Balletomanes will love this book . It is intimately , warmly written .It is divided into twenty five chapters with a Forward , Introduction , Conclusion, Author’s Note , a glossary of ballet terms , end notes and an index .Photos are spaced in three sections throughout the book. It is co written with Sarah Crompton , one of Britain’s most respected writers and broadcasters.
This compelling book considers Benjamin’s life from 1964 and her first dance classes at the age of three, to 2020 when it was completed . Like Mary McKendry (now Mary Li , married to Li Cunxin of the Queensland Ballet) and Sydney Dance alumni Nina Veretkinova , Leanne Benjamin comes from Rockhampton in Queensland . Her hard working Catholic family has a close, loving relationship with supportive parents . At 16, she followed her sister Madonna and was accepted into The Royal Ballet School in London, then at 18 danced her first leading role on the Royal Opera House stage in the school’s performance of Giselle that catapulted her to an outstanding international career, being appointed a Principal ballerina at the age of 22 after her debut in Swan Lake,.She jet setted across the world ( remember this is before Covid hit) – Europe, the UK, America and Australia .The main companies she belonged to however were what are now known as the Birmingham Royal Ballet , the English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet itself.
BUILT FOR BALLET takes the reader backstage in an attempt to convey a thorough comprehension of the gruelling hard work, fierce passion and commitment, the pain, delights and sometimes disasters that can strew a dancers’ career and from Benjamin’s point of view, how ballet has grown and adjusted. Continue reading BUILT FOR BALLET BY LEANNE BENJAMIN AND SARAH CROMPTON→
This is a fascinating autobiography by the current artistic director of the Australian Ballet David McAllister, written in conjunction with Amanda Dunn.
David McAllister was born in Perth and his is a story of courage and following your passion. McAllister has almost always belonged onstage.
In his memoir we follow him from when he was the middle child in a Catholic family, who knew nothing about dance, observing himself twirl in the reflective glass of the TV and dreaming about becoming the next Rudolf Nureyev. As a little boy taking ballet lessons, he was viciously bullied. Continue reading ‘SOAR, A LIFE FREED BY DANCE’ BY DAVID MCALLISTER→
The Australian Ballet are currently at the Sydney Opera House presenting Peter Wright’s 1990 Birmingham Royal Ballet version, which has been in the repertoire since 2007. It is a different version to the Royal Ballet one by Wright, filmed for ROH Live which I have reviewed ,and there is also in the Australian Ballet’s box of treasures Graeme Murphy’s fabulous Australianised version.
This version is quite traditional, a wonderful first ballet and is full of opulent set designs, (at times a little heavy perhaps ), some amazing costumes and sensational dancing . Lighting – originally by David Finn here recreated by Jon Buswell was terrific and the Christmas tree growing was enchanting. Continue reading THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET IN ‘THE NUTCRACKER’→
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→
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→
In 2011 Christopher Wheeldon created sustained narrative with ongoing character development, with his new classic ballet “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” a full-length work in three acts, for the Royal Ballet at The Royal Opera House in Bow Street, Covent Garden, London. I am forever grateful that The Australian Ballet has carefully re-created this amazing fast-paced spectacular ballet, using the best of the best Australian ballet dancers and some guest artists, and is now available for Sydney audiences for a very limited time, after first being seen by Melbourne audiences.
This is the must see ballet this decade, so much better to experience live on stage, rather than watching The Royal Ballet September 2011 dvd version.
For balletomanes this was enthralling. Artistic Director David McAllister and music director and chief conductor Nicolette Fraillon from the Australian Ballet talked to Caroline Baum about the Company’s upcoming production of Nijinsky choreographed by internationally renowned John Neumeier which opens next week here in Sydney after a hugely successful season in Melbourne.
The premiere of the Nijinsky/ Stravinsky work Sacre du Printemps ( The Rite of Spring ) took place in Paris in May 1913 and famously caused a riot In the audience. What can we expect from this new work by Neumeier?!
