Liz Lea in the 'showgirl' sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

Dance diary. July 2022

  • Liz Lea heads to Edinburgh

Canberra stalwart Liz Lea is taking her much acclaimed show, RED, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month. It opens on 16 August at Dance Base and is being promoted in Edinburgh in the following terms:

Red is fearless, Red is fierce, Red is powerful—a one-woman dance theatre work with a hint of fun and fabulousness. You will laugh, you’ll cry, you won’t forget. A poignant, riotous, glamorous and ultimately triumphant exploration of one woman’s story—an exquisite exploration of female endurance. Described as unforgettable, shattering and hilarious, Red is a soul-baring retelling of one woman’s journey through illness and recovery with an eye to the future. Honest, face-to-face dialogue with the audience, balanced with beautifully framed film and movement.

Read my review of RED from its premiere performance in March 2018 at this link.

Liz Lea in the finale to RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim
Liz Lea in the finale to RED. Canberra 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim
  • United Ukrainian Ballet

The United Ukrainian Ballet is coming to Australia in October. It will present a production of Swan Lake in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide on the dates and at the venues listed below.

Venue: Plenary MCEC, Melbourne
Date: 20-23 Oct 2022

Venue: Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC, Sydney
Date: 28-30 Oct 2022

Venue: Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide
Date: 10-13 Nov 2022

The company is made up of around 60 dancers who have escaped the war in Ukraine and who are living and rehearsing together in the Netherlands. Dancers come from various companies including National Opera of Ukraine, Kharkiv Opera Theatre and Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre. The company is led by former prima ballerina of Dutch National Ballet, Inge de Yongh. Prior to bringing Swan Lake to Australia the company will perform in the Netherlands and London bringing to the stage a new version of Giselle by Alexei Ratmansky.

  • Queensland Ballet’s Talbot Theatre

Brisbane’s Thomas Dixon Centre, Queensland Ballet’s home since the 1990s, has been beautifully redeveloped and now contains a small theatre, the Talbot Theatre, where very recently I watched a performance of Bespoke (of which more later). The theatre is a real gem. It has a seating capacity of 351 and is perfect for showings of new choreography, such as Bespoke.. But its best feature is its sightlines. I was sitting on the very end of a row but had a clear view of every part of the stage. Exceptional design I think.

Michelle Potter, 31 July 2022

Featured image: Liz Lea in the ’showgirl’ scene from RED. Canberra 2018. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Liz Lea in the 'showgirl' sequence from RED, 2018. Photo: Lorna Sim

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

A New Era. The Australian Ballet in 2021

Ever since the announcement that David Hallberg was to become the new artistic director of the Australian Ballet, there has been speculation about what he might bring to the company. With his extraordinary background across the world, including extended periods as a dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York and Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, as well as guest seasons with major companies around the world, including an extended position as principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet, it has seemed obvious that he would have much to offer. His contacts, and his wide personal experience, would ensure that he would be able to bring a diverse repertoire of works to the Australian Ballet. The announcement of the Australian Ballet’s season for 2021 shows exactly that.

David Hallberg, 2020. Photo: © Daniel Boud

The season is made up of a gala opening program in Melbourne, two mixed bill programs and three full-length works. Sound familiar? Looking more closely, however, the individual content of each season might be seen as somewhat unexpected. The opening season for Sydney dance goers is New York Dialects. It consists of two works by George Balanchine, Serenade and The Four Temperaments, which show somewhat different aspects of Balanchine’s output; and a newly commissioned work from Pam Tanowitz. Who could not look forward to Balanchine? But I am curious to see what Tanowitz produces as the one work of hers that I have seen (Solo for Russell for a New York City Ballet streaming program) left me cold I have to say.

The other mixed bill has two vastly different works both based on the balletic vocabulary—Petipa’s third act from Raymonda and William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite. I had the pleasure once of seeing the full-length Artifact but have never seen the Suite that Forsythe created from the full-length version. I look forward to the Suite and I am sure it will contain all the startling aspects (blackouts, lowering of the front curtain in mid-performance, and so on) that characterise the full production. An interesting choice from Hallberg.

As for the full-length works, we will get to see (I hope, anyway) Anna Karenina with choreography by Yuri Possokhov, whose choreography I admire immensely; John Cranko’s familiar Romeo and Juliet; and Alexei Ratmansky’s revival of the long-lost Harlequinade, originally created by Petipa in 1900.

