‘Tree of Codes.’ Melbourne Festival, 2017

18 October 2017 (matinee), State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne

Choreography: Wayne McGregor
Visual concept: Olafur Eliasson
Music: Jamie XX
Inspired by The Tree of Codes, a novel/artwork by Jonathan Safran Foer

It is absolutely undeniable that Tree of Codes, a dance highlight at the 2017 Melbourne Festival, is an astonishing act of collaboration. I sat through the entire 70 minutes of the show wondering about those scrims, mirrored screens, arches of light that seemed also to be caves, and the final huge metal structure with revolving cut-out circles of glass/perspex/something that reminded me (partially or at times anyway) of an art deco doorway and a Tiffany lamp all rolled into one. I have never really seen such theatrically in visual design. And the design included lighting that spread its way around the stage and the auditorium, in many shapes and colours and patterns and even made the stage appear to tilt forward and back at times (at least I think it happened via the lighting). Into all this, 14 dancers—two from the Paris Opera Ballet, 11 from Company Wayne McGregor, and guest artist Mara Galeazzi—wove their way through McGregor’s highly physical choreography to the very loud, sometimes melodic, sometimes driving score by Jamie XX.

In retrospect I can’t help wondering why I didn’t get visual and aural indigestion from what seemed to be a surfeit of elements. But I didn’t. The elements came together well, although in a way that was often puzzling. How did it happen, what were the technical aspects of it? It was so spectacular and unusual that it was impossible not to wonder and wonder.

'Tree of Codes.' Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

Tree of Codes. Photo: © Joel Chester Tildes

Despite the colour and sound, the most interesting moments for me came from the dancers. I especially enjoyed the work of Lucie Fenwick from the Paris Opera Ballet and Daniela Neugebauer from Company Wayne McGregor. They were outstanding individually, especially Fenwick who danced on pointe but who made dancing on pointe so à la McGregor. But there was a magnificent section towards the end where they danced a dialogue with each other, interacting with such joyous momentum that they pretty much stole the show. Of the men I admired the extraordinarily fluid movement of Jacob O’Connell of Company Wayne McGregor. But my favourites should be seen as just that, my pick. Every dancer accomplished the tasks set with power and unbelievable energy.

'Tree of Codes.' Photo: Zan Wimberley

Tree of Codes. Photo: © Zan Wimberley

Tree of Codes is perhaps not the masterpiece that the media releases would have us believe. In terms of McGregor’s work that I have seen to date Woolf Works continues to stand out, as do some of his shorter works made for the Royal Ballet and his FAR for Random Dance. But Tree of Codes was more than entertaining and has set the bar high as an extraordinary collaborative work.

Michelle Potter, 21 October 2017

Featured image: Tree of Codes. Photo: © Ravi Deepres

Artists of Paris Opera Ballet in 'Herman Schmerman'. Photo: © Ann Ray/Opera national de Paris

‘Merce Cunningham. William Forsythe.’ Paris Opera Ballet

22 April, 2017, Palais Garnier, Paris

Recently The Times (London) carried a short article entitled ‘Learn language while you wait for web page to load’. It concerned newly developed apps that ‘test you on vocabulary in idle moments, such as when you are connecting to a network or waiting for an instant message.’*  The timing of the article was serendipitous. It came to my attention as I was about to see Paris Opera Ballet’s triple bill, Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe. It seemed like it was an update to what Merce Cunningham was interested to explore with his Walkaround Time (1968), the first work on the POB program. I set off for the theatre with even more anticipation than usual. Cunningham truly was ahead of his time I mused.

The title Walkaround Time, according to Cunningham, comes from computer language. ‘You feed the computer information then you have to wait while it digests.’** Cunningham mentions, however, that it isn’t clear whether it is the computer or the user who is doing the walking around, although for him it is clearly the people!

