Nicoletta Manni as Kitri in Don Quixote. La Scala Ballet. Photo: Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano. Courtesy Teatro alla Scala

Don Quixote. La Scala Ballet

7 November 2018. Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

I thought I was reasonably familiar with the Nureyev production of Don Quixote, having seen the Australian Ballet’s production multiple times. But no! What La Scala Ballet gave us on its first-ever tour to Australia seemed like a completely different ballet. It was a very European production, in part due to the set design by Raffaele Del Savio with its combination of architectural ruins and European-style architecture in the village square, not to mention its tavern scene at the beginning of Act III, and the quite beautiful, almost ruined wooden windmill in the Gypsy Encampment scene at the beginning of Act II.

Don Quixote arrives in the village square. La Scala Ballet. Photo Marcvo Brescia & Rudi Amisano. Courtesy Teatro alla Scala

Don Quixote arrives in the village square. La Scala Ballet. Photo Marco Brescia & Rudi Amisano. Courtesy Teatro alla Scala

But it also had a lot to do with the approach of the dancers and their astonishing ability to engage with each other and with the audience throughout the ballet. This Don Quixote may have been about an eccentric gentleman and his adventures, but it was also about love and life and was filled with fun, happiness and interaction between people. We felt it all. We saw it all. And it seemed like we were part of it all.

There was also some spectacularly good dancing. The corps de ballet was brilliant in every scene whether dancing Spanish flavoured sections, as gypsies, or in classical formation. Their attention to detail and their unison dancing were truly impressive. But also especially impressive was the manner in which the dancers used the upper body—beautifully erect, elegant and centred in classical sections, but filled with passion and strength of characterisation at other times. And they looked out at us and invited us into their world.

Dulcinea and the Dryads in Don Quixote. La Scala Ballet. Photo: Marco Brescia & Rudi Amisano. Courtesy Teatra alla Scala

Dulcinea and the Dryads in Don Quixote. La Scala Ballet. Photo: Marco Brescia & Rudi Amisano. Courtesy Teatra alla Scala

Most of the soloists gave stunning performances. Maria Celeste Losa as the Queen of the Dryads attacked those fouettés relevés into attitude in her solo with strength and glamour (and she followed up as the Bridesmaid in Act III showing off some wonderful grands jetés). Mattia Semperboni gave a powerful performance as the leading gypsy in Act II, and Marco Agostino was a fiery Espada. I also enjoyed the way Gamache was played by Riccardo Massimi. He was foppish without being pathetically so.

Leonid Sarafanov as Basilio. Don Quixote, La Scala Ballet. Photo: Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano. Courtesy Teatro alla Scala

Leonid Sarafanov as Basilio. Don Quixote Act III, La Scala Ballet. Photo: Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano. Courtesy Teatro alla Scala

Of the principal roles both Nicoletta Manni as Kitri and Leonid Sarafanov as Basilio, the two young lovers, danced superbly and acted their parts beautifully, even sexily at times. Manni has an astonishing ability to balance in arabesque and to turn and jump in a spectacular manner. Sarafanov has a very finely sculpted body and his landings from jumps were the quietest I have encountered for some time. The role of Don Quixote was danced by Giuseppe Conte and I think it was perhaps his performance that really made me feel I was watching a whole new ballet. He played the role as a slightly distant eccentric rather than with the Helpmann-esque demand that we take notice of him and no one else. Conte was truly quixotic.

This was a spectacularly good production from an outstanding company of artists.

Michelle Potter, 9 November 2018

Featured image: Nicoletta Manni as Kitri in Don Quixote Act I, La Scala Ballet. Photo: Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano. Courtesy Teatro alla Scala

Nicoletta Manni as Kitri in Don Quixote. La Scala Ballet. Photo: Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano. Courtesy Teatro alla Scala

Promotional image for QL2's Belong, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dance diary. October 2018

  • Belong. QL2’s Chaos Project for 2018

Every year Canberra’s young dancers audition for the Chaos Project staged by QL2. The umbrella name suggests the chaotic situation with which the project begins—in 2018 there were 45 young dancers, boys and girls, aged from eight upwards. But of course by the time the show hits the stage the chaos is gone and, despite the age and experience of the dancers, we the audience are always treated to a wonderful evening of youth dance. The 2018 project, called Belong, had sections choreographed by Olivia Fyfe, Jodie Farrugia and Luke Fryer with Ruth Osborne adding (with her usual flair) an opening and closing section. The topic for exploration—‘belonging’—generated some interesting choreographic responses including the addiction (and disconnection from others) to smart phones and social media; supporting others in a variety of ways; bullying; and other similar matters affecting young people. Dance for the times!

