American Ballet Theatre in Brisbane

My coverage of American Ballet Theatre’s first Australian visit as part of Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s International Series has just been posted on DanceTabs. Making the most of an expensive trip to Brisbane, I saw two performances on consecutive nights, the last night of Swan Lake and the first night of Three Masterpieces. I would have really liked to have seen Three Masterpieces again, especially Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, which, given its complexity, was difficult to take in on one viewing.

Twyla Tharp's 'Bach Partita', opening scene, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Glen Schiavone

Opening scene from Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Gene Schiavone

In addition to what I wrote about Bach Partita in the DanceTabs post, I especially enjoyed a solo by Marcelo Gomes, who is seen below with Gillian Murphy. It is quite clear from this image that Gomes has a powerful presence and his solo was strong and controlled and lost nothing of that presence.

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in Twyla Tharp's 'Bach Partita', American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Glen Schiavone

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Gene Schiavone

The DanceTabs post is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 7 September 2014

Alexei Ratmansky’s ‘Cinderella’. A second look

7 December 2013 (matinee), Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Taking a second look at Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella was something of a swings and roundabouts experience. The gains were special, the losses of course a little disappointing.

Seeing Leanne Stojmenov as Cinderella and Daniel Gaudiello as the Prince after they had performed those roles over and over in Melbourne and again in the first few Sydney shows indicated how well they had grown into their parts. Their pas de deux in particular were seamless, expressive and beautifully executed with hardly a slip anywhere. Gaudiello once again showed what an exceptional artist he is as he fell head over heels for his Cinderella, and what a good technician he is as well.

Daniel Gaudiello in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby

Daniel Gaudiello as the Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. The Australian Ballet 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Stojmenov’s dancing showed how much she had absorbed the choreography into her very being. The beautiful way in which she conveyed the subtlety and nuances of Ratmansky’s vocabulary was an absolute delight. In particular she had captured the beauty and fluidty of Ratmansky’s arm movements with their distinctive swing and sway through space, and I also especially enjoyed her solo in the last act where she recalled the time she had with her Prince at the ball in the previous act.

I was also interested to hear David McAllister, in his public program conversation with David Hallberg after the show, that Ratmansky used the word ‘say’ rather than ‘do’ when setting his choreography on the dancers—‘you go over there and say such and such’. His emphasis on expression rather than simply execution is a sure reason why all the cast, but Stojmenov in particular, carry the storyline of Cinderella so well.

Another gain was seeing Eloise Fryer—there was an unexpected cast change announced just before the curtain went up—as the Dumpy Stepsister. She has a terrific sense of comedy and carried off the awkward and often hilarious choreography with great style. It was a huge romp and Ingrid Gow as the Skinny Stepsister really had to work hard to keep up with her.

The biggest loss was having to fit the show onto the stage of the Opera Theatre. I try not to make too many comments in this vein as it does nothing in the end. But in the case of Cinderella it resulted in a real loss I thought. The theatrical trick of a proscenium arch within a proscenium arch that was so clear in Melbourne was scarcely apparent in Sydney and the crammed-up feeling of the domestic scenes was unfortunate. And, while memory plays tricks I know, it seemed to me that Gaudiello’s choreography had been cut in the scenes where he travels the world searching for the owner of the slipper. Maybe I just missed some of those grands jetes in a circle and the spectacular finish where he jumped into the arms of his cortege of male friends. I’d be more than happy to be corrected!

I also missed Lynette Wills as the Fairy Godmother. While Jasmin Durham did a perfectly good job in the role, Wills brought a wide experience to her performance giving the role a strength of characterisation and sense of mystery that was missing in Sydney. I had also been looking forward to seeing once more those characters from the solar system who transport Cinderella to the ball but, while being closer had its advantages, the costumes are quite remarkable, being closer also made the sequence look a little too jumbled—too many characters that were too hard to identify individually.

But more than anything I thought the magical transformations that made the Melbourne opening so spectacular were lessened in Sydney. I was further back in the auditorium in Melbourne so maybe that had an effect but I suspect it was something else.

Nevertheless, Cinderella remains in my mind a very classy, strongly European-looking, beautifully-lit production that I look forward to seeing again and again.