Artists of Paris Opera Ballet in Walkaroud Time, 2017. Photo: Ann Ray/Opéra national de Paris

The dancers of POB handled the Cunningham choreography beautifully—staging was by ex-Cunningham dancers Jennifer Goggans and Meg Harper. I admired especially the dancer who took the role originally danced by Carolyn Brown. Many of the artists appearing in this program (at least at the performance I saw) were not high enough up in the POB hierarchy to warrant a photo in the printed program, so I don’t know who she was. In any case, she was exceptional in her ability to display the balance and stillness this role requires at times, but also showed a beautiful fullness to her dancing when moving was part of the choreography. But all the dancers I saw, with their finely honed bodies and inbuilt understanding of shape and space, brought a wonderful quality to the work, showing as they did the clarity of Cunningham’s deceptively simple choreography.

Jasper Johns’ set, which referred to Marcel Duchamp’s dada-ist Large Glass, and David Behrman’s score …for nearly an hour…, set the work firmly within the Cunningham collaborative tradition, highlighting the independence of the collaborative elements. Watching Walkaround Time was a truly evocative and quite exciting experience.

The first of the two works by William Forsythe that made up the rest of the program was Trio. It had some conceptual similarities to the Cunningham piece, even though Forsythe, unlike Cunningham, works within the vocabulary of classical ballet. Trio was a kind of slapstick piece, reminding me a little of something from Cirque du soleil. The dancers came forward pointing out different parts of their body in between dancing and engaging in a kind of rough and tumble physical contact. But, with its stop-start musical accompaniment (a Quartet by Beethoven), and with several sections of dancing being executed in silence, the link back to Cunningham was uncanny.

Herman Schmerman, consists of two parts (made at different times in the 1990s)—a pas de cinq followed by a pas de deux. It probably was the work that showed the dancers of Paris Opera Ballet at their balletic best. The pas de cinq, fast-paced and showy, gave them the opportunity to display speed, intricate beaten work and extended limbs. I especially enjoyed the dancing of Chun Wing Lam. He moved brilliantly, using every part of his body. He twisted, turned, bent all ways, moved so smoothly and fluidly, and looked as though he was having the best time. Wonderful to watch.

The pas de deux, danced by Aurélia  Bellet and Aurélien Houette, was a little unusual. In its vocabulary, it had Forsythe’s signature elements of extended limbs, off-centre poses, startling lifts, and the like, scattered throughout the piece. But the communication between the two dancers was not what one might have expected. They were sometimes off-hand with each other, and sometimes they seemed to be in teasing mode. They were a little cheeky and often amusing in the way they related to each other. A bit like life really.

Both the pas de cinq and pas de deux had delightful and surprising endings. As the pas de cinq came to an end, all five dancers disappeared behind a low barrier that stretched across the back of the stage. The accompanying lighting, by Tanji Rühl and Forsythe, was gorgeous and was enhanced by the appearance of two large orange/yellow circles of light on the backcloth as the dancers popped their heads up over the barrier. In a similarly surprising and delightful way, towards the end of the pas de deux both the woman and the man added short, yellow, pleated skirts over their black, close-fitting costumes (costume design by Gianni Versace and Forsythe) and continued the dance with skirts swinging jauntily.

Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe was an inspired program. It was through the vision of Benjamin Millepied, now no longer dance director of POB, that these three works entered the repertoire. Together they made up a program that clearly showed what dance can accomplish in the hands of two exceptional intellects and two inquiring choreographic minds.

Michelle Potter, 24 April 2017

Featured image: Artists of Paris Opera Ballet in Herman Schmerman, 2017. Photo: © Ann Ray/Opéra national de Paris

* The Times (London), 22 April 2017, p. 5
** Quoted in the app Merce Cunningham 65 Years

‘George Balanchine’. Paris Opera Ballet

9 November 2016, Palais Garnier, Paris

This all Balanchine program, which consisted of Mozartiana, Brahms-Schönberg Quartet and Violin Concerto, was staged in honour of Violette Verdy (1933-2016) who directed the Paris Opera Ballet between 1977 and 1980. I recall too that Mme Verdy coached Australian Ballet dancers during the directorship of Maina Gielgud and, of course, Verdy was a ballerina of international standing with a strong heritage of performing Balanchine. She died in February 2016. Earlier performances of this program also included Balanchine’s Sonatine, created for Verdy and Jean-Pierre Bonnefous in 1975, although by the time I got to see the program, Sonatine (for reasons unknown to me) had been dropped.