  • Liz Lea and RED

Liz Lea will present her truly exceptional work RED in Liverpool, England, in November as part of the LEAP Festival. It will have a one-off performance on 7 November at 6pm at the Warehouse Studio Theatre, Hope University Creative Campus. RED premiered in Canberra earlier this year. Follow this link for my review of the premiere performance.

Liz Lea in a study for RED, 2018

Liz Lea in a study for RED, 2018

  • Sydney Dance Company in 2019

Sydney Dance Company has announced its season program for 2019, which will celebrate what is the company’s 50th anniversary. Season choreography will be by Rafael Bonachela, Gabrielle Nankivell, Melanie Lane and Gideon Obarzanek. Full details at this link.

While each of the three programs that will take place over 2019 promises something unusual, it will definitely be fascinating to see what Obarzanek does with a work called Us 50 in which, in the spirit of the anniversary, he will use 50 dancers drawn from former and current company dancers, along with members of the community.

Former and current dancers from Sydney Dance Company: (left to right) Kip Gamblin, Linda Ridgeway, Rafael Bonachela, Sheree Zellner (da Costa), Lea Francis and Bradley Chatfield. Photo: Pedro Greig

  • Oral history: Ariette Taylor

My most recent oral history interview for the National Library was with Ariette Taylor, whose contribution to the work of Australian Dance Theatre during the directorship of Jonathan Taylor has probably not been fully explored to date. In addition to a discussion of her work in Adelaide, the interview includes Taylor’s background as a dancer in Holland and with Ballet Rambert, and her work as a theatre director after the Taylor family moved from Adelaide to Melbourne.

  • Remi Wortmeyer

As part of my research for the interview with Ariette Taylor I was searching for information about Mascha ter Weeme, who directed Ballet der Lage Landen, which Taylor joined in Amsterdam in 1957. I accidentally came across some news about Remi Wortmeyer, former dancer with the Australian Ballet and now principal with the Dutch National Ballet. This is old news (from 2016) but I had not come across it before so am posting it here in case any of my readers have also not heard it.

Wortmeyer was, in 2016, the recipient of the beautifully named Mr Expressivity Award at the international ballet festival, Dance Open, in St Petersburg. The trophy, I understand, replicates the lower leg of Anna Pavlova!

Remi Wortmeyer . Mr Expressivity, 2018
Remi Wortmeyer trophy

Wortmeyer’s website is at this link and the images above are from this site.

  • Jacob’s Pillow (again)

The latest post from Jacob’s Pillow is a series of video clips with the links between the clips centring on black costuming. There is a clip of David Hallberg dancing Nacho Duato’s solo Kaburias, which makes me think back to that wonderful piece, Por vos muero, which was at one stage in the repertoire of the Australian Ballet but not seen for a number of years now. For my New Zealand readers there is a short clip of an early piece by Black Grace, Minoi, seen at the Pillow in 2004. Then there is a mesmerising clip from Un ballo, a work choreographed by Françoise Adret,with perhaps a nod to Duato, for Lyon Opera Ballet. Lots more. Check out the Pillow’s dance interactive site .

  • Meryl Tankard’s Two Feet

I have long regretted that Meryl Tankard’s solo show Two Feet has never been revived. Well news just in from the Adelaide Festival 2019 is that Tankard is reviving the work for next year’s festival. It will feature the remarkable Natalia Osipova. I imagine tickets will fly out the door!