Baum began by asking McAllister how he managed to obtain the rights to Neumeier’s work given that it is a work tightly controlled by the choreographer.
The Media Launch of the 2017 Australian Ballet season recently took place at the Capitol theatre rather than its usual home, the Joan Sutherland Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. However, for a good part of the forthcoming season the Joan Sutherland will be shut for several months for an upgrade of its stage machinery. The Australian Ballet requested the Capitol theatre to stage its 2017 season and the Capitol was happy to oblige.
The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director David McAllister and the Executive Director Libby Christie announced the 2017 program combining classic and contemporary works, the season showcases the artistry of dance with story ballets, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and Nutcracker – The Story Of Clara, and inspires awe with Faster and Symphony In C.
For comprehensive details about the Australian Ballet’s’ 2017 season visit The Australian Ballet’s website – http://australianballet.com.au.
All images by Ben Apfelbaum (c). Featured photo-left to right- Kevin Jackson, Robyn Hendricks, Amber Scott, Benedicte Bemet, Ty King-Wall.
BALLERINA: SEX, SCANDAL AND SUFFERING BEHIND THE SYMBOL OF PERFECTION by Deidre Kelly
Publisher:- Greystones Books. RRP $17.95
This is a fascinating , disturbing book for those who love dance and also others interested in gender studies for example. It is a thought provoking history of the ballerina as social construct – ‘the idealised woman’. In it Kelly describes the humiliation, starvation utter exhaustion, sexual exploitation and poverty that ballerinas have suffered through the ages.
Deirdre Kelly is a journalist, author, and internationally recognized dance critic for Dance Magazine, the Dance Gazette, and the Globe and Mail, where for sixteen years she was the paper’s dance critic on staff. Kelly has also been a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet and the online arts group, www.criticsatlarge.ca.
The general public’s usual idea of ‘The Ballerina’ is one of lightness and grace, more a diaphanous swirl of fluid motion than flesh-and-blood woman (ie Giselle, the Sylph) as seen in the Romantic ballets. She is, for many, an idealized notion of femininity. But the harsh reality is, and always has been, much less romantic.
From her earliest incarnation in 17th-century France to her present as struggling artist, working woman and mother, the ballerina’s persona has encompassed darkness and light, as much Odile as Odette. Last year’s savage violence behind the scenes at Russia’s prestigious Bolshoi theatre and the public confession of a former English National Ballet director that he ordered a ballerina to abort before he would cast her in a role is current proof that the backstage realities of the ballet world are often very unpleasant .
Kelly’s book begins with a look at how Ballet when it first started in the seventeenth century was completely male centered and French court based, with the particular example being Louis XIV the Sun King . Kelly’s quite detailed account of how ballet transitioned from being a means of teaching aristocratic boys and men proper form for court appearances, fencing and military manoeuvres to its becoming an avenue of social advancement for lower-class women is informative and fascinating. Kelly spends much of her book examining how sex played an overwhelming role in the lives of 18th- and 19th-century ballerinas attempting to explain women’s dual nature as dancer and courtesan.
Kelly’s two main themes are that whilst dancers have been treated with less than respect and kindness, they have maintained an illusion of poise, purity, daintiness and virtue since the days of Louis XIV, (who established what is now the Paris Opera Ballet), despite the harsh realities of their lives. The illusion often disguised hidden lives as courtesans or even prostitutes. As a result, the public image of dancers is divided.
Louis XIV’s establishment of the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661 changed ballet. The school’s director, Jean-Baptiste Lully, finding the nobility unable to perform his new “opera ballets” at the Paris Opéra, opened the school to the lower classes. Unexpectedly, now even illegitimate daughters of the poorest citizens could learn to behave like ladies of high birth. With their talent came status: “Many women dancers seized the opportunity to dance professionally, acquiring social prestige and, in some cases, vast stores of wealth even though their origins were humble.”