I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with Mozartiana. I have wonderful memories of it as performed by New York City Ballet where I loved the pride and the dignity that accompanied the dancing, and where the four young dancers who are included in the cast (in New York always from the School of American Ballet) seemed to be the recipients of a great tradition. While there was nothing amiss with the dancing by the Paris Opera Ballet cast I saw, including the young performers from the Paris Opera Ballet School, the work looked like nothing more than a pretty ballet to me. I did especially enjoy, however, the folk overtones in the choreography, and the performance by the second male lead, Fabien Revillion. Mozartiana is a new addition this season to the repertoire of the Paris Opera Ballet so it will be interesting to see how it develops on this company.

On the other hand, Brahms-Schönberg Quartet, which I had not seen before, and Violin Concerto were a huge pleasure to watch. In part it was seeing them together that gave such pleasure as they embody two quite different aspects of Balanchine’s choreographic approach.

Brahms-Schönberg Quartet, also a new addition to the repertoire of Paris Opera Ballet but originally made in 1966, had startling yet quite beautiful, newly created designs by Karl Lagerfeld. For the ladies, the classical long tutu was maintained but the designs on the bodices were black and white geometric patterns, as were the designs on the jackets and vests worn by the men. Choreographically, the style was clearly classical with groupings occasionally reminding me of those in Les Sylphides, especially in the third movement. There were some very lyrical, swooning lifts in the second movement, in which the colour scheme was pink and black, and some strong male dancing throughout. The final movement, however, came as a shock, albeit a pleasant and probably very Balanchinian one. The ladies continued to dance in pointe shoes but the men were in boots and the movement was in a rousing Hungarian peasant style.

The Stravinsky Violin Concerto, on the other hand, was one of Balanchine’s black and white ballets and showed him in his ‘show pony’ style where dancers bounced through every movement with individuality, even when strong unified movement was required (and given).

Artists of Paris Opera Ballet in 'Violin concerto', 2016: Photo: Sebastien Mathe/Opera national de Pari

Artists of Paris Opera Ballet in Violin Concerto, 2016. Photo: © Sébastien Mathé/Opéra national de Paris

For me, the standout dancer in this work, and in fact in the entire program, was Hugo Marchand who partnered Amandine Albisson in the ‘Aria 1’ section. His own dancing showed great technical skills and his partnering displayed beautiful interaction with Albisson. I also loved his proud carriage of the body and particularly the way his body occupied the space around it—a very unusual quality possessed by very few.

Violin Concerto was given a remarkable performance and, while I’m not sure whether I was imagining this or not, I kept hearing brass instruments situated outside the orchestra pit. Surround sound? But wherever the brass instruments were, the sound from the orchestra of the Opéra national de Paris conducted by Kevin Rhodes was spectacular.

Michelle Potter, 10 November 2016

Featured image: Artists of the Paris Opera Ballet in Brahms-Schönberg Quartet, 2016. Photo: © Sébastien Mathé/Opéra national de Paris

Artists of Paris Opera Ballet in Brahms Schoenberg Quartet, 2016. Photo: Sebastien Mathe/Opera national de Paris

For my Australian and New Zealand readers, sadly Hannah O’Neill was not performing the night I was there.

 

Robyn Hendricks in 'After The Rain'. Photo: Daniel Boud 2016

Dance diary. June 2016

  • Robyn Hendricks

South African-born Robyn Hendricks is the newest principal dancer with the Australian Ballet, having been promoted to the position earlier this month. My most pleasant memory of Hendricks’ dancing is in Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain, in Canberra in 2013 partnered by Rudy Hawkes, and in Sydney this year partnered by Damian Smith.