Robyn Hendricks in a study for Anna Karenina. Photo: © Justin Ridler

What has impressed me so far is the way Hallberg speaks about the repertoire for the 2021 season. His words are straightforward and clear but they don’t dumb things down at all. His discussion of the Counterpointe program, for example, he says

The juxtaposition of Raymonda and Artifact Suite shows the evolution of classical ballet. Raymonda adheres to tradition and pageantry; Forsythe took this history and ‘imitated’ it, creating a work that overwhelms both dancers and audience with gestural references given new meaning. These seminal works both counteract and perfectly complement each other.

It has also been interesting rereading his autobiography A body of work. Dancing to the edge and back (New York: Atria Paperback, 2017). Now he is the new artistic director, the sections in his book where he talks about seeking to understand more about the nature of ballet take on a new meaning. During the reread I especially admired his enquiring mind, and his interest in an analytical approach to certain aspects of his career.

Hallberg has good connections already with the Australian Ballet as a result of guesting with the company on various occasions, and from the extended time he spent in Melbourne being treated for injury by the company’s rehabilitation team. He is an exceptional dancer (oh those beats!) and I clearly recall the first time I saw him in 2010 in Kings of the Dance. ‘Hallberg danced with classical perfection,’ I wrote. But despite all the positive signs, he has to prove that he can direct a company successfully. A new era? Fingers crossed.

Michelle Potter, 31 December 2020

Featured Image: Brett Chynoweth in a study for Harlequinade. Photo: © Pierre Toussaint

Featured image: Ashley Bouder and Joaquin De Luz in the opening movement of Concerto DSCH. New York City Ballet. Photo: © Paul Kolnik, from the New York City Ballet official website.

Concerto DSCH. New York City Ballet

10 May 2020. Digital Spring Season

Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH premiered in 2008 and was the second ballet Ratmansky made for New York City Ballet. In the introduction to this digital stream (which is of a production filmed in 2018), Ratmansky talks briefly about the music, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2 in F; the origins of that music; the double reference arising from the use of DSCH in the title of the work;* and a little about working with the dancers. All that he says is interesting, but nothing compares with the movement itself.

Concerto DSCH follows the three movements of the concerto and is danced by five soloists and a corps de ballet of fourteen dancers. The soloists comprise a trio of a woman and two men (Ashley Bouder, Joaquin De Luz and Gonzalo Garcia), and a duo of a woman and a man (Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle). The trio dominates the first movement. De Luz and Garcia show us expansive jumps and stretched legs, and virtuosic turns both on the ground and in the air. Bouder also stands out for her fast and perfect turning steps, and for a personality that shines throughout. As a group the three have a definite relationship but it is not exactly clear what that relationship is, other than it is a changing one. The corps de ballet often seems to be commenting on the actions of the trio but their dancing also demonstrates Ratmansky’s constant and always fascinating use of the stage space to arrange and rearrange groups of dancers.

The second movement is for the most part a pas de deux. Although Mearns and Angle appear in the first movement, the second is theirs even though the corps de ballet is also involved to a certain extent. Sometimes the corps mirrors what is happening in the pas de deux, at one stage they enclose Mearns and Angle in a circle, and sometimes they simply sit and watch what is happening.

The pas de deux vocabulary is liquid and filled with draped poses and sliding movements, with of course some thrilling lifts. Again there is a relationship, a definite emotional connection, between the two dancers, and at the end of the movement they part, each leaving via a different side of the stage, and each with a backward glance towards the other. Do we attribute this to a breakdown in a relationship? They often reach out to each other during the pas de deux, but scarcely touch on those occasions. But then in his introductory remarks to the streaming Ratmansky says he tells the dancers he is working with in this section to imagine they are young students out walking in a Russian city during the Winter Nights. So it is not really clear just what the connection between the two actually is.

The third movement speeds along in the manner of the first with an opening in which the five soloists engage with each other before the corps comes back in various combinations. The whole becomes like a choreographic coda.

Concerto DSCH is an astonishing work. It has virtuosity in spades, a sprinkle of humour, and those interpersonal connections—this latter a little surprising, and certainly cause for speculation. On the one hand the work is largely an abstract one, yet there is that definite emotional connection between the dancers. It might not be specific but it is there and indicates Ratmansky’s apparent interest in layering meaning and abstraction.