Michelle Potter, 8 December 2013

My original post, and a heathy variety of comments from others, is at this link. See also my comments on David Hallberg’s performance as the Prince published by DanceTabs.

 

Dance diary. November 2013

  • Alexei Ratmansky

With Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella now playing a Sydney season with the Australian Ballet, it was a delight to hear that in 2014 Sharmill Films will be screening Ratmansky’s Lost Illusions, a work based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac and made in 2011 for the Bolshoi Ballet. It opens at cinemas around the country on 29 March 2014. Follow this link for the full Sharmill program of ballet screenings.

I am, however, also looking forward to the visit to Australia (Brisbane only) in 2014 by American Ballet Theatre when Ratmansky’s gorgeous work, Seven Sonatas, will be part of the company’s mixed bill  program. I wrote about this work in an earlier post. It is truly a work worth seeing.

Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in ‘Seven sonatas’, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Rosalie O’Connor

Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in Seven Sonatas, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Rosalie O’Connor

In the meantime I am looking forward to further viewings of Cinderella very soon. More later.

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2013

The dance awards in the annual Canberra Critics’ Awards this year went to Liz Lea and Elizabeth Dalman. Lea was honoured for the diversity of her contributions to the Canberra dance scene, in particular for her input into the dance and science festival she curated in collaboration with Cris Kennedy of CSIRO Discovery, and for her initiatives in establishing her mature age group of dancers, the GOLD group.

Dalman received an award for Morning Star, which she  created on her Mirramu Dance Company earlier in 2013. Morning Star was based on extensive research in and travel to indigenous communities and the final product used an outstanding line-up of performers from indigenous and non-indigenous communities and mixed indigenous and Western dance in insightful ways.

  •  Movers and Shakers

Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery was recently the venue for a short program of dance presented by two Sydney-based independent artists, Julia Cotton and Anca Frankenhaeuser. Called Movers and Shakers and held on the last weekend of the Gallery’s exhibition of photographs by Richard Avendon, the short, 30 minute program was largely a celebration of dancers Avendon had photographed over the course of his career, including Merce Cunningham and Rudolph Nureyev. Cotton and Frankenhaeuser are mature age performers and it was a joy to see that, as such, they had taken their work to a different plane in terms of technique but had lost none of the expressive power that has always been at the heart of their dancing.

Anca and Julia 6
Julia Cotton (left) and Anca Frankenhaueser in Movers and Shakers, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, November 2013. Photo: Michelle Potter

The tiny objects you see on the white pillar on the left of the image above are little decorative items representing bees, which Frankenhaeuser initially wore on her face and which she removed and stuck on the pillar at one stage in one of her solos. This part of the program referred not to a dance portrait but to Avendon’s well known shot of a beekeeper. It was a particularly strong and confronting solo by Frankenhaeuser who danced around the pillar—and was sometimes almost completely hidden by it—using little more that fluttering hands to convey her story.

  • Hot to Trot: Quantum Leap

Hot to Trot, a program for young, Canberra-based choreographers has been around for fifteen years, although the recent 2013 program is the first one I have managed to see. As might be expected the short pieces, which included a few short dance films, were of a mixed standard. One stood out, however, and deserves a mention—Hear no evil, speak no evil. It was jointly choreographed by Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley who were also the performers. The dance vocabulary they created was adventurous and compelling and the work itself was clearly and strongly focused and well structured.

Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley in 'Hear no evil, speak no evil', Hot to trot 2013 season. Photo: Lorn Sim

Kyra-Lee Hansen and Jack Riley in ‘Hear no evil, speak no evil’, Hot to Trot, 2013 season. Photo: © Lorn Sim

Jack Riley will join the WAAPA dance course in 2014.

  • Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac

News came in November from Meryl Tankard and Régis Lansac. Tankard’s acclaimed work The Oracle was performed in mid-November in Düsseldorf, Germany, by Paul White, now a member of Tanztheater Wuppertal, as part of a celebration of the legacy of Pina Bausch.

