Dance diary. March 2021

  • Promotions at Queensland Ballet

Neneka Yoshida and Patricio Revé were both promoted to principal dancers during the Queensland Ballet’s 60th Anniversary Gala held in March 2021. Both have been dancing superbly over the past few years. Yoshida took my breath away as Kitri in the Don Quixote pas de deux at the Gala and Revé I remember in particular for his performance as Romeo in the 2019 production of Romeo and Juliet, although of course he also danced superbly during the Gala.

Neneka Yoshida as Kitri in Don Quixote pas de deux. Queensland Ballet 2021. Photo: © David Kelly

Congratulations to them both and I look forward to watching them continue their careers with Queensland Ballet.

  • Fjord review, issue 3, 2020

Some years ago I wrote an article about Fjord Review, the first issue. At that stage it was based in Melbourne (or so I thought anyway), although now it comes from Canada. Its scope is international and its production values are quite beautiful. I was surprised to find (by accident) that its most recent print issue contained a review of my book Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. See further information about this unexpected find at the end of this post.

The print version of issue #3 also had some articles of interest about dance in Australia. ‘Dance break’ is a short conversation with Imogen Chapman, current soloist with the Australian Ballet; ‘Creative Research with Pam Tanowitz’ is a conversation with the New York-based choreographer whose latest work will premiere shortly in Sydney as part of David Hallberg’s season, New York Dialects; and ‘A.B.T. Rising’ discusses four recent dance films including David, ‘an ode to David Hallberg’.

As to the review of the first issue mentioned above, some of the comments received following that post are more than interesting!

  • Coming soon in Canberra. The Point

Liz Lea is about to premiere her new work, The Point, at Belco Arts Centre, Canberra. It will open on 29 April, International Dance Day.

Nicholas Jachno and Resika Sivakumaran in a study for The Point, 2021. Photo: © Lorna Sim

The Point. performed by a company of twelve dancers from across Australia and India, pursues Lea’s interest in connections across dance cultures, an appropriate theme for any International Dance Day event. It also looks at interconnections in design and music and takes inspiration from the designs of Walter Burley and Marion Mahoney Griffin, designers of the city of Canberra. A further source of inspiration is the notion of Bindu—the point of creation in Hindu mythology.

  • David McAllister and the Finnish National Ballet

Early in 2021, the Finnish National Ballet was due to premiere a new production of Swan Lake by David McAllister with designs by Gabriela Tylesova. The premiere was postponed until a later date. Read about it at this DanceTabs link.

And on the subject of McAllister, the National Portrait Gallery has a new photograph of McAllister and his partner Wesley Enoch on display in its current exhibition, Australian Love Stories. Looks like McAllister has his foot in an Esky in this particular shot! I am curious.

Peter Brew-Bevan, Wesley Enoch and David McAllister 2020. Courtesy of the artist. © Peter Brew-Bevan
  • Kristian Fredrikson. Designer. More reviews and comments

Madelyn Coupe, ‘Light and dark of the human heart.’ Fjord Review, issue 3, 2020. pp. 43-45.
Unfortunately this review is not available online. Read it, however, via this link (without the final image, which is of Dame Joan Sutherland in Lucrezia Borgia).

I will be giving a talk on Fredrikson for the Johnston Collection in Melbourne in June. Details at this link.

Michelle Potter, 31 March 2021

Featured image: Patricio Revé in Études. Queensland Ballet, 2021. Photo: © David Kelly

techne. Sylvie Guillem. Photo by Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem. Life in Progress

19 August 2015, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Sylvie Guillem is an extraordinary dancer, no doubt about it, and her farewell show of four very different works demonstrated her astonishing capacity as a performer. But what emerged most clearly for me was that Guillem is first and foremost a ballet dancer. Her body, with its flexibility, slender frame, beautifully arched feet, impeccable ‘turn-out’, and limbs that extend seemingly forever, is so perfectly suited to the vocabulary of ballet that, whatever other dance style she is performing, she makes me long to see her dancing in a ballet again. Guillem has, for the last ten years or so, focused on contemporary dance and, while I have every respect for her desire to work that way, it is a little sad that not all of the movement we see in her farewell show does justice to her qualities as a dancer.