Ratmansky’s choreography never ceases to amaze, thrill and regularly surprise. I wondered, however, about the impact on his choreography of his interest, which I just recently read about, in Petipa and the Stepanov notation of Petipa’s works. In a review of Nadine Meisner’s relatively recent book on Petipa (Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master), the reviewer (Simon Morrison) writes:

The resident choreographer of American Ballet Theatre, Alexei Ratmansky, has studied the Stepanov notation of Petipa’s ballets. ‘You can’t remove a step without destroying the whole structure,’ he has said. But ‘so much small footwork’ has been lost; the hop between fouetté and the arabesque in Paquita for example. **

Ratamnsky’s choreography is filled with small ‘between’ steps and, while it is his own remarkable work, I can’t help wondering about his use of what he has noticed has been lost over the years from Petipa’s choreography. But then those ‘between’ steps also indicate the musicality that imbues Ratmansky’s work. Let’s hope we see more of his choreography in Australia in due course.

Michelle Potter, 11 May 2020

*DSCH forms and abbreviation of Shostakovitch’s name when written in German. It also refers to a musical motif.

* *Simon Morrison, ‘The bedroom of a sorcerer.’ London Review of Books, 2 April 2020. Review of Nadine Meisner, Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master (Oxford, July 2019).

Featured image: Ashley Bouder and Joaquin De Luz in the opening movement of Concerto DSCH. New York City Ballet. Photo: © Paul Kolnik, from the New York City Ballet official website.

Featured image: Ashley Bouder and Joaquin De Luz in the opening movement of Concerto DSCH. New York City Ballet. Photo: © Paul Kolnik, from the New York City Ballet official website.
Artists of the Australian Ballet in 'Cinderella' 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby

Cinderella. The Australian Ballet. 2020 Digital Season

Like most arts companies around the world, the Australian Ballet is offering audiences a streaming service during the COVID-19 lockdown. Each performance is available for a short time only, and Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella, first seen in Australia in 2013, is the second offering on the program. The cast is led by Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello in a partnership that is both moving and elegant. The performance was filmed in Brisbane in 2016.*

This Cinderella is not the usual take on the old fairy tale, although the characters from that fairy tale are present, albeit often in something of a new guise. For the most part the story also follows the narrative of a young girl being brought up in less than agreeable circumstances who finds love after attending a ball, and who then goes through the process of waiting for her Prince to find her after she leaves the ball in a hurry.

The unusual characteristics of Ratmansky’s version were made all the more powerful given that I had, the day before, watched Royal New Zealand Ballet’s streaming of Christopher Hampson’s Cinderella created originally for the New Zealand company in 2007. Hampson’s production had some lovely moments—a moving prologue, for example, in which we witnessed a young Cinderella at her mother’s funeral. It set a context for the rest of the story. There were some exceptional performances too including Jon Trimmer’s brilliant portrayal of the Royal Shoemaker who attempts to discover the inherent qualities of the shoe left behind at the ball by Cinderella.

But choreographically Hampson’s work was not especially inventive and fell within a very traditional balletic mode. Ratmansky’s choreography was still classically based but there was a distinctive touch to it. For a start, there were fewer easily recognisable classroom-style steps, and a much freer use of the arms and upper body.

In addition to this distinctive choreographic vocabulary, I was struck in particular by Ratmansky’s approach to the relationship between his vocabulary and Prokofiev’s score. Watching his choreography made the score sound quite different from what I had heard while watching the Hampson production. Ratmansky appeared to be strongly motivated by the music, more so than Hampson it seemed to me, and created steps specifically to match passages, even notes, in the score. This is not to say that Hampson’s choreography was unmusical, just that for Ratmansky music seemed to be the major force in the development of his movement.

I have reviewed the Ratmansky Cinderella elsewhere on this website so don’t intend to go further into the production. Here is a link to my original review. There is a place for both a traditional production, such as Hampson gives us, and a production that moves in a different direction. The same holds for Nutcracker, Swan Lake and others of the classics. But I loved being able to see the Hampson and the Ratmansky Cinderella side by side. It opened my eyes to an aspect of Ratmansky’s work that I hadn’t noticed in such depth before.

Michelle Potter, 23 April 2020

*For copyright reasons the Australian Ballet’s streamed performances are available to viewers in Australia only.