Robyn Hendricks and Damian Smith in 'After the Rain', 2016. Photo: Daniel Boud

Robyn Hendricks and Damian Smith in After the Rain, 2016. Photo: © Daniel Boud

  • Stephen Page

Congratulations to Stephen Page, artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, who has been honoured with the JC Williamson Award by Live Performance Australia. The award is in recognition of ‘individuals who have made a truly outstanding contribution to the enrichment of the Australian live entertainment and performing arts culture and shaped the future of the industry for the better.’ It would be hard to find anyone in the Australian dance community who is more deserving of this award than Stephen Page. For over 25 years he has worked tirelessly to create a body of work that highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and he has consistently encouraged many of his indigenous colleagues to do the same.

The JC Williamson Award was first presented in 1998 and since then only two others from the dance community have been honoured: Graeme Murphy in 2002 and Margaret Scott in 2007.

Bangarra%2c Belong rehearsal 2010%2c photo by Jess Bialek-2

Stephen Page in rehearsal for Belong. Photo: © Jess Bialek

  • Tutus, Hannah O’Neill and the Paris Opera Ballet

The Paris Opera Ballet newsletter for July (in English) contains an article about the making of tutus for the company’s recent production of Giselle. It is of particular interest for its inclusion of an image of Hannah O’Neill in the role of Myrtha. If the number of times the tag Hannah O’Neill is accessed on this website is anything to go by, O’Neill continues to attract significant interest in Australia and New Zealand. Here is the link. There are a number of other interesting links within this article.

  • The Australian Ballet’s film partnership with CinemaLive

The Australian Ballet has plans over the course of coming years to screen, in partnership with CinemaLive, some of its recent productions. The first program of three works, to screen in 2016–2017, is The Fairy Tale Series, comprising The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella (Ratmansky) and Coppélia. No specific dates or venues are available at this stage, although a recent media release mentions that the productions will be screened in ‘over 600 cinemas worldwide, in territories including North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Central and South America.’

Similar initiatives have made it possible for audiences worldwide to see performances from such companies as the Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet. It’s good to see the Australian Ballet following suit.

  • Benjamin Shine

It was good to see a mention in The Canberra Times of the success of a brief video posted by The Huffington Post about the work of Canberra-based artist Benjamin Shine. I mentioned Shine’s beautiful installation in the Canberra Centre in my Dance diary for April 2015. Recent Canberra Times story and video at this link.

  • Mr Gaga

During June I was able to get to see the documentary Mr Gaga as part of the HotDocs Festival. The title refers to Ohad Naharin’s Gaga movement vocabulary, a kind of improvisatory, cathartic vocabulary that Naharin created and has developed as a teaching tool, which is shown during the documentary. The film offered an interesting insight into Naharin’s career, including into his early life, and contained plenty of examples of his remarkable choreography, danced exceptionally by his Batsheva Dance Company. It aroused a whole variety of emotions in me including, I have to say, anger at what I thought was an extremely dangerous action on Naharin’s part while he was coaching one of his dancers as she tried to perfect a falling motion! But there were some very moving moments, some funny ones and a host of others. Well worth a look I think.

  • Press for June 2016

‘Study for RED.’ Article on the work of dancer and choreographer Liz Lea. The Canberra Times—Panorama, 18 June 2016, pp. 8–9. Online version.

‘Small company has big aspirations.’ Preview of Melbourne Ballet Company’s Divenire program. The Canberra Times—Panorama, 25 June 2016, p. 12. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 June 2016

Featured image: Robyn Hendricks in After the Rain (detail), 2016. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Hannah O’Neill. Principal dancer

Hannah O’Neill has been promoted to principal [premier danseur—literal translation first dancer] with the Paris Opera Ballet. Follow this link for the results of the competitive round for female dancers, which took place on 3 November. O’Neill danced the set piece, Spring from The Four Seasons by Jerome Robbins, and her chosen piece, the variation from Act III of Nureyev’s production of Raymonda.