Flyer for 'The oracle'

At the same time, the gallery of Mac Studios in Düsseldorf held an exhibition of more than twenty large-format portraits of Tankard by Lansac. All were produced in the summer of 1984 in the Wuppertal apartment of the American art critic David Galloway. One of Lansac’s most striking images held in Australian public collections also comes, I believe, from the shoot Lansac undertook in this apartment. Follow this link.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2013

Leanne Stojmenov and Daniel Gaudiello in 'Cinderella'. Photo Jeff Busby

Alexei Ratmansky’s ‘Cinderella’. The Australian Ballet

19 September 2013, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre

What a magical, mesmerising and eccentrically beautiful Cinderella Alexei Ratmansky has created for the Australian Ballet. I have to admit to goose bumps on many occasions so thrilling was the storytelling, the choreography, the scenic design and the performance.

The story we know so well is intact in its outlines but Ratmansky has made the work his own, and boldly so. The clues we get to the era in which this ballet is set come largely from the set and costumes by Jérôme Kaplan and from the projection design by Wendall K. Harrington. With their references to surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico, and even perhaps to a Dada film, Fernand Leger’s Ballet mécanique, and the Bauhaus work by Oskar Schlemmer, Triadic Ballet, we can place this Cinderella in the 1920s or 1930s. But the universality and theatricality of the visual elements, including the Act I setting of a proscenium arch within the theatre’s own proscenium arch, put it into an era beyond eras.

Leanne Stojmenov in Cinderella, 2013. Photo Jeff Busby

Leanne Stojmenov in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

As Cinderella, Leanne Stojmenov brought a range of emotions to the role. She was lost in dreams as she danced alone while the Stepsisters readied themselves for the Prince’s ball; full of sadness when the Stepmother slashed the portrait of her now dead mother; caring as she welcomed the somewhat outlandish Fairy Godmother into her home; shy as she tried out dance steps at the ball; pensive as she wondered whether she would meet the Prince again; and ultimately joyous as she danced the final pas de deux with him. It was a finely sculpted performance.

As the Prince, Daniel Gaudiello also presented us with a well-defined character with a strong personality. Dressed stylishly in a white suit he was the man in charge as he interacted with his guests and as he travelled the world seeking the owner of the slipper left behind at the ball. On this world tour we saw some of Gaudiello’s best dancing. A series of grands pirouettes finishing with multiple turns was beautifully executed. And what a spectacular exit he made as he left the stage at the end of that scene. But with his Cinderella he was a different man, much less hard-edged. And the final pas de deux is such a glorious piece of choreography. Two two bodies move together as one, bending and twisting, making complementary lines with arms and legs, and finishing so softly and gently.

At times the choreography was surprising as is so often the case with Ratmansky. Feet, arms, upper bodies, everything really, moved in unexpected ways. A pirouette had the foot at the cou de pied position, a cabriole appeared from nowhere, bodies bent forward when one expected them to bend back. And Ratmansky is a master at telling the story, creating a character, and giving clues to and motifs for future moments in the story through choreographic and dramatic methods. I wondered why the Fairy Godmother, played with style by Lynette Wills wearing a kind of bowler hat, long dark clothing and black glasses, disappeared into the grandfather clock in Cinderella’s house. But it became clear later. And the beautiful swirl of black-caped figures, holding Roman numerals and circling the stage as the Fairy Godmother advised Cinderella to leave the ball at midnight, was also reprised in a surprising way later.

Leanne Stojmenov and Lynette Wills in 'Cinderella'. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby
Leanne Stojmenov and Lynette Wills in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby

There were some wonderful performances from others in the cast. Ingrid Gow and Hailana Hills as the Skinny Stepsister and the Dumpy Stepsister respectively had some hilarious moments, as did Amy Harris as the rather vindictive Stepmother. I also admired the performances of the celestial bodies who transport Cinderella to the ball (no pumpkin coach in this production), although it was hard to identify the dancers from where I was sitting and another viewing is needed to match some of the various planets represented with their costumes.

Artists of the Australian Ballet in 'Cinderella' 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby

The Stepmother, the Skinny Stepsister and the Dumpy Stepsister have their hair done for the ball. Artists of the Australian Ballet in Cinderella 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

As for the scenic transformations, they were astonishing, breathtaking. It was not only the surprise they generated when they happened, but also the way the lighting by Rachel Burke was used to enhance every transformation, as well as the spectacular use of fabric of various kinds to assist the transformations—in fact the use of diverse fabric textures throughout the ballet in costuming and elsewhere gave us yet another magnificent scenic element. And musically, I have never heard the Prokofiev score sound so clear and so distinctive. Without wanting to take away from the orchestral playing, Ratmansky’s choreography is so attuned to the music that it adds a visual element to the sounds that allows me at least to hear the music differently.

