Savage. Australian Dance Theatre

29 September 2022. Canberra Theatre Centre

The various media statements about Savage, Daniel Riley’s first work as artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre, leave us wondering just exactly what the work will be like. How will a dance performance deal with what one media statement says is a ’confronting exploration of the notions of myth and identity, [examining] our fundamental belief systems, and [turning] the spotlight on those who hold the power of storytelling while challenging us to question our blind obedience.’ That’s a lot to examine.

In many respects I think it was the theatre side of Australian Dance Theatre that held the piece together, rather than the dance side, if we can separate the two, which I think in this case is necessary. Dean Cross’ setting was spare and decidedly down to earth. Two large wire mesh screens on wheels (one initially covered by a grey tarpaulin-like cloth) were moved around the stage separating people, sometimes enclosing them, and sometimes being rolled over bodies lying stretched out on the floor.

A collection of white, plastic outdoor chairs also played a major role. They were thrown around the stage, piled up on each other, and used at times as a seat for standing dancers who in acts of coercion were pushed down onto them. At the very end the chairs were thrown into a messy heap located centre stage. One dancer tried to wend his way through the mess as others stood aside and watched. How to find one’s way through the mess of history?

Similarly, the lighting design by Matthew Adey seemed at times to glare brightly into the eyes of the dancers (and the audience) suggesting perhaps exposure and a need to pull away from received ‘wisdom’?

Scene from Savage. Australian Dance Theatre, 2022. Photo: © Sam Roberts

Then there was the dominant black circle in the centre of the performance space. At one stage it was covered by a cloth, which a dancer pulled back slowly to expose the circle. As this was happening another, trapped on the cloth, eventually was able to remove himself from it. The symbolism of escape was obvious (I think).

The six dancers who currently make up the composition of Australian Dance Theatre were augmented in Savage by Riley himself and, in the Canberra performances, by a group of emerging young performers from Canberra’s youth group QL2 Dance, where as it happened Riley received his early dance experience. The dancers were all top class performers in their respective roles and experience and the ADT company members looked especially good in group sections. Riley stood out, as he has always done with whatever company he is performing. His presence on stage has always been outstanding. Of the others I was often transfixed by Zoe Wozniak whose use of the whole body from head to toe was exceptional and whose stage presence was also outstanding. But Savage did not seem choreographically exciting or powerful, at least not often, or not often enough.

In program notes, Riley says he wants Savage ‘to encourage deeper thinking and reflection on the systems and voices who coerce our history to suit a singular vision of our country.’ Perhaps that I found so much of Savage frustratingly confusing and choreographically unexciting as the work unfolded meant that I had to reflect and think? But to tell the truth there have been other dance (and dance film) productions that have had a much greater effect on how I see Australia’s history from an Indigenous perspective, including some in which Riley has been a major player.

Australian Dance Theatre has always been a contemporary company and, especially in the past 20 years under Garry Stewart’s directorship, has pushed boundaries and unravelled complex concepts. Riley is well suited to carry on such a tradition but I’m not sure that Savage has the choreographic strength that is needed to make clear the diverse and theoretical ideas behind the work. There has to be more than the collaborative elements of design.

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2022

Featured image: Advertising poster for Savage

Nureyev. Legend and Legacy. Marquee TV

Marquee TV is streaming for a limited time a ticketed program, for which I paid just over AUD 10, called Nureyev. Legend and Legacy. As a live show it happened in London early in September at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Reproduced to honour Rudolf Nureyev, it was directed by former Royal Ballet principal Nehemiah Kish and included works in which Nureyev performed, and some that he had restaged or choreographed for various companies. The dancers who appeared in the show came from various companies, with a strong contingent from the Royal Ballet.

The program opened with the Entre’Acte solo from The Sleeping Beauty Act II, as interpolated into the ballet by Nureyev, as he did on other occasions in other ballets when he felt more choreography was needed for male dancers. Somewhat hesitantly danced by Guillaume Côté from the National Ballet of Canada, it made me feel that Nureyev was not such a good choreographer. The choreography seemed quite static and as a result the performance was a little underwhelming. But things got better and the dances that preceded interval included a lovely performance of the pas de deux from Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano performed by Francesco Gabriele Frola and Ida Praetorius and the pas de six from Laurencia (which I had never seen before) showcasing an inspired Natalia Osipova and a dramatically stunning Cesar Corrales, along with Yuhui Choe, Marianna Tsembenhoi, Benjamin Ella and Daichi Ikairashi. The flamboyance of Laurencia with its Spanish flavoured choreography from Nureyev after Vakhtang Chabukiani contrasted well with the gentle beauty of Flower Festival.