This is an absolutely astonishing feat given that O’Neill graduated from the Australian Ballet School only four years ago in 2011. Her seasonal contract with the Paris Opera Ballet began shortly afterwards with a permanent contract for life being offered in mid 2013.

Félicitations!

Dance diary. October 2015

  • The return of Ochres

Bangarra Dance Theatre has a special program coming up at the end of November—a brief revival of Ochres at Carriageworks in Sydney beginning on 27 November.

Tara Gower in a study for 'Ochres'. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Tara Gower in study for Ochres. Bangarra Dance Theatre, 2015. Photo: © Edward Mulvihill

Ochres was one of Bangarra’s earliest works and is still regarded as a milestone in the company’s history. Co-choreographed by Stephen Page and Bernadette Walong, it was first performed in Sydney in 1994. In 1995 it came to Canberra as part of the National Festival of Australian Theatre, the brainchild of Robyn Archer and for a few years one of the highlights of the theatre scene in Canberra. Anyone who was lucky enough to see Ochres back then in its first years will never, I am sure, forget Djakapurra Munyarryun smearing his body with yellow ochre as the work began.

Looking back through my archive, I discovered a review I had written for Muse, a monthly arts magazine produced in Canberra and initially edited by Helen Musa (Muse—like the Festival—is now, sadly, defunct). Re-reading the review I found I had speculated in 1995 on how Bangarra would develop in future years, especially in regard to the growth of a recognisable Bangarra style and vocabulary. Well that has certainly happened and it will be interesting to look back on Ochres as an early work in which Page and Walong were testing ways of doing just that—setting Bangarra on a journey to discover a contemporary, indigenous dance style.

Further details at this link.

  • Hannah O’Neill

One of my favourite French dance sites, Danses avec la plume, recently posted some news about Hannah O’Neill and the up-and-coming competitive examinations for promotion within the Paris Opera Ballet. Female dancers will face the jury on 3 November. O’Neill’s name has been suggested on a number of occasions for promotion into one of two positions as principal dancer. One author suggests O’Neill is an Etoile in the making and the future of the company! (Une promotion d’Hannah O’Neill me plairait beaucoup aussi. C’est une danseuse brillante, une future Étoile, elle est l’avenir de la troupe.)

The word is too that Benjamin Millepied, now directing Paris Opera Ballet, would have liked to have dispensed with this ingrained competitive system of promotion, but the dancers voted that it remain.

See this link for what is currently ‘trending’ regarding the promotions, and follow this this link to see an image of O’Neill (taken by Isabelle Aubert) with Pierre Lacotte after a performance of Lacotte’s production of Paquita.

  • All the things: QL2 Dance

As an annual event on its performance calendar, QL2 Dance produces a short program of dance for its young and less experienced dancers, aged from 8 to 17. This year the program, All the Things, included choreography by Ruth Osborne, Jamie Winbank, Alison Plevey and Joshua Lowe with perhaps the most interesting moments coming from Plevey’s ‘girly’ piece about shopping, ‘Material Matters’, and Joshua Lowe’s male-oriented ‘I Need’ about ‘needing’ technological devices in one’s life. It was an entertaining, if somewhat sexist juxtaposition of ideas in these two pieces, which had been strategically placed side by side in the program.

Scene from 'All the Things'. QL2 Dance, 2015. Photo: Lorna Sim

Scene from All the Things. QL2 Dance, 2015. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But the great thing about this annual event is the experience it gives these young dancers. James Batchelor (independent), Daniel Riley (Bangarra Dance Theatre) and Sam Young-Wright (Sydney Dance Company) are just three current professionals who had early dance experiences with Quantum Leap.

  • New book from photographer Lois Greenfield

One of the most pleasurable experiences I had while working in New York between 2006 and 2008 was visiting the studio of dance photographer Lois Greenfield. I was there to buy a collection of her images for the Jerome Robbins Dance Division. She is about to launch a new book. See this link for details.

