and artists came across to the new company. We can look right back to Pavlova’s visit to Australia in the 1920’s, of course her tours inspired so many of the great dancers and choreographers of the twentieth century. Although not part of the Lincoln Center Festival proper which opens officially in July, the Australian Ballet will visit just before. They will bring two programs, one a ballet — Swan Lake — and the other a double bill of contemporary dance.

The Swan Lake will be the Graeme Murphy version which he choreographed with the Australian Ballet in 2002. He started off as a dancer in the company, but soon started choreographing. He creates both ballet with the traditional steps in his own style, as well as contemporary dance, also very much in his own style, and is known for his narrative work, though he dabbles in the more abstract too. He seems to be one of the most popular current Australian choreographers and the Australian Ballet has planned to put on more of his works than any other choreographer this season. I haven’t had a chance to see his Swan Lake but it pulls the story from its original medieval setting, using evening dress costumes, for example.

The other program of modern dance consists of Dyad 1929 by Wayne McGregor and Warumuk — in the dark night by Stephen Page, the latter danced with the Bangarra Dance Theatre. Dyad 1929, first danced a few years ago, refers to the final year of the Ballets Russes, when Serge Diaghilev died. Dedicated by the choreographer to Merce Cunningham, it is more an abstract piece, tending to angular movements, perhaps even modernist in shape and design, from memory. The music is Steve Reich’s Double Sextet. Dancers’ movements, quite unpredictable and original in that way, seem to recall beings besides humans, though they always seem organic. This is accentuated by the geometric design and bright, very even, sometimes almost severe lighting.

Banduk MARIKA Rirratjingu people born Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory 1954 Basil HALL born Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1954 printer, relief Simon WHITE born Hamilton, New Zealand 1969 printer, screenprint Movements: Australia from 1992  Banumbirr 2000 relief; stencil linocut, printed in black ink, from one block, screenprint, printed in grey ink, from one stencil Impression: 16/30 Edition: edition of 30 printed image 26.6 h x 20.2 w cm  © Banduk Marika. Licensed by Viscopy  from http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?View=LRG&IRN=26300

Banumbirr by Banduk MARIKA Rirratjingu people born Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory 1954 (Basil HALL, Simon WHITE, printers), 2000 relief; stencil linocut, printed in black ink, from one block, screenprint, printed in grey ink, from one stencil 26.6 h x 20.2 w cm © Banduk Marika. Licensed by Viscopy. From: http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?View=LRG&IRN=26300

Bangarra Dance Theatre though younger in years than the Australian Ballet, having been founded some 20 years ago, their inspiration and volition to dance goes back much farther, about 40,000 years farther. They are a contemporary dance company and the dancers come from indigenous groups all over Australia and the Torres Strait Islands, so they do not dance the traditional ceremonies per se, but their basic movements do come from those traditional dances and their designs, for example, often use traditional body painting. Warumuk was choreographed this year or late last year by Bangarra’s artistic director since 1991 and chief choreographer, Stephen Page, with music composed by his brother David Page which combines traditional indigenous singing with the traditional western orchestra, a fascinating idea in itself. The piece is a retelling of myths from North East Arnhem Land, where the songs come from, though it is much more impressionistic than a simple retelling, but not without a certain narrative arc. The plot is not so much the main point as a depiction, however intangible in that way that suits the dance so well, of the original and ongoing creation of the universe. It has a sense of wonder and the two companies which share the major and minor roles alike in the piece, dance together seamlessly. It helps to understand the rapport the indigenous cultures have with their land, more than sympathy, but an identification of a person with the land and their ancestors. People, the whole culture, music, dance and art (especially bark painting in Arnhem Land), the “laws” and morality and nature itself with its land, plants and animals and the people it supports are all wrapped up together, even indistinguishable at times. At one level, the laws of many aboriginal clans require what we now have come to prosaically describe as sustainability — for example, they forbid the destruction of old  trees, or require a clan to move before one place’s resources become exploited, sharing necessities of life as needed. It’s more than a list of “thou shalt nots” though. In many areas (one cannot generalize for the whole varied continent) a young aboriginal person who knows their people’s myths can survive and thrive on their clan’s land, land which, especially in the deserts, can appear totally hostile to the ignorant.

