Tuesday, 26 December 2017

The Royal Ballet Nutcracker

A terrific performance of this excellent traditional version .Here's my thoughts for Sydney Arts Guide



Featured photo- Alexander Campbell and Francesca Hayward.
You can tell it is Christmas as we have revivals of THE NUTCRACKER again.
This was another revival of the much loved production with some cast changes for some of the principals to the version I saw earlier this year.
It is a lavish, opulent, incredibly detailed production – a quite traditional and enchanting rendition , seeking to keep to the original Petipa/Ivanov , with some technically amazing dancing, particularly in the second act. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, led enthusiastically and energetically by maestro Barry Wordsworthplayed magnificently.
Visually this production is stunning with opulent, lavish sets and costumes (by Julia Trevelyan Oman) of the Victorian era and it also features some wonderful special effects, including a Christmas tree that grows and grows on stage and gliding angels.
There was plenty of misty dry ice for the clouds and the huge sleigh that Clara and Hans -Peter travel in is sumptuous.
In this Royal Ballet version, most of Act 2 is presented as Clara’s dream , in which Herr Drosselmeyer is seen trying to control everything in order to effect Hans-Peter’s release.
The waltzes of the Flowers and Snowflakes were enchantingly performed, and the corps de ballet were exacting in weaving their intricate patterns, with fast fiddly footwork and flickering hands for the snowflakes.
The Rose Fairy, leading the Waltz of the Flowers, as danced by Yasmine Naghdi, was radiant and featured crisp, fleet footwork and dainty epaulement.
Much fun is had in Act 1 with the Christmas party at the Stahlbaum’s and the battle between the Nutcracker and the golden maned Mouse King, performed by Nicol Edmonds was excitingly staged.
The doll dances, in this version presented as entertainment by Herr Drosselmeyer, were first a Harlequin and Columbine and then a couple dressed military style in blue and yellow. Both couples become involved in Clara’s dream and her being whisked away to the Kingdom of Sweets with the Nutcracker prince.
Francesca Hayward delightfully reprises her role as the fresh, innocent Clara, all dreamy and wide eyed. Whilst seemingly demure, underneath she is somewhat adventurous and strong willed, Hayward danced her role most expressively with burnished footwork and delicious fluid movement.
Hans-Peter, Herr Drosselmeyer’s nephew caught in the Mouse King’s spell as the Nutcracker, was danced with charming, dashing brio by expat Australian Alexander Campbell. He is buoyant with a strong jump and secure partnering.It was interesting to note that both Clara and Hans-Peter join in the ‘national dances’ featured in Act 2. In most productions this is often not the case.
Gary Avis as Herr Drosselmeyer was mysterious, charming, magical and avuncular, weaving his Christmas magic to ensure an eventual happy ending. His portrayal only lightly hinted at his character’s sinister, darker side – but be careful! There were touches of humour such as in his obvious dislike of Clara’s rather noisy and obnoxious brother Fritz, as danced by Caspar Lench. Mention should also be made of his Harlequin like Jack-In-The -Box assistant, as danced by Luca Acri ,with his incredible jumps.
The ‘national dances’ in Act 2 , that Drosselmeyer presents, are also memorable. The Spanish Dance was vibrant in red and black, the Arabian mesmerising, sultry, slinky and exotic, sinuously sculptural in parts, featuring some most unusual lifts – and with hints of Fokine perhaps. The Chinese dance features turquoise and white costumes, and features plenty of difficult jumps.
As The Sugarplum Fairy and her Prince, Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae were amazing. Their showstopping grand pas de deux in Act 2 brought the house down and there were screams of bravo. McRae was jaw dropping with his incredible jumps and turns in his solos and assured elegant partnering. Lamb was regal and stylish, with a cool, filigree aura, displaying ferocious technique and exquisite epaulement.
Wonderful Christmas fare for all the family.
Running time allow 2 hours 40 minutes including one interval.
The Royal Ballet in The Nutcracker screens at selected Event cinemas 16- 20 December 2017.

