Earlier this year, also at The Concourse, we saw Melbourne Ballet Company’s Being In Time. The company has returned with Archè, choreographed by Simon Hoy and Timothy Podesta, which follows the basic story of the classic 19th Century ballet Swan Lake and uses some of the glorious Tchaikovsky music, but has streamlined, abridged and contemporarised it for a small cast. It also interpolates references to the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan and the famous Fokine/Pavlova The Dying Swan solo. An eclectic recorded soundscore, which includes music by Elgar, Morricone and Einaudi, is used and there is no real set as such but instead wonderful atmospheric projections (such as a summer garden, the lake on a cloudy stormy night, various palace interiors).
MBC’s Alexander Baden Bryce and Kristy Lee Denovan. Photo by Taylor-Ferné Morris.
“Arche” is a Greek word implying the beginning, the source from which all things arise. (This led to the development of the idea of the four elements of earth, air, fire and water.) As in the “traditional” Swan Lake, we see a battle between good and evil as symbolised by the use of black and white costumes for the three main characters. (I was not particularly impressed by the fluffy bits on the swan and von Rothbart’s costumes. The flowing shifts in green and yellow for courtiers and princesses were simple and sweet.)
The choreography is at times very demanding and incorporates a number of styles. It is certainly ballet-based and inspired by the Petipa/Ivanov original, with many allusions to the “traditional” work, but there are also hints perhaps of the Mats Ek version and Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s style (especially the difficult lifts in the pas de deux) and a blend of Balanchine and Graham styles. The ensemble work throughout (such as the four swans, the princesses) was terrific, precise and pulsating in unison. For the swans, the movement requires a very flexible back, and for the men in particular, very polished jumps, leaps and turns performed with a pantherine grace. The dancing was technically excellent throughout.
As Odette/Odile, Kristy Lee Donovan was glorious. As Odette, she was regal yet fragile, luminous and enchanting in white. As Odile, in black with a semi-transparent long skirt, she was hypnotised and controlled by von Rothbart, dazzling and bewitching in the Black Swan pas de deux (which was performed to one of the national dances not the expected Black Swan music).
Our hero, Prince Siegfried, rather casually dressed in black and white was passionately and splendidly danced by Joseph Phillips, who gave a bravura performance. He was elegant, imperious and yet impulsive with very graceful and dazzling leaps, jumps and turns.
MBC’s Kristy Lee Denovan. Photo by Taylor-Ferné Morris.
His mother, the Queen (Sarah Dimas), was coldly formal and commanding in a rather strange and wonderfully textured black dress.
This production retains the character of Siegfried’s best friend, Benno (nowadays often cut), as terrifically danced by Matt Dillon. Much is made of the crossbows and the “let’s go hunting” idea. Benno also gets caught up in von Rothbart’s mysterious machinations and spells.
Von Rothbart (Alexander Baden Bryce) was slinky and sinuous in black. He gave a fine performance and was technically impressive, but for me was possibly not menacing and ominous enough. “Traditional” versions are hinted at with his owl-like movements at times. In this version, he transforms Odette into Odile in an arresting, acrobatic pas de deux.
Archè is a striking, unusual, perhaps rather radical and most impressive reworking of the great ballet classic, Swan Lake.
Another visually stunning, sensationally danced work from marvellous Bangarra Dance Theatre, Steven Page’s Bennelong is also disturbing, challenging and packs a huge emotional punch. At the same point on the harbour where Governor Phillip once built him a brick hut, Bennelong returns in this riveting, powerful work. In some ways, it echoes Bangarra’s 2014 production Patyegarang, which is also about first contact with the Eora nation.
Bangarra Dance Theatre in ‘Bennelong’. Photo by Vishal Pandey.
Bennelong’s story is told in 16 fluid scenes by Page in consultation with dramaturg Alana Valentine. From his birth to his lonely alcoholic death in a relentlessly driven narrative, the themes running throughout the show are impressionistically organised. Virtually kidnapped and forced to be the colony’s ambassador to his people, Bennelong is apparently the first Aboriginal man to learn and write English, acquire European ways and travel to London. Back home, caught between both worlds, he found himself an outsider, never quite accepted by either. He died, ostracised and addicted to alcohol, in 1813. We follow his searing story of uncertain adaptability, disease, survival and culture shock.
