Bespoke. Queensland Ballet

30 July 2022. Talbot Theatre, Thomas Dixon Centre, Brisbane

Bespoke for 2022 comprised Tethered by Petros Treklis, Biography by Stephanie Lake and A Rhapsody in Time by Greg Horsman. All three had lighting by Cameron Goerg and costumes by Zoe Griffiths. Choreographically it was a highly diverse program and continues Queensland Ballet’s annual, and admirable, program of promoting new choreography.

Treklis’ work, danced to a score by James Brown, left me somewhat cold I have to say. Treklis says in program notes that his work explores ‘the idea of the unknown and our other selves’. For me it focused on darkness with a bit of light thrown in for good measure. The cast of fifteen was mostly dressed in dark grey garb, a kind of boiler suit but with (I think) some kind of monster-style head covering—it was hard to see in the darkness just exactly what comprised the costume. Those dressed this way were programmed as Shadows. Then there were two figures, a Man and a Woman, who at times interacted with the main group of Shadows. They were dressed in costumes that were light coloured, and much less all-encompassing. Choreographically the Shadows had mostly group poses and movements to perform whereas the Man and the Woman had more freedom. But I’m not sure what was the outcome of the relationship between the light and the dark. The work was danced strongly by Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists who deserve credit for making Tethered watchable.

Scene from Tethered, Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

Stephanie Lake’s Biography sat at the other end of the spectrum really. Danced to a mixture of music from J. S. Bach to Robin Fox, it was lighter and brighter, sometimes even amusing. Lake describes it as ‘the subterranean forces that shape out lives’ and choreographically the work provided us with some fascinating structures—some were strongly and geometrically grouped, others less so. The dancers showed off the different ‘forces’ with more than a spark of individuality. I have to say though that it reminded me rather too much of Alexander Ekman’s work. Cacti comes immediately to mind. But still it was entertaining in an especially quirky way..

Scene from Biography, Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

The absolute standout work was the closing item, Greg Horsman’s A Rhapsody in Motion danced to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43. It began with a reference (perhaps) to Harald Landers’ Etudes with the dancers performing various movements at the barre—or a series of barres (they were quite short in length) spread out across the stage. But it was just a passing reference as Horsman used the barres as a prop for the dancers who moved them, slid under them and used them in a variety of ways. Once the barres were taken away, leaving an empty performing space, we saw some beautifully complex, vibrant and diversely structured classical choreography, stunningly performed (as ever) by the artists of Queensland Ballet.

Dancers of Queensland Ballet in the opening scene from A Rhapsody in Motion. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: ©David Kelly

While it is hard to single out any one dancer, I was completely bowled over by the exceptional performance at the matinee I attended from Laura Tosar, who was recently promoted to soloist and was partnered on this occasion by David Power. Tosar has such a beautifully fluid body and technically could scarcely be faulted. But what was just brilliant was the way she was able to express her pleasure at performing. Yes, there was a smile on her face, but it was not a forced smile, just an expression of emotion and pleasure at being onstage, and that expression coursed through her whole body. I am so looking forward to seeing her perform again.

Laura Tosar and Patricio Reve in a pas de deux from A Rhapsody in Motion. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: ©David Kelly

This triple bill was a mixed bag and it is always a thrill to watch Queensland Ballet take on the challenges that Bespoke offers. A program of works from Treklis, Lake and Horsman provides a panoply of challenges

Michelle Potter, 7 August 2022

Featured image: Dancers of Queensland Ballet in Greg Horsman’s A Rhapsody in Motion, Queensland Ballet 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

Unravel. The Training Ground

22 July 2022, Erindale Theatre, Canberra

‘Two households both alike in dignity …’ So goes the opening line of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, referring as it does to the Montagues and the Capulets, two families whose life, and their longstanding feud with each other, unfold in the play. There’s not much dignity, however, between the Montagues and the Capulets as they are portrayed in Unravel, the latest work from Canberra’s Training Ground company. But there is a lot of aggression both in gesture and facial expression and in the choreography. The Montagues are a family of ‘corporate tycoons’ and the Capulets are ‘common delinquents’, and their behaviour reflects these lifestyles.

