Ballet

DANCING UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKIES BY VALERIE LAWSON

This is a fascinating ,enthralling book extensively researched and vividly written by renowned dance critic and journalist Valerie Lawson . Lawson uses letters, interviews and personal anecdotes from dancers, directors, impresarios , producers, and critics to bring the history and characters alive . The horrendous drain of one night stands on the exhausting long tours ! The backstage scandals and dramas!

With a forward by David McAllister of the Australian Ballet , and a well laid out table of contents , the book while large and heavy is beautifully illustrated and also includes a terrific bibliography and helpful index at the back .

The preface briefly acknowledges the very early history of ballet in Australia but the book really begins with the tours of the famous Anna Pavlova ( with her signature solo ‘The Dying Swan’) in 1926 and then her 1929 tour, where the Taits and JC Williamsons ( ‘The Firm’ ) first feature and we learn how she influenced a young Robert Helpmann. The merits (or lack of) the ballets presented are discussed. Continue reading DANCING UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKIES BY VALERIE LAWSON

ROH Live: ROYAL BALLET MEDUSA TRIPLE BILL

As part of ROH Live screenings , we were privileged to see a most intriguing contemporary triple bill superbly danced by the Royal Ballet – Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Within the Golden Hour ‘, Crystal Pite’s ‘Flight Pattern’ and ‘Medusa’ , a new work by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.Two revivals and a world premiere .

The programme opened with a glorious revival of Wheeldon’s ‘Within the Golden Hour’, created on San Francisco Ballet in 2008 and first performed by the Royal Ballet in 2016. It is abstract yet lush, shimmering and exquisiteLY redesigned with semi transparent golden , floaty costumes by Jasper Conran .

Wheeldon acknowledges he was influenced by Klimt’s ‘golden period’ in creating the ballet , and Australian audiences might think of Kristian Fredrikson ‘s costume designs for Graeme Murphy’s ‘Shéhérazade’ . Peter Mumford’s lighting is splendidly enhancing and atmospheric with most effective use of shadows and silhouettes Ezzio Bosso’s ‘Music for Strings’ throbs and glimmers, blending towards the end to the andante from Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto.

There are seven pairs of dancers who come together in assorted combinations. Wheeldon’s athletic ,challenging choreography is fluid and sinuous and includes difficult high lifts, slithery floorwork and male pas de deux as well as possible references to Latin-American ballroom.

It also requires a long , stretched ‘line’ and big showy jumps at times particularly for the male dancers. The first section for the whole ensemble sees them writhing sculpturally. Then there are assorted pas de deux and other combinations : for example a tender, fragile ,dreamily lyrical pas de deux and a darting dragonfly like female quartet which are contrasted with a coolly elegant and regal pas de deux by another pair of dancers.

Towards the end the dancers cascade off the stage, then return for the final short segment and are still dancing when the curtain falls.

The middle work was the hotly anticipated world premiere of ‘Medusa’ by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui with Natalia Osipova in the eponymous role. While Osipova was sensational , it is perhaps slightly disappointing .This is Cherkaoui’s first commission for the Royal Ballet. The music blends Purcell arias at times ironically commenting on the action with the atmospheric ebbs ,flows and bumps of electronic composer Olga Wojciechowska .

Based on the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses , the ballet tells the story of how Medusa was a beautiful priestess who was dedicated to and served in the temple of the goddess Athena .Medusa was raped by the god Poseidon, and a jealous Athena took revenge by turning Medusa (one of her favourites) into a monstrous creature, a hideous Gorgon with writhing serpents for hair. Anyone who looked Medusa in the face was instantly turned to stone, until Perseus succeeds in killing her which sets free her soul transformed back to beauty.

Osipova tries to depict both sides of Medusa – the stunning priestess, who offers a scarf as a good luck token to Perseus , and the furious Gorgon, with fierce kicks and a basilisk stare. While the ‘snaky’ headdress is rather striking it is not scary rather just looks messy, somewhat of a disappointment .

Cherkaoui’s choreography is eclectic,  blending deconstructed neoclassical ballet and pointe work , street style moves , writhing floor work and capoeira-style kicks with blade sharp feet and deadly neck twists.

Olivia Cowley was coolly elegant as Athena who punishes her acolyte because she can’t punish the god. Ryoichi Hirano in an asymmetric indigo kilt like outfit ( Samurai inspired.? ) and dramatic blue stripe was commanding as Poseidon who calmly observes Athena’s punishment of her priestess. The transformation is achieved behind a huge scarf, (The scarf is a recurring visual motif – we see Medusa with one at her first dance with Perseus, her transformation, and her death).

