July dances to Adelaide’s beat

The eyes of the dance world will be on Adelaide this month when the city hosts the second staging of the international dance congress (Panpapanpalya) as well as the inaugural Adelaide Dance Festival.

More than 800 dancers, academics and others associated with dance will be converging on the city for Panpapanpalya, the second joint congress of ‘dance and the Child international’ (daCi) and the World Dance Alliance (WDA). Convenor Dr Jeff Meiners, University of South Australia’s arts education lecturer, put in a bid for Adelaide at the first joint congress in 2012, at the Taiwan National University for the Arts.

Since then, Meiners has been working with a “fantastic group of organising committee people” who have been “working on this project for almost two years to make it happen here”. It’s somewhat like an academic conference, but with an enormous amount of performance. There will be a lot of cross-fertilisation, with people giving papers, as well as holding workshops and performing.

There’s a satisfying amount of indigenous dance — from Canada, New Zealand, Uganda, Taiwan, Korea, and Australia. The Congress’s name, Panpapanpalya, is a Kaurna term for getting together.

“This is about respecting the foundations of dance from thousands of years ago; we want to honour and respect that,” Meiners says. “There are at least 26 different countries involved. It’s pretty diverse — we’ve got people from India, Scandinavia, across America and Canada, the Pacific islands, Japan, China, South Africa, the Ivory Coast and elsewhere. And it’s not just for dancers and others associated with dance — it’s for the general public too. Day tickets are available. We have to make the show run, and are dependent on registrations.”

The four keynote speakers will be well worth hearing — David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, Robyn Archer, a speaker shared with the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, educator Katie Dawson from the University of Texas at Austin, and founder of Restless Dance Theatre, Sally Chance, some of whose work with babies and their carers — her current interest — will be performed. Workshops will be held every morning, followed by panel sessions, the presentation of scholarly papers, demonstrations, and some 80 performances, centred on the Adelaide College of the Arts in Light Square. The Congress is being hosted by the University of South Australia’s City West campus, with the ACA just around the corner and LWD Dance Hub right next door.

A congress of this kind couldn’t be put on without massive assistance. The budget comes to over $520,000, but the financial benefit to the state is estimated at more than $1 million. Meiners is grateful to Arts South Australia, the Adelaide City Council, several corporate and individual sponsors, and particularly to volunteers. Members of Ausdance (the Australian Dance Council) have put a great deal into helping through its federal office and the local branch, despite having lost its government funding (most shamefully — funding must be restored).

This World Congress coincides with the first Adelaide Dance Festival (Sunday, July 8 to Saturday, July 21), with delegates given discounts to several performances, including the Australian Ballet and Australian Dance Theatre.

The idea for an Adelaide Dance Festival has been brewing in the fertile brain of Australian Dance Theatre’s artistic director Garry Stewart for several years, and with Panpapanpalya director Meiners an ADT board member, proved to be an ideal time to organise it, when so many dance people from so many parts of the world would be in Adelaide. Stewart observed local dancers and choreographers seeking artistic opportunities elsewhere, and felt they lacked a central focus, so last year he called several together to discuss the feasibility of mounting a festival. As well, with ADT’s move from Hawthorn to the Odeon in Norwood, he was going to set up a Choreographic Centre which would attract overseas as well as local dancemakers.

ADT’S The Beginning of Nature (Photo: Chris Herzfeld)

The results are impressive. The Australian Ballet is in town with The Sleeping Beauty, Townsville’s Dancenorth are bringing Rainbow Vomit, where “much more than colour erupts from darkness” and audiences watch the performance through a pair of “fireworks glasses”, which refract light. Alison Currie’s brief work, Creatures, will be at the Samstag Museum of Art; Lina Limosani is collaborating with Scottish Al Seed in another new work, The Spinners; and ADT will see the Adelaide premiere of the complete The Beginning of Nature, Stewart’s work that has had a long development, and held its first, acclaimed, performance in Bogotá, Colombia.

The South Australian Museum is teaming up with ADT for The Cubic Museum, building a glass cube within the museum for the dancers’ performance. Flow is a program of dance films in the Mercury, there are discussions, show talks and several masterclasses and workshops. The Freestyle Session is an attention-grabber, as it’s the Australian qualifying event for the world breaking finals in Los Angeles later this year.

ADT performed the first, 50-minute, version of The Beginning of Nature at WOMADelaide in 2016. It came from Stewart’s reading The End of Nature (1989) by Bill McKibben, an early book on global warming, which argued that where once nature was independent of humans, it is now influenced by our actions. Stewart’s title is a play on McKibben’s. The work has a “quartet onstage, singing in Kaurna, which is a really special dimension of the project”, Stewart says.

ADT’s Garry Stewart

“We’ve been shepherded through the process by Jack Buckskin, who is a really fantastic young Kaurna man and cultural leader for Kaurna culture and tradition and heritage and has made the monumental effort of teaching himself Kaurna … We had a workshop, which was really great, as part of the project was to expose people to Kaurna so that they might take some kind of interest in it.”

But, Stewart says, primarily the work looks at rhythms in nature, “such as the tides, and day and night, the seasons, sleeping and waking, rhythms within the body, flocking and swarming, and morphological patterns — so we live in this complex symphony of overlapping patterns. I got very curious about that, which led to Devolution [2006], colliding the ecosystems of machines with ecosystems of the human body”. He then wanted “to show how we are complicit with — a part of — nature itself”. And it is only now that we are getting on to existential problems such as plastic waste in the oceans, though such problems have been there for many, many years.

From the fairyland of The Sleeping Beauty to the social consciousness of The Beginning of Nature, the first Adelaide Dance Festival will offer plenty of entertainment and intellectual challenge.

Panpapanpalya
Sunday, July 8 to Friday, July 13
jointdancecongress2018.com

Adelaide Dance Festival
Sunday, July 8 to Saturday, 21
adelaidedancefestival.com

Header image: ADT’S The Beginning of Nature (Photo: Chris Herzfeld)

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