‘Peggy!’ The Australian Ballet

The first part of Peggy!, the Australian Ballet’s tribute to the company’s founding director Dame Peggy van Praagh, may well have delighted her. Mark Annear’s Birthday Celebration, a work made originally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Australian Ballet School in 2004, was a joyous offering. Dame Peggy, who cared deeply about teaching and the training of dancers, would I think have been delighted to see that the Australian Ballet School, whose founding she fostered, is alive and well under its present director, Marilyn Rowe. The work showcased students of the school, including some very young children. Almost without exception their dancing was filled with the joy of movement—so refreshing.

The rest was not so exciting. A series of short excerpts from various ballets — van Praagh’s Garland Dance from the 1973 production of The Sleeping Beauty; an Act I pas de deux from Giselle, inserted into the ‘standard’ production by van Praagh in 1973; and extracts from Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella — suffered from lack of context and from ordinary dancing. The Giselle pas de deux, for example, is a beautiful addition to a great Romantic classic. As I mentioned in a much earlier post, dramatically it serves to establish early on, and in more depth than is usual in other productions, the relationship between Giselle and Albrecht. To perform it in isolation requires much more than Kirsty Martin and Ty King-Wall were able to give. Their interpretation was bland in my opinion. I also missed the choreographic delights I recall from the performance of this pas de deux in the Australian Ballet’s 2001 production — its Cecchetti-inspired use of epaulement and its light as a feather jumps for example. They just weren’t there.

The final work on the program, Antony Tudor’s Gala Performance, in which van Praagh herself once played the leading role of the Russian Ballerina, lacked the satirical subtlety that I was hoping to see. Like most of the ‘comedy’ staged recently by the Australian Ballet the roles were exaggerated making them a travesty of what was originally intended. However, if we are talking about roles suiting particular dancers, as we were in the comments on Coppélia recently, I have to say that Reiko Hombo was well suited to the role of the French dancer. She was properly bubbly and flighty.

In many respects in this program I preferred the ancillary material to the dancing. The archival film footage and interviews with those who had been close to Dame Peggy, which preceded each major segment on the program, gave interesting insights into the way Dame Peggy worked. And the small exhibition of photos and other items, which was set up in the foyer of Melbourne’s State Theatre, captured some key moments in Dame Peggy’s life. It’s a shame it wasn’t given a better space but it attracted a lot of interest both before and after the show.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2010

3 thoughts on “‘Peggy!’ The Australian Ballet

  1. I am afraid I found this a very poor excuse for a Melbourmne subscription programme, even given the justification of it’s being a tribute to Peggy van Praagh.

    It was certainly good to see the ABS strut it’s stuff in such a perfect vehicle as Mark Annear’s “Birthday Celebration”. However, I feel it belongs at the ABS’s end of year performances. The appearance of 7 of the Company’s principals and a large corps at the end, for the short Ballabile, felt tacked on and very rushed. Hardly any time to savour the stars. However the joy of seeing Hannah O’neill [ably partnered by Joel Distefano] was very great. She has such presence and performs with great elan. Also, as Glazounov is a favourite composer, it was satisfying to hear the score played with such glitter and glamour.

    The Garland Waltz we have seen before during another gala programme. The 2 pas de deux were totally lacking in atmosphere and I don’t think these two are the kinds of works for bare stages and no context. And one gets annoyed that Cinderella has been absent for so long [even Stanton’s version] and we just get a tantalising morsel.

    And “Gala Performance” just put me in a bad mood. It looked like a cross between the “Ministry Of Silly Walks” and the “Trocks”. It seems to me that Tudor was indulging in a very British pastime – making fun of those silly foreigners. What French, Italian, or Russian ballerinas had Londoners seen behaving in this way in the 1930’s ? Or was he harking back to the 1890’s era and the Music Hall stages. I realise humour is a personal thing and people were enjoying the work.

    When one ponders the list of works Peggy van Praagh brought into the repertoire of the company, it would appear that the easiest way out was taken when putting this programme together.

  2. Perhaps you could tell from my cursory post that I could scarcely bear to put finger to keyboard about this one. It seems to me too that new Australian choreography should feature in any serious tribute to Dame Peggy. She was passionate about it.

  3. As a pedantic footnote to my previous post : I notice that Adam is credited in the programmes and cast sheets with the music for the “Giselle” Act 1 pas de deux. In an earlier post of Michelle’s regarding the announcement of the Peggy ! season, I indicated that I had a hard time acquiring a copy of this music. It seemed not to exist in any of the recorded versions of the complete Adam “Giselle” score. Probably for good reason, as the Act 1 pas de deux was added to the ballet by Petipa in 1884 for the ballerina Gorshenkova and the music was newly composed by Minkus. I presume this is the music Peggy and John Lanchbery heard during a trip to Russia and brought back to be used in her new production. The confusing information surrounding all the Imperial Era revisions and interpolations to ballets means that detailed information is hard to come by.

    For ballet music aficionados the volume “The Ballets of Ludwig Minkus” by Robert Ignatius Letellier [Cambridge Scolars Publishing 2008] is an invaluable mine of information.

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