The soldiers – Perseus et al – are led by tremendous Matthew Ball but hampered by the rather discordant ,unflattering semi transparent boiler suit costumes. Other soldiers wear mesh fencing masks made to look like stone , with plumes resembling Ancient Greek helmets, their faces hidden. Perseus removes his at one point – does Medusa recognise him? Does he recognise her? It is suggested that Medusa lets Perseus kill her so her soul can be free,
The ending is rather enigmatic and inconclusive  with Medusa transformed back to her beautiful self and on the temple steps with her bowl .She is sad and reflective.

Crystal Pite’s ‘Flight Pattern’ is stark and bleak but very moving. The dancers are all in grey costumes and often move in surging , pulsating patterns,  at times like flocks of birds . To Górecki’s haunting Symphony of Sorrowful Songs Pite has produced a work inspired by the world wide refugee crisis , motherhood and loss. It is mostly a huge ensemble work (36 dancers in the cast!) who writhe, leap ,fall, but we occasionally see churning individuals break out from within the group, all harbouring their own sense of loss, destroyed hopes and other back stories. Towards the end we see one couple , Kristen McNally and Marcelino Sambé,, who have already lost their baby.

McNally mourns in anguish. to the lament of Mary on the death of her son (sung by soprano Francesca Chiejina). McNally also has to symbolically bear the weight of everyone’s loss, as represented by the huge, heavy load of coats that end up piled in her arms. Her partner Sambé explodes in a solo of feverish anger.. The black walls of the set open to let the crowd of refugees in, but close to exclude the couple. McNally rocks back and forth, lamenting. Snow is continuing to fall behind the wall and now the refugees no longer have their coats. Have they reached their destination? The ending is inconclusive. A melancholIc, poignant work.

A very thought provoking triple bill full of glorious dance.

Running time just over 3 hours including two intervals.

https://www.eventcinemas.com.au/EventsFestivals/RoyalOperaHouseLiveCinemaSeason20182019#cinemas=64

 

MATTHEW BOURNE’S CLASSIC ‘SWAN LAKE’

 

Now regarded as a classic, this is the third time that Matthew Bourne’s SWAN LAKE for his New Adventures company has been filmed – in this case , it was the revival for the Christmas season last year at Sadler s Wells.

First seen in 1995 , it is still as brilliant, startling and moving as ever. At the time it was revolutionary and cutting edge, a period when an anti virus drug for AIDS had just been discovered and fear was still rampant .From its starkly dramatic opening it is a dark, timeless love story of love, death and rigid control. Oedipal/Freudian undertones can also be read into the narrative .

There have been some slight changes and streamlining for those familiar with the work and Lez Brotherston’s designs. The Girlfriend’s pink dress has been slightly toned down, there are no cars or paparazzi as the VIPS arrive for the ball, there is no ‘young Prince’ to start and end the work, the world weary fan dancer/ stripper at the Bar is now in blue. Continue reading MATTHEW BOURNE’S CLASSIC ‘SWAN LAKE’

PALACE OPERA AND BALLET : CINDERELLA

Hugely spectacular ,with amazing set designs and a giant cast, full of superb dancing ,this is a revival filmed New Years Eve 2018 of the Paris Opera Ballet in Nureyev’s version of CINDERELLA.It is a tribute to the company’s former Artistic Director who would have been celebrating his 80th birthday.

Nureyev’s version uses the lush, intense Prokofiev score – the Orchestre Pasdeloup is dynamically, thoughtfully conducted by Vello Pähn . During the overture there are great closeups of various Orchestra members .

The huge set designs by Petrika Isonsesco are amazing, full of tiny detail. At Cinderella’s home there are grand windows , on the film set a huge King Kong and allusions to Metropolis with the huge cogs of machinery. Plus the ‘ballroom’ scene has a huge staircase for CInderella’s entrance .

In his version Nureyev has transposed the story of Cinderella to the Hollywood of the1920’s or thereabouts with allusions to Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, the Keystone Cops etc.

In this version Cinderella is trapped, a servant in her own home, her father a henpecked drunkard, the place instead being dominated by her autocratic stepmother and bitchy, bullying sisters. She dreams of escape,  of becoming a film star and meeting her handsome prince as word is passed around of an audition for a film and the stepsisters are coached. Continue reading PALACE OPERA AND BALLET : CINDERELLA

THE HEART DANCES

THE HEART DANCES is an intimate look at behind the scenes of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s production of The Piano –inspired by Jane Campion’s 1993 film . Originally a one act ballet, (performed by a German company in 2015 ) in 2018 the Royal New Zealand Ballet commissioned Czech choreographer Jirí and his twin brother production designer Otto Bubenicek and invited them to Wellington in order to extend the work to be full length with just one month to prepare .

