West Australian Ballet
His Majesty’s Theatre
19 November 2020
This year, West Australian Ballet’s final season for 2020 offers a dual program, with a gala alternating with the trusted Christmas favourite, The Nutcracker. GALA is a showcase of highlighted excerpts and short-works from the past eight years of the company’s productions under current artistic director, Aurélien Scanella.
Although the short-and-snappy nature of a gala and the divertissement style of The Nutcracker means that audiences are left with little room to sink their teeth into anything thematically substantial, this season is perfectly suited to captivate all ages and usher joy and brightness into a year that has largely been robbed of it.
The pounding rhythms of Eric Gauthier’s Takuto launched us into the opening night of GALA with a bang, as an athletic ensemble of dancers led by the formidable Matthew Lehmann exhilarated with their punchy and powerful reprise of this electrifying, short work. First performed by the company in 2017 for Ballet at the Quarry, the cast’s mastery of the Japanese Taiko drumming skills required for this piece was particularly impressive.
The world-class standard of this company’s dancers was brilliantly affirmed early on in the program with the Grand Pas de deux from Le Corsaire. Mayume Noguromi and Juan Carlos Osma were breathtaking as they elegantly breezed through the challenging choreography [adapted from the Petipa] by West Australian Ballet’s Sandy Delasalle and Scanella.
Following was Gauthier’s cleverly comical Ballet 101, in which the voice of an unseen ballet master guides the solo performer through a complex succession of sharp-witted steps numbered 1 to 100, with a hilarious and unexpected ending. This was certainly a crowd favourite, as the charming Matthew Edwardson had the auditorium in stitches from the outset.
With tambourines in hand and an exuberance of youthful energy, the four dancers of Tarantella delighted in their friendly competition of spectacular jumps and lightning-speed turns, capturing the playful musicality that is characteristic of choreographer Jayne Smeulders.
A tantalising glimpse of David Nixon’s compelling choreographic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was offered in two passionate duets from each act of the ballet. Fans of the novel were surely enchanted with Chihiro Nomura’s utterly convincing portrayal of the avaricious Daisy and Lehmann’s dangerously fantastical Gatsby.
Coming out of retirement to return to her title role in Radio & Juliet, Brooke Widdison-Jacobs was magnetic as Edward Clug’s 2005 reimagination of a modern Juliet who chooses not to die. Six ominous men surround her, moving to the eerie vibrations of Radiohead, clad in face masks that brought an even more sinister atmosphere given what these protective items have come to symbolise in recent times.
Suitably following was Beatrice Manser and Brent Carson’s intriguing CoVid Lab duet, developed during lockdown for a small studio audience under the direction of Delasalle. These Young Artists are certainly two to look out for as both emerging creatives and gutsy performers.
The next two excerpts were arguably the most conceptually fascinating of the night. Created by Wubkje Kuindersma for West Australian Ballet earlier this year, Architecture of Hope began with an unforgettable image of bleakness and hope as each of the dancers carried a glowing candle into the darkness. Dayana Hardy Acuna’s stirring emotional performance was a stand-out on opening night.
Translating to The Untamed, Claude Brumachon’s explosive male duet, Les Indomptés, is a thrilling exploration of the burden and freedom of masculinity. Driven by the tempestuous vocals of Wim Mertens, dancers Ludovico Di Ubaldo and Adam Alzaim ran, glided and crumbled in a volcanic duality of desire and conflict.
The night ended with an ode to the company’s classical heritage through ballet legend, Dame Lucette Aldous’, adaptation of Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote grand pas de deux. Candace Adea delivered an endearing and cheeky Kitri, partnered by a suave and soaring Oscar Valdés.
With the global pandemic continuing to have a devastating impact on companies all around the world, it is a privilege to be able to watch live dance here in Perth, and the dancers of the West Australian Ballet did not disappoint in this eclectic and mesmerising performance.
- ISABELLE LECLEZIO
'The Nutcracker' will be reviewed next week.