Steve Francis’ atmospheric, relentlessly driven soundscape combines voiceover, song, music by Haydn, Rule Brittania, old racist sea shanties, additional music and lyrics in language by Matthew Doyle, the sounds of wind, country and sea, and contemporary electronic sound effects in a striking blend of 21st and 18th century.
Page’s choreography, trademark “Bangarra”, combines both traditional Aboriginal styles and superbly fluidly danced contemporary (with possible hints of Graham and Murphy). The ensemble work can be quite formal but also an undulating, pulsating sculptural mass. We see first contact, where dancers from both worlds come together in a series of sinuous, rather feline moves, cautiously copying, exploring and observing each other. In another section, the dancers are like startled, awkward kangaroos when they first scent the white invaders, and there’s the striking strangeness of the time Bennelong is dressed for the first time in European clothes, and a growing, chilling horror as the dancers stretch, twist, twitch, writhe and slump from the smallpox epidemic. When Yemmerawanya, who accompanied Bennelong, dies in London, his body is discreetly dragged from the stage on the back of an unsuspecting aristocrat’s long purple cloak, somewhat of a surrealist hallucination.The following “Repatriation” scene is powerful as Yemmerawanya is mourned by Bennelong and dance elder Elma Kris as the Spirit.
The set design (by Jacob Nash) is mostly minimalist but extremely effective. Some of it focuses on the use of shiny reflection. There are boomerang designs, a captivating series of‘ “pods” suspended at one point, a hazy ghostly door between two worlds and the rather chilling building blocks of a silver prison cell-like structure at the end that totally enclose him. Mention must also be made of the eye catching suspended opening fiery circle of light and smoke, and later a large abstraction of “1788”. Nick Schlieper’s lighting sensitively blends in with, yet accentuates, the atmosphere of the show.
Jennifer Irwin’s stunning costumes are slithery and compellingly textured and seen through aboriginal eyes. At some points, they are fragmented and dreamlike, evocative of the period, including heavy uniforms, elegant 18th dress and assorted fragments (a jacket, a hat).
Beau Dean Riley Smith in Bangarra’s ‘Bennelong’. Photo by Vishal Pandey.
Bearded Beau Dean Riley Smith, in the eponymous role of Bennelong, is charismatic and intense, in a colossal performance — thrillingly sinuous and supple yet perhaps sculpturally chunky, and it is somewhat obscure as to his motivations, once confronted by the white invaders and whisked to London. Was he a peaceful negotiator, or did he succumb to the surface delights of Western society? Was he a tragic victim of circumstance, a fighter, a father of reconciliation – or all of the above and more?
Daniel Riley makes a great impression as Phillip – concerned, weighed down with responsibility and anxious. As Barangaroo, one of Bennelong’s wives, Jasmin Sheppard is striking and powerful.
Bennelong is a forceful, extremely moving show of loss and longing, one that resonates strongly now, challenging our ideas of Indigenous life in Australia today and what it might be like in the future.
Riverside Theatres Parramatta, Sydney. 23 June 2017.
Sydney Dance Company in Gabrielle Nankivell’s ‘Wildebeest’. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Under the umbrella title Frame of Mind, we were treated to revivals of two dazzling, dynamic works by Sydney Dance Company (SDC), both with astonishing, gripping choreography and sensational, sizzling dancing. This season is part of the national tour by SDC.
Gabrielle Nankivell’s Wildebeest began life in 2014, as part of New Breed at Carriageworks and has been captivating audiences ever since. The dancers are mysterious feral creatures that strut, paw, pose and sniff in what is possibly a forest clearing. Benjamin Cisterne’s rather ominous, moody lighting is dramatically interrupted with stormy lightning flashes and the use of strobe lighting. Luke Smile’s electronic score, with its startling, driving rhythms and inclusion of grinding noise, soaring song and stormy weather, enhances the work. Fiona Holley’s flowing costumes were in earthy, russet tones.