Before creating Warumuk, the Pages asked permission of the religious leaders of the clans of North East Arnhem Land who currently “own” the myths and associated ceremonies by a long standing system of inheritance. Painting, music and dance are traditionally unified in the religious ceremonies held regularly for initiations or for the ancestors and the land which those ancestors took part in creating in the Dreaming — not to mean that they dreamt the world into being in any literal sense, but the word is the closest in English to describe the metaphysical state of the universe in creation, of a person before birth, or after death, perhaps a not yet fully conscious universe. The ceremonies themselves and the inextricably linked myths and dreamings are too sacred to perform in front of the general public, and they are well protected, only being performed for the initiated. In the 1970s when indigenous artists started to create for the market to make a living from their painting and ensure the future of their people, the religious leaders, who often were themselves artists as they inherited the Dreamings which are traditionally painted, were careful about what they allowed to spread outside the clan, deciding in some cases to depict reduced children’s stories, or to use veiled symbolism from the most sacred ceremonies to depict them honestly without undermining the very traditions they sought to preserve. Warumuk’s stories are loosely related to the Djang’kawu myth from North East Arnhem Land which relates the original peopling of the continent. Science sketches a story of people from South East Asia coming to Australia during the ice age when a land bridge probably connected Australia to New Guinea, though the journey would have involved some long sea voyages too, in Arnhem Land, the closest part of the continent to Asia, the story is broadly similar, but metaphysical in nature.

The Djang’kawu, a man and his two sisters, set off in their canoe, following dark clouds on the horizon1 (Northern Australia is monsoonal — there is a dry season then the monsoons bring the wet season and the land comes back to life dramatically). They paddle their canoe across the sea, and come across the fish and creatures now found in those parts. The Djang’kawu brother, more apprehensive than his sisters, asks what the creatures are, the sisters answer, naming them and singing a song about them, not unlike Emerson’s Poet:

By virtue of this science the poet is the Namer or Language-maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one its own name and not another’s, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights in detachment or boundary. The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But the poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression or naming is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree. What we call nature is a certain self-regulated motion or change; and nature does all things by her own hands, and does not leave another to baptize her but baptizes herself; and this through the metamorphosis again.2

Wandjuk MARIKA Rirratjingu people Australia 1930 – 1987  The birth of the Djang'kawu children at Yalangbara 1982 the third in a series of five paintings concerned with the Djang'kawu  Collection Title: The Djan'kawu Story Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia Painting, Bark painting, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark 147.5 h x 66.0 w cm  © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency from http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?IRN=100599&View=LRG

Wandjuk MARIKA Rirratjingu people Australia 1930 – 1987 The birth of the Djang'kawu children at Yalangbara 1982 the third in a series of five paintings concerned with the Djang'kawu Collection Title: The Djan'kawu Story Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia Painting, Bark painting, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark 147.5 h x 66.0 w cm © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency. From: http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?IRN=100599&View=LRG

The Djang’kawu also carry the various land animals and birds now found in North East Arnhem Land with them, as well as the important ceremonial objects, all carefully wrapped up. As they approach the mainland just before dawn, the Morning Star, called Barnumbirr in the language, rises to light their way. They land at dawn on the east-facing beach called Yalangbara and the brother thrusts his canoe paddle into the sand. Fresh water bubbles up and the paddle is transformed into a casuarina tree (specifically Casuarina equisetifolia, a tallish tree with rough split bark and pine-like needles for foliage). If you dig into Yalangbara beach now with your hands, even just a short distance from the sea, fresh potable water will fill your hole. One sister then gives birth there to the first people of each of the several clans belonging to North East Arnhem Land. Then they travel overland, following the gray clouds, giving life to the different clans, plants and animals and springs, as well as the laws and morals of the people.

The myth sketched out here was handed down with its related ceremony until this day it rests with the elders of the Marika family, a family of great and prolific artists who are now known and appreciated widely. This spread of their art was necessary: although it took until the 20th century for europeans to work their way to Arnhem Land, by the 1960’s Mawalan 1 Marika, the then religious leader, artist and musician to whom the myth of the Djang’kawu then belonged, saw that mining was destroying his ancestral land. He used his art to show his people’s claim to the land was ancient, his public art, bark paintings of the land and the myth, was often political in the most natural way. He taught his sons and daughters to paint too and got his whole wider family involved. He led protest dances and sent petitions painted on bark to the government demanding recognition of his people’s right to the land. When he got up to give a speech, he would say ‘I, Mawalan Marika, am the direct descendant of the Djang’kawu.’ Though the mines have destroyed many places in Arnhem Land, Mawalan was successful. His people were granted ownership  their own land under Australian law too, which now covers most of Arnhem Land including Yalangbara beach, that sacred beach which the current religious leader, another Marika, has put off limit to the miners who recently had their eye on it for the minerals in its sand.

