Canberra Theatre Thursday 14 June 2018
First a disclaimer: I have worked with ADT founder Elizabeth Cameron Dalman OAM for 10 years.
Thus it is that when I watch ADT dancers perform and think about the choreographies of current and longest standing Artistic Director Garry Stewart, it is with the knowledge and consciousness of the 50 years that have brought the company to this place.
Elizabeth founded ADT in 1965 and it may be difficult for today’s audiences to grasp just how revolutionary it was. It was at once a child of its time, the sixties when traces were being thrown over and new ideas across society and politics being espoused. The tumultuous history of this company makes it remarkable that it is thriving today and especially as it is based in Adelaide in an Australian arts scene that is so determinedly Sydney-centric.
The Beginning of Nature is a stunner. Shall we descend into clichés and say it is a tour de force? (from www.dictionary.com/ ‘a performance or achievement that has been accomplished or managed with great skill. Synonyms: triumph, masterpiece, supreme example, coup, marvellous feat, feather in one’s cap, wonder, sensation, master stroke’)? Yes, let’s.
I sat glued to it, on the edge of my seat for its 80 minutes. There is not a moment when you can take your eyes off it, not a dancer you can stop watching. The thing that struck me most though were the echoes of the work of Elizabeth – from certain stylistic features like the movement of arms, the gathering of stones, the structures built by bodies on the stage to the green A-line costumes worn for most of the show. I can point to works from the past 10 years by Mirramu Dance Company and the historic choreographies of ADT under Elizabeth’s directorship 1965 to 1975 where we will see just these things.
The theme too takes us back to the heart of Elizabeth’s work, firmly seated in the natural world, the need for our respect for it, its primal hold on us as part of a web of all living things.
And there is a wonder in this for me. I feel I am watching blood and history. Not only has Garry Stewart with this beautiful work completed a circle of creative choreography, he and his company have moved us, made us feel – and so much theatre does not.
The story is told in the Indigenous Kaurna language of the Adelaide region and the music seamlessly performed by the Zephyr Quartet and singers Shauntai Batzke, Karen Cummings and Heru Pinkasova.
The Canberra audience on opening night was sadly less than half a theatre. I hope it is full elsewhere as the work deserves wide acclaim – many audience members at this performance were from the dance community, people who know their stuff and know that this company delivers today, as it has for 50 years, something groundbreaking.
Without ADT and the work of its pioneers in opening minds and hearts, we wonder where and if we would be with contemporary dance today.
The Beginning of Nature tours nationally till August 2018. Find ADT at https://www.adt.org.au/
Barbie and Richard attended The Beginning of Nature at their own expense.