Gracia Haby
The Forgotten Land, for Fjord Review
October 2015


There are no days more full in childhood than those days that are not lived at all, the days lost in a book. I remember waking out of one such book beside the sewing-machine beneath the window on the river in the barrack living room to find my sisters all around me. They had unlaced and removed one of my shoes and placed a straw hat on my head. Only when they began to move the wooden chair on which I sat away from the window light did I wake out of the book, to their great merriment.[i]

This “strange and complete happiness when all sense of time is lost, of looking up from the pages and thinking it is still nine or ten in the morning, to discover it is well past lunchtime” author John McGahern (1934–2006) describes mirrors my own “pure, unfathomable joy”[ii] when adrift within a ballet performance. For my pleasure’s own sake, it feels, the structure of time is turned on its head. A close solidarity is formed in the theatre and my affection grows with each visit. I have, in the space of a very short time (but, time, what is that?) become a Balletomane (though what to do with that clunky ‘t’?). A devotee of ballet, it requires less self-discipline than a dancer, and all of the gratification. And like McGahern, the verb ‘wake’ here is fitting[iii]. I often ‘wake’ from the theatre as if in a delirious dream-state that by a pin could be pricked — it is perhaps for this reason that I am chiefly silent when I leave a performance, preferring to slowly come to the surface and stay longer in my bubble. In the sanctum of the theatre, ballet awakens dreams, courts escapism and affords guaranteed transformation. Where I a gambler, it’d be a sure bet.

Transformation is the theme behind The Australian Ballet’s 2016 season, launched late September, during David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty’s Melbourne debut. The ability to transform in the literal and figurative sense is the thread that runs through next year’s programme, which begins in Brisbane (exclusively) with Alexei Ratmansky’s magically surreal, shape-shifting Cinderella.

Based in Melbourne, I am waiting to commence my year with Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse set to a score by composer Michael Nyman; Jiří Kylián’s Forgotten Land accompanied by the dark, eroding coastline of Benjamin Britten’s score; and William Forsythe’s 1987 work, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated as part of the triple bill, Vitesse. A visceral journey through “lost homelands, .... and lost time,”[iv] promised and eagerly awaited. As a considered classical counterpoint to Vitesse’s sharp-edged bite, a George Balanchine double bill, Symphony in C, will run exclusively in Sydney, accompanied by two new works by dancers and choreographers Alice Topp and Richard House as part of a pared back Bodytorque programme — were that Bodytorque was testing its muscle's might in Melbourne.

Edwardian costume at the ready, I am also keenly anticipating my return to Stephen Baynes’ Swan Lake, which I first saw performed as part of the repertoire in 2012. Originally created to mark the company’s 50th anniversary, this tale of transcendent love, the earth bound and the other-worldly, the white of Odette to the black of Odile, like calling in on the masterpieces in the collection of the National Gallery is sure to uncloak something new.

With romance, tragedy, swordplay and sorcery continues the 2016 season, with Houston Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet choreographed by Stanton Welch (and exclusive to the Melbourne season), and Dr Coppelius’ mechanical doll, Coppélia, brought to life and staged in the charm of the 1920s former-picture-house-cum-theatre, St Kilda’s Palais Theatre[v].

The body’s ability to renew, revolutionise, and stimulate is at the very real heart of the season’s centrepiece with the Australian premiere of John Neumeier’s bouquet to the brilliance of Nijinsky, the man, choreographer, and dancer. A non-linear “biography of the soul, .... of feelings and sensations”[vi], on the heels of the recent World Ballet Day[vii], that I have to wait until September of next year is sure to prove a great cruelty.

From the company class warm-up with Steven Heathcote to Graeme Murphy’s cygnets and guardian swans from Act II being polished by ‘flock master’ Eve Lawson, the behind-the-scenes look at five-hours within a day in the company illustrates the power of transformation. From pirouettes en dedans and en dehors seen earlier in class to a rehearsal of Act III’s wedding celebration of Aurora and her Prince, it dawns on me that I am privy to one the greatest magical transfigurations possible within the world of ballet, within all art. In the studio, coryphée, Valerie Tereshchenko, performs the Lilac Fairy’s solo, but on stage, in costume, she becomes the Lilac Fairy. Everyday metamorphosis for pleasure’s own sake: roll on, 2016, roll on.

[i] John McGahern, All Will Be Well: A Memoir, (London: Faber & Faber, 2006) p 237.
[ii] McGahern, pp. 237–238.
[iii] Bookworm Anne Fadiman refers to McGahern’s description of to “wake out of a book” in the preface to Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, (London: Penguin Books, 2000), p. ix.
[iv] Jiří Kylián's Forgotten Land, as part of Vitesse: Ballet without Borders, is described as a “harrowing picture of lost homelands, lost lovers, and lost time” in The Australian Ballet 2016 Media Kit, 2015, p. 5.
[v] The Australian Ballet first performed at the Palais Theatre in 1964.
[vi] John Neumeier, production notes on Nijinsky, Hamburg Ballet, accessed 24th of September, 2015.
[vii] World Ballet Day 2015 featured The Australian Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, and San Francisco Ballet live for 23 hours on October the 1st, 2015. All five hours of The Australian Ballet live stream is on YouTube until the 1st of November, 2015.


Additional written pieces, from 2012 through to today, can be found side by side on Fjord Review, nestled under 'Dance' on Marginalia, and loosely archived on the now-retired High Up in the Trees.