Thank you to all our contributing writers for their dedication, insight and passion. Writing about dance is no easy feat, and being a dance critic involves many sacrifices, and yet here we are—thinking, writing and reading about dance. So if it is a small miracle that we have such a brilliant cache of dance criticism evolving in today's messy world, it is in no small part due to our supportive, engaged readers—you—who are moved the possibilities of dance.
— Fjord Review
The original Alice was Alice Liddel. She was ten at the time Lewis Carroll amused her with a tale of adventures underground. In history’s collective memory, she is the assured girl staring at the photographer (Carroll) in role of Beggar Girl (then aged 7). A muse in the form of a girl who requested Carroll pen the adventures he had regaled her with. And write them down he did, adding the famous grinning Cheshire Cat and a tea party with a Mad Hatter, March Hare, and sleepy Dormouse for good measure, and thus plumping, amending, growing an absurd amusement into what would become a classic. A classic where those who best adapt are those who accept new laws of logic. Live Flamingos are croquet bats. And those aforementioned Hedgehogs are balls (performed by young children in soft-spiked backpacks, and all adorable). Babies are piglets; mind the mincer. Roses can be (should be, declared the Queen of Hearts) painted red. Violets need not be violet. But, of violet as a hue, let’s dress the other original Alice, Lauren Cuthbertson of the Royal Ballet. A special guest performing two nights during the Melbourne season, Cuthbertson has performed the role of Alice since 2011. She was Christopher Wheeldon’s original Alice, like Liddel was to Carroll, and she was responsible for creating the part. To see her in this role on Wednesday night is an indescribable joy. She inhabits every inch of the role, from extended fingertips to light pointe play. And amid all of the wordplay transformed into theatrical might, she is utterly hypnotic, with Christopher Rodgers-Wilson’s Knave of Hearts beautifully smitten.
With her brown hair bobbed, like Alice Liddel, Cuthbertson has returned Alice to (perhaps) her truest form. She no longer recalls John Tenniel’s original illustrations of a long-haired Alice with an overlarge head. And she has nothing to do with the Disney musical of 1951, blonde and in blue. Cuthbertson’s Alice knows the rules on the other side of the looking glass. The rules one might adhere to ‘aboveground’ do not apply here: take the mushroom. Whether nonsensical or otherwise, she deciphers the rules and applies them, growing accordingly. When you take away the preconceptions of how things should operate, every tick-tock of Alice’s extended leg backwards and forwards is a philosophers’ dream. Cuthbertson’s Alice embraces new reality on its own terms in a playful, off-kilter world, and jumps on a sponge cake (with an inbuilt trampoline). She throws herself with abandon, safe in the knowledge she’ll be caught, and her legs make perfect right angles, mid-air. Rules to live by, above- or underground.
Murphy’s Nutcracker loops freely from summertime in late 1950s Australia back to snow-cloaked Imperial Russia before launching towards the 1917 Russian Revolution, in the way that memory does, and the musical score, in turn, can be read. Clara’s memory maps her life as a star of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes before touring with Colonel de Basil to the homelands of previous divertissements: Spain, Egypt, China, and, naturally, the addition of Melbourne. Clara’s final performance is also the birth of a company, the newly formed Borovansky Ballet. To sweep such rich terrain in an evening, Clara’s story is told through three different performers, from Child Clara (Jessica Stratton-Smith) to Young Clara, performed by Leanne Stojmenov (on opening night) and Dimity Azoury (on Tuesday night), and Ai-Gul Gaisina and Chrissa Keramidas (on opening and Tuesday nights respectively) as Clara the Elder. Stojmenov not only taps into but epitomises fluid-shifting remembrance and loss, and ultimately resilience with such tactile conviction, rendering her spine elastic yet unbreakable in every intimate lift with Kevin Jackson as her Soldier/Lover. Great love never dims, it merely changes shape, and their connection and faith in each other feels all the deeper for beginning at the end.