This is clearly not the Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare created but an imagining (or unravelling) by Bonnie Neate and Suzi Piani, Training Ground’s directors. In addition to moving the story into the present (a world of tycoons and delinquents?), Paris, normally a male character seeking marriage to Juliet, is a woman, danced with suitable overkill by Hollie Teer, soon to be betrothed (she hopes) to Romeo. The significant scene of the ball where Romeo first encounters Juliet is a ‘Montague Masquerade Ball’ rather than one held by the Capulets. There is no priest to marry the couple and to dispense a potion. And Juliet eventually commits suicide in her bathtub (unable to manage the feuding situation, which remains from Shakespeare, and the interference by Paris?).

Romeo sees Juliet for the first time at the Montague Masquerade Ball in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Choreographically there were moments to remember, especially some of the groupings of dancers—I especially remember an undulating line of dancers towards the end—and the whole was beautifully rehearsed and strongly performed. But there is no doubt in my mind that the duets between Romeo and Juliet were the highlights. Ali Mayes (Juliet) has exceptional fluidity, and extraordinary line in all her movements as a result of her beautifully proportioned limbs. Her duets with Joshua Walsh (Romeo) were choreographed to exploit that line and her ability to move her body to fill the space around her.

Romeo and Juliet dance together in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Film by Cowboy Hat Films was nicely incorporated on several occasions. Footage set the scene to explain the nature of two households, for example. The Montagues at one point appear in a modern office setting (Canberra’s Brindabella Business Park perhaps) where they are directed to work by Mrs Montague, a role performed with appropriate belligerence by Imogen Addison, while the Capulets are seen making their way along an alley filled with rubbish bins, detritus and graffiti (no doubt one of many in Canberra’s Civic Centre). Less confrontational but nevertheless especially powerful, was the watery footage that followed Juliet’s suicide.

The aspect of the production that I found the least satisfying was its episodic nature. Of course there are many episodes in the R & J story that need to be shown whatever the context, but it was annoying when one episode finished and another started without some kind of linking mechanism. It was often too abrupt. A similar situation arose with the changes to the music. One musical excerpt would stop suddenly, there would be silence, and then another, quite different in mood, would start. Similarly with some of the footage and the very bright (overbright I think) lighting of some scenes.

But despite these gripes, the work was well produced and performed and moved Canberra dance in a new and unusual direction. The Training Ground is an initiative of Neate and Piani to give performance opportunities to pre-professional and advanced contemporary dancers in the ACT and surrounding regions.

Michelle Potter, 25 July 2022

Featured image: Ali Mayes as Juliet and Joshua Walsh as Romeo in Unravel. The Training Ground, 2022. Photo: © ES Fotografi

Harlequinade. The Australian Ballet

24 June 2022, online screening

Ahead of any further remarks, I have to make it quite clear that basically I am a fan of the work of Alexei Ratmansky. I have been writing about his productions on this website since 2009. Here is a link to the Ratmansky tag. His interest in creating new versions of well-known works has been fascinating to watch—Cinderella comes immediately to mind—and those of his newly created works that I have seen have mostly been absolutely beautiful and engaging—and here I am thinking in particular of Seven Sonatas and From Foreign Lands.

Harlequinade is slightly different. It is one of those works from the past that Ratmansky decided could and should be revived for today’s audiences (and there have been a few others he has worked on in the same manner). The original Harlequinade ballet was first performed in 1900. It had choreography by Marius Petipa and, according to George Balanchine, was performed in St Petersburg at the Hermitage Theatre. It followed the story of the love between Harlequin and Columbine; the role of Cassandre, Columbine’s father, in attempting to have Columbine marry Léandre, a rich man; and how this plan was thwarted with the help of Pierette and Pierrot (and a Good Fairy). The work’s links back to the stock commedia dell’arte characters, and to the pantomime tradition, were strong in the original and in the Ratmansky revival.