The Marais Project Christmas Prelude in Tea concert

A most striking and unusual concert here's what I said for Artshub




A striking Christmas program and a CD launch which saw the ensemble play joyously as one, demonstrating intense rapport.
An international Baroque Christmas with the Marais Project
An exciting and rather unusual concert by the wonderful Marais Project, this was the final Prelude in Tea concert at the Independent for 2017. The Marais Project – led by viola da gamba virtuoso Jenny Eriksson –  is a celebration of music focusing on the work of Marin Marais, the great French virtuoso viola da gamba performer and composer. Since its formation in 2000, the Marais Project has extended its repertoire beyond the French baroque to include medieval and Renaissance music, as well as commissioning and recording some 20 new Australian works.
At this performance the ensemble played joyously as one, with intense rapport.
The concert also featured the release of their sixth CD, Spinning Forth, featuring pieces by Louis de Caix D’Hervelois and Marin Marais as well as world premiere recordings of works by Australian composers Paul Cutlan, Llew and Mara Kiek, and Hjort Anders Olsson. Some of the music on the CD was included in the program. 
The concert began with a selection of fluidly elegant French Christmas songs, mostly bright and bouncy. Susie Bishop played the violin superbly and also revealed a charismatic, hypnotic mezzo soprano voice.
We then heard a striking, pulsating and captivating rendition of Monteverdi’s Chiome d’oro (Tresses of gold) a duet for Bishop and Emily-Rose Sarkova on piano accordion, with both singing.
Four short pieces by Marais followed that were edgy, rich and dynamic and which featured elegant ripples on the piano accordion.
To take us to interval we then heard a rather magical performance of Jennifer Eriksson’s The Garden Party (inspired by Feste Champetre from Marin Marais’ Suite d’un gout Etranger). It had a jaunty opening and  an almost jazz-like feel.   
After the official launch of the new CD when we returned, we heard a rich, multi-layered and flowing version of Hjort Anders Olsson’s Min levnads afton with Tommie Andersson, who arranged it on lute. This was followed by a bubbling Swedish Christmas selection with catchy circular rhythms.
Tarquino Merula’s Canzonetta Spirituale sopra alla nanna followed with Shaun Ng providing delicate yet insistent accompaniment to Bishop’s soaring voice on theorbo.
The concert concluded with a whirling infectious Latin American bracket – concluding with a vibrant, brisk staccato Die fiesta en fiesta by Carlos Carabajal and the Rios brothers that had tango-like rhythms and featured Flamenco palmas. Merry Christmas !
4 stars
A Christmas Adventure by The Marais Project 
The Independent Theatre, North Sydney 
Sunday 17 December 2017

New Adventure's The Car Man on DVD

A hot and steamy thriller
here's what I said for Dance Informa


New Adventures’ ‘The Car Man’ on DVD tells a gripping story through dance

Choreography: Matthew Bourne.
A film – 115 minutes.
Released November 2017.
Welcome to the small town of Harmony…
Hot, slick, steamy and sexy, this second filming of the New Adventures’ The Car Man, as choreographed by Matthew Bourne, transfers very well from stage to screen. It was filmed in 2015 at Sadler’s Wells, and has just been released on DVD after selected screenings last year.
New Adventures' 'The Car Man'.
New Adventures’ ‘The Car Man’.
The commissioned music for the production is based on Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s Bolshoi Ballet version of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen (1875), with additional music by composer Terry Davies, played with gusto by Brett Morris and the 14-piece orchestra. Carmen reworked and “dance noir” in style, the work is loosely based on James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), and the 1946 and 1981 films with the same title. Chris Davey’s evocative lighting is superb in creating the hot and steamy atmosphere, or delineating the elegance of the club, or making us shiver with horror in the prison or in Luca’s nightmarish vision scene with Dino’s ghost.
Right from the start, The Car Man crackles with intense, sleazy energy. Harmony is a small, edgy and yet conservative Italian-American town in the 1950s, boiling in the summer sun and simmering with barely concealed lust. The mood is languorous and unsettled, the residents we meet mechanics — providing the title – and their women. Fighting is customary, as greasy guys drink until dawn and trouble their women.  
Bourne’s choreographic style blends various elements of contemporary dance, ballet, Jerome Robbins-like/Broadway/jazz styles, Flamenco and even comedic mime, swiftly compelling the audience through varied emotions. Sometimes the choreography is sculptural, and there are incredible off-balance lifts. The marvellous ensemble performs with passion and finesse. If you know Bourne’s works, you can pick allusions to his Swan LakeNutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, for example. There is also plenty of comedy and wit, particularly the cheeky, hot and steamy shower scene in Act 1. The fight scenes are grimly realistic, and the Manon-like rape of Angelo in jail is horrifying.
The show begins when a mysterious stranger, Luca, arrives in town (Christopher Trentfield) who  distracts and grabs the attention of both the local garage owner’s Dino’s wife Lana (Zizi Strallen), who is trapped and suffering from ennui, and a sensitive, bullied, vulnerable young man Angelo (Dominic North).
New Adventures' 'The Car Man'.
New Adventures’ ‘The Car Man’.
As sultry, unwitting femme fatale Lana, Zizi Strallen is all crackling, saucy flirtation in Act I, and shows great depth with some wonderful sequences in Act II. She is all fluid, elegant motion. Angelo ends up in prison while Lana and Luca live a classy luxurious life in Le Beat Route café. But their relationship is now on the rocks, and in an impressive, fervent and passionate duet, we see Lana fall out of love with a drunken Luca and how this eventually leads to tragedy.
As Luca, Trentfield is charismatic and delivers a superb performance – to the well known Habanera, he has a hypnotic, slithery powerful solo.
The balletic pas de deux, between Rita, Lana’s younger sister (Kate Lyons) and the nerdish, sensitive Angelo (they are the sweet, rather innocent young lovers of the piece who appear chosen for happiness until he is wrongly imprisoned) is filled with delicately nervous yet blossoming tenderness and joy. Their last duet is an admirable example of Bourne’s narrative choreography, as lost innocence eventually leads to horror and despair, as Angelo, a gentle man, has become twisted and hardened by his suffering.
Dino the garage owner, portrayed by Alan Vincent (who created the title role back in 2000), is excellent as Lana’s rather appalling worn out slob of a husband. Lana is a bit afraid of him now and rather repulsed by him. Luca’s tango with Dino’s blood-soaked ghost is quite chilling.
The Car Man is a gripping, violently sexy story containing elements of homoeroticism which leads to murder, miscarriage of justice and ultimately shocked revenge.
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