I look forward to seeing this remarkable work again during the Sydney season. Let’s hope it remains in the repertoire for a long time to come. It is sheer magic, brilliantly conceived, and a truly immersive experience. All hail Ratmansky and his team.

Michelle Potter, 21 September 2013

Featured image: Leanne Stojmenov and Daniel Gaudiello in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

For my comments after a second viewing in Sydney follow this link. See also my comments on David Hallberg’s performance as the Prince published by DanceTabs.

‘The Bright Stream’. Bolshoi Ballet

7 June 2013, Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

The back story to The Bright Stream has been told and retold. Originally created in 1935 with choreography by Fyodor Lopukhov and with a score by Dmitri Shostakovich, the ballet lasted just months. Set on a Soviet-style farm at harvest time, but with some eccentric touches to the story of collective agriculture, the ballet was banned by Joseph Stalin.

As the overture begins in Alexei Ratmansky’s restaging of The Bright Stream for the Bolshoi Ballet, which dates to 2003, we understand something of this back story. We are faced with a front cloth covered with various Soviet slogans and some headlines from Russian newspapers, said to be those of Pravda in its review of The Bright Stream, and in its review of another of Shostakovich’s scores, that for Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which Stalin also hated. Amongst the extracts and slogans are ‘Ballet falsehood’, ‘Muddle instead of music’, ‘Tractors and kindergartens are the gearbox of the new village’, and others of a similar nature.

Working from the original libretto, but without any choreographic notation from the 1930s, Ratmansky has built his version of The Bright Stream, the title being the name of the collective farm, using his classical heritage mixed with his unique choreographic sensibilities and a clear talent for humour and characterisation. What emerges over two hours is a comic ballet based on the lives of a group of peasants living in the steppes of the northern part of the Causcasus region. They become entangled with a visiting group of entertainers from the city and what ensues is a world of flirtatious encounters and mistaken identities, the latter largely as a result of moments of cross dressing.

Maria Aleksandrova in 'The Bright Stream'. Photo: Damir Yusupov
Maria Aleksandrova as the Ballerina in The Bright Stream. Photo: Damir Yusupov

What a joy it was to see the beautifully accomplished Bolshoi dancers performing Ratmansky’s choreography. Whether whipping off a few fouettés (with never a hint of moving across the stage), performing a series of jetés, or tossing off a manège of jumps, they danced with such attack, made everything look so easy, and always looked as though performing was pure pleasure for them. The two leading ladies, Maria Aleksandrova as the ballerina from the city and Nina Kapstova as Zina the local entertainment organiser, both gave finely sculpted performances, but the entire cast deserves bouquets.

Ratmansky’s choreography for groups of women was especially captivating. He often arranged steps in canon and the overall image that emerged as arabesque followed arabesque, for example, was a little like the movement of plaiting and unplaiting. I loved too the characters that populated The Bright Stream—the elderly folk in particular—and I especially liked that, while they were all drawn with broad, comic brush strokes, there seemed to be no desire by the dancers to overplay their characterisations. As a result these folk were funny and eccentric but believably so.

Left: Maria Aleksandrova and Ruslan Skvortsov; right: Vladislav Lantratov.  Both photos: Damir Yusupov

But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of The Bright Stream was Ratmansky’s development of those scenes in which, as a joke, two of the main characters, the Ballerina from the city and her partner, dress in each other’s costumes and set up a romantic tryst with two elderly dacha dwellers who have joined the harvest festivities. Ruslan Skvortsov, dressed in a long white Romantic tutu, gave a wonderful performance as the (cross-dressed) Ballerina. Ratmanksy’s choreography for him was an absolute delight. It had moments that recalled Giselle, Pas de Quatre, Les Sylphides and La Sylphide, all arranged in a topsy-turvy mix. The image of Skvortsov with his index finger under his chin à la Pas de Quatre will remain in my mind for some time.

