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.
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.
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—Cinderellacomes 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
7 September 2018. Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane
Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella, which Queensland Ballet performed in its latest season, was first made in 1970, almost 50 years ago. I’m afraid it is showing its age a little. While Queensland Ballet’s dancers go from strength to strength every time I see them, I think they need something more powerful to dance than this Cinderella. Perhaps there is an issue here too in that Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella, in which the story has been given a new touch, has had several showings in Australia recently and is due to be seen in Sydney again shortly.
Having had my first professional engagements in pantomime, it was interesting, however, to see the way Stevenson built the Stepsisters (Vito Bernasconi and Camilo Ramos) into the show—outrageous behaviour, over the top costumes, pratfalls everywhere, and of course the roles taken by men. But this kind of acting/dancing belongs to the 1960s (and earlier) when it was a panto tradition. We have moved on a little.
But on the whole the ballet was nicely danced. Liam Geck as the Jester in the ball scene was outstanding but, again, a jester is such an old-fashioned tradition, this time from Russia. So while his performance was spectacular it was frustrating that there was a jester in there. Why?
All the fairies, Spring (Lina Kim), Summer (Mia Heathcote), Autumn (Neneka Yoshida) and Winter (Georgia Swan), acquitted themselves beautifully, as did Yanela Piñera as Cinderella. Joel Woellner was a very traditional Prince.
This Cinderella is not my favourite ballet. But it did please most of the people in the audience.
Recent worldwide weather events have seen unprecedented extremes in both directions. As we cool down into autumn in New Zealand, we could be mindful of the northern hemisphere’s rite of spring (loads of daffodils apparently, but still cold and wet). We might all be wondering about the proportion of human responsibility for climate change, and what we, each and together, can do about it. So what’s that got to do with dancing? Well, nothing and everything. It’s a global globe that’s turning and we’re all on it.
Recent remarks locally have stated that the New Zealand dance scene is so isolated from the rest of the world. Poppycock, I say, isolation is a state of mind and everywhere is isolated from somewhere. We are entitled to believe that the centre of the world is wherever we are on the day, and that size has nothing to do with it. But it is at the same time true that you sometimes want to see a dance that is not on in your town. What to do about that?
Read this website for a review of the recent retrospective of Graeme Murphy’s works by the Australian Ballet. Think about the issues involved in such retros, and follow the Comments with interest. This triggers memories of Murphy’s works for RNZBallet over the years (too few in my estimation). Thought-provoking.
Read Joan Acocella’s insightful writings on dance in the New Yorker. Her recent pieces on Arthur Mitchell, Twyla Tharp, Alexei Ratmansky give rich commentary on dance in America at its best. Acocella is for me the most lucid dance writer in the English language and I hang on her words. You can catch four articles per month in the New Yorker online, or inherit copies from your kind subscribing friends.
Watch Sky Arts television channel’s current broadcast of the 90 minute programme of Patricia Brown’s work. I’d seen photos of her dancers for years but never watched them in motion. Now I have. Intriguing.
Be glad of Arts Festivals. Both Wellington and Auckland have just ended their seasons, plus Fringes, with a remarkable range of dance events on offer that have brought us great works, still warm and wet, from far afield, as well as new local work with much cause to celebrate. RNZBallet’s The Piano:the ballet (see review below); English National Ballet’s Giselle (s.r.b.); Crystal Pite’s and Jonathan Young’s Betroffenheit (s.r.b.); Michael Parmenter’s Orpheus; Malia Johnston’s Rushes; and the all time standout for me in Michael Keegan Dolan’s Swan Lake Loch na hEala (already reviewed on this website at this link)
In recent years Auckland has staged a festival in the alternate years to Wellington’s longer-established biennial, and the airlines were happy as folk winged their way north or south. That worked fine. Now however Auckland has made theirs an annual festival, to run concurrently with Wellington’s, and that does not work fine. I was conscious of a number of friends who watched wistfully as I flew to Auckland for English National Ballet’s Giselle. A number of other friends did go north too but, in doing so, missed out on the remarkable Betroffenheit back here in Wellington. I fear that the two festivals going up against each other across the same three weeks (they claim to co-ordinate and share events, but they do not…) will cause over time a weakening of both programs, and confuse the punters. Australia staggers her cities’ festival seasons better than we do, which makes sense, and also keeps the airlines happy.
I had to fly back to Auckland within the same week for the legendary percussion ensemble, From Scratch, headed by Philip Dadson. (I had danced to their Drumwheel in performances at the National Art Gallery in 1979. Now the striking Carol Brown dances to the same work. Interesting contrasts). My daughter was also involved in a collaboration with From Scratch at the breathtaking Te Uru gallery complex in Titirangi, west Auckland, the great Manukau harbour sprawling below the rooftop venue, in the treetops, at sunset … the first site specific performance of the many I have attended that has ever really thrilled me.