Sydney Dance PPY Revealed 2017

This was great ! Here's what I said for Dance Informa


Sydney Dance Company Pre-Professional students excel in ‘PPY Revealed’

Richard Cilli's 'Carte Blanche'. Photo courtesy of SDC.

Carriageworks, Sydney.
13 December 2017.
This year’s Sydney Dance Company (SDC) Pre-Professional Year programme, PPY Revealed 2017, consisted of five short, striking works magnificently performed by this year’s members of the Pre-Professional Year, as directed by Linda Gamblin. The dancing was superb, and the ensemble is incredibly accomplished. The dancers are challenged and vibrant.
Rafael Bonachela's '2 in D Minor'. Photo courtesy of SDC.
Rafael Bonachela’s ‘2 in D Minor’. Photo courtesy of SDC.
This performance also provides a launch pad for short works by new choreographers and includes a contribution from SDC Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela – for this year, excerpts from 2014’s 2 in D Minor, which opened the evening.
The elegant, feline-like dancers for 2 in D Minor were in black or cream costumes. Claire Griffen performed a dazzling, slinky opening extended solo. Bonachela’s choreography was at times fluid and angular, including rolling floorwork in a series of scintillating solos (one insect-like ), often in a square of light, a playful teasing duet, another that was enfolding and intimate, and then various waves of quartets becoming the full ensemble in a sizzling, joyous finale.
Richard Cilli's 'Carte Blanche'. Photo courtesy of SDC.
Richard Cilli’s ‘Carte Blanche’. Photo courtesy of SDC.
Richard Cilli’s Carte Blanche, structured around crumpled sheets of paper, with the undulating and pulsating dancers in blue overall-like uniforms or tabbards, appeared to be about the struggle to remain individual when faced by a massive overload of government paperwork. It supposedly explores “the concept of interdependence and how we are inextricably linked to our environments”, but this idea seemed to be more in Cilli’s mind than the audience’s.
Lucas Jervies’ Versailles, with the dancers in shiny skin-coloured all over unitards , was strange and unsettling . Jervies has been chosen to choreograph the new Spartacus for the Australian Ballet in 2018 . Choreographically it was slithery and slinky demanding a very flexible lower back .There were  some very demanding Macmillan like lifts and some sinuous duets . The dancers were cool and expressionless – almost insect or alien like .or perhaps the disembodied ghosts of aristocrats haunting the palace ?
Rani Luther’s Outside In, for four dancers with live amplified violin as provided by Cye Wood was powerful and hypnotic with a dreamlike feel. It demanded pantherine leaps , a long stretched line and huge floating lifts.
The final work was Israel Aloni and Lee Brummer’s (both from Sweden) To the foreign void and your response examining the blending and the crossing of physical and mental boundaries and with heavy shoe symbolism .There were some very complicated ensemble choreographic patterns that at times relaxed into circular wheeling runs – the dancers were like flocks of birds that undulated , stretched and pulsated .There were flashes of  star like hands , knee crouches , angular elbows and poignant hugs as well as some slinky floorwork. The third full ensemble work of the programme, it challenged the dancers in terms of ensemble organisation and precision and provided plenty to discuss afterwards. 
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Australian Ballet's Sleeping Beauty