The program opened with technê choreographed by Akram Khan. Its setting was instantly attractive—a silver mesh tree positioned centre stage and surrounded by a circle of light. Across the upstage area sat a dimly-lit orchestra of three, composer Alies Sluiter (voice, laptop and violin), Prathap Ramachandra (percussion), and Grace Savage (beatbox). And the live soundscape they produced was thrilling.

But, watching Guillem emerge from the darkness in the opening moments—our first sight of her—only to scuttle around the circle of light on all fours like an insect was not thrilling. Sure she scuttles brilliantly and every inch of her body scuttled. But for me it was an uninspired opening moment and it was hard to maintain interest in the movement of technê from then on.

Then followed William Forsythe’s DUO2015, remade from his 1996 DUO and danced by two men, Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts, to a very sparse score by Thom Willems. They danced together and apart, at times with panache and bravura, and sometimes with a kind of throwaway attitude. It was a communication between friends. They sometimes mirrored each other in their movements, and at other times they maintained their differences—a diverse dancing communication, and a wonderful one.

Dancers Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts in 'DUO2015'. Photo by Carl Fox
 Dancers Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts in DUO2015. Photo: © Carl Fox

The last piece before intermission was another duet, Here & After, this time danced by two women, Guillem and Emanuela Montanari. Choreographed by Russell Maliphant to music by Andy Cowton, it was pleasant dancing, often sculptural and having a light touch towards the end when the Cowton score included the sounds of a yodelling voice. It was enhanced by a strong lighting design from Michael Hulls, a constantly changing chessboard of squares of light. It added a hard-edged quality that sat well against the softness of the choreography.

By far the most satisfying piece, however, was the closing item, Bye, with choreography by Mats Ek and danced to Beethoven’s Arietta from his Piano Sonata Opus 111. The choice of music was an inspired one given its position in Beethoven’s oeuvre, Opus 111 being his last piano sonata, and given the inventive nature of the Arietta within it.

Sylvie Guillem in 'Bye'. Photo: Bill Cooper
Sylvie Guillem in Bye. Photo: © Bill Cooper

In Bye we first see Guillem peering through a keyhole of a door positioned upstage, which eventually becomes a screen for the projection of filmed images of people and animals. As Guillem emerges from behind this door/screen and begins to dance, Ek’s choreographic style is instantly recognisable. Guillem crosses the stage with long, loping walks, shoulders slightly hunched and head pushed forward. From then on she engages in a variety of moves that often seem to be an examination of the world, including one quiet moment when she stands on the side of the stage and surveys the space. At one point she stands on her head, legs spread in a kind of upside down 2nd position plié. Finally, she joins a growing crowd of men, women, children and dogs who appear in film on the door/screen. In the closing moments she joins them and walks into the distance.

Life in Progress was an interesting experience, and it certainly made me more than aware of Guillem’s astonishing abilities. But I would rather watch beetles scuttle and a clown stand on his (or her) head and watch Guillem dancing a ballet. I feel very lucky to have seen her during her ballet days and, in particular, will always carry with me treasured memories of the most moving Giselle I have ever seen—Guillem’s own production (with Guillem in the lead) for Finnish National Ballet in Paris in 2001.

Bye. Or is it au revoir?

Michelle Potter, 22 August 2015

Featured image: Sylvie Guillem in Akram Khan’s technê. Photo: © Bill Cooper

techne. Sylvie Guillem. Photo by Bill Cooper

Giselle in the news

It seems that the Australian Ballet will be bringing back Maina Gielgud’s production of Giselle in 2015. Gielgud’s web page indicates that she will be in Australia from late 2014, firstly teaching in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne and then working on staging Giselle for the Australian Ballet.