Sydney Dance Company in Gabrielle Nankivell’s ‘Wildebeest’. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Nankivell’s choreography is performed with huge energy and is performed with glorious sizzling laser sharp lines of the body that are also fluid. There are short bursts of trios, quartets and a couple of dazzling solos. The ensemble work is tight and precise, yet there often appears to be an ‘outsider’. In one section, the dancers, rather than being wild animals, morph into a machine full of precise, controlled movement. One section features running where organised lines unpeel from a hidden centre and others cross and join in energetically. Fluid, rolling floorwork is also included. Formal, stylised choreography was contrasted with runs and some most unusual lifts. Exotic, bird-like creatures and other animals are always hinted at with hands like hooves or claws – or flowers.
Sydney Dance Company in Rafael Bonachela’s ‘Frame of Mind’. Photo by Pedro Greig.
Rafael Bonachela’s Frame of Mind – here with a simple red and brown, slightly diagonal curtain design evoking the original set — was also gripping and compelling. It is a room of melancholy and memory, where time is in constant flux and the inhabitants seek to escape but can’t. The dancers were all in black costumes, each slightly different.
With its driven energy and relentless rhythm, Frame of Mind is perhaps reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps. Bonachela’s acrobatic, athletic, incredibly intricate and demanding choreography requires apparent bonelessness combined with fluid, yet sharp and controlled, precision. It is a haunting, abstract mood piece but simultaneously sleek and dynamic with a sinuous, sculptural line. The striking score from Bryce Dessner (of American hit rock band The National) was written as a musical evocation of home and flight and here recorded by the renowned Kronos Quartet.
Sydney Dance Company in Rafael Bonachela’s ‘Frame of Mind’. Photo by Pedro Greig.
The entire company of dancers are mesmerizing and pulsating in union, then fracture into short duets and trios and writhing, swirling currents. At times, the stage seems almost overfull and extremely busy. The music builds to a frenzied, relentless crescendo, the dancing being driven by this, before becoming a short, lyrical and tender duet that turns into dangerously acrobatic spins, throws and catches. Some of the dancers loom and observe all of this in the shadows. In several sections, the dancers are diving and leaping with superabundant energy. Then, there is a sudden emergence of a frozen line-up starkly light, and the dancers stare intently at us in the audience. After a fluidly elegant solo, Cass Mortimer Eipper brings the work to a taut conclusion, arm across his eyes.
As part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season, celebrating 70 years at the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet brings it season to a close with a tribute to its founder choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton.
The tribute comprised a marvellous triple bill featuring The Dream(1964), based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the non-narrative work Symphonic Variations (1946) to music by Franck (Ashton’s first work after World War 2), and then finally the 1963 passionate, tempestuous Marguerite and Armand (1963), based on La Dame Aux Camellias, created for the legendary partnership of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev to a Lizst sonata.
This particular performance also marks the retirement from the stage of principal Zenaida Yanowsky and at the end we see the extended curtain calls and appearances by several of her leading men who have partnered her over the years in various roles.
Opening the program was a delightful revival of The Dream. The forest clearing set was enchanting and beautifully lit, the Mendelssohn music gloriously played by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the energetic baton of Emmanuel Plasson with the London Oratory Junior Choir giving a fine performance. The fairies were absolutely enchanting.
Steven McRae channelled his inner Sir Robert Helpmann and was proud and imperious as Oberon with incredible tight and precise technique, blistering chaine turns and long, stretched elegant arabesque penchees.
Feather light and vivacious, Akane Takada was sweetly pretty and dazzling as Titania, regal yet also with wonderful epaulement, fluttery and fluid.The splendid reconciliation pas de deux featured a reuniting of well matched equals .
Mischievous, bouncy Puck was joyously danced by Valentino Zucchetti with amazing ballon, and Bennet Gartside was an outstanding Bottom.
The four confused, mixed up human lovers, dressed in Victorian era costumes, were strongly danced by Itziar Mendizabal, Tomas Mock, Claire Calvert and Matthew Ball.
Created in 1946, the year the Royal Opera House reopened, the very demanding Symphonic Variations was given an eloquent, crystalline performance by the six dancers who are on stage the whole time.
This was a short but epic work demanding great precision and fluid dancing in unison, curled spools of movement with some explosive mini solos for the men, in particular.There were allusions to Balanchine’s Apollo yet with Ashton’s delicate touch. Special mention must be made of Vadim Muntagirov who dances very impressively, almost like a cool minor deity.