From Hills Hoist to the Argus newspaper calls, the Australian gumtree angle works because it is presented as a truth. It is not (self-) consciously laid on thick; it is merely there. A mirror. This is us. A part of our dance history. These are scenes we recognise. Clara the Elder’s apartment is one we’ve all sat in, either in real life, or in a story where perhaps we wished we had a relative who had spent their formative years on the stage. As Clara the Elder, both Gaisina and Keramidas appeared to shine from inside out. To paraphrase Murphy, just as you hear Tchaikovsky poured his heart into the score, the same can be said of the light-footed recollections of Gaisina and Keramidas as Ballet Russes émigrés. Where past is in contrast to present, and Russian society is shown in contrast to a life of exile in Australia, the time spent in Act I with Clara and her émigré friends (Frank Leo, Colin Peasley OAM, Terese Power et al.) is what enables Nutcracker to hit you in the guts when the curtain closes. The body as it gets older cannot do what it might earlier have done with ease. This is the cruelty of age. And this is strength, beauty, and the importance of connections forged with others. If ever there was a call to follow your dreams, this celebration of a lived experience being that which makes us richer is it. It is precisely the amount of time spent in her apartment that is why, I believe, we feel a lump in our throat or a tear on our cheek when Clara dies. We cannot know what has been lost without knowing what is. Nostalgia colours the past, but it also informs the present and alters the future. "Time does not help us make sense of our otherwise jumbled lives; our jumbled lives help us make sense of time."
In this Cinderella, nothing is fixed and quite as it seems: From the Fairy Godmother tipping her bowler hat to René Magritte, to the topiary in the royal gardens inverting the laws of nature, converting at midnight to Man Ray worthy metronomes, Ratmansky’s Cinderella remains a conduit to a parallel universe. For me, it called to mind the Golden Age of Magic, from a time when Harry Houdini could make elephants vanish, and handcuffed and chained, he himself could escape from a box of solid iron. The art of illusion and escape typified by such magicians is not so very different to the theatre. A terrific showman, Houdini would stay submerged in his watery cell for longer than he needed to escape in order to build tension and increase the suspense; not so very unlike the explosive arrival of the ardent Prince—at last!—in act II epitomised by both Gaudiello and Guo’s seeming defiance of gravity as they soared higher and higher. In Ratmansky’s Cinderella every character knows how to make an entrance.
Illusion lies at the heart of this fairy tale. If I looked closely, I could see how Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother transformed her attire from rags to Christian Dior New-Look style gown of pure white tulle and gold lamé. If I looked, I could see Cinderella’s 'magical appearance' at the ball was actually one of 'look over there' staging. If I looked ... But this of course is not what I chose to focus upon. I chose to focus upon the magical effect. I submit completely to the offer of escapism, be it within a play, film, opera, or ballet. Uninterrupted escapism is a rare treat only a fool would choose to squander. Moreover, in doing so, it makes a marshmallow of me at act II’s heartbreaking close.
Recently landed: No rest for the wilis, Gracia's written response for Fjord Review
In light of Eastoe’s announcement to retire now forever netted to Giselle’s spectral maidens, I like to think I saw an extra flicker of considered clemency in Hendricks’ beguiling and truly imposing Queen, as Eastoe entreated her to spare Jackson. It was present in Jackson’s aching tenderness, a twice-laced awareness of something wonderful coming to a close. This recognition was poured into and made a part of the ghostly Wilis/corps as they were forced with backs turned to listen but not see Eastoe and Jackson’s pleading duet that felt as if it had always been, and hoped would always continue to be. It was present in former Principal Artist, and one of the great Giselle’s, Bolte’s heartfelt consoling of Giselle/Eastoe as she unwove her hair, in "a lovely full circle". And it was there as Juliet Burnett, as one of Giselle’s Friends, clasped her hands to her face in show of shared grief during the famous mad scene.
Such beguilement by moonlight! Keep the dawn at bay! Under a fine gossamer veil, in bid to savor the ‘ballet-fantastique’, it is there that I choose to stay.
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: 'Love! love!' cried this grave magistrate as I went out, 'thou art never to be reconciled with discretion!', a new post on High Up in the Trees (by Gracia) taking you to The Australian Ballet's recent performance of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Manon (1974), and Lucinda Dunn's farewell performance