Detailed analysis of the life and loves of famous ballerinas such as Prevost , Salle, Camargo, Taglioni, Grisi are included, as well as the terrible deaths of Emma Livry and Giuseppina Bozzachi. Links are made to the terrible burning of ballerina Janine Charratt in 1961.The gruelling, extremely hard life of ordinary ‘petit rats’ at the Opera is defined with a look at the lives of the von Goethem sisters, one of whom, Marie , was the model for Degas ‘ the Little Dancer ‘ sculpture.
The juicy tale is told of one great seventeenth century ballerina, Marie-Madeleine Guimard, who maintained a stellar career while amassing a fortune as part owner of a series of “Pornographic theatres” (Kelly never quite defines this). Ballerinas at that time often somehow juggled multiple lovers from business, clergy, and royalty who supported them. Since many originally came from great poverty, they often supported their families with these extra-curricular activities, many of which came to an end with the French Revolution.
From France we jump to Russia with particular attention to the lives of Pavlova, Karsavina and Kscessinska taking us through from roughly the 1870’s to the Diaghilev/Ballets Russes era. This then takes us through to Balanchine and then through to today.
In the 20th century, the renowned choreographer, George Balanchine was regarded as a benevolent dictator to many of his dancers, particularly to his own New York City Ballet. His preferred body type was taken as law by many dancers, who starved themselves or had plastic surgery to conform to Balanchine’s tastes. This was passed on virtually world- wide until roughly the late 1990’s and still worryingly prevails to a degree.
Kelly also scarily catalogues injustices carried out on contemporary Canadian ballerinas. She outlines the professional hardships of dancers Gizella Witkowsky, Kim Lightheart and Patricia Neary, and she details the behind-the-scenes story of ballerina Kimberly Glasco who made front-page headlines by launching—and eventually winning—a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the National Ballet of Canada in 1998. Kelly often cites her own newspaper and magazine articles for these controversies, so they aren’t really new revelations, but when blended together in this way they’re very effective at painting a picture of the ageism and suffering at the ballet barre.
The book is almost completely European/American centered (the Royal Ballet doesn’t really get a mention, nor the Royal New Zealand Ballet) but from an Australian perspective it is interesting to observe that the American Ballet Theatre suffered strikes and other disputes at roughly the same time as the Australian Ballet did in the early 1980’s and for similar reasons (pay and work conditions).
Taking us right up to date the current Australian Ballet does in fact get a mention with quotes from principal Amber Scott, and a look at how here our fabulous company now helps dancers with its support team of doctors, physios trying to prevent injury and/or help injured dancers and keep them performing.
Balanchine has a lot to answer for. There has been a big change since the 1980’s with the desired ‘look’ now far more ‘lean and mean’ rather than thin and suffering and the understanding that bodies have to be healthy to perform .Today’s extremely athletic works are punishing and dancers need to eat properly and have a different shape to survive and perform. There are fascinating insights in Kelly’s book about body image, the prevalence of anorexia and bulimia in both dance schools and companies and how some dancers (Kirkland and Garritano) are punished for speaking out.
Another crucial issue raised is support – or lack of it – for dancers once they stop performing. Where do they go?! What do they do?! Are their skills and talents utilized? (Mostly no , they are ignored ). Some can teach or start their own school, but what of those who don’t? Mention is made of the Dancer Transition Resource Centre in Canada and there are scary statistics and examples of suicide and poverty, top artists being ignored once they are forced to retire. (Ausdance here in Australia has links to the OTPD, the international transition organisation). Ageism is a major issue raised in the last part of the book but no clear resolution is given.
With its compelling narrative and its rigorous research, this is a groundbreaking book about the hidden underside of the glamour and spectacle of the ballet world. It reads as a moral cautionary tale yet defiantly ends on a positive note. There is an excellent index and extensive bibliography as well as some delightful photos.
Lush , lavish and opulent this is a story of youthful , fragile innocence corrupted , a journey from glittering luxury to the depths of poverty and despair. A wonderful revival of the major full length Macmillan work, the Australian Ballet were in fine form and performed magnificently .The performance was richly detailed and the ensemble was impressive full of lowlife vigour and technically wonderful.