So was there any hint of politics in this work? After all, collective farms did not always operate as happy and productive initiatives in Soviet Russia. Well, the Grim Reaper appears during the final scenes as the harvest festival begins. He joins in the dancing with his scythe swinging wildly round and round. But the people largely ignore him and he disappears as unexpectedly as he appeared. We can make what we like of this appearance but it adds a touch of politics to a fascinating ballet that shows Ratmansky as a choreographer of unusual and diverse strengths and abilities.

Michelle Potter, 9 June 2013

‘Scotch Symphony’, ‘Within the Golden Hour’, ‘From Foreign Lands’. San Francisco Ballet

09 March 2013 (matinee), War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

What a glorious program Helgi Tomasson put together as Program 3 in San Francisco Ballet’s current repertory season. With works by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky, to me it said the 20th century had a great choreographer in Balanchine but look where the 21st century is heading with Wheeldon and Ratmansky.

This triple bill program opened with Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony, a work dating back to 1952. It was more than ably led on this occasion by principals Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan, she in particular combining a crisp technique with an elusive element to her dancing and thus perfectly fitting the role. Scotch Symphony shows the delight Balanchine took in making references to other dance styles and techniques and blending them with the technical strengths of his classically trained dancers and with his own characteristic choreographic patterns. In this case the precise footwork of Highland dancing sat side by side with the floating, beyond-this-world feeling of the Romantic movement in ballet. But always obvious were those unexpected Balanchine groupings and his use of the shapes and spaces thus made to develop new groupings.

The corps de ballet shone throughout, especially the men and especially Diego Cruz and Lonnie Weeks in their leading roles in the corps. They gave their roles real personality and one of them knocked me for six with a fabulous saut de basque with arms in 5th in which the lift to 5th was at least as exciting as the saut de basque. The one jarring area to my mind was the backcloth, a dark grey shadow of a castle structure by Broadway designer Arnold Abramson. To me it captured little of an elusive and blended world that the ballet itself presents.

In the middle of the program was Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, made for San Francisco Ballet in 2008. It is a series of interludes, seemingly unrelated, beginning and ending with sequences for the full cast. In between the beginning and the ending we see a quirky waltz for for a couple, which is picked up almost as it ends by several other couples; a fast and technically demanding duet for two men filled with turns and beats; a pas de deux that scarcely moves through space, a quartet of ladies performing at first as shadows; and a second pas deux that does move around the stage a little more.

Wheeldon’s choreography in Within the Golden Hour mixes ballet technique with all kinds of other styles from ballroom to his own take on contemporary dance. This work was by far the most popular with the audience, who gave it a standing ovation at the matinee I attended. I enjoyed its changing momentum and its quirkiness, but it isn’t a great work.

From Foreign Lands was specially commissioned by San Francisco Ballet from Alexei Ratmansky and had its world premiere on 1 March 2013. The performance I saw was just the ninth show and there were still a few moments when the dancers looked a little unsteady. But what a lovely work it is, exciting to watch, often surprising, often funny, and even redolent at times of those ubiquitous visits we used to have decades ago from groups performing ethnic dances from their homeland. Those tours showed us dancers happily competing with each other to jump higher, turn faster, execute the most difficult steps, and ultimately to win their lady-love.

Made up of six parts, ‘Russian’, ‘Italian’, ‘German’, Spanish’, ‘Polish’ and ‘Hungarian’, From Foreign Lands is performed to an 1884 score by German composer and pianist Morris Moszkowski. The ballet, however, begins in silence with a brief introductory section for the full ensemble of twelve dancers. It suggests to us that dancing is to be the order if the day. But apart from that it is an opportunity to see the charming, tiered, older style tutus (finishing just above the knee) designed by Colleen Atwood. Then follow the six sections, which choreographically are largely quartets, or a variation on the quartet.

San Francisco Ballet in 'From Foreign Lands'San Francisco Ballet in ‘German’  from Alexei Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands. Photo: © Erik Tomasson, 2013. Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

Ratmansky’s choreography in this work contains some quite unexpected movement. He drops a supported cartwheel into ‘Spanish’, for example; elsewhere two men perform a simple jump on sequential beats so that they look like pistons going up and down; and occasionally the dancers face each other and dance mirror images. And all this alongside some glorious, ‘straightforward’ classical technique. I found ‘German’ one of the most interesting of the six sections, despite the fact that program notes suggest that it is ‘over-the-top romanticism’. As a quartet for three men and one woman it had a different feel from other combinations and I loved its lushness and the smooth and flowing dancing of Jennifer Stahl.