  • Press for October

‘Lording it in high-tech high jinks.’ Review of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance: Dangerous GamesThe Canberra Times, 9 October 2015, ‘Times 2’ pp. 6–7. Online version.

‘Sizzling and simply sensational.’ Review of Natalie Weir’s Carmen Sweet for Expressions Dance Company. The Canberra Times, 13 October 2015, ‘Times 2’ p. 6. Online version.

‘Dancing our way next year.’ Preview of dance in Canberra in 2016. The Canberra Times, 26 October 2015, ‘Times  2’ p. 6. Online version.

‘Listless on the Lake.’ Review of Swan Lake by the Russian National Ballet Theatre. The Canberra Times, 31 October 2015, ARTS, p. 20. Online version .

Michelle Potter, 31 October 2015

‘Celebrate Dance’. Paris Opera Ballet

The Paris Opera Ballet once again demonstrated its incredible technical and artistic strengths in Celebrate Dance, a film introduced by the company’s retiring director Brigitte Lefèvre and recently released in Australian cinemas. Opening the program was the Paris Opera Ballet’s traditional parade of dancers from the company and its school—the défilé—seen for the first time on film. This spectacular presentation begins in a chandeliered ante-room, the foyer de la danse of Degas fame. Some 350 artists and artists-to-be, beginning with the youngest children from the ballet school and ending with the étoiles of the company, make their way from the ante-room down the stage of the Palais Garnier, giving a bow as they reach the front of the stage before moving into assigned places. There is no formal dancing as such but it generates goose-bumps to see these dancers on parade, and to hear the audience honour them with, as might be expected, the greatest applause given to the étoiles, who enter singly rather than in a group as happens with the rest of the artists. Finally they form a tableau which Robert Greskovic has described in his book Ballet 101: a complete guide to learning and loving the ballet: ‘In its final tableau the défilé amasses a garden of ballet beauty, paying homage to the art form’s continuity and freshness.’

Paris Opera Ballet, 'Défilé'

Le défilé du ballet, final tableau, Paris Opera Ballet, 2014

There is also an account of the origin of the défilé du ballet, as it is now called, in Greskovic’s book. He notes that this parade of dancers was introduced by ballet master Léo Staats in 1926, when it was called Le défilé. The name was changed to Le grand défilé when the director of the company was Serge Lifar. Currently it is performed to the March of the Trojans from Les Troyens of Hector Belioz. Staats set it to the March from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

The défilé was followed by a performance of Études, which Lefèvre spoke of in her introduction as being a rather challenging ballet! But the Paris Opera Ballet seemed to sail through the performance with all the precision and technical expertise that the work demands. I enjoyed in particular one of the opening sequences done at the barre in which the dancers showed three different types of ronds de jambe—à terre, en l’air and grands, with perfect timing and precision, every leg at the same height, every foot closing at the same time and so on. Mesmerising mechanics performed with speed! These opening sections at the barre were enhanced, I thought, by moody lighting in which the upper part of the body was scarcely visible at times. It gave absolute focus to the precise movements of the lower body, a special effect of the film not usually achieved in a stage performance.

Dorothée Gilbert danced the leading female role in Études and she was partnered by Joshua Hoffalt and Karl Paquette. It was impossible not to be stunned by their joyous dancing—in particular by Gilbert’s beautifully controlled balances and multiple turns, and the beats, turns and jumps of the two men. But every dancer performed astonishingly well. And again yes, O’Neill was there turning fabulous fouettés and making her presence well and truly felt.

I regret that circumstances did not allow me to stay to see the final section, excerpts (as far as I could tell) from Nutcracker. I would be delighted to receive comments on this last section.

Michelle Potter, 19 April 2015

Footnote: And on the subject of Études, I recently interviewed Lisa Pavane for the National Library of Australia’s oral history program. When this interview goes online, hopefully soon, it is worth listening to Pavane’s account of dancing in Études. It was after her opening night performance in this extremely demanding ballet in 1986 that she was promoted to principal.