Back in Wellington The Flamenco Project, by Isabel Rivera Cuenca from Barcelona, was the Fringe Festival’s triumph, a strong and spirited yet subtly playful offering of the best of southern Spain—with return visits to New Zealand on offer. The fabulous Cuba Dupa street festival, as fringe to the Fringe, just squeezed in before the end of a golden summer. Included was a riveting Javanese wayang kulit shadow puppet show by dhalang Joko Susilo, effortlessly accompanied by the local Gamelan Padhang Moncar. The astonishingly dance-like arm movements of the puppets was a revelation of this dhalang’s expertise.
Withdrawal from Festival mania? Nah, no time for the blues. Within a day a local cinema was screening Royal Ballet’s The Winter’s Tale by Christopher Wheeldon in live telecast. A knockout. The Bernstein Project and Manon are coming hard on its heels. Isolated in New Zealand? If you say so, but I don’t.
The Royal New Zealand Ballet has just completed the national tour of The Piano: the ballet, which saw seasons in both Wellington and Auckland festivals then to eight? cities nationwide. Following inspiration of Jane Campion’s celebrated film from 1980s, the ballet is choreographed by Jiri Bubenicek, in collaboration with his brother Otto on music and design.
The work was originally commissioned for RNZB by Francesco Ventriglia, and extended into two acts from its beginnings as a one-act for Dortmund Ballet in 2014.
(very interesting to read their online promo of that production. I guess isolation works in a variety of ways)…
Specifically for Ballet Dortmund he [Bubenicek] has arranged his newest creation, inspired by Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning film The Piano. He tells the story of a mute woman living in Australia in the 19th century, at the outpost of civilization. In the midst of brutal plantation owners and disenfranchised aborigines she can only express herself through the piano. Together with the film’s Australian director, Jiří and Otto Bubeníček sought the original setting of the film to find out what art can be for people who find themselves in extreme situations—everything.
RNZB’s was a major project that has attracted nationwide accolades for the production, and rightly praising outstanding performances by Abigail Boyle and Paul Mathews, among others in alternate casts. The role of the child was a fabulous opportunity for a juvenile player, making far more dramatic demands than the usual cute child dancer cast in many a ballet you and I have seen. (see theatreview, for links to a number of reviews of the production).
The mise en scene of New Zealand land and seascapes was impressive, monumental even, yet did not overpower the danced story. The music excerpts were sourced from numerous different works by numerous different composers, and some (well, me anyway) found that problematic, sensing an opportunity missed by the Company not to have commissioned a New Zealand composer to produce a through-composed score (such as Gareth Farr? John Psathas? There are also other composers who could have managed it, and the cost would not be astronomical alongside the rights to composers, recording companies and performers that must have been required). If that were in place (and it still could be) the work could tour Europe and show the world we’re the best little ballet company on Earth. As it stands the music does not cumulatively and fully support the shift between the picaresque Act One and the emotional depths of Act Two. Some colleagues found a familiar music excerpt distracting when they heard it, wondering (‘Oh, I know that piece so well … whatever is it?. Oh whoops, he’s fetched an axe … what’s he going to do with it now?’)
The ballet has raised other interesting issues along the way, prominently the depiction of Maori in the choreography. Even though respected Maori choreographer, Moss Paterson, was brought in to oversee that dimension, a raft of patronising Pakeha nevertheless commented that the performance of haka should not be left to ‘European’ dancers, and that Maori dancers should themselves be included in the cast instead. One could reply that the challenge to professional dancers in the theatre is to portray ‘other’ in almost every role they take. They may not particularly identify with a repressed and violent husband, a reluctant or duplicit lover, or specially feel like a Cupid or Tinkerbell, a sylphide, or Te Rauparaha, but that’s their trade and the best of them do it with aplomb … witness Abigail Boyle, witness Paul Mathews (whose internalised haka of fury upon discovering he had been cuckolded crosses all ethnic divides) and witness Luke Cooper, Maori dancer in RNZB.
Depiction of Maori in RNZB repertoire over the years has not happened often. Ihi Frenzy, with Te Matarae I Orehu, back in Matz Skoog’s day as director, was one.