Francesco Gabriele Frola and Ida Praetorius in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano, 2022. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

The second half of the program included the grand pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty performed by Natascha Mair and Vadim Muntagirov, a moving performance of the pas de deux from Act II of Giselle from Francesca Hayward and William Bracewell, and an excerpt from John Neumeier’s Don Juan danced by Alina Cojacaru and Alexander Trusch.

The program closed spectacularly with the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, a work that is undeniably connected to Nureyev’s astonishing career in the West. It was danced by the beautiful Yasmine Naghdi, whose work I have admired for a number of years, and the simply astonishing Cesar Corrales. In particular, Corrales’ solo demonstrated the extraordinary way he uses his body. He sweeps the floor at times as he leans into a step, but then reaches skywards at other times. His manège of grand allegro steps flies high and is perfection in performance, and his turns, in whatever position his legs are held, are just breathtaking in speed and execution. Then, the way he engages with his partner is thrilling, as is the pride he shows throughout in the way he holds his body. The coda was distinguished by brilliant dancing and a series of fouettés from Naghdi was filled with doubles, not just one every so often but often a single was followed by three consecutive doubles. My one complaint is that Corrales stretches his thumbs so that they look overly dominant. But astonishing work really from both dancers.

Yasmine Nahgdi and Cesar Corrales in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, 2022. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

Australian audiences of a certain age were fortunate enough to see Nureyev perform in the 1960s and 1970s when he was here on various occasions. I can still remember his entrance in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire and the thrill that ran through my body even from my standing room position way at the back of the ’gods’ at the old Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown (Sydney). So watching this program, despite the odd moments that did not resonate well, was an absolute delight. And how I hope I will get to see Cesar Carroles perform live one of these days. He gives me the same thrill as I got from watching Nureyev.

Nureyev. Legend and Legacy, which includes short interviews with some who worked with Nureyev (including Monica Mason), is available on Marquee TV as a ticketed offering until 26 September only.

Michelle Potter, 21 September 2022

Featured image: Natalia Osipova in Laurencia pas de six. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Explicit Contents. Rhiannon Newton

9 September 2022. QL2 Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra

The title of this work may give the impression that is about violence, abusive content, or any other of the somewhat damaging notions that are contained in the more common, singular phrase ’explicit content’. This was not the case with Explicit Contents, the dance work, as I understood it, although a certain sensuality was made clear at various times. Made on two dancers, Ivey Wawn and David Huggins, by the Sydney-based choreographer Rhiannon Newton, the work for me was calming, contemplative and mesmerising, at least for most of the time and in certain respects.

The work had begun as we entered the performing space with Wawn and Huggins moving to and fro with Newton’s quite simple but nicely performed choreography—introductory moments. The main body of the work began shortly afterwards when the space was plunged into darkness and we watched the dancers moving, occasionally and subtly, while stretched out on the floor, upstage. There were quite long periods of stillness and the darkness made it hard to make out what was happening. In some respects though it reminded me of the Merce Cunningham concept of ‘body time’ as without any obvious score at this stage (the noise we heard was from cars driving up and down the road outside the Arts Centre), the two dancers were aware of each other and seemed mostly to be working in unison with slight, individual variations.

As this dark and slowly moving section continued, it began to be interrupted by drops of water falling on the floor (lit so they were visible as they landed). From there the work unfolded in a number of episodes, to a sound score by Peter Lenaerts and in which the two dancers engaged in a series of activities. They sat on the ground in front of us and ate a piece of fruit, Wawn had a passionfruit, Huggins a mango. They picked up a glass bowl half filled with water and manipulated the water level before balancing it on their bodies. In an unexpected moment they tipped the water on the floor and sat down and swirled around in that seated position. Another earlier episode had the dancers taking geometrical-style poses, sometimes mirroring each other, at other times taking separate stances

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins with glass bowls of water in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: © Lucy Parakhina

Choreographically, however, the work was not really outstanding. While Wawn and Huggins reacted beautifully to Newton’s style, they hadn’t really been given hugely challenging movement. It was more about a concept on which Newton had based the work, ‘how bodies are are not separate from but inextricably connected to their environments’. Although I found the work calming and mesmerising, I think this feeling came from non-choreographic aspects of the work, aspects that were visually interesting rather than choreographically challenging—water dripping to the floor, eating fruit, balancing bowls of water on the body, and the incredible lighting from Karen Norris, especially those moments when her lighting allowed the dancers bodies to be reflected mirror-like onto the floor.

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti
David Huggins eating a mango in Explicit Contents. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

I recall a colleague saying once ‘Dance is a visual art form’, to which another colleague replied, ‘No it’s not, it’s much more than that.’ This is the first work from Newton that I have seen. I look forward to seeing more and will be curious to see how/if she balances the various aspects that make a work a dance one. The balance was not convincing in Explicit Contents.