‘Le palais de cristal’ & ‘Daphnis et Chloé’. Paris Opera Ballet

Watching dance on the big screen has many pleasures. Perhaps the biggest joy these days is being able to see, so soon after a premiere, works presented by major companies from the other side of the world. The recent screening in Australia of a filmed performance from the Paris Opera Ballet is a case in point. Filmed just days after the opening at the Opéra Bastille, this program brought together Le palais de cristal from George Balanchine and Daphnis et Chloé, a new work from Benjamin Millepied, shortly to take over at POB from Brigitte Lefèvre.

Le palais de cristal opened the program. Made by Balanchine in 1947 especially for POB, it is better known around the world in a revised form as Symphony in C. One of the aspects of the filming that I especially liked was that the recording was often made from a position high up in the theatre. As a result the precise and very formal patterns Balanchine created for Le palais de cristal were easily appreciated. But we were also given many occasions to see the dancers as if we were  sitting in the best seats in the house. The closer shots provided a good view of the costumes, newly designed by Christian Lacroix. Some have seen them as overly decorative. I thought they suited the work and I was especially fascinated by the tutus for the corps de ballet. They seemed to have a hoop-like addition to the skirt that gave them a kind of puff-ball look.

But of course the highlight was the dancing. It is always amazing to see the precision of the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet. Never a foot wrong! One dancer from amongst the soloists stood out. Not knowing the dancers as much as I would like I don’t know her name but she was, I think, of Japanese extraction. What appealed to me was the way she stepped forward into the space in front of her, generously, and the way her movements seemed to have an ongoing existence. A lift of the arm didn’t finish at the finger tips but looked as though it continued through space. Beautiful.

Paris Opera Ballet, 'Le palais de cristal'. Photo: Agathe Pouponey

Amandine Albisson, Matthieu Ganio and dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet in Le palais de cristal, 1st movement. Photo: © Agathe Poupeney

Daphnis et Chloé had a certain fascination, given that I remain an admirer of Graeme Murphy and his works made for Sydney Dance Company made over a thirty year period between the mid 1970s and the early 2000s. Murphy’s Daphnis and Chloe, made in 1980 and designed by Kristian Fredrikson, could not have been further apart from that of Millepied. But I have no wish to make a comparison, just a comment on what a different take it was, visually, choreographically and in terms of portrayal of the narrative.

I found Millepied’s work hard to follow. The choreography certainly flowed and there were some lovely moments of mass movement from the corps. But the storyline wasn’t really conveyed strongly. It was something of a cross between a story ballet and an abstraction, but in the end neither. The standout dancer was François Alu as Bryaxis. Millepied gave him a solo full of spectacular jumps and turns and he rose to the occasion.

Daniel Buren’s large, brightly coloured shapes that descended from the flies and then withdrew back upwards were beautiful in themselves but they didn’t help with understanding the story. In the interview Buren gave to Mme Lefèvre prior to the start of the performance he talked about voids and the idea of occupying space. He is a conceptual artist but the concept he was aiming for with his design to my mind didn’t help the ballet. And why, at the conclusion of the ballet, were the dancers’ costumes transformed into colour from the white they were throughout the rest of the work? At the same time, Buren’s shapes were removed only to reappear a little later for a curtain call. The whole thing escaped me. I wondered whether, for this work, I would have been more satisfied had I been in the theatre watching live.

Despite my problems with Daphnis et Chloé, it is always a huge pleasure watching Paris Opera Ballet performances. The practice of filming live and then transmitting around the world is a great initiative. May it continue.