Directed by Rebecca Tansley the film looks at the lead up to the work , all the intensive production and rehearsals, auditions and casting selection as well as wardrobe and sound etc all documented from audition to opening night.  A dominant visual theme at the beginning is hanging pointe shoes with dangling ribbons.

What we see is a clash of cultures and misunderstandings -it soon becomes clear to the New Zealanders that the Bubeniceks had more or less not really grasped the deeper layers of the film; that as well as being a love story, it was also a fable of colonisation. It became imperative to teach the twin brothers that the Māori in The Piano are not just there to add colour to the scenery and soundtrack, but are an integral part of the narrative and must be accurately portrayed. Continue reading THE HEART DANCES

AUSTRALIAN BALLET PRESENTS GISELLE @ THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

The Australian Ballet is in glorious form with this revival of GISELLE. It is the much loved Maina Gielgud version, replacing the much anticipated The Happy Prince that has had to be postponed because of Graeme Murphy’s illness.

GISELLE originally premiered in 1841 and is considered one of the great Romantic ballets , telling the story of madness , deceit and betrayal , vengeful spirits and a love that conquers death.

In this beautifully designed version Peter Farmer’s set and costume designs are mostly in russet colours for Act 1 and then an eerie forest glade for Act 2.

The Orchestra under the inspired baton of Simon Thew was in splendid, luxurious form too playing Adam’s haunting score magnificently.

The large corps de ballet was in excellent form , the crisscrossing, interlinking patterns of the various village dances in Act 1 crisply, precisely performed .The peasant pas de deux ( Aya Watanabe and François-Eloi Lavignac) was a great show stopping interlude. In Act 2 the Willis were menacing and dangerous. Continue reading AUSTRALIAN BALLET PRESENTS GISELLE @ THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

AUSTRALIAN BALLET : VERVE @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

A superb triple bill , first performed in Melbourne last year , that showcases the Australian Ballet at its best . The company’s three resident choreographers each present a striking work. All three have been or still are dancers with the company .

First we saw Stephen Bayne’s CONSTANT VARIANTS (2007) using Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. The polished, transparent score is integral to the work and features a ravishing cello solo by Caleb Wong .

Four couples are paired on stage before splitting and reforming in various combinations. All wear dark high cut leotards , the men in sheer dark tops the women in velvety burgundy bodices. Michael Pearce’s set design features oversized segments of picture frames as if at an art gallery, above a rather shadowy lit stage with lighting as devised by Jon Buswell.           Continue reading AUSTRALIAN BALLET : VERVE @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

EILEEN: STORIES FROM THE PHILLIP STREET COURTYARD

 

At 104 Eileen Kramer has led an incredible life, some of which is vividly evoked in this book.

Born in Sydney in 1914, Kramer was an original member of Australia’s first modern dance company, the influential Bodenwieser Ballet, and has lived and danced everywhere from India to Paris, London and New York.

Eileen originally wanted to be an opera singer and studied at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. She came to dance relatively late in life, joining the Bodenwieser Ballet company, Australia’s first professional modern dance company, in 1940.

Sue Healey has produced a short film entitled Eileen about Kramer and she is regarded as a National Treasure by the Arts Health Institute .

Kramer left Australia in the 1950s, performing around the world and meeting contemporary artists who have gone down in history as legends – for example Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. In fact,  Armstrong taught her the twist in Paris!

Having travelled around the world for 60 years. Eileen returned to Australia permanently in 2014 at the age of 99. She wanted to hear the sound of a kookaburra and smell the gum trees again.

This is a relatively small book lavishly illustrated with both black and white photos as well as bold, colourful drawings by Kramer.

The book is divided into thirty four chapters, with an introduction by Tracey Spring. Each chapter is about a specific memory of a person or particular event, mainly spanning the five years of her life as a young woman from 1936 to 1940 when she lived at or near Philip St

It is vividly written one feels as if Kramer is talking directly to the reader. The book is beautifully presented and includes a table of contents at the front, as well as a list of photo credits at the back. Sadly there is no index provided at the back.

The many people written about include Rosaleen Norton, who would go on to become the ‘Witch of Kings Cross’, the learned and rather enigmatic Joan, and the beautiful model, Ann. Life in the area is described , and how the cityscape has changed greatly.( Not to mention her battles with bedbugs).