All in all a wonderfully uplifting program!

Michelle Potter, 10 March 2013

Featured image: San Francisco Ballet in ‘German’ from Alexei Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands. Photo: © Erik Tomasson, 2013. Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

Within the Golden Hour

Dance diary. October 2012

  • Dancing bronzes

During October I was utterly transfixed by an exhibition called Bronze on show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. I was sceptical when I read so many reviews all with glowing descriptions that seemed to border on hyperbole. But the exhbition was absolutely mind-blowing in its scope, in the intelligence of its presentation and in the power of the objects on display.

The centrepiece of the show is the ‘Dancing Satyr’, a slightly larger than life figure around 2,300 years old, which was dragged out of the sea by fishermen in 1998. It is the first object one encounters on entering the exhibition space and, although it is missing both arms and one leg, the sense of movement emanating from the figure is brilliant. No matter from which angle one looks at the figure it is dancing, wildly. Bathed in a soft, moody light this beautiful figure is the sole object in a quite large space. The impact is almost overpowering.

Dancing SatyrDancing Satyr, Greek, Hellenistic period, Third–second centuries BCE; Bronze, with white alabaster for eyes, H. 200 cm; Museo del Satiro, Church of Sant’Egidio, Mazara del Vallo; Photo Sicily, Regione Siciliana—Assessorato Regionale dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana—Dipartimento dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana—Servizio Museo interdisciplinare Regionale “A. Pepoli” Trapani / © 2012. Photo Scala, Florence

The show contains other dancing items including a serene dancing Shiva.

Of course many of the bronzes have nothing to do at all with dance but they are astonishing as well and include some unexpected (to me) items from Africa. The show covers an exceptionally wide period of time from the ancient world to the present. On the non-dancing front I loved a spider, hovering high on a wall, by Louise Bourgeois and a couple of beer cans in bronze from Jasper Johns.

Bronze is at the Royal Acaemy of Arts, London, 15 September 2012 to 9 December 2012. It’s a great show.

  • Bolshoi Ballet in Brisbane

The Queensland Performing Arts Centre today announced its latest dance coup. Australian dance-goers will have the opportunity to see two programs by the Bolshoi Ballet in Brisbane in a season lasting from 30 May-9 June 2013. The Bolshoi is bringing two full-length works. The season opens with Le Corsaire based on the production created by Marius Petipa in the nineteenth century but in a revival by Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka. The second program is another revival, this time of a 1935 work from the Soviet era, The bright stream, again with input from Alexei Ratmansky, who has given the work a fresh breath of life with new choreography.

Both works promise to be curiosities—The bright stream, for example, is set during a harvest festival on a collective farm in the Russian steppes where a Moscow dance troupe arrives to entertain the workers. The season is, however, an opportunity to consider Ratmansky’s work once more, especially in a year when his new Cinderella will be a feature of the Australian Ballet’s 2013 season.

'The bright stream', Bolshoi BalletDancers of the Bolshoi Ballet in The bright stream

More about the season at this link.

  • Yvonne Mounsey/Irina Zarova (1919–2012)

Late in September one of the few remaining dancers who performed in Australia with the Ballets Russes died in Los Angeles. Yvonne Mounsey, born Yvonne Leibbrandt in 1919 in Pretoria, South Africa, danced in Australia during the 1939‒1940 Original Ballet Russe tour under the name Irina Zarova. A quick scan of programs from that tour indicates that she danced in at least Pavane (see below), Scheherazade, Thamar, Le Coq d’or, Petrouchka, Francesca da Rimini, Coppélia and Etude. Mounsey then travelled with the de Basil company on to South America where she was involved in the infamous dancers’ strike.

