Entertainment

Review
Save
Print
License article

Moving body of work

2013 Australian Dance Awards

August 5, 730pm, The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre

Canberra Ticketing: 02 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au

Ronne Arnold, charismatic dancer, choreographer, actor and teacher, is the latest recipient of the prestigious lifetime achievement award, presented each year at the Australian Dance Awards. The award honours the achievements of an outstanding senior figure in the Australian dance community, who has dedicated at least 40 years to dance as a performer, choreographer, advocate, educator, administrator or visionary.

Born in Philadelphia - he's not sure of the year; it could be 1938 or even 1939 he says - Arnold was nurtured by his family, including six older sisters, in the traditions of jazz and by his first dance teacher, Nadia Chilkovsky, in the heritage of American modern dance.

After performing and studying in Philadelphia and New York, he came to Australia in 1960 with the touring cast of West Side Story. He arrived on a six-month contract and fully intended to return to the US. But at the end of the run of West Side Story, he was offered a job in the Garnett H. Carroll production of The Most Happy Fella and stayed a bit longer. A bit longer turned into years, and then decades.

Advertisement

Arnold went on to teach jazz and modern dance. His classes were conducted with a tambourine as rhythmic accompaniment. But the tambourine was minus its ''jingles'' so the beat was more like that of a drum. His teaching was inspirational. Arnold asked for huge, space-expanding movements and his classes were quite unlike what most Australian dance students had experienced before.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Arnold choreographed the dance sequences for shows at Sydney's famous nightclub, Chequers. At that time, international cabaret acts at Chequers included Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Sammy Davis jnr, Liza Minnelli and Shirley Bassey.

Arnold founded the Contemporary Dance Company of Australia in 1967 and was its artistic director until the company's demise in 1972. The repertoire was choreographed almost exclusively by Arnold and programs often finished with ''spirituals'', a collection of dances made to Negro spirituals, of which the crowd favourite was perhaps He's Got the Whole World in his Hands.

Slowly Arnold's choreography began taking on an Australian flavour. He made Bittersweet about Australian male and female relations, and Platform based on observations made at the Sydney Domain with its lively political spruikers.

His teaching activities eventually came to encompass commitments at the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA College) in Sydney. He was academic course director at the organisation from 1986 until 2003. Although Arnold had first become aware of Australia's indigenous communities as a result of meeting political activist Bob Maza, once he began teaching at NAISDA he became fascinated by the visits of elders from indigenous communities.

His interest resulted in a master's degree from Sydney University, where he undertook a comparative study of American black jazz dance and Australian aboriginal dance. Since then, Arnold has been teaching in Sydney at the Wesley Institute.

Performer, choreographer, advocate, educator, administrator and visionary, Arnold will receive his award on August 5 in Canberra.