It is interesting to read Balanchine’s brief discussion of the original Harlequinade in his book Balanchine’s Festival of Ballet. Balanchine refers to the original work as Harlequin’s Millions and writes, in part:

I remember very well dancing in this production when I was a student at the Imperial Ballet School. What I liked about it was its wit and pace and its genius in telling a story with clarity and grace. It was a different kind of ballet from The Sleeping Beauty and showed the range of [Petipa’s] genius.

Balanchine as a choreographer looked back to the original Harlequinade on several occasions. In 1950 he created a pas de deux that referred to the 1900 production, in 1965 he created a two act ballet called Harlequinade, in which he used his own choreography, and in 1973 he revived that two act work adding new material.

That Ratmansky wanted to revive the original work is fine and his choice, but quite honestly I can’t understand why the Australian Ballet needed to present it to us in 2022. For me the pantomime element made it hard to watch. Some characters were totally over-the-top, especially the rich old man Léandre. Dance, including ballet, has moved on since 1900 and the ballets that have survived from around that time (Swan Lake for example) have been constantly updated in so many ways. Not only that, pantomime in Australia, which was once a hugely popular style of Christmas entertainment, began to die a slow death in the mid-20th century. So in my mind the Harlequinade we saw from the Australian Ballet might have looked acceptable 60 or so years ago when pantomime was a flourishing entertainment for the whole family, but I don’t think it has the same impact in 2022.

Benedicte Bemet as Columbine in Harlequinade. The Australian Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Nevertheless, there was some excellent dancing to watch in this 2022 production. Benedicte Bemet was well suited to the role of Columbine and smiled her way through the evening while performing the Petipa/Ratmansky choreography with her usual technical skill. Her 32 fouettés that closed out the finale were just spectacular! She rarely moved off her centre stage spot as she turned, which is a rare occurrence and a thrill to see. And while the out-of-date nature of some of the characters was not to my liking, mostly those characters were played according to the tradition and with skill. Timothy Coleman as the foppish Léandre did a sterling job in this unforgiving (for me) role., and Steven Heathcote’s gestures in the mime scenes were clear and precise. As Harlequin Brett Chynoweth showed some great elevation and skilfully took on a range of traditional, Harlequin-style poses. The storyline was ably supported by Callum Linnane as Pierrot and Sharni Spencer as Pierette with Ingrid Gow as an elegant Good Fairy.

But I won’t be looking forward to a return season.

Michelle Potter, 28 June 2022

Featured image: Timothy Coleman as Léandre in Harlequinade. The Australian Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Li’s Choice. Queensland Ballet

10 June 2022. Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

Li Cunxin has been at the helm of Queensland Ballet for close to ten years and the company’s latest production, an absolutely mind-blowing triple bill called Li’s Choice, is in celebration of those ten years of masterful leadership on Li’s part.

The program opened with Greg Horsman’s Glass Concerto, a work for six dancers performed to a violin concerto by Philip Glass. I saw this work in 2017 and, while I loved parts of it, especially what I called the ‘technical fireworks’ of the choreography for the third movement, it left me uninspired in other parts. Not this time. The opening moments were danced by all six dancers and the choreography was filled with beautifully rehearsed classical partnering for the three couples. From there the choreography unfolded to show the dancers in different groupings with some solo sections before it reached the so-called (by me) fireworks. Mia Heathcote caught my eye, as she usually does, in this case for her exceptional ability to add that tiny extra bit of expression (both facial and in the body) that makes her work stand out. But every dancer showed an inspired approach to Horsman’s choreography. They just looked spectacular, all of them.

Patricio Revé in Glass Concerto. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

Costuming by Georg Wu was, on the surface, quite simple—a black leotard-style garment for men and women with a more masculine look to the lower section for the men. But the detailing was quite beautiful—a bit of sparkle here, a cut-out section there, and with opaque sections contrasting with more translucent areas. All together Glass Concerto was a terrific opener.