'Pavane', Original Ballet Russe, 1940Tamara Grigorieva and Irina Zarova in Serge Lifar’s Pavane, Original Ballet Russe, 1940. Photo: National Library of Australia

Mounsey’s major career was in the United States with New York City Ballet and she had a long career as a teacher in Los Angeles. Here is a link to Alastair Macaulay’s obituary in The New York Times, the only one I have seen so far that mentions the Australian part of her life.

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2012

Alexei Ratmansky. ‘The real thing’

12–13 November 2011, City Center, New York

When I wrote unaffectionately about Alexei Ratmansky’s 2009 work for the Australian Ballet, a new version of the 1933 Massine ballet Scuola di ballo, I received some feedback from friend and colleague David Vaughan. David wrote that he wished I could see work made by Ratmansky for New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. ‘I am sure you would realize’, he wrote ‘that he is the real thing’.

It has been interesting, too, over the two years since I wrote that review to hear comments from dancers and others who worked with Ratmansky on that Australian production. They all found it a huge pleasure and had nothing but praise for Ratmansky. But nothing changes my opinion of his Scuola di ballo, and I had nothing to go on other than what I saw on stage, which is as it should be for any reviewer.

However, I now believe that David was right, at least in the wider scheme of things. I recently had the good fortune to see two performances of Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas during American Ballet Theatre’s recent Fall season at City Center, New York.

Seven Sonatas, also first made in 2009, is danced to keyboard sonatas by Domencio Scarlatti. The work is for three couples who engage with each other in a variety of combinations. They dance with and for each other. At the heart of the work, and centrally in the structure, are three pas de deux. The first and the longest had a note of anguish to it. Maria Riccetto and Blaine Hoven, in the first cast I saw, danced an intense and emotive pas de deux. Was this couple breaking apart? The woman seemed to be wanting to end the relationship as she extended her body away from the man. But it was never clear cut and Ratmansky’s gift to us was to leave us wondering.

The second pas de deux was also the shortest. It was full of unabashed pleasure, in life, dancing and partnership. Of the two casts I saw Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo best managed the spectacular choreography with its sudden changes of direction and its difficult turns. The third was a teasing game in which Julie Kent and Alexandre Hammoudi excelled. I loved Kent’s expressions, both facial and bodily, as she played with Hammoudi’s emotions, leading him on all the time. At one stage he was left alone briefly to dance a solo hoping Kent was watching from the wings. And she no doubt was as she re-entered the game to bring it to a satisfying conclusion with a leap into his arms.

Before and after these pas de deux we were treated to such lyrical movement in which the arms and upper body played a major role. Sometimes the arms and hands seemed very natural—clasped in front or behind the body, although clearly choreographed to be that way. Other times, rather than the palms facing each other in classical mode, the arms were held with the palms facing outwards and the arms opened as if pushing the air away. Sometimes the arm and hand movements were just totally surprising. At one stage Julie Kent executed a set of turns with arms in fifth position. But a closer look revealed that her fists were clenched and her wrists crossed. But diversity and surprise were features across every aspect of the work, especially in the way steps were combined and conceived as part of the work’s structure.

This work also presented every one of the six dancers as individuals. Individuality extended beyond the choreography even to the women’s hairstyles—beautifully braided in some cases but always drawn well off the face showing the elegance of the neck. And mention should be made of Holly Hynes’ costumes. The women wore soft white dresses, reaching well below the knee and with bodices decorated with pinkish brown trimmings, each slightly different. The men were costumed in white tights and short white jackets, again each slightly different in cut and trimming.

Seven Sonatas is a ballet for all. If you want to see a delicious work, which is also somehow very calming, then this is it. You don’t have to work hard to be given a special experience. But if you want more then it’s all there too. It could be watched multiple times and would always keep giving. But perhaps best of all, Ratmansky has made a work that speaks of, and asks questions about life and love through movement. I can think of nothing better or more admirable.

Michelle Potter, 15 November 2011

And to the Australian Ballet: give us the real thing please!

‘Concord’. The Australian Ballet

Por vos muero, Scuola di ballo & Dyad 1929, 21 August to 1 September 2009, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne

Tzu-Chao Chou & Lana Jones in Dyad 1929. Photo: Jim McFarlane. Courtesy: The Australian Ballet

Tzu-Chao Chou & Lana Jones in Dyad 1929. Photo: © Jim McFarlane. Courtesy of the Australian Ballet

The Australian Ballet finally hit the jackpot! In the dying months of its four year long celebration of the Ballets Russes, Wayne McGregor arrived in Melbourne and created his Dyad 1929—a work that is truly in the adventurous spirit of the Diaghilev period.