Michelle Potter, 10 September 2022

Featured image: Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: © Gregory Lorenzutti

Ivey Wawn and David Huggins in a scene from Explicit Contents. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti

Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet

10 August 2022. Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Auckland

Choreographer Loughlan Prior was born and educated in Australia before moving to New Zealand for further dance training. He is now a dual citizen of those countries and his latest work for Royal New Zealand Ballet, where he has been choreographer in residence since 2018, is a production of Cinderella. But it is Cinderella in a whole new guise.

Many of the basics of the storyline we know from traditional productions of Cinderella, even from a few more up-to-date productions, are still there. Cinderella is still subject to bullying and other poor behaviour from the two Step-Sisters and is pushed into compliance by the Stepmother. She still goes to the ball aided by a Fairy Godmother, and the shoe (a pointe shoe as it happens) that is left behind after the ball finds its way to her home (and fits, of course).

Ana Gallardo Lobaina as the Stepmother and Mayu Tanigaito as Cinderella. Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

But Prior has looked beyond and beneath the well-worn narrative and has created a ballet that investigates the notion of having the courage to follow one’s dreams and desires in whatever form they may take. Cinderella (Mayu Tanigaito) doesn’t marry Prince Charming (Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson). He has found love elsewhere with another Prince, Prince Dashing (Shae Berney) from a neighbouring kingdom. The question of sexual orientation is probably the major change Prior has made to the storyline. As for Cinderella, she finds her happiness with the Royal Messenger (Laurynas Véjalis), whom she first meets when he comes to her home with invitations to the ball.

Prior’s Cinderella moves the audience well into the present day, and not simply with the focus on sexual orientation. There are moments when present day fashions for living and entertainment are introduced. In a scene where Cinderella chooses a ball gown we meet the Fab Five, five outrageously garbed gentlemen who act, in a way, as influencers. But perhaps the move to the present is nowhere more apparent than in the final scene at the ball where by the end of the evening alcohol and drugs have been consumed to the extent that some, the Step-Sisters (Sara Garbowski and Kirby Selchow) for example, are somewhat the worse for wear.

The Fab Five with Kate Kadow as the Fairy Godmother. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

And yet there are times too when Prior asks us to look to the past. Before the ballet begins the stage space (with curtain raised) is occupied by a large structure representing a tapestry weaving machine. There three adult dancers and eight or so young children (child labour?) are busy at the machine. We are reminded that in times past stories were told on large tapestries that filled the walls of stately homes. ‘Cinderella’ is the the word being woven and we see this as the house lights go down and the ballet begins.

Prior’s choreography for this ballet covers a range of styles from classical (or perhaps neo-classical is more appropriate) to the crazed disco-style movement that we see in the final ‘Happily ever after’ scene. Highly memorable were the four duets between Cinderella and the Royal Messenger, which grew in intensity as their relationship blossomed. Similarly the duets between Prince Charming and Prince Dashing showed, in choreographic terms, an equality between the two men. Each had moments of partnering and being partnered.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson as Prince Charming and Shae Berney as Prince Dashing. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

One of the great strengths of the work was the way in which Prior has developed the various characters so strongly, and how, as a result, the way the dancers rise to the occasion with extraordinarily believable performances. Véjalis stood out for me as the Royal Messenger. He held his body proudly and there was just a subtle lift of the chin and a lilt in his walk that gave him a charm that was somehow quite seductive. No wonder Cinderella fell for him. I also enjoyed the performance by Paul Mathews as Cinderella’s father. The role of the father is often not well-developed in productions of Cinderella but here we understood his plight and rejoiced when Cinderella came to his rescue and allowed him the freedom to be a well and happy man once more. Ana Gallardo Lobaina was a vindictive Stepmother and her performance drew out a spiteful, hateful nature.

I enjoyed the full-of-fun scene when Cinderella chose the dress that she was to wear to the ball and the final moments when she was lifted off the floor and rose into the space above wearing the magnificent, Spanish-style, golden gown of Emma Kingsbury’s design. Kingsbury’s design was an absolute highlight throughout and was as diverse as Prior’s choreography and character development.

But perhaps the most moving scene was that when Cinderella and Prince Charming were alone on stage, each dancing separately and each recalling the lives into which they had been drawn and from which they longed to escape. It was not only beautifully and movingly danced but was lit by Jeremy Fern so that the two dancers were seen as separate people but, as we could see from the projections that appeared in the background, with similar problems that they needed to overcome.

The score for this Cinderella was commissioned from Claire Cowan, who has worked before with Prior and with whom he shares a strong collaborative aesthetic. It too was diverse in musical styles and influences. It had a strong percussion component and a lot of brass, but at times looked back to medieval sounds, Baroque court dances and a host of other new and old musical allusions.