The middle work was Natalie Weir’s very moving We who are left, which I also saw earlier from Queensland Ballet.* I was just as moved this time by a work that I think is a masterpiece from Weir. On the surface, We who are left is a simple story about five men who leave for a war zone, their activities in the war zone, the fate of the women they leave behind, and the return of one of the five men. But the emotion that Weir injects into the choreography takes the work to a truly inspiring level. This time I was especially taken by the choreography for the men when at war. While this section began in somewhat of a militaristic style, as the war continued the choreography became more fractured, more twisted, more death-like.

But still the highlight for me was the section ‘She who was left’, danced on this occasion by Lucy Green. The woman is joined by the man (Patricio Revé) who left her to go to war. He was one of those killed and returns in spirit to the woman. The pas de deux between them is just a brilliant piece of choreography. They dance together but never touch, although the emotional connection, the memory, is there in full. And what a different feel this pas de deux has from another in the same work, ‘Memories of love’, when a physical connection between Lina Kim and Vito Bernasconi is at the heart of the pas de deux

Lucy Green and Patricio Revé in We who are left. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

We who are left is complemented by a stunning lighting design by David Walters (revived by Cameron Georg), It delivers an emotional setting from beginning to end.

The closing work was Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, performed to music from Scott Joplin and other ragtime-style composers, with the chamber orchestra, Camerata, playing on stage. Nigel Gaynor conducted and was pianist for the orchestra.

Elite Syncopations is a series of routines featuring characters in a dance hall of some kind. There is not a storyline as such but the characters flirt amongst each other and vie for attention from others in the dance hall. Stand-out performances came from Neneka Yoshida, in a fabulous white costume with strategically placed red stars (costume design by Ian Spurling); Mali Comlecki as a suave character who seemed to want to put himself above everyone else; Luke Dimattina, who played a guy somewhat on the outskirts of the group but who wanted to be part of it; and Victor Estévez whose character seemed to be in competition somewhat with that of Comlecki.

Elite Syncopations gave everyone in the cast a chance to let their hair down and clown around a bit. The funny thing was that, having seen this work performed by the Royal Ballet, on whom it was originally made by MacMillan in 1974, I thought Queensland Ballet brought a new insight to the work. Somehow it seemed quite ‘Ocker’ in comparison the the Royal version! I loved it.

Apart from the breathtaking performances across the board, what really struck me was that this triple bill showed us what dance can transmit to an audience. We had a peek at the vocabulary of classical ballet and the beautiful athleticism and lyricism that dancers trained in the style can achieve, we saw how dance can transmit hugely emotional feelings about life and its many and varied aspects, and we were treated to the notion that dance is fun, joyous and often hilarious. While each of the three works was focused largely on one of these three ideas, there were traces of all in each.

The evening curtain call rightly included Li and the presentation to him of a huge bouquet of red roses. Justly deserved! Li’s Choice was an absolute cracker of a triple bill and shows Li as a great director. It also shows the Queensland Ballet staff as brilliant collaborators and teachers and the company itself as one of the best, perhaps even the best, we have in this country.

Michelle Potter, 11 June 2022

Featured image: Mali Comlekci and Neneka Yoshida in Elite Syncopations. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

  • My original review of We who are left appeared in 2016 on the UK site DanceTabs. DanceTabs no longer exists but the review I wrote then is available at this link now.

ab [intra]. Sydney Dance Company (2022 season)

2 June 2022. Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney

It has been Rafael Bonachela’s long-term ambition to have return seasons of his 2018 work ab [intra]. He achieved that ambition this year with a well-received season in France and, more recently, with a Sydney season that opened on 2 June at Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. Return seasons for contemporary works are unusual, but then ab [intra] is an unusual work and definitely worthy of more than one season.

Seeing ab [intra] this time was a rather different experience from that of 2018. The cast was quite different for a start, and I was also sitting much closer to the stage, which gave me quite a new take on the work. Although the work is meant to be quite abstract in the sense that Bonachela says that the work is ‘a representation of energy’, sitting close to the stage gave me a strong feeling of there being an expressive, human element, one of personal feelings between people. This was probably most apparent in a duet between Chloe Leong and Davide Di Giovanni where an element of pleasure in the company of another seemed to pervade. This was made stronger by the music (Nick Wales), which seemed quite romantic at this point.

