“Broken necks, splattered patellas, severed arteries: These are the things from which dreams are made of”, according to former professional wrestler, Road Warrior Hawk (ring name of Michael Hegstrand, 1957–2003). Said fellow former professional wrestler Cactus Jack (ring name of Mick Foley, 1965–), “if the Gods could build me a ladder to the heavens, I'd climb up the ladder and drop a big elbow on the world”. They might have been talking about old school wrestling, but on Tuesday night, their words could easily be re-moulded around the hulking form of Lucas Jervies’ world premiere of Spartacus created on The Australian Ballet in 2018.
At the 8th performance of Spartacus parallels to wrestling were shaped in place of Kirk Douglas brandishing a sword in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960s film of the same name. Spartacus was upfront, hand-to-hand, body-to-body combat, which, under the fight direction of Nigel Poulton, left no room to hide. But the fighting throughout was not there solely to entertain the makeshift arena of Melbourne’s State Theatre. Less, blood as spectacle, more, honesty in the face of omnipresent power. When not marvelling at the choreographed battles between gladiators, and, in particular, Ty King-Wall’s Crassus and poster boy, in and out of the theatre, Kevin Jackson as an exceedingly ripped Spartacus, it was the Meditations or spiritual reflections of Roman emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180), who wrote, “the best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury”, which etched the muscle.
The very choreography within Spartacus appeared shaped around the curve of a muscle, with arms arcing the line of a bulging bicep or sharp like the cut of a deltoid. Visual references to the movement of wrestling allowed a new lexicon into the arena, with Jackson’s Spartacus anchored to and of the earth. Every palm that hammered the stage, every fist planted into the sand, every movement stretched like an arrow in a bow being drawn within the body’s casing forged a reconnection to purpose. Jackson’s Spartacus was the body as a weapon, but it was deeper than that. Jackson embodied an earthly gladiator of great moral sinew, his weighted stoicism in stark relief to a golden-fronted, power-soaked King-Wall, whose movements were of the air, upward and with self-appointed, god-like mis-leanings.
I raise my hand up above my head. I let it fall down. Connected to my body, my arm remains secure in its socket of the shoulder blade. My arm does not fall to the ground. My body is connected, "dem bones, dem bones, dem dancing bones." My body has my back, secure “doin’ the skeleton dance ….The backbone’s connected to the neck bone. Doin’ the skeleton dance.” And it was in this manner that I read Alice Topp’s new choreographic work, Little Atlas. There may have been three dancers on the stage, Leanne Stojmenov, Kevin Jackson, and Andrew Killian, but there was one body. One body caught up in the push and pull of memory.
When Stojmenov moved she was more than in tune with the movements of Jackson and Killian, they became one and the same. "The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone" and Stojmenov was connected to Jackson, as she fell she was safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t hit the floor. “The hip bone’s connected to the backbone” and Killian was a continuation of Stojmenov, a different facet of a whole. To me, I interpreted the movements as the struggle within the one body, as memories are reordered and erased by time, and the fluidity of joints begins to stiffen. The thigh bone is connected to the hip bone, but as we all know the body can’t dance forever, not quite. Best to shake it, morph it, steel fuse it like Patti Smith. Or Shakira. "My hips don’t lie [as Topp explains]…. I’ve only got a few more years of dancing left in this old bod so I would absolutely love to have a future in choreography.” And from Little Atlas a future in choreography is undoubtedly what she has.
At the coordinates 78°29’121 N 014°17’986 E, composer Ludovico Einaudi (for and with Greenpeace) performed 'legy for the Arctic', a call from the icebergs, a response on the keys, off the coast of Svalbard, Norway. And at latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for Melbourne’s State Theatre, in similar vein tap, Einaudi’s 'Fly' and 'Experience' enabled the heart to soar. As revealed in Topp’s choreographic note, by way of two greats, Joan Didion and Patti Smith, this was about our own stored memories and “our attachment to the way these things made us feel” Fleeting time, we feel it in our bones. Transformation, while inevitable, is loss. But as Patti Smith (in her 2015 kaleidoscopic memory dance, M Train) best describes: “the transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there.”
Vaslav Nijinsky could hover in the air, such was his art; such was genius.
His name is synonymous with movement, yet no moving footage exists of him performing. The images of fashion photographer Adolph de Meyer are perhaps all the crueller and more static for this. We can only imagine how Nijinsky slithered, leaped, flitted, and prowled.
We have words and pictures. Luminous pictures by no less than Jean Cocteau, Léon Bakst, and Oskar Kokoschka; and the plaster and bronze works of Georg Kolbe and Auguste Rodin; all seeking to harness the ephemeral and in turn activate, in a different medium, a little of the energetic burst that was Nijinsky. Written accounts from history, Nijinsky’s own diary (published in 1936 and partly censored by his wife, Romola), and the treasured pieces of memorabilia in collections both public and private can help animate his form, but it will never quite be like sitting in the theatre, seeing him become the Golden Slave in Scheherazade. Such was and remains, the allure of Nijinsky.
Set once more in ‘fair Verona,’ our tragedy unfolded in lifts and leaps, and barely rested. Actions and words in Shakespeare’s hands were given equal weight in Romeo and Juliet, and Welch has contributed to the glorious confusion, giving the audience ‘its eye in’ and plenty of swordplay. Just as Shakespeare wanted the audience to look as well as listen, Welch dazzled me with controlled merry-making, creating something of an embellished tapestry fit for a castle wall hanging, and it was best viewed not once, but twice. With so much happening and a large cast of new faces to learn, in addition to reacquainting myself with the tale, fear-of-missing-out was keenly evoked.
