October 04, 1997

Barossa Seulle


Barossa Seulle

Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre prepares a new work for the Barossa Music Festival.

It is mid-morning on a Wednesday and Meryl Tankard steps out of rehearsal to talk about Seulle, a new work being developed especially for the Barossa Music Festival. Dressed in black leotard, she towels her thick, dark hair and makes a beeline to the spring water dispenser for a cupful.

These Barossa gigs are particular labours of love for Tankard and her much travelled Australian Dance Theatre. Songs with Mara , which played to enthusiastic audiences in Germany and Belgium earlier this year, had one of its first performances amongst the wine barrels at Peter Lehmann’s winery in Tanunda.

And in 1995 Tankard’s ADT pulled off one of the coups of the festival that year when, with some timely extra patronage from Adam Wynn from Mountadam Wines, the Balanescu Quartet flew out to perform Possessed, a dance work based around Alexander Balanescu and Clare Connors’ 1992 CD of the same name. In his fedora hat and baggy gray suit, Balanescu led his quartet through their vibrant paces as they not only performed his and Connors’ own compositions but probed a cluster of such master Kraftwerks as Models, Robots and Pocket Calculator.

The current project is probably what you would call found art. When the Tankard troupe was on tour in Germany back in April they performed in Velbert, a small town near Wuppertal. The local representative from the Department of Culture showed them through the theatre. In fact, Regis Lansac, Tankard’s partner and design collaborator, had been driving around with him all day.
“He was singing all the time,” recalls Lansac. “Opera. Everything. Samson et Dalila. Handel, Mozart. I went back to Meryl and said-“You have to hear Otto.'”

Although his father is German, Otto Thiel was born and grew up in Guatemala. And when he isn’t working as cultural liaison officer for Velbert, he performs recitals for voice and harp which have taken him as far afield as the Washington Opera- for Aida – and now, Tanunda in the Barossa Valley.

A small intense man in his late thirties, Thiel’s singular talents have captivated Tankard. Armed only with a rough audio tape until he arrives nine days before opening, she is putting together a work based around a string of arias he will perform accompanied by harp and piano. I get a quick preview from a portable stereo in the ADT company offices. The tone is rich and very pure. It also has a tensile strength to it. But you would never think it was a male voice.

“It’s not like a counter-tenor, ” observes Tankard, “He’s actually like a soprano, it’s so weird. He sings all the female arias not the counter-tenor pieces from Handel for instance. Originally he was going to work with Richard Gill who was planning to adapt songs from Carmina Burana. But it fell through because Richard didn’t have time and it was turning into a really big project. It was going to be called Fortuna but then it got changed to Seulle- a word we saw on an early tapestry.”

So Seulle it became. From the Old French and meaning the same as the new French- seule. Alone, solo, on one’s tod. Except that, while Otto will be doing the voice and the harp, Tankard’s choreography will also feature six women dancers wearing costumes designed by Vanessa Leyonhjelm. The dresses will be white sculptured numbers which Tankard describes as looking a bit like something out of Peter Greenaway. And Regis Lansac has put together an arsenal of slide projections for the triple screens which augment the performance.

This year Peter Lehmann has built a new shed for the event. The Stonewell Theatre will seat five hundred but there will still be room for barrels. It wouldn’t be an ADT Barossa work without plenty of oak. “We should find out what wine we’re sitting in, ” muses Meryl Tankard, “I hope it’s a shiraz.”

Seulle, featuring the Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre with Otto Thiel. Opens tonight . 6.00 pm at the Stonewell Theatre, Peter Lehmann Winery, Tanunda. Also 5 Oct at 7.00 pm and 6 Oct at noon. Enquiries (08) 85 630 366.

Weekend FIN Review, October 4, 1997.

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