Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Reviewed November 10
The Australian Ballet’s double bill of Frederick Ashton's works - Marguerite and Armand and The Dream – makes for a satisfying night of ballet, filled with lush costumes, scintillating music and a range of vividly drawn roles for the dancers.
Marguerite and Armand is brand new to the Australian Ballet’s repertoire. This 60-year-old work was created by Ashton in 1963 as a vehicle for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, who were dazzling audiences with their onstage partnership. It tells the story of a powerful love affair between the two protagonists which, in the romantic tradition, is scorned by society and inevitably ends in tragedy.
On opening night the leading roles were ably danced by principal artists Amy Harris and Nathan Brook. Harris is soon to retire so this casting gives her a rich dramatic role with which to end her over 20-year career with the company. She made the most of its dramatic potential and was particularly moving in Marguerite’s final deathbed scene in which Armand rushes to her side just in time, having finally realised the immense sacrifice she has made for him.
Marguerite and Armand is not Ashton’s best work, but it does have some fine moments, lovely period costumes and an emotive musical score by Lizst which was well played by solo pianist Andrew Dunlop. The works weaknesses are largely choreographic and structural; being so heavily built around the two leads, none of the other characters are well fleshed out and some of the choreography looks a little dated from a 21st century perspective. The ballet is still interesting and well worth watching but was nowhere near as popular with the audience as Ashton’s The Dream which was performed after a short interval. This work first premiered in 1964 with the lead roles of Titania and Oberon created by Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. It was presented by the Royal Ballet at that time to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.
The Dream is a distillation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In compressing the complex plot of a five act play into a one act ballet it is inevitable some of the detail is lost; what surprises is how charmingly Ashton has woven the key plot points and characters into a vivid choreographic re-telling that retains so much of the play’s humour and intrigue.
When the Australian Ballet last performed The Dream in 2015 Brett Chynoweth made a vivid impression with his characterisation of Puck. It is still a role in which he excels and on opening night his buoyant leaps, soft cat-like landings, remarkable agility and impishly playful persona were utterly compelling. Chengwu Guo and Ako Kondo danced the leading roles of Oberon and Titania with all the hauteur and command you might expect from a Fairy King and Queen, and Luke Marchant performed the role of Bottom with wit, style and some very well executed pointe work. Meanwhile the comical travails of the four human lovers who make the mistake of wandering into this enchanted fairy glade were well danced by Rina Nemoto, Valerie Tereshchenko, Hugo Dumapit and Mason Lovegrove.
The ensemble of 16 fairies danced well overall, but need to work on their unison in some sections and on controlling their landings through their feet more – or possibly even wearing softer shoes. Mendelssohn’s score and David Walker’s original set/costume designs go a long way towards creating the ambience of a mystical woodland glade but the illusion is easily shattered by the loud volume of some of those landings.
– GERALDINE HIGGINSON
This program continues until November 25.