The ballet was set in an abstract realm with Sophie Federovitch’scurving black lines on a greeny-yellow background and the black and white costumes. It did, however, seems that the hairpieces worn by the men seemed a bit odd.
Marianela Nunez also shone with the nuanced sensitivity of her phrasing. Ashton’s choreography demanded long stretched arms , regal epaulement and some fast darting footwork. The work also featured a lyrical floating pas de deux. The piece concludedwith the cast breathlessly running off stage.
Kevin O’Hare described Yanowsky as one of the great actress/ballerinas of her generation, following on in the footsteps of ballerinas such as Fonteyn and Seymour.
Yanowksy gave a powerhouse performance playing Marguerite in Marguerite and Armand , following in the footsteps of Fonteyn and Guillem, with emotions ranging from radiant joy to noble resignation. (This season also saw Osipova and Ferri perform the role).
The chemistry between Yanowksy as Marguerite and darkly brooding guest star Roberto Bolle as Armand was remarkable. Bolle was tremendous as fiery yet elegant Armand,
Ashton’s tempestuous featured choreography full of strutting Nureyev arabesques, glorious leaps and turns.There were some very demanding lifts in the swooping swirling pas de deux.
As Armand’s father Christopher Saunders was imperious and coldly demanding but eventually sympathetic to the lover’s plight.
Running time – allow 3 & ½ hours including two intervals
The Royal Ballet’s presentation of the Ashton Triple Bill screens as part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season at selected cinemas between 7-12 July 2017.
This first concert in this year’s delightful series and included music by Johann Strauss, Franz Lehár and Imre Kalman.
Piano maestro Glenn Amer played and sang fabulously. Amer also played the role of narrator and enjoyed making incisive, witty comments.
We were whisked to Vienna and heard classics such as The Blue Danube,and selections from Die Fledermaus, The Gypsy Baron, The Merry Widow, The Land of Smiles, Countess Maritza, The Gypsy Princessand works by Richard Tauber, Joseph Schmidt and others.
Amer opened the program with a very dynamic, infectious selection of famous waltzes. He placed the waltz in social context and remarked how scandalous it was when it was first performed, even raising t,he chagrin of certain bishops in Germany.
We heard about Richard Tauber’s rather dramatic life and Amer played a passionate, glittering medley of some of his works: Vienna,City of Dreams, Blue Danube, My Heart and I.
We were then introduced to the delightful Zoe Drummond, making her debut at the Gallery, and looked stunning in a long red dress. She sang an enchanting Voices of Spring.
Under Amer’s guidance we then jumped to Vienna in 1874 and Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Amer and Drummond performed a witty pot-pourri of various songs from the operetta including Adele’s Laughing Song.
We next heard a darting, sparkling waltz from a rather obscure operetta called Rose of Stambul by Leo Fall. The piece featured captivating rhythms.
Then came an enchanting lyrical waltz from The Acrobats (Les Saltimbanques,) by Louis Ganne, This was followed by a wickedly seductive selection of melodies from The Gypsy Princess by Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán , full of swirling passion and fiery, spiky chords and rhythms.
Next Amer and Drummond performed a selection from Richard Heuberger’s The Opera Ball (1898).
Then we jumped across the Channel with Drummond delivering a ravishing rendition of I Dreamt I Dwelt In Marble Halls that brought the house down. Amer countered with a terrific, vibrant rendition ofYou Are My Heart’s Delight from the operetta The Land of Smiles.
Nobody Could Love You More by Richard Tauber was followed by Meine Lippen, sie kussen so heiss (from the Lehar operetta Giuditta), Then there was a delightful rendition of My Hero from The Chocolate Soldier.
This led to a champagne finale – a moving version of The Merry Widow waltz.
There was very warm applause and for an encore we heard Amer and Drummond in the enticing Are You Going to Dance?
Melvyn Morrow, Artistic Director of the Cabaret In The Day series then came on stage and gave a brief preview of the upcoming two concerts, joined by Christopher Hamilton and Adele Johnston.
Running time- 1 hour and 45 minutes.
