The sound of orchestrated beating on plumbing pipes of various sizes, a mezzo soprano voice soaring above them; a stage setting, lighting changing from blue, to green, to red; dancers in tights and leotards with masks on their faces, gliding across the stage, some slowly revolving with slow Catherine wheels, others on skate type boards, and some, like me, arms reaching out as tentacles, being piggy backed by another dancer.
These memories were triggered by seeing Jack Manuel in an archival news reel clip recently. Jack's contemporary work, 'Once' was performed in 1968 at Monash University’s newly opened Alexander Theatre. Monash modern dance students formed the contemporary corps de ballet of which I was part, with dancers acclaimed in the modern dance community dancing lead roles.
Far removed from my years of classical ballet training, modern dance brought in to play the techniques developed by Martha Graham, techniques based on contraction and then extension. It had no use for the point shoes which had impacted on my feet such that I could not dance on point anymore. How I loved the freedom of dancing in bare feet, of stretching, contracting, responding to music through movement which drew upon natural reflexes and responses.
'Once’ introduced me to an original choreographed modern dance work, contemporary music, contemporary conceptual opera. I remember so vividly being on stage, remember being bemused at the way in which Jack, a former dancer with the Australian Ballet, had embraced modern dance and created this imaginative, futuristic performance, a performance which for me, and I’m sure for many others, was such a paradigm shift.
It was wonderful to see glimpses of Jack again on my large screen television late at night. Just for a moment. I was back at Monash, a member of the Monash Modern Dance Group…
in Martha Graham technique.