Featured image: Cinderella’s step-mother and step-sisters prepare for the ball in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. The Australia Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Artists of the Australian Ballet in 'Cinderella' 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby
Amy Harris and Adam Bull in 'The Merry Widow'. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridle

Dance diary. September 2017

  • The Australian Ballet in 2018

Details of the Australian Ballet’s 2018 season were revealed in September and this year Canberra audiences can anticipate a program from the national company. The Merry Widow, which David McAllister has called ‘a fantastically well-constructed soufflé’, was created for the Australian Ballet in 1975 as the first full-length production commissioned by the company. It will open at the Canberra Theatre Centre on 25 May and run until 30 May. Based on the operetta of the same name, it has choreography by Ronald Hynd, a scenario by Robert Helpmann (in 1975 artistic director of the Australian Ballet), and music by Franz Lehar. It will also have seasons in Sydney and Melbourne.

But beyond soufflés, and for those who like their ballet to have more intellectual input, an interesting program is scheduled for Melbourne and Sydney. Called Murphy, it honours the contribution Graeme Murphy has made to the Australian Ballet, which he joined from the Australian Ballet School in 1968. Programming is not yet complete, apparently, but we know that the main item on the program will be the return of Murphy’s Firebird, which he created for the Australian Ballet in 2009.

Lana Jones in Graeme Murphy's 'Firebird'. The Australian Ballet, 2009. Photo: © Alex Makeyev
Lana Jones in Graeme Murphy’s Firebird. The Australian Ballet, 2009. Photo: © Alex Makeyev

Here is a quote from Murphy from a story I wrote for The Weekend Australian in February 2009:

I want to give the audience the magic that they believe Firebird is. It will be a rich and opulent experience for them. Besides, the score is completely dictative of the narrative, which makes it hard to stray from the story. Firebird is imbued with Diaghilev’s thumbprint.
I am keeping all the elements of the work, the symbols of good and evil for example, but I will be focusing in a slightly different way. It will be a little like the world of winter opening up to let in the spring.

As for the rest of the season: Maina Gielgud’s production of Giselle will return for a season in Melbourne, while Sydney will have a return season of Alexei Ratmansky’s wonderful Cinderella; there is a new production of Spartacus in the pipeline, which will be seen in Melbourne and Sydney; Melbourne will have an exclusive season of a triple bill called Verve with works by Stephen Baynes, Tim Harbour and Alice Topp; and Adelaide will see The Sleeping Beauty.

  • Jennifer Irwin. Frocks, Tales and Tea

Jennifer Irwin, costume designer par excellence and recipient of the 2017 Australian Dance Award for Services to Dance, will be the special guest at an event hosted by ‘UsefulBox’ on 14 October at the Boronia tea rooms in the Sydney suburb of Mosman. Irwin will talk about her creative process and what inspired her as an artist. Further information at this link.

  • Andrée Grau (1954–2017)

The death has occurred, unexpectedly in France, of Andrée Grau, well-known dance anthropologist, and long-standing staff member of the University of Roehampton. Grau’s achievements, which include work in Australia, appear on the Roehampton website at this link.

  • Press for September 2017

‘Great flair shown in austere setting.’ Review of Circa’s Landscape with monsters. The Canberra Times, 8 September 2017, p. 31. Online version.

Seppe Van Looveren and Timothy Fyffe in 'Landscape With Monsters', 2017. Photo: © Vishal Pandey
Seppe Van Looveren and Timothy Fyffe in Landscape With Monsters, 2017. Photo: © Vishal Pandey

‘Untangling the truth.’ Preview of Gudirr, Gudirr, Dalisa Pigram and Marrugeku. The Canberra Times, 16 September 2017, Panorama p. 16. Online version.

Dalisa Pigram in 'Gudirr, Gudirr'. Photo Simon Schluter
Dalisa Pigram in Gudirr, Gudirr. Photo: © Simon Schluter

Michelle Potter, 30 September 2017

Featured image: Amy Harris and Adam Bull in The Merry Widow. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridler.

Amy Harris and Adam Bull in 'The Merry Widow'. The Australian Ballet 2018 season. Photo: © Justin Ridle

Dance diary. March 2016 … from foreign lands*

  • In Copenhagen
Edgar Degas, Little fourteen year old dancer (detail)

Edgar Degas’ beautiful sculpture of the little fourteen year old dancer, gorgeously displayed in Copenhagen’s gallery, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and seen above in head and shoulders detail.

Little mermaid web

The Little Mermaid who sits on a rock on the edge of Copenhagen’s harbour. The inspiration for the sculpture was dancer Ellen Price who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and danced with the Royal Danish Ballet from 1895 to 1913. Price appeared in 1909 as the Mermaid in Hans Beck’s ballet based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. For more see this article by Judith Mackrell with embedded archival footage.

