Uneven but often impressive anniversary celebration for dance theatre

Happiness Is ... Canberra Dance Theatre. Artistic director: Jacqui Simmonds. Various choreographers. The Street Theatre, October 12. Season concluded.

Amanda Tutalo in <i>Woman of the River</i>.  Photo: Art Atelier Photography

Amanda Tutalo in Woman of the River.  Photo: Art Atelier Photography

Canberra Dance Theatre, celebrating 40 years of existence with a program called Happiness Is…, has never been a fully-funded, professional dance company. For the past several years its focus has been strongly on community dance, whereas previously there was, it seems to me, more work made using professional artists, especially as performers. The program aimed to show work from the past as well as the present and so was very much a mixed bag of dance.

The works on the program that were made and danced by highly experienced professional artists were, not surprisingly, the strongest and the most choreographically sophisticated.

Elizabeth Cameron Dalman’s Woman of the River, performed by Amanda Tutalo, was an elegant and complex work recalling the time Dalman spent in Italy over a 10-year period in the 1970s and 1980s. On one level we could see in Dalman’s choreography the changing nature of the river that ran through the village in which she lived.

There were movements suggesting tiny ripples and others suggesting larger wave-like elements. From there we could reflect on Dalman’s changing emotions at the time.

Hand again, danced and choreographed by Anca Frankenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer, was another strong work that began simply with the two dancers holding hands. But the movement gathered in complexity and they moved together with beautifully smooth transitions from step to step.

Patrick Harding-Irmer, standing, and Anca Frankenhauer in Hand Again. Photo: Art Atelier Photography

Patrick Harding-Irmer, standing, and Anca Frankenhauer in Hand Again. Photo: Art Atelier Photography

Some movements were quirky, others looked as though they belonged on the ballroom floor. The duet, with its bends, swirls and balanced bodies, held our interest from beginning to end. Frankenhaeuser also performed in what to me was the absolute highlight of the evening—MIST, a duet with violinist and composer Kailin Yong.

Kailin Yong, left,  and Anca Frankenhaeuser in <i>MIST</i>.  Photo: Art Atelier Photography

Kailin Yong, left,  and Anca Frankenhaeuser in MIST.  Photo: Art Atelier Photography

Choreographed by Stephanie Burridge, the longest serving former director of Canberra Dance Theatre, MIST was remarkable for the way in which dancer and musician engaged with each other. Burridge’s solo Fragile also featured on the program.

Of the community work I enjoyed the cheeky burlesque elements of Spice World and Because I Love You, both choreographed by Jazida (Rachel Reid), and Liz Lea’s Annette, also with a bit of showgirl razzle dazzle. Annette was danced by the mature-age dancers of the GOLD company, founded by Lea during her brief period as artistic director of Canberra Dance Theatre.

The work was based on the adventures of swimmer Annette Kellerman and grew out of Lea’s choreographic input into the award-winning Great Sport! of 2016.

Also included were dances choreographed by Carol Brown, Amalia Hordern, Fusako Skelton, and Rachael Hilton and Melissa Lee. The program took its name from the last item on the evening but Happiness is …, choreographed by Emma Saunders, was long and without much choreographic interest. It was an unfortunate choice for the closing number. Nevertheless, Canberra Dance Theatre deserves accolades for having survived for 40 years.