Chloe Leong and Davide Di Giovanni in ab [intra]. Sydney Dance Company, 2022. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Being closer also gave me a new feeling about the lighting (Damien Cooper). The darkness that enveloped those dancers who occasionally moved to the front of the stage and turned their backs to the audience achieved a strong contrast with dancers further upstage, a contrast that I didn’t notice to the same extent in 2018.

But as is characteristic of Bonachela’s work, the overriding element throughout the evening was the exceptional physicality of the dancers. They never cease to amaze with their ability to perform Bonachela’s demanding choreography with the utmost skill and dynamism. The first duet between Jacopo Grabar and Emily Seymour was virtuosic in the extreme and I was incredibly moved by Jesse Scales who performed (amongst other sections) the closing solo. And I always admire the way Bonachela uses groups, sometimes working in unison, sometimes breaking out from those moments only to return to a unified group again.

Jacopo Grabar and Emily Seymour in ab [intra]. Sydney Dance Company 2022. Photo: © Pedro Greig

It was a real pleasure to see ab [intra] again and to have the opportunity to see some sections and aspects of the production differently. In my review of the work in 2018 I remarked that I thought it was probably one of those ‘giving’ works. It clearly was so for me in 2022. The opening night performance was given a long and rowdy standing ovation.

Michelle Potter, 5 June 2022

Featured image: Jesse Scales in the closing section to ab [intra]. Sydney Dance Company, 2022. Photo: © Pedro Greig

Galileo. Sydney Choreographic Ensemble

1 June 2022. Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres Parramatta

What a thrill it was to see Francesco Ventriglia’s exciting choreography for his latest work, Galileo. The performance was absolutely absorbing to watch from beginning to end.

Inspired by the amazing variety of ideas that Galileo Galilei studied in his life’s work as a scientist in late 16th to early 17th century Italy, Ventriglia has ensured that many of those ideas are expressed choreographically—velocity, speed, free fall, the nature of the planets including the principle that earth moves around the sun (for which he was castigated and had to renounce his ideas) all seem to be there. And the dancers performed with extraordinary strength and flair. One artist in particular stood out for me, Connor McMahon. It was his absolute commitment to engaging with the choreography, with the ideas behind the work, and with other dancers that was remarkable. He also had a solo towards the end of the work where the strength of his technique was also apparent.

Hugo Poulet and Siobhan Lynch in Galileo, Sydney Choreographic Ensemble 2022. Photo: © Daniel Asher Smith

Some sections had something of a narrative element attached to them. At one stage a small golden globe was brought on stage and, as one dancer held it up, a circle of dancers surrounded the object. It recalled that aspect of Galileo’s thoughts about the relationship between the movement of the earth and the sun. At other times, especially apparent towards the end of the work, dancers formed a group and shook their heads violently suggesting the behaviour of those who denied Galileo’s theories and forced him to renounce his ideas. One of the most beautiful sections happened when one dancer was supported by four men who carried her through swirling, twisting movement without her feet ever touching the ground. It generated many thoughts about the movement of celestial bodies. Other moments, especially at the beginning of the work, reminded me of movements of commedia dell’arte characters thus, in my mind, setting the scene for the era in which Galileo lived and worked.

Veronika Maritati and dancers of Sydney Choreographic Ensemble in Galileo, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Asher Smith

My previous experience of Ventriglia’s choreography has always made me feel that there needed to be greater changes of pace throughout his works. Not this time. Along with Ventriglia’s characteristic style of partnering in which both male and female dancers move together in a breathtaking manner, there were moments of stillness, slow movement, exceptional use of grouping, and references to many dance styles. The work was danced to a selection of music from Italian composers from around the period in which Galileo was working—Vivaldi, Corelli, Monteverdi and others—and was complemented by evocative lighting from Roderick van Gelder and remarkable video projections, which constantly changed shape yet remained consistent in content, from Marco Giani.

