The opening of a major exhibition of works by James Drinkwater at the Drill Hall Gallery provided the opportunity for Canberrans to experience excerpts from a dance work commissioned by Drinkwater to celebrate fellow-artist, William Dobell’s association with Lake Macquarie.
Drinkwater himself draws inspiration from ballet as an art form and began taking lessons in 2013 to extend his practice both pictorially and lyrically. His experience with dance has influenced his iconography and use of colour for almost a decade, beginning with his early body of work The Boy and the Ballet.
For Storm Approaching Wangi and other Desires, commissioned for the 2023 Lake Macquarie Dobell Festival, Drinkwater embraced the ethos of the Ballets Russes, famous for its collaborations with composers Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel and artists Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky.
He designed the set and costumes himself and commissioned Victorian composer, Joseph Franklin, to compose an original score. Choreographers, Belle Beasley and Skip Willcox collaborated to choreograph the ballet in the neo-classical style favoured by the Ballets Russes and later by George Balanchine.
The excerpts performed at the Drill Hall Gallery were presented sans Drinkwater’s settings but with the four dancers, Alexander Abbot, Nicholas Jachno, Cassidy McDermott-Smith and Mitchell Christie wearing Drinkwater’s striking costumes, and surrounded by his towering impressionistic art works.
Joseph Franklin’s atmospheric score was performed by an excellent quartet comprising the composer himself on piano, together with Ollie McGill (keyboard), Sam Gill (Saxophone) and Cloe Kim (percussion).
The work began with the dancers entering one at a time to gaze intently at the art works. Thereafter, they joined hands, broke away, grouped to form sculptural shapes, executed sharp jerking movements, hugged each other and sometimes and performed impressive athletic movements; all with an air of intense seriousness,
Though it was fascinating to watch these movements, and appreciate the skill of the dancers performing the carefully reconstituted neo-classical choreography in a style rarely seen now, but beloved of dance satirists and familiar from the photographs of photographers of the ilk of Baron and George Platt Lynes; without setting and context, it was not immediately obvious how the choreography related to the life of William Dobell, his Wangi Wangi home or Lake Macquarie.
However, the joyful fascination created by sharing a rare and unique experience created by Drinkwater and his talented collaborators, surrounded by his stunning artworks in the rarefied ambience of the Drill Hall Gallery has satisfied a long held curiosity about what it would be like to attend such an event in one of New York’s most hip galleries.
Storm Approaching Wangi and Other Desires
Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, Canberra
Performance: Saturday 24 June 2023
Image: Storm Approaching Wangi and other Desires – photo by Ben Adams
Review: Bill Stephens OAM