Prior calls this work ‘maximalist’ and it certainly wasn’t minimalist, not choreographically, not musically, not thematically, not in design which included some great visual effects from POW Studios, not in any way. I found some parts of the work, especially the way the Step-Sisters were portrayed, somewhat overdone, and audiences need to be prepared for the unexpected. Audience reaction on opening night in Auckland varied and included spontaneous clapping along with the music and dancing at various times, as well as a few people not returning after interval. Only several viewings would allow us to appreciate and follow fully the extraordinary diversity of ideas that fill the work. There is no doubt that we will never see another Cinderella like this one.

MIchelle Potter, 13 August 2022

A shortened version of this review appeared in Dance Australia. Follow this link.

Featured image: Mayu Tanigaito as Cinderella and Laurynas Véjalis as the Royal Messenger. Cinderella, Royal New Zealand Ballet, 2022. Photo: © Stephen A’Court

El Abrazo. The Embrace—Argentine Tango Moments. Neville Waisbrod

Book review by Jennifer Shennan

This impressive book contains close to 200 photographs, culled from some 3000, taken by Neville Waisbrod, tango dancer-turned-photographer of Wellington.

Evident throughout is Waisbrod’s deep feeling and respect for the dance form in milonguero style. This is not tango for display or spectacle, for competition or ambition, for innovation or experiment, for the money or the bag, but rather for the intimate unspoken communication that builds between partners, between steps, between movement and music. It’s both in time and across time, and as you close the book you feel you have been dancing too.

Several pithy quotes, catching what a writer, poet, philosopher, teacher or dancer has penned about tango, or wider dance ideas, are scattered throughout the book. These are few in number but that restraint only makes them more evocative since we all know that less is more. Sources of quotes range from renowned tanguero and teacher, Carlos Gavitos,

The tango is not in the steps.
The tango is between one step and another.
There, when you do nothing,
you can see whether you dance tango.

Alicia Pons, a revered teacher regularly visiting New Zealand from Argentina, Tango is a journey not a destination.

JL Borges, The tango was having its way with us.

and from Waisbrod himself, The memory of an embrace will last a lifetime, while the steps will be forgotten by the end of the night.

There are further quotes from Jacques d’Amboise, Martha Graham, Wendy Whelan, Omar Khyyám, William Shakespeare, TS Eliot, Albert Einstein. These, as well as the Introduction and the Endnotes, are given in both English and Spanish.

The photographs are black & white or grained grey, with the focus on the mutual embrace of a dancing couple—upper body, head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands (for all of which, read ‘hearts and minds’). An image typically shows the face or profile of one dancer and thus the back of the head of the partner. We can read the facial expression of the one and, from the angle of head or neck, handhold raised or shoulder embraced, can imagine that of the partner. The concentration is intense. You’re not eavesdropping on these dancers, but looking and listening with your eyes and limbs.

A man and a woman hold each other and we hold our breath—they’ve probably been married for 45 years and we can tell their life story from the enchanted eyes of the one who faces the camera, and from the inclined and trusting head of his partner. It’s a love sonnet. Another couple, possibly three decades apart in calendar age, who may never have met before this milonga, are here not counting the years so much as sharing them. One tanguera is wearing a plaster cast on a broken arm and her partner carries its weight for her. The back of one head reveals hearing aids ‘the better to hear the music with, my dear’. One couple is dreaming, eyes closed, a hint of a smile hovering. A young couple shares an explosive laugh and we can only guess at what caused their mirth. Another couple, both males, are dancing more than just the steps their teacher taught them. A sadness etched into one woman’s face is lifted by the sense that her partner is allowing the dance to be bigger than any individual dancing it. Another image echoes that rapport, though with the gender roles reversed. Perhaps the memory of an earlier now departed life partner is nurtured by the physical proximity of a dance partner. One quote, ‘Dancing is cheaper than therapy’, could be the caption of several of these images, or perhaps of them all.

There are in fact no captions to individual photographs so the dancers remain anonymous. Although they have given their permission for reproduction, they are not posing for the camera and will be unaware they were being captured in that moment. The prime place given to the visuals within this book evokes for me the classic works of director Carlos Saura, who devoted entire feature-length films, with very few if any words, to the subject of just one dance form—Sevillanas, let’s say, or his fabled flamenco trilogy, Blood Wedding: the rehearsal—Carmen: the performance—El Amor Brujo: the dénouement.

JL Borges, Argentinian writer & poet, famously wrote…Tango can be debated, and we have debates over it, but it still encloses, as does all that which is truthful, a secret. This book borrows that notion to tell its own unspoken truth.

Waisbrod did not need to travel across continents in search of these dancers. They are all in New Zealand. His credit to Belinda Ellis for editorial help and design of the book is heartfelt. Search further and you find another modest little credit, ‘proudly supporting the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand’. This is a book of considerable humane and artistic merit, and, at $75.00, is cheaper than therapy.    

www.theembracebook.com
ISBN 978-0-473-59266-0

Jennifer Shennan, 10 August 2022

All photos: © Neville Waisbrod

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