Galileo cements Sydney Choreographic Ensemble as a company to watch and extends the strength of my impression of Ventriglia as a truly interesting choreographer. It would be great if the work were able to tour.

Michelle Potter, 4 June 2022

Featured image: Hero image for Galileo

Terra Firma. Quantum Leap

26 May 2022. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre

The constant in productions staged by QL2 for Quantum Leap, the organisation’s auditioned youth dance ensemble for ages 14-26, is the way the dancers are choreographed into groupings. The nature of the groupings varies of course from choreographer to choreographer and work to work, but we can always see groups forming and breaking apart, changing in position on the stage, closing up into tight groupings, spreading apart and joining together with outstretched arms, building up a grouping with one dancer standing on another, and any number of variations on these choreographic ideas. In many respects, that the choreography is based on changing group structures is a result of the fact that Quantum Leap is not an ensemble that features particular dancers over others, or not usually. It is a group featuring everyone.

Of the three works shown as part of Terra Firma, Quantum Leap’s most recent triple bill, it was Melanie Lane’s work Metal Park that used group structures in the most engaging way. Metal Park focused on potential relationships between the human body and objects of various kinds. As the work began, we noticed large black objects in various spots on the stage, which were carried off but eventually brought back and opened up to display a variety of static objects in various shapes and colours. Throughout the work the dancers interacted with these and other objects, which included long poles that were arranged in different combinations on the stage floor. Sometimes dancers were treated as objects and were carried across the stage by other dancers.

But, to the group structures: what was most engaging was the way Lane gave groups of dancers a movement structure as well as a static one. Supported by a sound score from Christopher Clark, there were moments when the dancers moved in unison with beautifully rehearsed, often small but distinct movements of the feet, hands and upper body. It was almost militaristic in detail and performance, but was also engaging to watch.

Perhaps overall the work was just a little too long—perhaps the section with the poles and the floor design created with them could have been a little shorter. But Lane’s choreography continues to be something to keep watching as she continues her already admirable career.

Metal Park was followed by Shifting Ground from Cadi McCarthy. It focused on navigating the changing nature of the world, whether seen globally or in a more personal manner, and the cast included some dancers from Flipside Project, a youth group from Newcastle directed by McCarthy. The most obvious feature coming through the work, at least for me, was that personal relationships are sometimes difficult, which was clear not so much through choreography but through facial expressions.

Scene from Shifting Ground. Photo: © Lorna Sim

The evening closed with Tides of Time by Synergy Styles (Stephen and Lilah Gow), which set out to examine ‘temporal orientation’ and the ideas of time present, past and future. It began in a mesmerising fashion as filmed clips (created by Wildbear Digital) played across the stage space. They showed dancers, seen in a variety of poses, gliding through space as if extracted from reality. The work then moved on to live performance against a background of watery images, which provided a captivating environment for the choreography.

I felt, as I often do with Quantum Leap productions, that the themes were easily explained in words and the social and political implications were strong and contemporary. But those themes and their implications were not always expressed well in a choreographic sense. I continue to wonder what Quantum Leap’s shows would be like without such highly detailed and theoretical scenarios. Dance can convey the deepest of meanings but the meaning has to come from the choreography, which doesn’t always happen with Quantum Leap productions.

Terra Firma was, however, beautifully produced and dressed (costumes by Cate Clelland) and the standard of performance by the dancers was outstanding. And the manner in which Quantum Leap manages its curtain calls continues to be exceptional!

Michelle Potter, 29 May 2022

Featured image: Scene from Metal Park. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Sublime Interludes. Tabitha Dombrowksi and Björn Aslund

Two dancers in search of a choreographer,
travelling side by side, up their hills and down,
moving well, tenants in common of their darker times,
the set is the sides of a box they can shift about, climb through,
sit on, sit in, drape over, lie in,
though not a coffin since they are alive and determined to work through their times,
surviving the lock-down—’We’re all in this together”
this is not a lock-up—’Don’t put us in a box’
nor a lock-out—’We are here and we want to dance for you’.

They share their times both good and bad,
and ask us to ask ourselves whether our glad and sad
are anything like theirs.