There is also a marvellous word portrait of her landlady and others as well as the homeless men who inhabited the Domain ( the ‘Domain Dossers ‘ ).As well,  there is a segment on her mother working as a store detective at Farmers.

We learn about Kramer’s private life to a degree and her relationships with three men over time in particular – Dr Richard Want , Darley and painter Rah Fizelle.

Kramer became a professional artist’s model, sitting for Norman Lindsey and other modern painters of Sydney. (A glamorous black and white photo is included ).Eileen’s first boyfriend, Dr Want , was a Freudian psychoanalyst and they would spend their Sundays at the Art Gallery of NSW and Speakers Corner at the Domain.

Many dancers and theatre people from the 1930s and 1940s remember Sydney’s Phillip Street as a place where they lived, including ballerina Tamara Tchinarova Finch who lived in a Phillip Street apartment with her mother when they decided to stay in Australia in 1939 after the tour by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet.

Dance lovers will be tantalised by the mentions towards the end of the book about Kramer’s discovery of and work with Bodenweiser … but there is lots more to be said – perhaps expanded into a second book focusing on that major part of her life ? At 104 Kramer is perhaps the longest-working dancer and choreographer in Australia, if not the globe , still going strong and an enormous inspirational force.

https://www.melbournebooks.com.au/products/eileen

Published by Melbourne Books
www.melbournebooks.com.au
B format 139x210mm Hard cover with cloth quarter bind
206 pages colour illustrations throughout
RRP: AUD$39.95 ISBN: 9781925556391

 

SYDNEY DANCE COMPANY JOINS THE MARDI GRAS PARADE

Sydney Dance Company is thrilled to be participating in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade for the first time on Saturday 2nd March.

Sydney Dance Company’s float, Turning 50, in honour of the Company’s 50th anniversary in 2019, features a high energy, tightly rehearsed dance routine with 80 members of Sydney Dance Company’s community, led by Dance Class Manager Ramon Doringo.

Ramon will lead the synchronised marching troupe from the back of a golden Sydney Dance Company Studio float, complete with ballet bar, mirrors and performing drag divas.

Participants will wear gold costumes designed by Aleisa Jelbart that reference our golden 50th anniversary and will be an explosion of gold glitter pom poms and retro styled dance wear as the troupe perform down Oxford Street to the disco beats of DJ Sveta. Continue reading SYDNEY DANCE COMPANY JOINS THE MARDI GRAS PARADE

THE NUTCRACKER AND I : A SUBLIME AND ENCHANTING EXPERIENCE

 

The Nutcracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu, with ballerina Désirée Ballantyne, animations by Yeast Culture, and choreography by Jenna Lee. Photo by Mark Allen

Blending a piano rendition of Tchaikovky’s romantic melodies with 35,000 digital images and a live ballerina THE NUTCRACKER AND I produces a purely enjoyable and magical creation. Having both a world renowned concert pianist and ballerina performing against constantly changing colourful backgrounds and characters is a sublime and enchanting experience.

The production of THE NUTCRACKER AND I is quite beautiful but an unusual format. Images are projected onto a see-through black gauze screen at the front of the stage. Pianist Alexandra Dariescu and ballerina Désirée Ballantyne are illuminated behind the screen. The images tell the classical Nutcracker story. Snow is falling as the Silberhaus family decorates their Christmas tree. The magician and toymaker Drosselmeyer arrives. Presents are exchanged including a nutcracker. Clara’s dream that night includes the nutcracker fighting with the Mouse King before being transformed into a prince. The familiar story continues with matching images, both static and dynamic, on screen.                                               Continue reading THE NUTCRACKER AND I : A SUBLIME AND ENCHANTING EXPERIENCE

DON QUIXOTE FOR CONCOURSE: AUDITIONING FOR YOUTH DANCERS

This image: Michael Braun with Rebekah Petty Act 3 – Kitri & Basilios Wedding VSB’s Don Quixote pic Michael Lean
Featured image: Don Quixote VSB photo by Michael Lean

DON QUIXOTE  is a spectacular festive and flamboyant ballet from the Victorian State Ballet.  VSB are seeking 28 male and female young dancers aged 10 to 17, to play gypsy dancers, towns children and on pointe dancers for the Dryad scene.

The story is retold through excellent  staging, mime, superb classical ballet skill and choreography, which honours the spirit of this great classical work. A cast of internationally recognized artists will bring to The Concourse the highly skilled ballet technique of original choreography by Petipa, which will be re-staged by the company’s director Michelle Sierra.  Continue reading DON QUIXOTE FOR CONCOURSE: AUDITIONING FOR YOUTH DANCERS