The Australian Ballet’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is lavish and beautifully danced

The Australian Ballet in 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Capitol Theatre, Sydney.
20 November 2017.
Currently showing at the Capitol Theatre is The Australian Ballet in a revival of David McAllister’s version of The Sleeping Beauty, which we first saw in 2015. It has been minimally tightened and tweaked.
The story follows the traditional fairytale plot: Princess Aurora is born and at her christening is endowed with gifts from the fairies and cursed by the bad fairy Carabosse with death by pricking her finger when she is 16 in revenge for not being invited. However, the Lilac Fairy commutes the death sentence to a century of sleep and declares that all will eventually be well – Aurora will eventually awake to true love by a kiss from a Prince and will live happily ever after.
The Australian Ballet in 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The Australian Ballet in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
It is an extremely opulent and lavishly presented work, featuring 300 bespoke costumes, 100 wigs and hats, and 130 pairs of fairy wings. Altogether, it is rumoured to have needed 5,000 metres of tulle, and they are full of intricate layers and detailing. Whether you like and/or admire designer Gabriela Tylesova’s costumes is probably a matter of personal taste. I was a little disappointed perhaps in some of the colour choices and overly fussy designs at times, and sometimes the clarity of the dancers’ line was broken, but I can certainly appreciate the extraordinary attention to detail in the construction and design.
Technically, the dancing is outstanding, and I saw Leanne Stojmenov as Aurora, who was breathtaking. McAllister’s choreography is very traditional and heavily based in the style of Petipa where necessary, and the intricate patterns for the nymphs, fairies, friends and the Garland Waltz, for example, are fascinating and meticulously performed. The fairy solos can be quite challenging but were terrifically danced. The cavalier’s choreography was a splendid showcase for the male dancers. The four princes in the Rose Adage were formidably danced. The mime was clear and understandable.
The setting was 17th century France in a palace inspired by Versailles, with soft pastel shades blending with gold and cream and bright reds. The supporting marble columns of white and gold look like ice cream swirls (or perhaps narwhal spirals?). There is a wonderful carved and painted front set instead of a curtain, and the spectacular chandeliers rising at the start of Act 3 received a round of applause.
The Australian Ballet's Kevin Jackson and Lana Jones in 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The Australian Ballet’s Kevin Jackson and Lana Jones in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The overdone use of pink and green in Act 1 for the Garland Waltz was way too saccharine for my taste, nearly causing you to die of visual sugar overload.
I was perhaps a little bothered by the key symbolism and the casket, Fabergé egg-shaped, with a bed of roses that Aurora sleeps on.
Our Aurora, Stojmenov, was magnificent. In the Rose Adagio in Act 1, she was incredible, with amazing steely control in the balances. She was charming and yet regal with magnificent, fluid épaulement and glorious slow unfolding of her développés. In the grand pas de deux in the final act, she was radiant, and the tricky fish dives were glittering and spectacular.
Ty King Wall as Prince Desire was excellent with fabulous ballon, soft jumps and lots of elegant cabrioles, jetés and turns.
As the Lilac Fairy, Nicola Curry was tremendous, a messenger of calmness, sweetness and light in some dangerous situations. Yet she also has hidden authoritative power.
Franco Leo has much fun as the busy, fussy Catabalutte. As Carabosse, Gillian Revie was malignantly evil in a wonderfully feathery black outfit. She seeks revenge for being slighted and not invited to the christening. Her attendant mice leap and slither menacingly – shades of Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker?
The Australian Ballet's Jade Wood and Marcus Morelli in 'The Sleeping Beauty'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The Australian Ballet’s Jade Wood and Marcus Morelli in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Watch out for the Bluebird pas de deux in Act 3 – I saw Shaun Andrews and Jade Wood, who were quite eye-catching.
Tchaikovsky’s glorious music, here elegantly played by the Opera Australia Orchestra, as conducted by maestro Philip Ellis, while extremely familiar sounded fresh and dynamic
It would be an enchanting work to take young children to. The ones in the audience the night I attended loved it. The work concludes in full Baroque splendour in gold and white as Aurora and Prince Desire are united with a shower of gold confetti.
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