  • In Dublin
Harry Clarke stained glass

‘Nelly dancing’, stained glass panel by Harry Clarke representing a scene from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley. ‘She came towards him dancing, moving the folds of the veil so that they unfolded as she danced.’ A tiny gem from the 1920s in the Hugh Lane Gallery.  For more see this link.

  • In Cork

I was interested to find in a bookshop in Cork a biography of Alicia Markova, which I had not previously come across: Tina Sutton, The Making of Markova. Diaghilev’s Baby Ballerina to Groundbreaking Icon (New York: Pegasus Books, 2013). The author is a journalist without a dance background (and admits in the preface that she ‘knew nothing about Markova’ before she began her project), so there are some explanatory passages and slabs of text that those with some dance knowledge may find a little irritating, or unnecessary. Some frustrating repetition too and overuse of adjectives such as ‘brilliant’ and ‘famous’. Sutton has, however, drawn on previously unpublished source material from Markova’s personal collection, including her journals, which makes for interesting reading. The Markova collection, which appears to be extensive, is held in Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Massachusetts.

  • In London
The laughing audience detail

The Laughing Audience (detail) in William Hogarth’s house in Hammersmith. Hogarth used this 1733 etching as a subscription ticket when he jointly advertised his large engraving Southwark Fair with the series The Rake’s Progress.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2016

* With apologies (or really in homage) to Alexei Ratmansky whose charming ballet From foreign lands made such an impression on me a few years ago.

Twyla Tharp's 'Bach Partita', opening scene, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theatre in Brisbane

My coverage of American Ballet Theatre’s first Australian visit as part of Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s International Series has just been posted on DanceTabs. Making the most of an expensive trip to Brisbane, I saw two performances on consecutive nights, the last night of Swan Lake and the first night of Three Masterpieces. I would have really liked to have seen Three Masterpieces again, especially Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, which, given its complexity, was difficult to take in on one viewing.

In addition to what I wrote about Bach Partita in the DanceTabs post, I especially enjoyed a solo by Marcelo Gomes, who is seen below with Gillian Murphy. It is quite clear from this image that Gomes has a powerful presence and his solo was strong and controlled and lost nothing of that presence.

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in Twyla Tharp's 'Bach Partita', American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Gene Schiavone
Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Gene Schiavone

The DanceTabs post is at this link.

Michelle Potter, 7 September 2014

Featured image: Opening scene from Twyla Tharp’s Bach Partita, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: © Gene Schiavone

Twyla Tharp's 'Bach Partita', opening scene, American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Gene Schiavone
Season's greetings 2013

Season’s greetings 2013

Compliments of the season to all those who have accessed my website, and especially to those who have added so much with their comments. I look forward to your continued patronage in the coming year.

It has been a terrific year so far in Canberra as the city has celebrated its centenary, and I have also been fortunate to have seen some wonderful dance elsewhere in Australia and around the world. But I have no hesitation in naming my two favourite shows for 2013 as Yuri Possokhov’s Rite of Spring for San Francisco Ballet, and what a wonderful company SFB is; and Garry Stewart’s Monument for the Australian Ballet as a Canberra Centenary event. And as for the latter, what a shame it is that other States will not see it in 2014. I fear it will just slip into oblivion, which seems like a shocking waste to me.

As for dancers, I have loved watching the Australian Ballet’s Eloise Fryer in various roles throughout the year, especially as Dumpy in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. And I never tire of watching Sydney Dance Company’s Chen Wen seen below in Rafael Bonachela’s 2 one another.

Chen Wen in '2 One Another. Photo': Wendell Teodoro
Chen Wen in Rafael Bonachela’s 2 one another, Sydney Dance Company. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro

I have a number of dance activities coming up in 2014, news of which I will keep until my December dance diary. In the meantime may the coming festive season be filled with happiness.

Michelle Potter, 22 December 2013

David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in 'Cinderella'. Photo: Wendell Teodoro, 2013

David Hallberg. The charming Prince

14 December 2019, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

My thoughts on David Hallberg’s guest appearance with the Australian Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella were posted on DanceTabs on 16 December 2013. Below is the text. The DanceTabs link is still available and includes 11 comments that were made on the story by readers.

The DanceTabs text (without comments) is reposted below.

