Tuesday, June 17, 2008

2008 Australian Dance Awards Gala Presentation

I confess... I've never really got the Australian Dance Awards, even in the couple of years when I was voting. I sensed that the Victorian office of Ausdance didn't much like the fact that I'd vote for shows I'd seen in other states... it was as if I was being disloyal somehow.

The awards originated in New South Wales. It's only fairly recently that they've gone national. And now, after a dozen years, they really have gone national. Or at least they've started to venture beyond NSW. This year the presentation gala was in Melbourne.

Doesn't this pic, like, make you wanna stay at home?

And, impressively, the 2000-seat State Theatre was packed out. (The scheduling of a couple of TV dance hunks meant that the top tier could be opened up and packed out with twenty buck punters.)

My mistake was assuming that the principal function of the Australian Dance Awards was to give out awards. (Silly me!) But the gongs are almost an afterthought. The gala's the thing. The handful (well, two hands full) of awards are but punctuation.

Which makes the bizarreness of one or two of the awards kinda quirky and sweet. (Outstanding Performance in a Stage Musical -- given, this year, to the highly bemused Hugh Jackman -- takes the proverbial pavlova!)

Happily, the first Melbourne gala had none of the community and non-professional dance that used to get a run (and a jump) in Sydney in the not-too-distant past. The spread of performances this year was catholic, to say the least. A solo from Billy Elliot, some breakneck breakdancing from hip hop's answer to *NSYNC [gosh I'm a bitch!] WickidForce, some (terrific) ballet, indigenious and avant garde dance and physical theatre (including a rare glimpse of Dancenorth) as well as the "so you think this is dance" pizzazz.

After close to 25 years with the Green Room Awards, mostly with the dance panel, it's rare for me to be on the other side of an awards presentation. And, to my surprise, I wasn't especially caught up with the justice of who actually won what. (Even when Honour Bound won yet another gong!) (And Paul White won for Honour Bound not his far superior performance in Construct.)

It's difficult to convey the real sense of celebration during and after the gala on Sunday night. Twenty or so years ago, it would have been almost unthinkable that the lion would lie with the lamb. The ballet world was utterly dominant and utterly and venomously contemptuous of the non-ballet world. Think Hutus and Tutsis.

The threat certainly wasn't coming from ticket sales! Non-ballet dance didn't rate a blip compared with the trad form. I suspect it was about a perceived lack of discipline. Or, more precisely, a dangerous willingness to intellectualise, to think freely, to challenge authority and so on. To answer back!

I hear that Beth Shelton, former co-artistic director of Dance Works said some very generous things about me on the weekend at a symposium; that, in the 80s, I was one of the good guys.

I joked that she must have a very selective memory. My recollection is that I was part of the problem -- not part of the solution -- until the early 1990s. Then again, perhaps Shelton's comments say more about the contemporary dance scene of the day... they were so brutalised by the mainstream press that I was seen as somewhat less of a bully!

Anyway, it's fair to say that the dance, today, is extraordinarily vibrant and extraordinarily varied. More importantly, it's no longer a case of 'us' and 'them'. A great deal of the mistrust and unease has gone. Truth and reconciliation... an' all that jazz ballet.

Ausdance, nationally, has been a terrifically valuable advocate. It's also served as a mediator. The Australia Council's commitment to touring works by smaller companies has been enormously valuable. Green Mill, the festival of choreography and dance played its part too in the early-to-mid 1990s. And the dance school of the Victorian College of the Arts -- currently celebrating its 30th birthday -- has had an inestimable impact on contemporary dance in Australia.

One of the most memorable part of the night -- aside from Michael Veitch's repeated and increasingly unfunny missed cues -- was the Mister Magoo stage sweeper who surreptitiously cleaned up between sections while an award was given. (See what I mean about punctuation?) He aimed straight for the front of the podium to mop up a pesky bit of tree... which had been left there as part of the welcome to country ceremony.

The audience went nuts. With headphones on, Mister Magoo blithely ignored shouts until advised, one assumes, by the stage managed to return the branch. Which he did with a thrust of his sweeper. As if to say: you can have your bloody rubbish back.

Perversely, this reminds me of the time when Winsome McCaughey -- then Lord Mayor -- dropped the M word in front of a bunch of hardcore thesps at a Green Room Awards presentation in the late eighties. She found herself swept out of the pavilion -- like a threatened US President -- spun around, asked to spit and swear and beg for readmittance... only to do the bloody same thing again! Asked to curse, she came up with out out damned spot... quoting Macbeth, fer fux sake.

And, speaking about audience horror, the most appalling example I can think of was the time at a film festival when a precious old reel of film jammed in the gate of the projector at the Forum Theatre and then melted into a sickening mess. It had an extraordinarily visceral effect on the film buffs.

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Blogger Black Rainbow said...

I initially read "Hutus and Tutus."

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG, that's soooo funny! (If I hadn't been so obsessed with gettin' the spelling right, it might have occurred to me!) (And I might have got Magoo right first time around.)


5:26 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Ha. and sorry about the Black Rainbow bit. Been playing silly buggers with names.

1:39 PM  

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