Recently landed: Ballet Without Borders, Gracia's written response to the Australian Ballet's contemporary triple bill and first ballet for 2016, Vitesse, for Fjord Review
A squally wind blows into the theatre, pursued by beat after beat on the timpani. Kylián’s Forgotten Land is set to Benjamin Britten’s symphonic memorial for his parents and dramatic statement on the horrors of war, Sinfonia da Requiem. Beginning with a funeral march, Lacrymosa (Weeping); there is still a sense of hope in this work, namely in the final movement, Requiem aeternum (Eternal rest), and in Kylián’s known fluid movement, which affirms “in a wartime context … that one day there will be peace… And Kylián’s choreography gets inside the essence of the music, even when it’s not interpreting it literally, and he perfectly reflects the moods and implications of the Sinfonia in Forgotten Land. ”
Just as humans are altering the landscape to devastating effect, causing Antarctic ice shelves to melt, in Kylián’s hands, we’re not just looking at the landscape but at how we (through the dancers) can carve out and alter a space. And just like weathering a storm, it is never easy to find new ways of being. So whilst the dancers appear battered by wind and try to keep themselves anchored in the face of wild terrain, they, themselves, are actually the forceful energy.
Recalling Edvard Munch’s painting The Dance of Life, there are three distinct periods: youth, in white, full of hope and serenity; red for passion and intensity; black, wise, strong, and determined. Lana Jones beautifully symbolises black’s ‘what will come’ awareness. Heads whip round and recall sea birds buffeted but steadfast in their promenade. With their backs to the audience, the dancers are individual and community, constancy and change, hand in glove. As Amber Scott and Adam Bull make footprints in the eroding coastline, “each footstep is a form of measurement that mediates between [the] body and the landscape”: Humans have created the world around them and as such have the power to reshape it. With a melancholy undertow that echo’s Munch’s own lament: “my art is rooted in a single reflection: why am I not as others are?”
In his own cabinet of natural curiosities, the Amsterdam-based pharmacist, Albertus Seba (1665–1736), placed exotic plants and corals, birds and butterflies, and slithering snakes alongside shells in fantastical fanned formations to delight the eye. In the Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director, David McAllister’s first full-length production and choreographic debut with a staging of Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty, it is not hard to surmise that as a long-term former dancer with the company and now at the helm as director for his fifteenth year, McAllister himself has constructed something of his own golden ‘wunderkammer’ with this work. A production replete with gold sprinkling from the ceiling, twinkling chandeliers, round like jellyfish, and greened nymphs that weave in and out like a serpentine vine; a true baroque ‘irregular pearl’ of a ballet, years in the making, and legacy building.
In McAllister’s 2015 Beauty, treasure is plentiful and I, too, as wily collector, set to furnishing my growing collection of ballet keepsakes and highlights. With their raggedy rat-tails and long white noses that call to mind Seba-worthy conical shells, I will add Carabosse’s quintet of mischief-makers to my wonder chamber. Though I very much doubt guest artist and former principal, the fabulously vengeful, Lynette Wills, as the wronged Carabosse, will spare them without a fight. So, too, the ornate shell-like columns, designed by Gabriela Tylesova, which appear en pointe. Resting on tiny tips, eight columns that in architectural reality could not support a ceiling, but in the transformative world of the theatre (where belief, amongst other things, is defied), twirl upwards with aplomb. This is nature, but with the emphasis on it polished, made fanciful, and presented as a fairy tale. The objective: to unashamedly delight.
Recently landed: Shades of mysticism and opulence: The Australian Ballet's La Bayadère, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
Stanton Welch's new production of La Bayadère, a glittering tale of betrayal and unrequited love, is akin to finding one’s self within an Indian miniature painting. Swirling shades of burnt coral, gold, dusty pink, turquoise, and an olive green tinged with yellow guide us down the Orientalist path to Mythic India in a romanticised period. The magician's optical illusion in play, nature is contrived by hand and presented as an ordered frame to a stage. The trompe l'oeil effect in motion to both trick the eye and delight sees a Rajah's palace appear before the eyes. And just as an Indian miniature seeks to emphasize mood (or bhava) through rich lyricism, when coupled with the melodies of Minkus in response to the exotic theme, La Bayadère brings to life a daydream of the past through an explosion of dance.