Houston Ballet, presented by the Australian Ballet, who are currently on tour in London (with Ratmansky’s Cinderella and Murphy’s Swan Lake) and in regional Victoria (Giselle), appear to share a narrative-driven approach and working ethos, and, of course, Welch, resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet and former leading soloist with the company. For Houston Ballet’s first tour to Australia, a lavish production and a homecoming for Welch, showed itself to be as bright in reality as on paper. Or rather, shone as bright as the bejewelled tunics and long shimmering gowns of Roberta Guidi di Bagno, and the stars who wore them, and made real, a series of stage pictures like Renaissance paintings brought to life.
Both Antonio del Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of a Young Lady (c.1465), with her blood-red brocade worthy of a Capulet, and Pisanello’s Portrait of Leonello d’Este (c.1444) would have been able to slip into scene five’s Ball and see Romeo steal an all-too-brief, fate-sealing kiss from Juliet. From such a rich period, with their universal yet singular focus upon the face, a story telling must-have, Oliver Halkowich’s Benvolio and Derek Dunn’s Balthasar, appeared to have stepped. In possession of an aristocratic chin, Christopher Coomer’s Tybalt, and displaying a sardonic eyebrow raise, Charles-Louis Yoshiyama’s Mercutio. Why, it was as if these profile portraits had spun around and revealed all planes of their faces! Jared Matthews as both (Tuesday’s) Romeo and (Wednesday’s) Mercutio, the effortless epitome of acting over mime.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
—Mark Strand, 'Lines for Winter' from Selected Poems (1979)
Like snow falling on exposed skin. Bare and burning. The crunch underfoot, sharp.
Open to interpretation, suggestive of so much. So much said and unsaid. Reading, not between the lines, but between the musical notes, and the body. Always, the body. For in all three pieces, from the opening of Sol Léon & Paul Lightfoot’s Sehnsucht (2009) through the snow of Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (2012), and finally, Léon & Lightfoot’s Stop-Motion (2014), they are above all about the human vessel. How it moves, responds, feels. What it is to be human. To create in the face of opposition. To use the body as a means to begin again.
In winter, three pieces evocative of the season and its slap across the cheek. Senses, awakened. On a wild night, blown into the theatre on the heels of a strawberry moon, a salute to the long, dark nights. And a welcome return to the Melbourne stage by Nederlands Dans Theater, who last appeared here in 2011. Breath, bated.
Offered forth. Greedily accepted. My feet, thawing. The woman in the row before me, a recently discarded (faux fur) coat draped across the back of her seat like a giant black bear skin. I am reminded of the costumes we wear in anticipation of winter’s bite. And the costumes we wear, to shield ourselves, from feeling, largely. Protective layers, in every sense. A shield to isolate ourselves, more often than not, in what feels an increasingly uncharitable world where we place our own needs above others.
For Matisse, who ‘carved’ into colour, blue was the sound of a gong. For Kandinsky, blue was instead evoked by the sound of the cello, which he played. For the poet Arthur Rimbaud, blue was the vowel ‘O’, and it was a “sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds.” Arranged in a line, Rimbaud’s Vowels (1871), from ‘A’ to ‘O’ in colour read: black, white, red, blue, green. On Sunday night, Sydney Dance Company became a body of sound to the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s sounding body. For one night only in Melbourne, a soundscape became a landscape! And blue was a viola’s arabesque.
Building upon an earlier collaboration, which stemmed from a shared love of the melodic dance work of Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, the artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti, and the artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela, have created Illuminated. Three ballets, one from an earlier full-length work re-worked, Project Rameau (which premiered in 2012), and two new pieces inspired by the changing colours and directness of composer Benjamin Britten. Before taking Illuminated to Hong Kong, and further adding to the unexpected glow of a gala performance, neither Project Rameau (in either full or reworked guise) nor the two works which enable Britten’s sound to be ‘seen’ have been performed in Melbourne before. The intrinsic relationship between music and dance, making one where there are two, is in line with Stravinsky and Balanchine, Cage and Cunningham. “If the word and the note are one thing, not two,”—the same can be said of Illuminated’s splendid fare.
Motion builds slowly. In the form of a wave that ripples through the body. Omri Drumlevich moves as if possessed, eyes fixed on a point somewhere behind me. With his left arm outstretched in counter balance and his supporting leg bent, the right side of his body gives over to an undulation of controlled movement. His right hand rests upon his bent suspended right leg, his forearm in direct line with his shin, as if fusing two parts of the body previously independent. The hand now fixed on the knee, the familiar line of the body altered, through Drumlevich’s body courses an inward sensation made outwardly visible. As his stirring builds, the pace quickens, and I am mesmerised. Without theatrics and pomp, he appears to have altered the range of movement in the ball and socket workings of his knee joint.
Motion is steady. In the form of a lone dancer on a treadmill, tirelessly running. Dressed in bright blue, the runner remains a constant, adjusting how I perceive time and space. The pace never alters, the direction never changes, the destination, never reached. The runner remains steadfast as the dancers on the stage before and around explore an impossible range of motions. The juxtaposition between the runner’s enduring pattern and the uncertainty of the dancers, itself a beautiful conversation. Both represent unwavering determination, but both runner and dancers reach it differently. The message I read in Ohad Naharin’s Last Work (2015): more things unite us than divide us.
Recently landed: Inside the safe confines of a State Theatre like an Opium den, I choose to let the narcoleptic haze envelop me, a new post on High Up in the Trees (by Gracia) takes you to The Australian Ballet's La Bayadère
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.