  • Press for October 2018

‘Bravissimo bringing ballet gala to town.’ Preview of World Superstars of Ballet Gala, Bravissimo Productions. The Canberra Times, 1 October 2018, p. 20. Online version

‘Uneven but often impressive show.’ Review of Happiness is …, Canberra Dance Theatre. The Canberra Times, 16 October 2018, p. 20. Online version

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2018

Featured image: Promotional image for QL2’s Belong, 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Promotional image for QL2's Belong, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

 

Artists of Sydney Dance Company in 'Forever & Ever', 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Forever & Ever. Sydney Dance Company

17 October 2018. Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney

On a double bill program it would be hard to find two dance works as diametrically opposed, or so it seemed on the surface, as Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind and Antony Hamilton’s Forever & Ever. Together they made up Sydney Dance Company’s newest season, which goes under the umbrella name of Forever & Ever.

Frame of Mind is not new, having had its inaugural season in Sydney in 2015. Then I was especially taken with the way the work was structured. I wrote on DanceTabs:

I loved how this work was structured choreographically. More and more Bonachela makes use of the full company in segments where unison dancing dominates. Against this he gives us powerful solos—solos by David Mack and Cass Mortimer Eipper were especially strong—or fluidly moving quartets, trios and duets. Richard Cilli and Jesse Scales had an especially smooth duet filled with swirling, circular movements. The work was also nicely paced, with Cisterne’s lighting providing moments of half-light as visual contrast.

Although there have been several cast changes since then, the structure of Frame of Mind remains as beautifully organised as ever. But this time I was sitting in the front row of the Roslyn Packer Theatre and I had a very different view of the performance. I could not help but be astonished at the incredible dancing of every single performer. Their attention to even the tiniest detail of Bonachela’s choreography was masterful, and Bonachela’s choreography is certainly filled with detail, and with all kinds of unexpected moves on unexpected parts of the body. I was struck too by the extreme physicality of the dancers, their finely honed musculature, their at times unbelievable flexibility, and their unwavering commitment to perfection. All these features have always been obvious but from row A in the theatre these qualities came home with much greater emphasis.

It was also a thrill to have live music with the Australian String Quartet playing three of Bryce Dessner’s captivating compositions for strings.

Artists of Sydney Dance Company with the Australian String Quartet in 'Frame of Mind'. Photo: Pedro Greig

Artists of Sydney Dance Company with the Australian String Quartet in Frame of Mind, 2018 Photo: © Pedro Greig

Bonachela’s choreography has always been characterised by a satisfying flow of movement. So it was something of a shock to be confronted by Hamilton’s much more sharply angular, robotic choreography and static poses in Forever & Ever, which was the second work on the program. At times I was reminded of clockwork toys and, with the poses, there were moments when I thought either of Lego figures or, at the other end of the spectrum, suprematist images (from the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, for example).

Jesse Scales led the cast of Forever & Ever and did so with strength and clarity from the beginning, which began on a half-lit stage before the audience had quietened down after the interval. And did they quieten down when suddenly, and without warning, the stage lit up with a bang!

Jesse Scales and artists of Sydney Dance Company in 'Forever & Ever'. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Jesse Scales and artists of Sydney Dance Company in Forever & Ever, 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Then there were the costumes. The elegant, black, subtly diverse, easy-to-dance-in costumes by Ralph Myers for Frame of Mind stood in dramatic contrast to the costumes for Forever & Ever by Paula Levis. These latter costumes were of all shapes and colours and included long, black hooded gowns with sharply pointed, cone-shaped white ‘gloves’ (for want of a better word); white monks’ garb (the ‘monks’ also carried lanterns which lit up occasionally); white, puffy jackets over black and white zig-zag patterned pants; mustard yellow jumpers, short black pants; and lots more. And costumes were freely and frequently removed to reveal new items underneath them. (You can see the discarded items piled up at the back of the stage in the featured image to this review).

Scene from 'Forever & Ever', Sydney Dance Company 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Scene from Forever & Ever, Sydney Dance Company, 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig

But in the end the costuming, as incredible as it was, bore little relation to anything, a bit like the theory of deconstruction where meaning is meaningless. Discarding one costume for another, willy-nilly, made it clear that no costume had an intrinsic meaning within the work, even though we could draw conclusions about them using our memory of other things. Which brings me to the next point. Despite the obvious differences between the two works, there was something similar about them. Bonachela always suggests that his abstract works are open to interpretation. Sometimes he mentions his own inspiration behind a particular work, but always we are left to find our own emotional ‘meaning’ in his works. With Hamilton, at least in this case, his postmodern technique of making references to many things meant that no one aspect seemed dominant. So, as with Bonachela’s work, we were left to make up a meaning for ourselves, if we felt the need. Or, we could simply say there is no definitive interpretation of anything, which seemed to me to be in the spirit of Hamilton’s work.