Breathe slowly, deliberately, deeply, get a grip,
prepare a show, perform it at the Fringe,
say yes to a return season,
invite folk along, hope they come,
hope they get it.

Thank you.
We came.
and Yes, we got it.


Jennifer Shennan, 27 May 2022

Circa Theatre, Wellington—Refringe season of Sublime Interludes.
Tabitha Dombrowski & Björn Aslund—choreography & performance
26–29 May 2022

All images: © Lokyee Szeto

Kunstkamer. The Australian Ballet

7 May 2022 (matinee). Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

David Hallberg has given his directorship of the Australian Ballet a name, a conceptual idea, for us to ponder—’A New Era’. The company’s latest production, Kunstkamer, brings reality to Hallberg’s concept. Kunstkamer is a complete change for the Australian Ballet. It is a magnificent, brilliantly conceived, exceptionally performed work giving audiences (and perhaps even the dancers) a whole new look at what dance can achieve, and maybe even what we can expect for the next several years under Hallberg?.

Inspired by an eighteenth-century publication Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, and first performed by Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) in its 2019-2020 season, Kunstkamer (literally art room in Dutch) is the work of four choreographers, Sol León, Paul Lightfoot, Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke. Cabinets of curiosities date back several centuries and were collections of paintings and other items—curiosities—from around the world and were precursors to what we think of today as museums. Kunstkamer is a dance work in 18 separate sections and, to my mind, fits beautifully within the notion of a collection of unusual, beautiful, incredible items, and even within the idea of a room or several rooms containing such items.

Take the set by León and Lightfoot and the lighting (Tom Bevoort, Ubo Haberland and Tom Visser) for example. The set was architecturally inspired and as each dance section began the screens that made up the set slid into a new formation, or lighting changed our perspective of the ‘room’. It was as if we had moved from one room of a museum to another. Of course there are other ways of looking at how the set was used. Dancers entered and left through a series of doors built into one part of the set, often slamming them noisily. Coming and going. Changing styles. Any number of thoughts come to mind.

Then there were the various sections that made up the dance component. Each section was unique and all carried allusions of various kinds—to the work of other choreographers for example and William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián spring straight to mind. The opening scene for Part II, seen in the image below, was motionless but somehow incredibly moving and, as the dancer sat there, a front curtain descended and rose again reminding us of Forsythe’s Artifact. Then there were references to various trends in the visual arts, especially those of the late 19th, early 20th century; and even allusions to other theatrical styles, Butoh for example when dancers appeared white-faced and open-mouthed.

Opening scene from Part II, Kunstkamer. The Australian Ballet 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud

As for the choreography, it was contemporary movement—angular poses, stretched limbs, movement that often seemed quite raw rather than controlled, but often an emphasis on group shapes and unison movement.

Dancers of the Australian Ballet in Kunstkamer, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud

The standout dancer at the performance I saw was Benedicte Bemet, who seemed totally transformed. I have always admired her dancing but this time gone was the ‘ballerina look’ (as beautiful as that can be) and there onstage was an artist able to move into a new world when required. She was magnificent. I also particularly enjoyed the performances by Callum Linnane and Adam Bull and the very strong introductory moments from guest dancer Jorge Nozal, who appeared with NDT in the same role (described in the printed program as ‘the enigmatic ghost character’). But every dancer rose to the occasion brilliantly. I got the feeling that they just loved dancing Kunstkamer with all its weird and wonderful aspects, including the speech, often incomprehensible chatter, and the singing by the dancers that was included. The music itself was as as varied as the choreography and ranged from Beethoven to Janis Joplin and included at one stage a pianist playing onstage.

What an unbelievably incredible show this was from beginning to end! I understand it is being streamed on 10 June. If you can’t get to see it live, check out the streaming details.