Michelle Potter, 30 July 2014

‘Paquita’ & ‘La Sylphide’. A second look

16 November 2013 (matinee), Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

I was startled to see, when looking at the Australian Ballet’s website to check the casting for my Sydney subscription performance of Paquita and La Sylphide, that Paquita was advertised as a Romantic ballet—’the last flowering of the Romantic ballet’. Elsewhere on the website the program was described as ‘the first and last [of the] great Romantic ballets on one double bill’. The original, full-length Paris production of Paquita (1846) might have been in the Romantic tradition, although that is disputed by some, but what the Australian Ballet has been presenting is definitely not a Romantic work. Marius Petipa made additions to the original Paquita when he restaged his version in Russia in 1881 (1882 new style date). Those interpolations with music by Minkus are, I believe, what most companies now perform. The complete ballet was staged relatively recently (2001) by Pierre Lacotte for the Paris Opera Ballet, but not many other companies have a full-length production in their repertoire. Without the rest of the ballet, the Petipa arrangements can scarcely be called Romantic, although the Spanish overtones we see and hear in the Petipa excerpts do allude to the Spanish elements of the full-length ballet.

Artists of the Paris Opera Ballet in 'Paquita'
Artists of the Paris Opera Ballet in Pierre Lacotte’s production of Paquita

That aside, it was a thrill to see Daniel Gaudiello taking the male role in my Sydney viewing of the Australian Ballet’s excerpts from Paquita. What I love about Gaudiello’s dancing (apart from his technical abilities) is his wonderful approach to partnering. He is so attentive to and caring of his partner (Lucinda Dunn on this occasion) without being merely a ‘porteur’. When he stands back from her and lifts his arms to an open fifth position he is not only triumphantly showing her off as the ballerina, but also showing his own polish and charisma as a true ‘danseur noble’. He has great style.

Of the variations I especially enjoyed the second variation, subtly and gently danced by Jessica Fyfe, and the dancing of the two demi-soloists, Vivienne Wong and Benedicte Bemet, the latter certainly a rising personality.

I was pleased too that my previous disappointment with the staging of La Sylphide dissipated somewhat with a second look. This time I thought there was much more feeling for the Romantic style in the second act and a better contrast between the first and second acts.

La sylphide Jeff Busby
Artists of the Australian Ballet in La sylphide. Photo: © Jeff Busby, 2013

Perhaps it was Reiko Hombo, who gave a strong, individualistic interpretation, beautifully danced, of the Sylph that made the difference. The lightness and height of her jump; her softly unfolding, beautifully controlled arabesques; her lovely rounded arms; and her supple upper body gave the right technical feel to the role. In addition, her interpretation was consistent and well thought through. There was a definite wickedness of intention there under all that charm as she made every effort to convince James of her wish that he join her in her forest realm. It brought home very nicely that ‘beautiful danger’ that respected Danish scholar Erik Aschengreen so perceptively wrote about many years ago as being a defining characteristic of the Romantic era. And Hombo carried this approach through into the second act.

Hombo was partnered by Chengwu Guo as James and he had, I thought, settled well into the role since my previous viewing. Perhaps again it was Hombo who made the difference. She gave him something to respond to, and as technical partners they work well together. Halaina Hills as Effie and Amy Harris as the lead Sylph in Act II also added a certain strength to the overall production. But I regret that the important role of Madge always seems to degenerate into something a little manic. It has been a long time since there has been a really powerful performance in Australia of that role. Without a strong and convincing Madge the ballet loses much of its intent.

Erik Bruhn as Madge in 'La sylphide', the Australian Ballet, 1985. Photo: Walter Stringer
Erik Bruhn as Madge in La Sylphide, the Australian Ballet, 1985. Photo: Walter Stringer. National Library of Australia

My earlier post on this program is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 17 November 2013

Hannah O’Neill: Coryphée

Exciting news for Hannah O’Neill and her many fans around the world. O’Neill has just performed brilliantly in the annual Paris Opera Ballet concours and has been promoted to coryphée. This is an astonishing achievement given that she was accepted into the company as a life member only three months ago.

For an interesting article on the concours by Roslyn Sulcas writing in The New York Times in 2009 follow this link.

While I negotiate a more relevant image, here is one I shot by the Pont neuf in Paris in 2012 during the recording of an interview for the Heath Ledger Project.
Hannah O'Neill, Paris, May 2012
Michelle Potter, 12 November 2013