Warumuk is a kind of night journey through the universe, ending with the Morning Star, and it is also a kind of calendar. There are seven parts: “Evening Star Djurrpun”, “Julpan”, “Milky Way Badurru”, “Full Moon Ngalindi”, “Eclipse Gungama”, “Seven Sisters”, “Morning Star Barnumbirr.”The Morning Star (Venus), as herald of a new beginning, a day which never existed before, is clearly an important symbol in the myth of the Djang’kawu, and it is often a subject in the art of Central and North East Arnhem Land, where it is related to the dramatic seasonal changes which in that part of the world are as great as night to day. The Morning Star is associated with the yam’s flowering, a staple, which occurs from January to March, late in the wet season.3 The innumerable rivers of Arnhem Land swell in the wet season, filling with water and fish. But Warumuk begins with the Evening Star (also Venus) who appears after the sun is gone, marking a different sort of change, a change like the engulfment into the theatre when the house lights dim, similar to Sappho’s poem (the Greeks called the Morning Star Hesperus):

Hesperus, you bring
Homeward all that
Dawn’s light disperses,

Bring home sheep,
Bring home goats,
Bring children home
To their mothers.4

Mawalan 1 MARIKA Rirratjingu people 1908 Australia – 1967  The Milky Way c.1965 natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark 177.5 h x 63.5 w cm  from http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?IRN=193408&View=LRG

Mawalan 1 MARIKA Rirratjingu people 1908 Australia – 1967 The Milky Way c.1965 natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark 177.5 h x 63.5 w cm. From: http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?IRN=193408&View=LRG

The audience has the ancestors’ perspective, looking up from under the ground at the people and the earth and space beyond. The Milky Way is a river along which many characters, people and fish, have been cast as constellations. Julpan or Djulpan is one such constellation, the two elongated groups  of stars depicted in the top left of Mawalan Marika’s Milky Way painting, one round and red, which is feminine, the other triangular and black, which is masculine, the latter, I believe, includes Orion’s “sword” (which of course appears to point upward in the Southern Hemisphere). The Full Moon needs no explanation, but this segment of the dance brings in its tides, as danced by the corps de ballet. Eclipse Gungama has the moon, a man here, dance a duet with the sun, a woman. (Coincidentally, Arnhem land will witness a total eclipse on 14 November this year.) The Seven Sisters are the Pleiades star cluster in the west which the Greeks also thought of as seven sisters.

This is Australian culture — one begins to understand seeing this story danced and painted how the aboriginal cultures have survived unbroken to the present day. There have been many good new-comer artists of european descent since 1788 who have painted Australia sensitively, but are their paintings ever quite as sensitive? One cannot expect the same attachment to the land when their ancestors are not all attached to it too. There is always a bit of a shadow veiling their landscapes, a threat or over severity in them, even with the most sympathetic artists, like Arthur Streeton, Russel Drysdale, Sidney Nolan, many of whom travelled to the remote parts of the continent. Aboriginal artists have excelled in every medium they have touched, painting on canvas, in watercolor, printing in linocuts, textiles, batik, photography and of course modern dance, while retaining seemingly without a seam their most ancient traditional forms.

The Paris Opera Ballet follows in July and are of course well known to New Yorkers, so they hardly need an introduction. They will bring Giselle, the oldest long ballet we have, which also perhaps is too familiar to need introduction, the Adolphe

Adam music too criticized to need much more said about it, except that any flaws just demand all the more convincing playing and dancing, and that the music has become over the centuries so inseparable from the choreography and the story that if it were played as a concert piece on its own, the Wilis would begin to dance in your head so as to salvage it, if it needs salvaging. Should Giselle’s music be recomposed? I don’t think so. The music marries to the choreography, story and designs with remarkable harmony, no more unlikely than two people’s loving together forever. This is especially so when danced by its native company. Giselle is as Western European, as Warumuk is Australian. There is in fact a fascinating story of the Australian Ballet in their early days dancing Giselle on tour in New Guinea, where the audience of native New Guineans took to it, at least the second act, instantly and familiarly.

The Paris Opera Ballet dance Giselle. Photo: Ballet de L'Opéra de Paris.

The Paris Opera Ballet dance Giselle. Photo: Ballet de L'Opéra de Paris.

The Paris Opera Ballet will also perform Pina Bausch’s Orpheus and Eurydice, another piece in the interesting and difficult genre of dance with singing. It is a wonderful gift to have so many very serious and intense ballets and dances about life, death and procreation all in one summer. Bridging opera and ballet, though the gap is often overstated, is no easy task, perhaps more difficult than most adaptations in art and seems to take the most imaginative choreographers and dancers to pull it off.

