Helpmann Award nominees for 2012

Before his career as an actor, choreographer, director and producer, Robert Helpmann was a dancer. As a student he danced in the company of Anna Pavlova during her tour of Australia in 1926.

Pavlova’s Australian visits in both 1926 and 1929 were the spark that lit the balletomania that enveloped the country in the 1930s with the visiting Ballets Russes companies which preceded the foundation of five Australian companies, the Kirsova Ballet, Borovansky Ballet, West Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet and Australian Ballet.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the annual awards named in honour of Helpmann, so seldom acknowledge the performances of ballet dancers and ballet productions. Why, I wonder, is ballet – so essential in the training of most dancers – so often overlooked in Australian dance awards?

In the last six years, including this year, only two ballet dancers have won Helpmann awards: Danielle Rowe in 2010 for her performance in Dyad 1929 (Rowe is believed to be moving soon from Houston Ballet to Nederlands Dans Theater) and Lana Jones in 2009 for Graeme Murphy’s The Firebird.

The last ballet to win an award was Jírí, an Australian Ballet production, in 2006.

Today, Live Performance Australia announced the four nominees for each category of the 2012 Helpmann Awards and when it came to dance, all categories were dominated by contemporary dance, continuing the trend for many years.

Of all the 2012 Helpmann Awards nominees only two had any connection with classical ballet – Akira Isogawa for best costume design for the Australian Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet, choreographed by Graeme Murphy, and Daryl Brandwood, a leading artist with the West Australian Ballet who was nominated for best dancer for his performance in The Helix Project.

The nominees for Best Ballet or Dance Work are: Aviary: A Suite for the Bird (Phillip Adams BalletLab), MASS (Dancenorth), Can We Talk About This? (DV8), and Anatomy of an Afternoon (Martin del Amo).

Best Choreography in a Dance or Physical Theatre Production: Phillip Adams for Aviary, Danielle Micich for Driving Into Walls, Lloyd Newson for Can We Talk About This? and Stephen Page, for ID from Belong.

Best Male Dancer: Waangenga Blanco (Belong), Daryl Brandwood (Helix), Chen Wen (2 One Another) and Paul White (Anatomy of an Afternoon).

Best Female Dancer: Kirstie McCracken (Double Think), Tara Soh (Proximity), Brooke Stamp (Aviary) and Charmene Yap (2 One Another).

In the Musicals category, the revival of A Chorus Line was nominated six times, but the past year was an odd one for musicals – there were so few of note, especially after previous years dominated by Mary Poppins and Billy Elliot.