When David Hallberg was a child his inspiration to dance initially came from Fred Astaire whose old Hollywood movies Hallberg loved to watch. He admits he was obsessed. In those days he didn’t own a pair of tap shoes so, when Halloween was approaching, he attached coins to his shoes and tapped as a trick or treat act. Hallberg went on to take formal tap and jazz classes but it was not long before ballet drew him into a new dance world. His ballet teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, was Kee Juan Han, who recognised his talent but told him that it needed to be shaped. He was thirteen. There were no other boys in his ballet class but he persisted, nurtured by Han, and now, with his beautifully proportioned body, extraordinary feet, and easy, fluid technique he is the epitome of the danseur noble.

Hallberg has been in Sydney, Australia, guesting with the Australian Ballet as the Prince in Alexei Ratmanky’s new take on Cinderella, a production that was reviewed earlier in 2013 in DanceTabs. In this Cinderella the Prince makes his appearance early on in Act II, the ball scene. There is a huge build up to his entrance. The Prince’s four friends, who are in fact his minders, attempt to clear centre stage of guests; those guests engage excitedly with each other; and the Stepmother and her two daughters, Skinny and Dumpy, try to push themselves forward. The Prince arrives dressed in an elegant white suit with a tuxedo-style jacket worn over a smart vest. His entrance begins with a spectacular diagonal of grands jetés, and Hallberg’s entrance drew gasps and shouts of ‘bravo’ from the audience. His magnificently stretched jetés soared through the air, seemingly without effort. The perfectly placed grands pirouettes that followed whipped around in spectacular fashion, and the entrechats sprinkled throughout his solo were quite the most perfect examples of that step that I have seen. 

Hallberg played the role of the Prince in a very royal manner. He was slightly imperious as he gave orders to his entourage and, while he greeted his guests at the ball in a charming manner, he was regally distant. Similarly, although when he first saw Cinderella, danced by Australian Ballet principal Amber Scott, he was instantly attracted to her, there was still something withdrawn about his reaction to her. There were moments when he seemed to me to be more like the Prince in a traditional Swan Lake Act I rather than a character in a twenty-first century reimagining of an old story.

Hallberg is no stranger to Ratmansky’s work. He has appeared in at least five others of his works and next year he will dance in Lost Illusions with the Bolshoi Ballet. Of working with Ratmansky, Hallberg says: ‘He is so clever. I love the nuances in his work. He has his signatures but he is so relevant, so of his era’. So Hallberg’s choice to play the Prince in a manner that was at odds with how the rest of the cast handled Ratmansky’s creation is a curious one. It is especially so because Hallberg says that when he is not in the theatre he loves to see other art and that his particular taste is for the contemporary. Hallberg’s dancing was, of course, stunning to watch. I especially admired his dancing in the scene where he travels the world looking for the owner of the glitzy shoe. Much of Ratmansky’s choreography for this section is full of lightning-fast moves that often change direction quickly and Hallberg threw himself into it with gusto. And his several pas de deux with Scott had an incredible lyricism. But to do full justice to Ratmansky’s reimagining of the story, this Cinderella needs a less classical reading than the one Hallberg gave us.

As a result the evening fell a little flat, especially as Scott’s portrayal of Cinderella lacked the sparkle and individualism that marked performances by Leanne Stojmenov, on whom the role was created.  There were some stellar performances from others in the cast, especially Amy Harris as the Stepmother who let fly with her tantrums when her hairdresser failed to live up to her expectations, or when the shoe didn’t fit. But the work does need the Prince to be a strong, contemporary character. Despite the fact that he is royalty, his behaviour has to fit the contemporary mood of the ballet.

In many respects it is a shame that Sydney was chosen as the city to host Hallberg, despite the fact that Sydney clearly offers great photo opportunities. The inadequacies of the stage of the Joan Sutherland Theatre in the Sydney Opera House are well known. The stage is small and is short on wing space, and that’s even before we get to the orchestra pit, which is partly underneath the stage and is the bane of musical directors and orchestral players. Ratmansky’s Cinderella looked cramped in Sydney compared with the magical and mesmerising effect it had on the bigger Melbourne stage. However, it perhaps would not have made a difference had Hallberg danced in Melbourne. Space was not the major issue.  

Hallberg gave his last show in Sydney on 14 December and then flew out to Paris to make his debut with the Paris Opera Ballet. I thought he missed the point of Ratmansky’s take on Cinderella. But it will take me a long while to get over those astonishing entrechats.

Michelle Potter, 16 December 2013

Featured image: David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro

David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in 'Cinderella'. Photo: Wendell Teodoro, 2013