West Australian Ballet
Quarry Amphitheatre, reviewed February 15
ARCHIVES OF HUMANITY
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre, reviewed February 19
Different but equally brilliant, both the West Australian Ballet’s As One: Ballet at the Quarry and Co3’s Archives of Humanity are a promising start to the 2021 Perth Festival.
The WA Ballet has returned to the tranquil atmosphere of the Quarry Amphitheatre for its 28th season of Ballet at the Quarry. As One offers a triple-bill program, rooted in neo-classical and contemporary dance, which is markedly diverse in and of itself.
The first of the three works, "Heartache", is a compilation of select works from the Company’s creative showcase, Genesis. The works of Sandy Delasalle, Polly Hilton, Jesse Homes, Matthew Lehmann, Claire Voss and Jack Whiter have been customised to bring the audience a story of one man’s love, loss and heartbreak. This 30-minute piece opens, and closes, with one man (Julio Blanes) sitting on a chair lit by a singular spotlight. While his movement remains confined to the spaces lit by the spotlight, the areas of lit-up stage gradually increase over time. This lighting design by Matthew Marshall subtly uncovers themes of restriction and rebellion and is instrumental in the storytelling.
One of the pieces that forms "Heartache", Polly Hilton’s By the Amber Light, is a real showstopper, with its playful and bold choreography. However, the highlight of "Heartache" is Candice Adea’s punchy and powerful performance in Sandy Delasalle’s Fallen. Adea delivers the choreography (which involves plenty of intricate lifts with Julio Blanes) without a shred of hesitation, demonstrating that she is a force to be reckoned with. Adea has just the right amount of abandon and control to produce a performance dripping in passion.
After a short interval, the premiere of the charming Moment of Joy begins. Created by principal dancer Dayana Hardy Acuña and soloist Juan Carlos Osma, this 21-minute piece draws on themes of love and joy and is a heart-warming contrast to "Heartache". The choreography is delightfully clever and unassuming. Indeed, this piece provides the choreographic highlight of the entire evening, when three dancers lie on the dark floor, arms raised, with only their arms and hands visible and moving. The focus on the slow, steady movement of the dancers’ hands and fingers is not only inventive, but incredibly beautiful in its simplicity.
The dancers are accompanied by WA Ballet’s Head of Music, Michael Brett, who created the undemanding and comforting piano score for this piece. With the impressive acoustics of the Quarry Amphitheatre put to work, Brett’s composition, and performance, is gloriously overwhelming.
The final piece, Natalie Weir’s 4Seasons, closes the show elegantly. This performance is divided into four duets (representing each season of the year), with transitions between each involving the entire ensemble. Alexa Tuzil as Spring boasts beautiful lines, particularly in her arabesques, with which she flaunts her flexibility with ease. However, the real hero of this piece is the clever and effective choreography in the transitions. In canon after canon, the dancers move up and down the stage invoking imagery of floating leaves, falling rain and, indeed, changing seasons. Weir’s choreography is incredibly captivating and a real pleasure to watch.
While being equally artistically beautiful, Archives of Humanity offers an entirely different experience to that of the WA Ballet’s As One. Choreographed by artistic director Raewyn Hill, the work is a one-hour contemporary piece on human existence.
Set in the State Theatre Centre’s Studio Underground, Archives of Humanity is an event before the dancing even begins. The corridor leading to the stage area envelopes audience members in a flock of handmade black birds (from Raewyn Hill and Naoko Yoshimoto’s The Bird Makers Project) which are strung from the ceiling. The corridor then opens up to reveal a large square block of sand in place of a stage.
The piece opens with a quick and repetitive baseline as the entire cast of dancers emerge onto the sand, walking slowly and purposefully. Eden Mulholland’s musical composition, a mix of electronic sound with excerpts of Vivaldi’s Gloria, is unorthodox, edgy and brooding, and creates an unsettling atmosphere in contrast with the laborious movement of the dancers.
The choreography experiments with levels and asymmetry, and the dancers travel the stage as a group in cyclical patterns throughout the piece. The slow and controlled movement, coupled with the sand softening the dancers’ footsteps, establishes a slow-motion cinematic experience. The slow movement remains throughout the piece, save for a few pockets intense and powerful sequences. However, when the dancers slip into these pockets, they perform with strength and the full force of their abilities.
The asymmetry of the choreography, and the diversity of the cast, is complemented by the costume designs (by Hill), which comprise of mostly black and white skirts, blouses and Elizabethan ruffs. Each dancer's costume is different to the next, adding another layer to the commentary on human diversity. One or two costumes are vastly different to the others which is, at times, distracting. However, the distraction is easily forgiven, as the overall impact breaks down gender stereotypes and complements the piece well.
The entire performance is extraordinarily artistic, with the final moment of the piece serving as art in its finest form. The dancers pencil roll upstage in the sand whilst other dancers sprint downstage, evoking an air of desperation. The result is not only visually striking, but undeniably moving.
By the end of the piece, the once pristine and flattened sand is completely torn up, perfectly demonstrating the excellent use of space in the choreography.
This work is emotive, powerful and original; a creation Raewyn Hill and Co3 can be very proud of.
- ALANA KILDEA