YOU ARE MY HEART’S DELIGHT played the Mosman Art Gallery on the 9th July.
The second of the 2017 Cabaret In The Day season was the wonderful I’LL FOLLOW MY SECRET HEART, with maestro Glenn Amer on piano and starring Christopher Hamilton
Hamilton has appeared in many musicals and plays in both professional and community theatre including The Pirates of Penzance, Paris, A Song to Sing O!,Vice, Man of La Mancha, The Hatpin, The Producers, Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, The Venetian Twins and narrating Peter and the Wolf.
This show was a great nostalgia trip, with the performance looking at the career and songs of two of Britain’s greatest 20th Century songsmiths – the dashing Ivor Novello and the ultra sophisticated Noel Coward. Both composers remain the ‘gold standard’ of wit and romance, their works evergreen favourites.
The show opened stirringly with Novello’s 1914 patriotic Keep The Home Fires Burning . Amer then told us a bit about Novello’s life (he was described as ‘ the British Valentino ‘ , terribly handsome, who wrote seven musicals – yet apparently couldn’t sing!) .
Hamilton, dapper and very elegant in black and gold with cravat and tie pin, then launched into the liltingly romantic I Can Give You The Starlight from the 1939 musical The Dancing Years. Also from that musical we then heard the romantic infectious Waltz of My Heart . We then learnt that between the Wars Novello moved to Hollywood where he worked as a script doctor.
Amer then swept into the swirling passionate, longing, yearning title song from the 1935 Glamorous Night .
We then jumped to Novello’s comic songs and Hamilton then, through gritted teeth, performed the biting, witty And Her Mother Came Too.
Amer then talked further about Novello’s luxurious, flamboyant somewhat scandalous gay life and his links to and influences upon Coward. Amer then played Someday My Heart Will Awake from Novello’s King’s Rhapsody.
We then heard more about the rise and rise of Coward and how Novello’s work generally went out of fashion and he sadly passed away in 1951.
Amer and Hamilton performed one of Novello’s most famous songsWe’ll Gather Lilacs from Perchance to Dream (1945).
Hamilton swiftly changed from his black to a white dinner jacket while Amer talked more about Coward and his various auto)biographies, letters, plays and aphorisms.
Another duet was enchantingly performed I’ll See You Again. We then heard the title song of this particular show I’ll Follow My Secret Heart, again as a duet , which lead to more discussion about how both Novello and Coward were gay with Coward being more discreet about it.
Hamilton then launched into Cowards’ Mad About The Boy.
Amer then talked about how Coward moved internationally (Bermuda, Jamaica , Switzerland) for tax reasons but always remained at heart an Englishman.
We then heard (with Big Ben chimes on the piano) the stirring, moving London Pride written during the 1941 Blitz. We then heard the jaunty , bouncy A Bar on the Piccolo Marina with its tongue twisting rhythms .This was followed by the delightful Dance Little Lady Dance with its emphatic rhythms . Amer then performed a powerful captivating solo Gypsy Melody on piano .
Next we jumped to the delicious witty Nina, with its infectious Latin rhythms and tongue twisting lyrics. We were then treated to a provoking, sarcastic and haughty Why Do the Wrong People Travel ?another duet for Amer and Hamilton.
Three classic Coward pieces followed: a breathless Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the witty I’ve Been to A Marvellous Party and the blistering, pleading, eventually furious Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage Mrs Worthington.
Amer gave a stellar performance of the rather strange Uncle Harry which was followed by a sad, reflective If Love Were All , which is regarded as autobiographical and is from Coward’s 1929 Bitter Sweet. The final song was a duet, a wistful, romantic version of The Dream is Over.
The audience vociferously cheered and applauded at the end leading to the encore of three Coward songs from his The Girl Who Came to Supper – London, What Ho Mrs Briskett and the music hall like Saturday Night at the Rose and Crown.
We were then thanks by artistic director Melvyn Morrow and given a sneak peek of next week’s show Broadway Babies with the sizzling powerhouse Adele Johnston.
Running time 90 minutes without interval.
I’LL FOLLOW MY SECRET HEART, part of the Cabaret in the Day concert series, took place at the Mosman Art Gallery on the 16th July.