University of Adelaide lecturer, Maggie Tonkin, provides a well-researched and thorough history of Australia’s longest, continuously-running dance theatre company.
The Australian Dance Theatre was established by socialite Elizabeth Cameron Dalman in 1965, first performing in Elizabeth’s Shedley Theatre as an amateur company with a focus on both modern and classical dance. It has since evolved into one of Australia’s premier modern dance companies and our country’s leading dance export.
In 2015, the company celebrated 50 years in the business, and Tonkin celebrates by exploring and exposing the company’s history from the point of view of all eight artistic directors, from Dalman’s founding 11-year reign through to the company’s most recent visionaries, including Leigh Warren (1987-1992), Meryl Tankard (1993-1999) and current director, Garry Stewart.
While each chapter recounts the history of each artistic director’s tenure with prose, interviews, and photographs, Dalman contributes her own chapter, recounting her years of establishing and fighting for the existence of a modern dance company in Adelaide. The photos are mostly black and white, with just a splash of colour here and there until the focus reaches modern times. Numerous photographers have donated their images for this retrospective.
The stark white cover with a simple, black and white cut-out image lays the scene for the book’s design, as does the transparent jacket cover which offers just a splash of gold wording in the black and white theme. It’s classy and will look good on a shelf, but the vibrancy of modern dance loses much of its excitement when relegated to a collection of so many colourless performance photos.
Fifty is about history and there is a lot of text to read. The photos are there to support the text rather than this being a pictorial history. Even so, the most exciting images come within the examination of Garry Stewart’s era so far. The colourful photos capture the vibrancy, not just the movement, and the stage shots are interspersed with promotional images, offering greater variety.
Lovers of modern dance and, in fact, anyone involved in the Arts should find Fifty to be an interesting and loving insight into the birth and continuation of one of our great dance companies. It’s well worth the read and inspires us to hope the ADT will continue for another 50 years or more.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 8
Distributed by: Wakefield Press
Release Date: March 2017
RRP: $75 hardcover