(The real strength of that project was to take company to the marae in Rotorua for an immersion orientation…then to tour both ensembles nationwide. By the end of that tour, RNZB dancers were indistinguishable from Maori at the haka finale). The indelible memory for me however is from Gray Veredon’s Tell me a Tale, (during Harry Haythorne’s directorate) when Warren Douglas played the Maori brother, who warned the Pakeha settler coming ashore that his sister would not be available as a girlfriend, and confirmed that in haka. End of story. We could well see that work again—Jon Trimmer, Kerry-Anne Gilberd and Kim Broad who played the lead roles are all still around and could help Gray Veredon with re-staging. Design by Kristian Fredrikson was one of his best, and the choreography suited our company extremely well.
The choreography of The Piano follows Campion’s film in great and faithful detail, including the spirited caricature of the preacher and local congregation of early settlers. I found it a good idea to watch the film again, in tandem with this ballet—and you couldn’t help but notice that the choreographed portrayal of Maori was immensely more successful than the film’s very peculiar treatment of ‘the natives’ who lay around mostly swathed in blankets and draped in mangrove trees.
Having said that, I also noted that I very much preferred the film’s shape-shifting epilogue to the ballet’s ambiguous ‘ending’. Plays in the theatre have endings. The ballet would be stronger for having one too. Then it could really take Europe by storm. There’s the wero to you.
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.
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.
‘Untangling the truth.’ Preview of Gudirr, Gudirr, Dalisa Pigram and Marrugeku. The Canberra Times, 16 September 2017, Panorama p. 16. Online version.
South African-born Robyn Hendricks is the newest principal dancer with the Australian Ballet, having been promoted to the position earlier this month. My most pleasant memory of Hendricks’ dancing is in Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain, in Canberra in 2013 partnered by Rudy Hawkes, and in Sydney this year partnered by Damian Smith.
Congratulations to Stephen Page, artistic director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, who has been honoured with the JC Williamson Award by Live Performance Australia. The award is in recognition of ‘individuals who have made a truly outstanding contribution to the enrichment of the Australian live entertainment and performing arts culture and shaped the future of the industry for the better.’ It would be hard to find anyone in the Australian dance community who is more deserving of this award than Stephen Page. For over 25 years he has worked tirelessly to create a body of work that highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and he has consistently encouraged many of his indigenous colleagues to do the same.
The JC Williamson Award was first presented in 1998 and since then only two others from the dance community have been honoured: Graeme Murphy in 2002 and Margaret Scott in 2007.
Tutus, Hannah O’Neill and the Paris Opera Ballet
The Paris Opera Ballet newsletter for July (in English) contains an article about the making of tutus for the company’s recent production of Giselle. It is of particular interest for its inclusion of an image of Hannah O’Neill in the role of Myrtha. If the number of times the tag Hannah O’Neill is accessed on this website is anything to go by, O’Neill continues to attract significant interest in Australia and New Zealand. Here is the link. There are a number of other interesting links within this article.
The Australian Ballet’s film partnership with CinemaLive
The Australian Ballet has plans over the course of coming years to screen, in partnership with CinemaLive, some of its recent productions. The first program of three works, to screen in 2016–2017, is The Fairy Tale Series, comprising The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella (Ratmansky) and Coppélia. No specific dates or venues are available at this stage, although a recent media release mentions that the productions will be screened in ‘over 600 cinemas worldwide, in territories including North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Central and South America.’
Similar initiatives have made it possible for audiences worldwide to see performances from such companies as the Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet. It’s good to see the Australian Ballet following suit.
It was good to see a mention in The Canberra Times of the success of a brief video posted by The Huffington Post about the work of Canberra-based artist Benjamin Shine. I mentioned Shine’s beautiful installation in the Canberra Centre in my Dance diary for April 2015. Recent Canberra Times story and video at this link.
During June I was able to get to see the documentary Mr Gaga as part of the HotDocs Festival. The title refers to Ohad Naharin’s Gaga movement vocabulary, a kind of improvisatory, cathartic vocabulary that Naharin created and has developed as a teaching tool, which is shown during the documentary. The film offered an interesting insight into Naharin’s career, including into his early life, and contained plenty of examples of his remarkable choreography, danced exceptionally by his Batsheva Dance Company. It aroused a whole variety of emotions in me including, I have to say, anger at what I thought was an extremely dangerous action on Naharin’s part while he was coaching one of his dancers as she tried to perfect a falling motion! But there were some very moving moments, some funny ones and a host of others. Well worth a look I think.
Press for June 2016
‘Study for RED.’ Article on the work of dancer and choreographer Liz Lea. The Canberra Times—Panorama, 18 June 2016, pp. 8–9. Online version.
‘Small company has big aspirations.’ Preview of Melbourne Ballet Company’s Divenire program. The Canberra Times—Panorama, 25 June 2016, p. 12. Online version.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.