Dyad 1929 is made for a cast of twelve dancers, six women and six men. It is danced against a white backcloth, patterned all over with regular rows of black dots, which extends to a floorcloth. A thin horizontal bar of acid yellow light is raised and lowered in the extreme downstage area during the piece. Occasionally yellow light floods onto the backcloth. This ‘stage concept’ is by McGregor and the work’s lighting designer Lucy Carter. The dancers are costumed by Moritz Junge in close-fitting leotards, or all-overs, or trunks and tops in various combinations and patterns of white, black and fawn. The overall design concept is startling and exhilarating, as is the music—Double Sextet by Steve Reich.

But it is the choreography that lifts Dyad 1929 beyond the startling to the brave and the challenging. There is a matter-of-factness in the way the dancers enter and leave the stage. A la William Forsythe they walk, simply but decisively, on and off. Once on, however, their bodies become an experimental field. They are pushed, pulled and stretched. They crumple, bend and fold. Sometimes the movements look hard-edged. At other times they look more curvaceous. And what seems quite extraordinary is that often movements that are commonplace in a particular situation are put into completely new context. A stretching exercise commonly done at the barre becomes part of a duet, for example. And again extraordinarily, McGregor occasionally follows a twisted movement with a classical, centred one so that the eye can better discern what is central to each.

Standout dancers in two viewings were Lana Jones, cool and poised in a duet with Tzu-Chao Chou, and Danielle Rowe, more softly sinuous in a duet with Adam Bull—Jones a diamond, Rowe a pearl, both using their prodigious technical capacity to dance this audacious and demanding choreography. They dance purposefully, but also with what borders on ecstasy so intently and intensely do they articulate the choreography. This is what dancers crave: to be challenged to use their bodies to do the seemingly impossible, and thus to understand more about their art form.

This triple bill with the overarching name of ‘Concord’ opened with Nacho Duato’s sublime Por vos muero. Por vos remains a compelling work swinging between a stripped back look at human relationships, which we see in the three duets that open the work, to highly theatrical moments as in the scene in which six men in brocade cloaks swirl across the stage swinging censers that fill the air with incense. Daniel Gaudiello gave a particularly strong performance. It highlighted all the remarkable nuances of Duato’s choreography.

The third work on the program, also part of the Ballets Russes project, was a new production of Léonide Massine’s 1933 work, Scuola di ballo, in this case  choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. Ratmansky adhered to the narrative and choreographic structure of Massine’s work but, in terms of movement, the work looked more like a homage to August Bournonville. Ratmansky emphasised beaten footwork for the men and his pas de deux contained very few lifts, especially big overhead lifts. In typical Bournonville style the man for the most part danced alongside his partner. This was especially noticeable in the pas de deux between the characters Rosina and Carlino, which was prettily danced by Leanne Stojmenov and Daniel Gaudiello in one cast and Danielle Rowe and Ty King-Wall in another.

Scuola‘s comic elements were a hit with the audience but I am not convinced that attempting to reproduce what was clearly not Massine’s best ballet was a worthwhile endeavour. What it did was remind me that not all ballets from the Ballets Russes era (whether from the Diaghilev period or from that of his followers) are worth recalling. Restaging or reproducing works as museum or celebratory pieces only works if the original was a piece of major importance in the first place. I don’t believe that Scuola di ballo was. Ballet has moved on. Thankfully.

And thankfully there are choreographers like Wayne McGregor to show that the way ahead can be as adventurous as it was under Diaghilev.

Michelle Potter, 23 August 2009

Footnote: Showing in Melbourne at the same time as ‘Concord’ is an exhibition documenting the career of Salvador Dali. Included in the show, which is at the National Gallery of Victoria, is film footage of Massine’s 1939 collaboration with Dali on the ballet Bacchanale for Sergei Denham’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. It makes an interesting comparison with Scuola di ballo and comments on Bacchanale and its reception by Frederic Franklin, one of the original cast, are  easily found via any search engine and are eminently readable.

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