Bangarra's One's Country

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s powerful ‘ONES COUNTRY: the spine of our stories’

Bangarra Dance Ensemble in 'Ngathu'. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Carriageworks, Sydney.
24 November 2017.
A most exciting triple bill by Bangarra Dance Theatre, three world premieres combined under the umbrella title of ONE’S COUNTRY, taking us from North East Arnhem Land’s red dust, to the waters of the Torres Strait Islands – home of the salt-water creature, the Dugong – to Indigenous urban life looking at gender challenges and the human spirit. This is the second time Bangarra has performed at Sydney’s Carriageworks. The trademark Bangarra style is evident with the blend of traditional Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander dance and contemporary.
Beau Dean Riley Smith in 'Ngathu'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Beau Dean Riley Smith in ‘Ngathu’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
One set was used for all three works – a large, hanging sculpturally textured mass of fishing nets, branches and leaves on the back wall, most atmospherically lit at times by Matt Cox
The first work was Ngathu by Djakapurra Munyarryun, a respected Yolngu songman from Dhalinybuy in North East Arnhem Land who has worked in many Bangarra productions as a dancer, musician, singer and cultural consultant. It is inspired by the ngathu (cycad) nut, which only appears for a fleeting moment before the wet season. We see the dancers – the women in red costumes, the men in black – with traditional red eye makeup, travelling to the harvest, gathering and sorting the nut and finally roasting it over coals as the wet finally arrives.
Deborah Brown and Yolanda Lowatta in 'Ngathu'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Deborah Brown and Yolanda Lowatta in ‘Ngathu’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Ngathu opens with a dreamlike sequence of two women materialising from behind the set who carry a wooden bowl and collect their dilly bags from the floor. This work was the one that had the most obviously traditional first people’s choreography. It included pulsating traditional music with didgeridoo. Choreographically, one moment it was contemporary with slithery floorwork and rolling turns, almost breakdancing at times, and then it became the traditional dances with emphatic foot stamps, circular walks, fast furious low jumps and arms held low and crossed. 
The second, fabulously danced, work was Place by dancer Kaine Sultan-Babij. This is his first choreographic work for Bangarra. Grounded by his clan, his heritage and his family totem of the caterpillar, we are transported to the concrete jungle of an urban Australian setting, drawing on his personal experience to explore what it means to be black and gay in today’s world – while he is supported by family, yet there is a huge aura of loneliness as a young black gay man.
Leonard Mickelo in 'Place'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Leonard Mickelo in ‘Place’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
There are several fences used both as a barre and as barriers. At one point, some of them have coldly futuristic strips of  fluorescent lighting. The opening is very contemporary in style with the six dancers in black struggling to break through the barriers. The choreography for the piece was quite demanding and requires a very flexible back. There is lots of rolling, slithery, undulating floorwork and also headstands! At one  point, there is an aura as if the ensemble is mistily wheeling or floating. Two highlights include a sensational duo for Tyrel Dulvarie and Yolanda Lowatta, which is sinuous and delicate with some striking lifts. And the final mesmerizing solo for Leonard Mickelo, who was hypnotic, full of fluid, inky pantherine movement in space on, around and over the barrier.
Elma Kris and Nicola Sabatino in 'Whistler'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
Elma Kris and Nicola Sabatino in ‘Whistler’. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The final work was Whistler, a story inspired by the sacred call of the dugong and its significance to their people, created by Bangarra dancers and proud Torres Strait Islander women Elma Kris and Nicola Sabatino. For some of the work, the dancers gracefully slide and pull themselves around on their hands, with their legs dragging behind them, with aquatic behaviour. Dugongs are generally regarded as rather strange looking creatures, with large heads, cumbersome paddle-like flippers and a cumbersome way of sauntering through the water. But in Whistler, we see them with rare dignity and grace. They writhe sculpturally, play; they slither over and under each other, and they roll around in the chalk dust of the stage enchantingly. Are they dugongs, as we are informed in the program? Or mermaids? Or seals? At one point, they undulate and pulsate like coral; at another, they are fluid and darting. There are some very demanding lifts in a striking, sinuous pas de deux. The men have some wonderfully spiny textured headdresses, the women long, high blonde headdresses. Yolanda Lowatta and Beau Dean Riley Smith have a delightfully energetic duo.
The final rousing ensemble was a return to traditional First Peoples songs and dances.
By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.