Conceived by Festival Director, Lindy Hume, the If These Halls Could Talk project is a celebration of the role of community halls in our society. Each of the ten halls has been matched with a Tasmanian artist or team. Last week, Tasdance’s residency at the Rowella Community Hall (40 Minutes north of Launceston) culminated in the collaborative performance of Where Do We Start?
In the second dance work in the series, Mature Artists Dance Experience, MADE, takes us back to a time when the Sorell Memorial Hall would have been the social centre of what was then a small country town 20 mins from Hobart.
Belvedere Ballroom is the outcome of several alignments.
‘Many of MADE’s past works are examples of a long relationship with subject matter that reflects past times and sensibilities. Belvedere Ballroom certainly falls into this category…’
While not always the case, many of MADE’s past works are examples of a long relationship with subject matter that reflects past times and sensibilities. Belvedere Ballroom certainly falls into this category, focusing on the activities inside one of the most popular ballrooms in central Hobart from the 1930s to the 1960s, where many of the MADE ensemble’s parents may well have met.
Although the ballroom was eventually demolished to make way for a multi-storey car park, it is where choreographer Stephanie Burridge’s parents courted and where her mother Mavis saw out the war years with her female friends. However, with Tasmanian born Burridge residing in Singapore, the long distance construction of this tribute required a lot of trust and good internet access.
Developed in three sections, Burridge worked closely with Rehearsal Director, Felicity Bott, and the ensemble, via Zoom, using existing material and clear creative tasks. Within these constraints, the ensemble developed transitions and used local knowledge to ensure the atmosphere of the Belvedere was replicated.
Entering the space in evening coats, fur capes and coiffed hair, each performer is an individual. Six perch on equally individual chairs while another six face up stage describing various memories with their hands; some gestures are clear and others more personal. The cast of twelve impeccably dressed women, gently cross their ankles, clasp hands, and turn their heads. Soft steps and caring friendships prevail despite the cheeky disturbances of Chrissie Bell’s character.
Women dancing in pairs, and gliding the floor without partners, references the strong dance protocols that would endure the absence of men. A suitcase stuffed full of fashion items from another world offers promise, while the framed image of a soldier is the source of reflection. Perched on a bar stool, Laura Della Pasqua is resplendent in her transition to vogue-inspired glamour. Bell and the stylishly slick Shirley Gibson perform the most complex duo, eventually joined by a full dance floor of couples twirling to the Nat King Cole classic Stardust.
Cole’s Smile is then interpreted by each dancer in Auslan in a very intimate performance directed to the audience. A nod to Pina Bausch’s The Man I Love perhaps, but then clearly reinforced by the next dance actually performed to that Ella Fitzgerald’s classic, interspersed with Jan Colville’s poems
The memories of love roll on through the delivery of exotic gifts from Singapore contrasted with the reality of a diet of sausages and mash. As dancers fade to the darker edges of the room, voice overs accompany projections from family photo albums, and tales of eccentric dance habits distract from the reality of the many dance partners who did not make it home. An air raid siren pierces the hall and the dancers duck for cover, but the buzz quickly returns with an ensemble piece to Irving Berlin’s Lets Face the Music and Dance.
‘Belvedere Ballroom is a gentle work clearly popular with the local audience…’
Gestural phrases, placed between simple partner dances, dominate the vocabulary of this work and some of the most interesting sections are in the ‘breaks’ from the dances. Ceremonially donning aprons and distributing morsels from tiered cake stands, the rituals of an evening at the ballroom are celebrated before the dancers drift to evening’s end in a dreamy waltz.
Belvedere Ballroom is a gentle work clearly popular with the local audience, some of whom have participated in ballroom dance classes run by Gibson over the past month. There is nothing controversial to see here and if anything, Burridge and the ensemble could be accused of sugar coating the reality of life for women in the forties with sparkles and fun, but perhaps that is the point of this work. Ballrooms like the Belvedere were places where ordinary people could go to live their dreams… and to dance. In that the MADE- Burridge partnership is a success, and the Halls project has given them an ideal venue.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
If These Halls Could Talk: Belvedere Ballroom
Ten Days on the Island 2021
Mature Artists Dance Experience (MADE)
Choreographer: Stephanie Burridge (based in Singapore)
Sorell Memorial Hall, TAS
20-21 March 2021