This news sent me looking at some of my favourite, easily available online images from Giselle. I didn’t have the opportunity to see Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov in the Ballet Victoria production of 1975. But some of my favourite Giselle photos come from that production, an amazing event when one considers that Makarova defected in 1970 and Baryshnikov did so in 1974 and here they were in Australia in 1975 so early in their careers in the West. Walter Stringer’s photos are often slightly blurry but I think he has captured something of the quality of the performance.

Mikhail Baryshnikov as Albrecht in 'Giselle', Ballet Victoria 1975. Photo: Walter Stringer

In the meantime, Graeme Murphy has been in South Korea workshopping a new version of Giselle. It seems that we won’t see this production in Australia, at least not in the short term. The idea of a Murphy reworking is tantalising and I can’t help wondering why a ballet company in South Korea had the prescience to commission it rather than the Australian Ballet.

I love to see a high quality ‘traditional’ version and still sigh over the Paris Opera Ballet’s production we saw in Australia in 2012. But the most moving production I have ever seen was created by Sylvie Guillem in 1998 for the Finnish National Ballet, which I saw in 2001. On the surface it certainly wasn’t a traditional Giselle, as the photo below indicates, although anyone familiar in the slightest degree with the ballet will recognise the dance sequence from Act I shown here. Below the surface though, I found that not only did it pull at the heart strings but it was deeply and intellectually satisfying as well.

Artists of Finnish National Ballet in 'Giselle', 1998. Photo: © Kari Hakli
Artists of Finnish National Ballet in Giselle, 1998. Photo: © Kari Hakli

I wrote about the Guillem Giselle in 2001 for Brolga, then an old-fashioned print journal. I declined to give permission for it to be digitised by Ausdance when they began digitising back issues, but here is a section from it.

Guillem as producer and choreographer (after Coralli-Perrot-Petipa according to the program), reconceived the ballet according to her wish for it to be a work that would evoke both the past and the present, and that would be meaningful to contemporary audiences. In program notes she stated:

‘Giselle’s story is a timeless one. To die of love, not so much for a man as for loss of love. Naturally the texts by Théophile Gautier and Heinrich Heine clearly laid down the basic intentions. Over the years, these intentions have been buried beneath set choreographic habits, mainly with regard to gesture, thereby becoming a sort of incoherent language expected to “speak” the story … I wanted to rediscover Giselle and make the blood flow again in the veins of the various protagonists’.*

And elsewhere she is quoted as saying: ‘Even if Giselle hadn’t had a heart attack, the ballet was dying by itself. It was becoming more and more stupid, without any sense’.**

Strong words from Guillem. We know the Gielgud production. As for the Murphy version … we will have to wait.

Michelle Potter, 15 June 2014

NOTES:

* Sylvie Guillem, ‘Waiting for curtain-up’. Program for Giselle, Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris 2000–2001, p. 12.

**Debra Crane, ‘Made for fame’. Dance Now, vol. 9 (No. 4, Winter 2000–2001), p. 16.

I am working on making available in full my article from Brolga and will include it in my dance diary for June.

Giselle. Paris Opera Ballet (2013)

29 January 2013, Capitol Theatre, Sydney

The Paris Opera Ballet’s production of Giselle is breathtaking, poetic and immensely moving. It is steeped in the two nineteenth century traditions from which it emerged: ballet-pantomime and romanticism. And it is danced by artists whose technical expertise is a benchmark for today.

The production is so clear in its story-telling. The dancers appear to live rather than act out their parts and the evening just sweeps along. Giselle, danced by Dorothée Gilbert, draws us into her peasant world and shares her inconsolable sorrow at being betrayed in Act I, and in Act II she almost seems to melt away at times so fragile and vaporous is her reading of her role as a Wili. Her mimed tears as she tells us how much she had loved Albrecht simply melt the heart.

But, while it is clear, the production is also subtle, beautifully so. Nothing screams out, everything is harmonious as the story moves to an inevitable conclusion.