This program was remarkable for showing us the breadth of what contemporary dance can accomplish. But the most exciting bit was that both works were stunningly danced.

Michelle Potter, 19 October 2018

Featured image: Artists of Sydney Dance Company in Forever & Ever, 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Artists of Sydney Dance Company in 'Forever & Ever', 2018. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Anca Frankenhaueser & Kailin Yong in MIST, 2018. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography

MIST. Anca Frankenhaeuser & Kailin Yong

12 October 2018. The Street Theatre, Canberra. Canberra Dance Theatre

Stephanie Burridge first choreographed MIST in Singapore (where she lives and works) in 2016. She came to Canberra to oversee its staging as part of the 40th anniversary celebration for Canberra Dance Theatre, where Burridge was artistic director from 1978 to 2001. Its original cast was Kailin Yong, violinist and composer, and Yarra Ileto, dancer. Yarra Ileto was unable to come to Canberra and Anca Frankenhaeuser, who had danced in many CDT productions during the years of Burridge’s directorship, took on the dancer’s role.

The program notes stated that MIST is ‘A duet for two performers in the tradition of a dance pas de deux—but one is a dancer and the other a musician.’ What to expect? Well it was the most moving and stunningly beautiful work I have seen for years. This was in part due to Kailin Yong, who played his violin while sitting, standing, walking and even lying down (and part of the thrill was that it appeared as though he was playing live); and to Frankenhaeuser, who danced and acted out her role from deep within her body and heart. But in part it was also Burridge’s exceptional concept and the way in which she brought it to the stage.

As the work began Kailin Yong was lying on the ground, violin poised. Frankenhaeuser entered from an upstage wing making her way towards him. She was blindfolded and tentatively worked her way across the stage, gesturing in ways that suggesting listening, querying, wondering. On reaching him she moved around and over him and at one stage lay down beside him and placed her head on his chest. Did she know him? Was she listening to his heartbeat?

Anca Frankenhaueser & Kailin Yong in MIST, 2018. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography

Later Frankenhaeuser removed the blindfold and her thoughts about her partner became stronger or more obvious. All was shown through her body whether through her often powerful, or sometimes timid movements; or through her facial expression and her gestures. Kailin Yong stood apart at times and played his music at her. She danced at him at times, throwing a leg high in the air towards him. But at other times they were close together, more intimately involved.

Anca Frankenhaueser & Kailin Yong in MIST, 2018. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography
Anca Frankenhaueser & Kailin Yong in MIST, 2018. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography

In a third manifestation of her character, Frankenhaeuser took a piece of white tulle. She used it to divide the space between her and her partner. She used it as a decorative item as she seemed to conduct a conversation with herself and with us, becoming more irrational and excited as time passed. She danced with the tulle tossing it, throwing it. And then she sank to the ground and was covered by it as her partner slowly came to her side.

Anca Frankenhaueser & Kailin Yong in MIST, 2018. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography

Anca Frankenhaueser in MIST, 2018. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography

Anca Frankenhaueser & Kailin Yong in MIST, 2018. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography

What a dancer! What a musician! What a pas de deux! A life before us!

Michelle Potter, 13 October 2018

All photos, including featured image: Anca Frankenhaeuser & Kailin Yong in MIST, 2018.  © Art Atelier Photography

Anca Frankenhaueser & Kailin Yong in MIST, 2018. Photo: © Art Atelier Photography

From 1993 …

I was moved reading Jennifer Shennan’s recent review from Auckland’s Tempo Festival, in which she discussed Douglas Wright’s latest work, M_Nod, and in which she also referred to Wright’s current health issues. My mind went racing back to 1993—it was the year that Wright’s Gloria was first performed in Sydney as part of a Sydney Dance Company season. Those were the days before things were available online and I hunted out the review I wrote of it for Dance Australia. I clearly remember Gloria (who could forget it?), and The Protecting Veil, the work by Graeme Murphy, with which Gloria shared the stage. I am posting the 1993 review below. Reading it now, 25 years and many, many reviews later, there are sections I would probably phrase differently now, but I have resisted changing anything. And I should add that, even though I am focusing my thoughts on Gloria on this occasion, I am in no way wanting to gloss over Murphy’s work, which was equally as thrilling and moving as Wright’s.

