The Silver Rose. The Australian Ballet

Elsewhere on this website I made a comment that referred to Graeme Murphy’s The Silver Rose, which I saw just recently towards the end of its Sydney season by the Australian Ballet. My comment was in response to what I thought was an excellent argument about the new magazine Fjord Review, which also brought up other issues relating to leadership and marketing of dance and dancers and in particular to perceived problems with Australian Ballet dancers ‘nailing the right atmosphere’ in their performances. My comment in its turn generated another comment picking up on The Silver Rose. All the comments are available at this link but I am reposting the last one below.

  • I was hoping Michelle would open a thread about The Silver Rose. I seem to be in a minority in thinking that Murphy acquitted himself well in the enormous task he set himself and his designer in taking on a danced version of Der Rosenkavalier.

Well, I was very disappointed with The Silver Rose. I thought the final trio for the Marschallin, Sophie and Octavian was brilliantly choreographed and well performed by Danielle Rowe, Amber Scott and Luke Ingham. It was a moment of nostalgia and in true Murphy fashion all the yearning, wistfulness and regret contained in that particular emotion came through in the choreography. But, there wasn’t all that much else in it for me. The first act, which had to establish the characters, cried out for words or surtitles or program notes that lit up in the dark, anything. The complications of who was who just couldn’t be established through choreographic means. I also found the pantomime of the hairdresser, couturier and make-up artist so over the top that it made me cringe. Personally I like my pantomime to be a little more subtle, and I don’t think that’s a contradiction in terms.

But the point I was making in the comment posted earlier was that I didn’t think the dancers of the Australian Ballet, with a few exceptions, really got the feel of Murphy’s brand of choreography on this occasion. There were so many moments when they simply looked awkward. It reminded me of Carolyn Brown, that great, great Cunningham dancer from the mid decades of the twentieth century, who said that when the Cunningham company went to watch Cunningham’s equally great, great work Summerspace performed by New York City Ballet (in 1966) that they all sat in the auditorium and cried.

However, this post is now open for comments.

Michelle Potter, 26 April 2010.

4 thoughts on “The Silver Rose. The Australian Ballet

  1. I approached the work with the idea that Murphy was here attempting to accommodate the requirements of a full evening work in the, nowadays, seemingly much despised Onegin, Manon, Ondine tradition [to name only 3 examples]. On this basis I feel he did a very fine job. I must say that I saw the 4 different casts fielded in Melbourne, so perhaps a gathering familiarity enabled me to sort out the various strands of the story quite easily. And I have seen the opera on a number of occasions. The work has 4 superb, well contrasted leading roles and 2 very good character supporting ones. I felt the whole work is very well constructed, with the frenetic, attention grabbing opening gradually leading into the first main pas de deux. Then the lighter character work with the 3 attendants and the introduction of the Baron character. The second act opened with the expected ballroom corps dance which I will admit looked very messy and contrived until I saw it from the circle and from that position it all came together wonderfully with the patterns very clearly delineated. I found the presentation of the rose solo quite exceptional – nothing as vigorous and extended as this since the Red Knight’s mazurka solo in Checkmate ! And the double ending was a great theatrical coup with the most spectatcular final pose. I have to say I found Gaudiello quite wonderful in this moment. This act also gave a marvellous opportunity for the Baron, culminating in another great male solo. I liked the absence of the Marschallin in this act, as it showed the pure undistracted attraction between Sophie and Octavian in their pas de deux. And I think the tying up of all the strands in the last act is simply superb. The extreme fleetness of the setting up of the Baron’s humiliation and the tightly wound slapstick of the dinner combined with the marvellous visual jokes of the various charcters’ ascension up to the gallery level all lead to the great opening of the doors and the Marscallin’s reappearance. And then the pas de trois corresponding to the great trio in the opera. My only quible comes from the finale. By making the Marschallin an actress and the Baron her agent, I felt that, finally, she would have picked up her wrap and hat, the Baron would have reappeared, and the two of them would have returned to Vienna together, not as a couple but to continue their adventures. There was a slightly satiric feel to the characterisations, so the pathos of the current ending did not feel right for me. However, a small blemish. I know I am not addressing Michelle’s concerns about the dancers but will now try to. All 4 Barons I saw understood the character well. Curran looked and played uncannily like Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux character. Very sly. Killian was more forthright. Overall I found the Rawlins/Gaudiello/Curran/Stojmenov pairing to be the most satisfactory. Rowe was surprisingly good for one so young taking on such a character.Her alertness and responses second by second were telling. Dunn was good, of course, but seemed to be very serene about everything and I didn’t get the light satiric self mocking feel I got from Rawlins and Rowe. Stojmenov made the most of the emotional upheavals in the ballroom scene and her pairing with Gaudiello was superb. I guess I am not addressing Michelle’s concerns here either. Perhaps I just can’t. I was swept away at each performance, just caught up in the storytelling and characterisations. An old fashioned ballet with an old fashioned response ! I would love to address the score and designs elements too but this post is getting out of hand.

  2. Agnes de Mille once wrote that a choreographer has to set things up in the first 30 seconds. If that doesn’t happen forget it. And I feel that that’s what happened for me. I have never seen the opera although I did once perform in a ballet by Ken Mansfield called ‘Les Valseurs’ to the Richard Strauss music from that opera. Not that it matters since the Strauss was not used for ‘The Silver Rose’. I came absolutely cold to the work and saw it once only and I figure for me on this occasion de Mille hit the nail on the head. I was struggling in the first 30 seconds and from then on it was pretty much a mess as far as I am concerned. I wondered whether in fact Murphy had chosen badly and that perhaps the story was not suited to being used for dance. In the end I decided that it was not a success for me for a whole variety of reasons one of which I remarked upon in the earlier post.

    Having said the above I am envious of Adrian that he saw Daniel Gaudiello, who I think is one of the Australian Ballet’s best male artists. I would have liked to see what Lana Jones did with the Marschallin too. I should also mention that the audience at the matinee I attended absolutely loved the show. It was a sold out performance.

    I am also pleased to be able to publish Adrian’s knowledgeable, in depth analysis, and am happy to take more from him and others with similar or different points of view.

  3. Michelle’s Agnes de Mille comment goes nicely with Balanchine’s jibe about it being difficult to express “your mother in law” in ballet mime ! Perhaps given the circumstances surrounding the creation of Silver Rose [taking place on the stage where the premiere of Der Rosenkavalier materialised] it was assumed that the vast majority of the audience would have at least a passing knowledge of the plot mechanics of the opera. And they would be most intrigued to see Murphy’s gloss on such a familiar story. Although the fact that it is no longer in the repertory perhaps suggests that finally it was seen as a case of lese-majeste.

  4. I agree with Adrian’s well articulated comments on Murphy’s The Silver Rose. I was swept away with the production and the debut performances of Rowe, Ingham, Bull and Scott (20/3/2010). The Carl Vine score worked harmoniously with the choreography/narrative and what a treat to hear Vine’s music superbly performed by Stuart Macklin and Orchestra Victoria under the baton of Nicolette Fraillon. The set and costume designs of Roger Kirk added to the tapestry of creation. I, along with a fourteen year old male thoroughly soaked in Murphy’s theatrical offering.

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