As for the dancing, well there’s just nothing like the Paris Opera Ballet. The corps de ballet is so beautifully rehearsed and they danced to perfection in both acts; Mathieu Ganio as Albrecht performed the most exquisite series of entrechats in Act II; Marie-Agnès Gillot was a commanding Myrthe and the Act I Peasant pas de deux, danced by Mélanie Hurel and Emmanuel Thibault, was joyously captivating.

But although there were some (or many) outstanding moments of performance, the evening was about the entire company. What makes this company so outstanding is the way in which the dancers perform in the classical mode. Every movement is a complete one. The dancers are able to take a bend of the body, a circular movement, a lift of the arms, anything really, and one can see where the movements starts, how it moves along its trajectory and how it finishes and moves into the next movement. This kind of dancing, so smooth and fluid, so sweeping, having such clarity, is rare and it is such a huge pleasure to see.

The Sydney Lyric Orchestra, consisting of musicians drawn together from a variety of organisations and directed by concertmaster Adrian Keating, was conducted by Belgian, Koen Kessels. The music never intrudes but is always clearly and strongly present, moving the story along. Perfect. It also presents a new perspective on Adolphe Adam’s music, reinstating some of the passages that have long been removed from the score as a result of the ballet having been whittled away over the decades from its original ballet-pantomime intentions. And the cello solo in Act II was as moving as the dance it accompanied.

Much has been made of this production being the ‘most authentic’ production of Giselle, and I began this review by mentioning the two traditions from which the first Giselle emerged. It is true that the ballet-pantomime tradition has been given a focus to a certain extent with the mime scenes, such as Giselle’s mother Berthe, danced by Amélie Lamoureux, telling in an extended way the story of the Wilis and prophesying the death of Giselle; the insertion of the men playing dice in the forest as Act II begins; and so on. The romanticism is well and truly there in the qualities the Paris Opera Ballet brings to Act II—that feeling, explored through technical means as much as anything else, of the Wilis drifting in and out of a real world and a world beyond the real.

But I have seen both these traditions explored in several other productions of Giselle—that of Sylvie Guillem for the Finnish National Ballet, the Royal Ballet’s production where the Act I mime is extensive, and even parts of Peggy van Praagh’s production for the Australian Ballet. So for me it is not so much a ‘return to authenticity’ that marks this production as remarkable, as interesting as this is. It is the skill and beauty of the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet, who are transcendent artists, and the direction of the company that understands that the classical technique can accomplish so much when exploited to its limits and used as an expressive vocabulary.

As a side issue, I admired the program cover for Giselle, reproduced below.

It captures so much of the essence of Act II, the fragility of the world of the Wili and the overwhelming presence of the forces of nature and the night. And, best of all, it isn’t a fashion shot that has nothing to do with what happens in the ballet. The cover photo is by © Jacques Moatti.

Michelle Potter, 30 January 2013

Update (3 February 2013): I have it on reliable authority that the sublime cello solo was, on opening night, played by Peter Morrison.

Balletgoers love Giselle

As Jack Anderson says in a recently published article, balletgoers love Giselle. It has been some time since I have seen this classic of the Romantic repertoire performed live, which I regret. Still very clear in my mind is the Finnish National Ballet’s production of Sylvie Guillem’s staging, which while not the most recent I have seen—it goes back to the 1990s—for me is easily the most intelligent and most moving production I have had the good fortune to see. I still recall, however, Clement Crisp’s remark in a review in London’s Financial Times that this staging was ‘ultimately wilful as a view of an old text.’

Anderson’s article in New York Theatre Wire concerns a recent production of Giselle by Pacific Northwest Ballet under the direction of Peter Boal, and is also a comment on the recent meeting in Seattle of the Dance Critics’ Association. Although I will never be convinced that there is not also a place for those ‘wilful’ productions like that of Guillem, the Anderson article is a terrific piece of writing offering many insights into what is a remarkable ballet.

Read the article at this link

Michelle Potter, 2 July 2011