The review was originally published in Dance Australia in the issue of February/March 1994.

Truly thrilling
GLORIA, THE PROTECTING VEIL
Sydney Dance Company
Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
November 1993

Douglas Wright’s 1990 piece Gloria and Graeme Murphy’s new The Protecting Veil opened what turned out to be a thrilling season of dance. Gloria, performed to Vivaldi’s choral piece of the same name, is Wright’s tribute to a friend who died at twenty. It is, on the one hand, a joyous piece that celebrates life with an outpouring of dance that is full of vigour and vitality.

Part of the joyous feeling that emerges in Gloria stems from the wit of its choreography and from its tongue-in-cheek irreverence towards the classical vocabulary. Here Wright’s work acknowledges a debt to Paul Taylor with whom Wright performed extensively during the 1980s. There is something very Tayloresque about those moments when a split jete, performed flat out, is followed by a jump that looks as though it will be another of the same but instead turns into a delicious movement in which the dancer appears to be running very fast in mid-air. Or in those other moments when a relatively well known step is followed unexpectedly by a hand- or head-stand.

But in addition to its joyous appearance, Gloria also grieves for a particular life cut off in its prime. This dual theme of joy and sorrow is addressed in movement sequences such as the juxtaposition, early in the piece, of a funereal kind of procession of dancers walking in a square formation with another group dancing in circles in and out of and around the sombre square.

A kind of fragmentation also surfaces in the way that the dance connects, or doesn’t connect with the music. Often a particular choreographic sequence will continue during a pause between sections in the music. Often, too, the audience is faced with a darkened stage, devoid of bodies but filled with music.

In the end, however, Gloria is in praise of life. Its constant use of the circle, both as a choreographic theme and in its lighting design by John Rayment, stresses continuity and its final image of rebirth ensures that we come away with a message that is life-affirming.

The Protecting Veil, like Gloria, takes its name from the music that accompanies it, in this case John Taverner’s composition for solo cello and strings inspired by ancient Byzantine church music. Murphy has produced a strong work that is theatrical without being excessively so, and that consolidates his position as a choreographer whose originality constantly astonishes the viewer.

In a structure that recalls last year’s Synergy with Synergy, with its constructions and transitions, The Protecting Veil consists of eight movements separated by what are called in the program “crossings”. In the eight movements, duets, trios and quartets alternate with dances for the whole company. A quartet for Lea Francis, Alfred Taahi, Wakako Asano, and Xue-Jun Wang is memorable for the way in which it combines four individualistic bodies and four equally individualistic ways of moving.

The power of the piece, however, is in the crossings. Here Murphy builds up a tension that aligns itself with the mesmeric aspects of Taverner’s score. All the crossings feature Janet Vernon. They are initially brief, tantalising appearances. But they gradually build in length and complexity, culminating in a duet in which Vernon is, in the beginning, partnered by Carl Plaisted through the veil of a scrim cloth. The shrouded movement that results is intrinsically interesting for its novelty, but it also makes the second section of the duet, performed without the protection of the veil, seem crystalline.

The Protecting Veil also relies for its impact on Murphy’s design concept. In addition to the use of scrims to reveal and conceal, the forest of small lights attached to long wires that are alternately lowered and raised during the piece, and the use of a slit backcloth through which bodies, and seemingly dismembered parts of them, appear and disappear are all part of a play with perception that has frequently characterised Murphy’s work. In The Protecting Veil this approach helps produce a piece that exudes the tension and suspense of a religious ritual.

Sydney Dance is looking great. And that’s not surprising considering the challenges presented to the company by Murphy himself and the choreographers he supports.

Michelle Potter, 12 October 2018

Featured image: The portrait of Douglas Wright contained in the header to this post is by John Savage.