State Theatre Centre of Western Australia
Reviewed June 24
The opening night of "STATE" was the beginning of a thrilling new era for West Australian Ballet, one that will see the company exploring ambitious choreography in an annual season of contemporary works at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia. From tobacco-clouded bistros full of cartoon caricatures to the dystopian realm between the living and the dead, each work in this fascinating triple-bill plunges audiences into otherworldly realities.
Company dancer Adam Alzaim’s hilariously absurd GAINSBOURG proved itself to be a crowd favourite from the outset and was particularly impressive given this is the emerging choreographer’s first work for the mainstage. The delightful eccentricity of French musician Serge Gainsbourg’s lyrics are perfectly personified by Alzaim’s gestural movements; punchy and slinky, sassy and silly. The work comprises of a series of colourful character vignettes, choreographed to a selection of Gainsbourg’s sensual hit tracks and taking inspiration from the “oftentimes lewd double entendre” of his music, as the program notes describe.
In the title role, suave and panther-like, Juan Carlos Osma commanded the stage with ease and led the ensemble of 12 party-goers, dressed smartly in androgynous suiting designed by Alzaim. Opening night’s cast delivered a gutsy and committed performance, the dancers' meticulous precision matched by their charisma, with Damien Cooper’s striking neon-lighting cutting through the smoky basement bar revelry.
Satire and frivolity quickly made way for dark, supernatural forces in Slow Haunt by Javanese-Australian independent choreographer Melanie Lane. In contrast to the warm invitations offered by GAINSBOURG’s humour, this work at times felt alienating and monotonous – but perhaps that was the goal for this eerie horror fantasy. Ominously hooded in black veils, a Giselle-inspired army of undead spirits strut forward through the haze, echoing the ghosts of folklore that Lane has identified in storytelling across diverse cultures. These lovesick corpses have blood on their hands; dangerously vengeful, ready to seduce and destroy with the same cruelty of those who broke their hearts. Possessed by composer Christopher Clark’s electronic soundscape, menacing bodies shift deftly between fluid balletic motions and short sharp pounces. With her liquid movement and beautiful lines, Dayana Hardy Acuña was exceptional as she snaked her way through smooth lifts and seamless partnering.
Underneath the black veils, designer Akira Isogawa’s skin-tight skeletal-patterned unitards are a work of art in themselves, later adorned with aristocratic jewels of skulls and bones. The dancers posed motionless for long moments at the front of the stage, allowing time for the gothic details of the costumes to be fully appreciated.
The dancers of WA Ballet rose to the challenge of remounting celebrated Australian choreographer Graeme Murphy’s Air and Other Invisible Forces, originally created over 20 years ago. A contemplation on the intangible powers that entangle humanity and govern the universe, this work feels wrapped in grief and hope, in the same way that Murphy’s choreography feels wrapped in Giya Kancheli’s dramatic and evocative 1989 composition, Mourned by the Wind.
The set design by Gerard Manion is breathtaking; an expansive white sheet evokes an omnipresent being that billows and transforms throughout the 45-minute excerpt. A black spherical orb rolls and slides across the fabric, reminiscent of a clairvoyant’s magic 8-ball. This poignant symbol, along with the repeated circular movement motifs and reappearance of certain characters, suggests that time is not linear in the world of this work. A feast for the eyes came in the mirrored trios, with Kristin Barwick and Nikki Blain expertly winding in and out of stunning lifts in precise synchrony, their floating costumes suspended in mid-air.
Bridging the gap between Australia’s contemporary and classical dance communities opens up exciting possibilities for the future of ballet, revitalising the classical form in engaging innovations. With truly captivating set and costume design bringing the production to shimmering life, "STATE" is a must-see.
- ISABELLE LECLEZIO
'STATE' is on till July 3. More info here.