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No stopping

by
April 2003, no. 250

Beyond 40: Celebrating 40 years of dreams by Jeff Busby (photographer)

ABC Books, $49.95 hb, 144 pp

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

A Collector's Book of Australian Dance by Michelle Potter

National Library of Australia, $19.95 pb, 120 pp

No stopping

by
April 2003, no. 250

Here are two sumptuously produced keepsakes serving very different purposes. Beyond 40 describes itself as ‘Forty Years of Dreams’, but actually offers one year’s worth of images that the Australian Ballet want to project. A Collector’s Book of Australian Dance, on the other hand, for all its unintoxicating title, comes much closer to being a book of dreamings.

The Australian Ballet’s first home was in Albert Street, East Melbourne. Anyone who remembers the shabby studios of 1962 will also remember how familiar and fitting such studios seemed. Dancers in those days were not used to big spaces, well-sprung floors, or fine pianos to accompany rehearsals or classes. The fact that you worked in dilapidated halls, rattled by traffic, lacking kitchens or first-aid kits, sometimes without even running water, was a sort of proof that you were engaged in Art. But a consequence of the limited conditions was that big performances seldom happened. Forty years ago, men seldom flung themselves into great cartwheeling circuits of the stage, women were not accustomed to swinging their legs up past their ears, or committing themselves to gravity as they plummeted towards a partner’s arms. What might be achieved by young athletes on the stage took time to be recognised, even by the achievers. But, as the Australian Ballet rose into existence out of the aspirations of the Borovansky company, dancers’ belief in themselves – like that of Australians in general – began to alter.

The long postwar conservative reign gave way (with some intermissions) to the governments of Whitlam, Hawke, and Keating; Patrick White took his place among international writers; David Williamson wrote the words that a young Mel Gibson spoke in the film Gallipoli. Even universities gathered self-confidence.

The Australian Ballet archives are well placed to reveal this evolutionary change, the very topic of Valerie Lawson’s excellent introduction to Beyond 40. She sketches the national context that encouraged a new sense of Australian identity in both repertoire and performers. How valuable, therefore, it would have been to have had a pictorial record of the alterations in dancers’ body shapes over these forty years, their changing technical abilities, the new imaginative worlds they were given to inhabit, and so on. Instead, what we get are the pin-ups of 2002: last year’s company members photographed in costumes of yesteryear. No one wears shoes that have ever been danced in; the look of 1963 has been replaced by something much more up-to-date; almost without exception, each plate is laboriously posed, the performers holding a position as if being paid by the hour.

Robin Grove reviews 'Beyond 40: Celebrating 40 years of dreams' by Jeff Busby, and 'A Collector’s Book of Australian Dance' by Michelle Potter

Beyond 40: Celebrating 40 years of dreams

by Jeff Busby (photographer)

ABC Books, $49.95 hb, 144 pp

Book 2 Cover Small (400 x 600)

A Collector's Book of Australian Dance

by Michelle Potter

National Library of Australia, $19.95 pb, 120 pp

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