Pina Bausch's Orpheus and Eurydice. Photo: Ballet de L'Opéra de Paris.

Pina Bausch's Orpheus and Eurydice. Photo: Ballet de L'Opéra de Paris.

A third program is a triple bill of 20th century french ballets: Serge Lifar’s 1943 Suite en Blanc which has no plot but various sections with different combinations and permutations of soloists and corps de ballet with all dancers wearing white tutus or tights, Roland Petit’s 1974 L’Arlésienne with music by Bizet, and Maurice Bejart’s Boléro originally choreographed in 1961 with the music by Maurice Ravel who originally composed it at Ida Rubinstein’s instigation.

From Roland Petit's L'Arlésienne. Photo: Ballet de L'Opéra de Paris.

From Roland Petit's L'Arlésienne. Photo: Ballet de L'Opéra de Paris.

You may also be interested in these articles on our sister site the Berkshire Review, an international journal for the arts:

A review of Warumuk: Three New Ballets to Open the Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary in Sydney

More on the Australian Ballet: The Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Season – 2012 Season Preview and Schedule, David McAllister, Artistic Director

Preview of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (June to August): Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Turns 80: Preview and Schedule for the 2012 Festival

 

 

Schedule:

 

The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre
June 12 and 13 at 8 PM
Dyad 1929
Choreography – Wayne McGregor
Music – Steve Reich’s (Double Sextet)
Costume design – Moritz Junge
Stage concept – Wayne McGregor and Lucy Carter
Lighting design – Lucy Carter

Warumuk in the dark night
with Bangarra Dance Theatre
Choreographer – Stephen Page
Music – David Page, orchestrated by Jessica Wells, featuring Dhuwa and Yirritja songs and stories from North East Arnhem Land
vocals by Jamie Wanambi, Banula Marika and Janet Guypunguna Munyarryun
Costume design – Jennifer Irwin
Set design – Jacob Nash
Lighting Design – Padraig O Suilleabhain
Sound design – Bob Scott

June 15 at 8 PM, June 16 at 2 PM and 8 PM, June 17 at 3 PM
Swan Lake
Choreography – Graeme Murphy
Creative associate – Janet Vernon
Music – Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Set and costume design – Kristian Fredrikson
Concept – Graeme Murphy, Janet Vernon and Kristian Fredrikson
Lighting design – Damien Cooper

 

Le Ballet de L’Opéra de Paris
July 11 and July 12 at 8 PM and July 15 at 3 PM
“20th Century Masters”
Suite en Blanc
Choreography – Serge Lifar
Music – Edouard Lalo
Stage Design – Dignimant

L’Arlésienne
Choreography – Serge Lifar
Music – George Bizet
Livret – Roland Petit after A. Daudet
Décor – R Allio
Costumes – Ch.Laurent

Boléro
Choreography – Maurice Béjart
Music – Maurice Ravel
Décor and Costumes – Maurice Béjart

Fri, July 13 at 8 PM, July 14 at 2 PM, July 14, 17, 18 and 19 at 8 PM 
Giselle
Choreography – Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot
Music – Adolphe Adam

July 20 and 21 at 8 PM and July 22 at 3 PM
Orpheus and Eurydice
Choreography and staging – Pina Bausch
Music – Christoph Willibald Gluck
Sets, costumes, and lighting – Rolf Borzik
with the Balthasar – Neumann Ensemble und Chor
Orpheus (singer) – Maria Riccarda Wesseling
Eurydice (singer) – Yun Jung Choi
Amore (singer) – Zoe Nicolaidou

 

July 25 and 27 at 7.30 PM
TAO Dance Theater
Alice Tully Hall, Starr Theater
2
Choreography – Tao Ye
danced to recorded conversation
4
Choreography – Tao Ye

 

  1. Paraphrased from Mawalan Marika’s telling in Yalangbara: art of the Djang’kawu. Produced in partnership with Banduk Marika and other members of the Rirratjingu clan, north-east Arnhem Land ; edited by Margie West. Charles Darwin University Press, 2008.
  2. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, Second Series, I. The Poet.
  3.  Willy Caruana, Aboriginal Art, Thames and Hudson’s World of Art, 1993.
  4.  Translation by Willis Barnstone (Sappho, Lyrics in the Original Greek, with translations by Willis Barnstone, Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1965).

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts, an International Journal for the Arts and The Berkshire Review, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.