The Dream and Marguerite and Armand. The Australian Ballet

15 November 2023 (matinee). Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

This double bill of works by Frederick Ashton was an entertaining two hours of ballet. I enjoyed in particular the opening work, Marguerite and Armand, for its episodic structure that gave a strong focus to specific moments of love between Marguerite and Armand, and later the moment of Marguerite’s death from tuberculosis. I enjoyed too the minimal set and its semi-circular nature (design Cecil Beaton) that went well with the general structure of the work.

Valerie Tereschenko danced nicely as Marguerite and made her characterisation reasonably clear. But Maxim Zenin as Armand didn’t offer quite enough of Armand’s emotional state to make his character stand out. So the partnership was not as powerful as it needs to be in this work.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for me), I clearly remember Sylvie Guillem dancing the female lead in Marguerite and Armand in Sydney and Melbourne way back in 2002 when the Royal Ballet, then under the direction of Ross Stretton, visited from London.* More recently (2018) I also saw Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli give a stunning performance with the Royal Ballet in London. So I had high expectations, which I’m sad to say weren’t met. I get the feeling that the Australia Ballet currently concentrates more on technical action at the expense of the need for a powerful dramatic essence.

As for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bendicte Bemet as Titania and Joseph Caley as Oberon danced well but again I felt they lacked strength of characterisation. Were they King and Queen? Did they rule over the Fairies? Were they really arguing over the Changeling? And so on.

Of the other characters, Bottom (Luke Marchant) dancing on pointe is always a highlight in the Ashton production and Marchant looked very comfortable as he hopped and skipped around on pointe. But again he needed stronger characterisation, especially after he had returned to his role as a Rustic and tried to remember what had happened while under the spell cast on him by Puck.

Unfortunately (again) in terms of how I saw the Ashton production and the Australian Ballet’s performance of it, I had just seen Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by Queensland Ballet. Scarlett’s take on the story has so much more to offer than does the Ashton production. And in performing it the dancers of Queensland Ballet demonstrated not only their truly exceptional technical and production values but also the manner in which they have been coached to inhabit a role. It was completely engaging rather than simply entertaining.

While I can say the Australian Ballet’s season of the two Ashton works was entertaining, it did leave me a little cold. I hope there might be more focus soon on dramatic and emotional input. Please!

Michelle Potter, 16 November 2023.

Featured image: Artists of the Australian Ballet in The Dream, 2023. Photo © Daniel Boud

*The Australian Ballet’s website mentions that Marguerite and Armand is having its premiere season in Australia. It might be the premiere for the Australian Ballet, but it’s not the premiere for Australia, the country.

5 thoughts on “The Dream and Marguerite and Armand. The Australian Ballet

  1. Errors from TAB PR/media as usual. They told everyone the company hadn’t danced at Covent Garden in umpty years which was then taken to mean “hadn’t danced in London” and there was no correction.

    Luke Marchant, the only returning Bottom from 2015, wasn’t my preferred one then (oh the pathos of Chris Rodgers-Wilson), but I will be seeing all three (strangely, not Drew Hedditch as despite him being Poster Bottom, he’s not cast) next week and will try to remember to report back.

    I’m really looking forward to it as I love a bit of Ashton, me. Last saw both in London in 2017 (Laura Morera and Alex Campbell on début as Oberon, and Natalia Osipova and Vladimir Shklyarov). I too remember Guillem on that RB tour, and at the time she was The Only One Allowed.

  2. Looking back at my review of the 2015 production of Ashton’s Dream I was surprised by my very different reaction. Then I commented on how beautifully Ashton told the story through movement and mime, which was exactly what was missing for me this time. Technically the company is dancing really well at the moment but there’s something missing these days. I’ll look forward to further comments from you Anna.

    In the meantime here is the link to my review of the 2015 performance I saw:

  3. Interesting points you both make.
    Am I right in recalling that Ashton made Marguerite & Armand for Fonteyn & Nureyev, and for ages afterwards the work was not staged since none could match them…
    which in turn triggers the memory of the exquisite photographs taken of them both in this and other roles — in sepia reproduction in a handsome book by Keith Money (with a Whitcoulls New Zealand imprimatur!) which in turn led to my astonished discovery to learn that Money is a New Zealander. Who knew? He retired to live in Auckland but was never prominent in the ballet or arts world here. I treasured the chance to buy 12 copies of the book for $10 each (!) at some Whitcoulls throw out sale — and gave them to students in my class at NZSD for “good behaviour”.
    Where are they now? – the students, the books, Keith Money, Fonteyn, Nureyev, Marguerite, Armand? Oh the ephemeral, enduring art of dance…with mysteries, and more questions than answers

  4. Yes, it was limited to Fonteyn and Nureyev for ages and, as Anna said in her comment, after a long time Sylvie Guillem was ‘The Only One Allowed’ for a while. But things eventually calmed down. As I mentioned in my post I have also seen Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli and also, which I didn’t mention in the post, Zenaida Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle in a Royal Ballet digital program.

    I haven’t seen the Keith Money book you mention but I do have a book by Alexander Bland called Fonteyn and Nureyev. It has some photos by Keith Money from M & A. They are stunning of course and they make one realise just why no one else did it for so long.

  5. I’ve now seen my three shows and by far the least convincing Puck was Daniil Simkin. Brett Chynoweth was utterly beguiling, and Marcus Morelli not far behind, with both dancing beautifully. More comments to come 😉

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