"LET'S DANCE", THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET et al,
|Added:||12 June 2012|
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State Theatre, Melbourne, June7
“Let’s Dance” has been devised as part of this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Australian Ballet. While most of the AB dancers are currently in New York, the “dance party” continues in Melbourne with seven companies from all over Australia joining the Australian Ballet. Interestingly enough, the other ballet companies represented – Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet – actually outdo the national company’s 50 years, having been established in 1960 and 1952 respectively.
Also taking part were Expressions Dance Company, Tasdance (via film), Australian Dance Theatre, Dancenorth and Sydney Dance Company. Each of the eight works seen was a Melbourne debut, so there was a profusion of new choreography on show.
The Australian Ballet’s contribution was Sweedeedee, by Tim Harbour. This ballet was choreographed for former AB principals and dance partners Steven Heathcote and Justine Summers and two young dancers, Heathcote’s daughter Mia as the Girl and Lennox Niven as the Boy. It was last in the evening and well worth the wait. Tim Harbour is emerging as a truly original and creative Australian talent.
Sweedeedee was like a breath of fresh air on the night. It has a sweet and gentle humanity, bringing us back to the things which count. It was also refreshing to see a work with a narrative structure, even if this isn’t uniformly well realised throughout, with the story slightly losing its way towards the end. Yet on the whole the storyline works beautifully in both inspiring creative and expressive movement and endowing it with meaning and purpose. Also this piece is a match at last with its accompanying songs, creating a work which was engaging on a human and emotional rather than purely cerebral level. The set is simple but strong with an indefinable but clear Australian feel. A clothesline and sheets as props are well used, from the first arresting image of the dancers seemingly hanging off the clothesline to their subsequent transformations.
All the dancers acquitted themselves beautifully – a duet for the Man and the Boy stood out as did Mia Heathcote’s youthful dancing. At times there could have been a greater naturalness perhaps in the use of the classical vocabulary, a more relaxed feel, but on the whole the piece was a pleasure to watch. Regarding choreographing for older dancers: a lot of the time the audience isn’t really concerned with the perceived virtuosity or complexity of the steps – and as we know, some things which look spectacular can be easier to execute than something not as immediately flashy – but more often than not it’s the feeling or the experience conveyed by a step that moves an audience most and is remembered. And if this is what older dancers are capable of then let us have more of it – it will only add depth and maturity to any company.
Maturity and the accrued wisdom of old age is a theme picked up in the short film from Tasdance, Momentary, filmed on location in the bush with an older, hermit-like woman as the central figure. There are some interesting film ideas which conveyed a sense of the fey strangeness of the bush. Motifs of twining arms and half a face observing within and without were well executed.
Throughout the evening the dancers showed themselves to be of a high competence. However they were often limited by the material they had to work with, which tended to lack variation, characterization and individuality.
In Ombra leggera, choreographed by artistic director Ivan Cavallari, Daryl Brandwood and Andre Santos from WA Ballet prance in what appears to be a comic and somewhat camp interpretation of a shadow dance to the coloratura fireworks of Maria Callas. While the dancers were well synchronised and clearly had considerable skill, the choreography scarcely matches the virtuosity of the singing.
Dancenorth in Fugue also uses a virtuosic piece of music, Ravel's Bolero, famous for its instrumental colours and long sustained crescendo of volume and intensity. Despite good intentions -- Raewyn Hill's aim is to depict the “dancing plague” which hit Strasbourg in 1518 -- the movement again fails to match the music for inventiveness and hypnotic intensity. The unrelievedly semi-dark lighting also does not help. In terms of execution the dancers' unison was good throughout.
Expressions Dance Company gave a strong showing in Natalie Weir's Don't , which begins and ends with a lone male dancer in a central cage of light. Interesting use is made of large cut out letters spelling out “don't” and “stay”, with one of the most poignant moments being defined by the letters “stay” draped over the recumbent body of a man. The movement style is distinguished by a sensuous flexibility and rebound from the floor. However, the piece does not hold attention through its length and is a bit muddled conceptually.
Australian Dance Theatre presented lots of robotic mechanical movement to a soundscape full of creaks, squeaks, thuds and hisses in Garry Stewart's Be Your Self. Trying to demonstrate the internal workings of the body in a pseudo-intellectual way in this case led to a kind of dehumanized and contorted ugliness devoid of soul. And while the dancers threw themselves into the movement with commendable enthusiasm and energy this piece also suffers from being overly long for its material. All credit to actor Annabel Giles who provided the highlight of the work with her detailed anatomy lesson.
Queensland Ballet's Rachael Walsh and Keian Langdon gave us a flowing and aerial pas de deux -- a simple and touching encounter of a couple in the old Brisbane ballroom, Cloudland.
Rafael Bonachela's SDC presented an excerpt from 2 One Another. This company immediately distinguishes itself by its polished movement and slick professionalism. The set, morphing from starry sky to vertical columns to travelling landscapes of lights, is effective and interesting. Movements are defined and finished as one dancer at the start seamlessly takes over from another. The choreography is inventive and generates momentum, especially at the start, although there is quite a bit of reliance on semaphore gesturing. However, as with much abstract choreography, it is hard to maintain momentum and interest through the entire length of a piece and 2 One Another drops off in this regard as well.
In sum, “Let’s Dance” is an interesting smorgasbord of Australian dance companies and a good opportunity to see them all in the one program.
- IRINA KUZMINSKY