Michelle Potter, 10 May 2022

Featured image: Benedicte Bemet in Kunstkamer. The Australian Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Daniel Boud

Dance for Ukraine

Dance for Ukraine, a humanitarian appeal to raise money for Ukraine and its people, was put together and directed by Alina Cojocaru (Romania) and Ivan Putrov (Ukraine). It was staged on 19 March 2022 at the London Coliseum and was streamed on Marquee TV making it accessible for those of us who live outside London. It was a great opportunity to see a range of artists dancing a range of choreography, some of it familiar, some not, some filled with sadness and mourning, some filled with joy and hope. It was also a great opportunity to donate via the (minimal) cost to stream, with the possibility of making a further donation as well.

The gala opened with a dramatic and moving rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem. This powerful and emotion-filled singing by a small choir of voices led by Ksenia Nikolaieva was followed by short, spoken introductions by Cojocaru and Putrov, who trained together as children in Kyiv. Then the dancing began.

It was a initial shock that the first dance was a pas de deux from Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land. I am lucky enough to have seen this work twice, once with English National Ballet, who commissioned the work in 2014, and once with Queensland Ballet, who staged it in 2017. It is an extraordinary work and my initial shock was nothing to do with its appropriateness for the gala. It was appropriate as this pas deux concerns a woman’s reaction to her realisation that the man in her life was not returning from war. My feeling of shock was that we were seeing a work by Scarlett, one which I thought I would never see again. It was, however, an exceptional experience to see once more the sense of loss conveyed by Scarlett’s choreography and, of course, death is now part of the Scarlett story so a certain degree of symbolism could easily be felt. The Act II pas de deux from Scarlett’s version of Swan Lake was also featured later in the program.

Looking at the program as a whole, the standout dancer for me was Francesco Gabriele Frola partnering Mayara Magri in the Ali and Medora pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Frola is now a principal with English National Ballet and his technique and stage presence are spectacular. He is one of those dancers who gives one goose bumps from the minute he steps onstage, not to mention the gasps that can’t be held back when watching his manèges, his beats, his turns and his beautiful attention to his partner.

Mayara Magri and Francesco Gabriele Frola in a pas de deux from Le corsaire. Dance for Ukraine, London 2022. Photo: © Elliott Franks

Also highly interesting were two male solos—The Dying Swan danced by Cuban born Javier Torres with choreography from Michel Descombey and Lacrymosa danced by Royal Ballet first soloist Luca Acri with choreography by Edward Stierle. This Dying Swan was a far cry from the Anna Pavlova version with which many are more than familiar. It had a very human element to the choreography as we watched a man, whose life seemed to be crumbling under physical pressures, hover closer and closer to death, although fluttering hands and arms paid service to the original solo. Luca Acri danced his solo, Lacrymosa, to a section of Mozart’s Requiem and showed off a stunning technique full of control, fluidity and power.

There were some items that were not so steeped in sorrow. I enjoyed a beautiful performance of Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky pas de deux danced by the magnificent Marianela Nuñez partnered by Reece Clarke and also a work I had never seen before, one of Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes danced by Junor Souza and Emma Hawes. The Stevenson work, danced around and on a portable barre, was quite simple but beautiful in the way it showed an arrangement of shapes that can be put together by two dancers working with a strictly classical vocabulary. Then there was a performance of the grand pas de deux from Carlos Accosta’s production of Don Quixote performed with panache by Miki Muzitani and Mathias Dingman.

Miki Mizutani and Mathias Dingman in Don Quixote. Dance for Ukraine, London 2022. Photo: © Elliott Franks

Other works included a section from FAR by Wayne McGregor, an extract from John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias with Alina Cojocaru and Mathieu Ganio, a section from Bournonville’s La Sylphide, a work called Ashes choreographed by Jason Kittelberger and danced by Natalia Osipova, and a section from Kenneth MacMillan’s Requiem.

Cojocaru and Putrov have said ‘We are united in our belief that art can and must stand up for humanity. So many of our fellow artists believe the same and have joined us to show their support for the people of Ukraine in this moment of need.’

Michelle Potter, 26 April 2022.

With thanks to Elliott Franks for permission to use his images. The streaming of Dance for Ukraine on Marquee TV ended on 24 April.

UPDATE: Availability extended until 2 May.