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eleven: Australia Dances by Allan Brissenden and Keith Glennon

Australia Dances: Creating Australian Dance 1945-1965 by Allan Brissenden and Keith Glennon,
Wakefield Press, 2010
review published 2010 at M/C Reviews

The country’s dance is a totality, and there is still scope for the development of a national perspective to evaluate and more liberal means to foster contributions to the whole, a perspective based on a greater understanding of the values of dance to individual and social life. (Brissenden and Glennon, 2010, p 4)
Dance enthusiasts will find much to explore in this beautifully presented hardcover book with a gazelle-like William Harvey on the cover.  Ostensibly spanning the twenty-year post-World War Two era, Australia Dances provides a strong in-depth portrait of dancers and dance companies from across Australia, and illuminates the layers of creativity leading to this pivotal time in history. Around eighty years ago Louise Lightfoot and Misha Burlakov presented a two-act version of Coppelia, at Sydney’s Savoy Theatre. Their progression from community concerts to amateur and then professional company is a tale of international collaboration and strategic planning. While Miss Lightfoot covered production and costume design, operational concerns posed a constant dilemma; that is, from where to source musical scores, and how to obtain performing rights from overseas publishers. Ensuring availability of a venue posed problems as Miss Lightfoot remarked, “We always had big studios in buildings which were threatened to be pulled down.” (Brissenden, 2010, p.83)
This post-war period abounded with dancers performing, teaching and creating companies; enhancing the dance culture and its development as an artform. Readers can trace the performance histories of dancers, productions and companies, including David Lichine’s The Nutcracker, Ray Powell’s The Lady and the Fool for the Australian Ballet, Robert Helpmann’s Elektra and Joan Halliday’s Theseus and the Minotaur for The Sydney Ballet Group.
While major groups such as the Borovansky Ballet enjoyed successful seasons, dance flourished across Australia, with companies and groups such as The Sydney Ballet Group and Australian Dance Theatre gaining strong reputations internationally.
Australia Dances is richly illustrated in colour and black and white with many photographs never previously published. These images capture dancers in elaborate costumes and intimate poses. Constable’s costume sketches for the 1951 Borovansky production of Petrouchka capture vibrance (p.15). Aboriginal theatre is represented, as are travelling companies including The Arts Council of Australia. While in this period dance received little government subsidy, its productions built upon one another to become recognised at the national level.
Brissenden notes (p.4) that “the relationship (of dance) with ethnology can lead to a greater historical awareness and closer understanding of other peoples.” It is this global understanding which underpins the development of dance in this country.
Brissenden’s coffee-table book is generously indexed as well as being categorized by state, and will be a rich resource for researchers and dance lovers alike.
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This entry was posted on February 28, 2011 by in australian, NF, review.
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