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Flash Review Journal, 6-21: Requiem in a Dream
In Australia, the Premieres of Autumn

By Simone Clifford
Copyright 2001 Simone Clifford

MELBOURNE -- It is early June. The Australian Ballet performs two premieres at the State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne: "Requiem'" by resident choreographer Stephen Baynes, and "Carmina Burana" by director Lindy Hume, with choreography by Natalie Weir.

It is a mild autumn night in Melbourne -- the type of night when the sky seems somehow open and calm. The ambiance opens the opportunity to reflect upon the presence of the soul within. Indeed, understanding that I am to see a requiem tonight, I am feeling somewhat meditative.

Stephen Baynes is on a journey. A spiritual journey of music expressed through the body. Set to Gabriel Faure's Requiem Op. 48, this latest of works by Stephen Baynes stays true to his creative journey, which evolves around understanding the spiritual meaning of one's life. However, these are unending questions, circular and revolving. Stephen speaks of his work in the program notes:

"The question of what, if anything, happens after death is a question that has preoccupied mankind from the beginning."

However, is only raising the question in a work enough for an audience? For if we as choreographers wish to discuss questions of such magnitude, we must go beyond the questions. We must allude to possibilities for answers. The quintessential strength of dance lies in its capacity to engage the spirit, the body and the intellect -- this is how dance resonates with an audience. The living painting is the dance experience, the profundity of this becoming most evident when choreographers utilize the training of the classical dancer and set it free with the influences of the contemporary. This is a gentle work, as is the music. I know Stephen, and I know and share his love of music.

Music was an overriding factor in "Carmina Burana," with Carl Orff's score, as we all expected it to be BIG. But what of the dance? "Carmina Burana" was a lot more of a choral/opera/music event than a ballet. Yes, the creators knew it and spoke of the subject in the program notes. Natalie Weir wrote, "'Carmina Burana' is unique for me in that I was invited to create the movement for an original concept already developed by director Lindy Hume and designer Dan Potra. The movement provides a layer to the idea, but is only one part of several different art forms." Does this mean that the choreographer assumed a subservient role in this collaboration?

Those wishing for the "dance experience" may have been unsatisfied. The outcome was not at all unsettling, but it was an opera/theatre event with strong and confident direction from Lindy Hume. What it was not, was a ballet/opera/theatre event. I understood from speaking with Ross Stretton, outgoing artistic director of the Australian Ballet, that the original intention behind the work was for it to lie in the choreographic with director facilitating. Yes, that definitely makes a lot more sense. understanding as how the Australian Ballet exists to promote the dance.

The dance was woven into the texture of the work. However, the director's presence was overwhelming. And as we were given a good dose of that operatic tool the sur titles above the proscenium arch, it was disproportionate to the whole. Singers were also very prominent throughout, the size and scale of the set aligning well with operatic conventions rather than balletic.

Collaborations are difficult things to achieve because in the creative there can be only one leader. The assembling of the creative team is to add further texture, contrast and depth to the artistic vision of the work. I guess I wanted the weight to be on the side of the choreographer.

"Carmina Burana" was visually alive with set and costumes by Dan Potra. Lighting for both of the works on the program was by Nigel Levings. "Requiem" was costumed by Anna French with set design by Richard Roberts. The Melbourne Chorale Symphonic Chorus, the Coro Piccolo and the State Orchestra of Victoria performed both of the works on the program live, aided by the State Opera of South Australia on "Carmina Burana."

It was an interesting evening for me, as it made me question the artistic track that the Australian Ballet has been on. Certainly in the past year we have seen some creative risk-taking happening with the ballet, and this is on account of Ross Stretton's programming. The creative has sat beside the safety programming net of the classic works. As this company is the national ballet company, it is expected to present classic productions. What we have witnessed is the company attempting to burst its way out of its historic mold so that it can be a vital, active and stimulating ensemble. And, of course, creativity must be nurtured -- this is necessary for its future growth cycle.

The Australian Ballet has major touring commitments within Australia and commitments of this nature make it difficult for the company to generate new ballets and to experiment, due to logistical and financial restraints. New work always involves risk, and choreographers and dancers can only risk confidently when they have practised the creative experience together many times over. A choreographer develops work with the dancers, making the process of creation a public one. Words like trust, acceptance and openness are key qualities that the dancers must bring with them for creation to manifest. Growing a culture with these key creative qualities is what needs to happen inside a studio. This is vital for the ballet and indications are the ballet wishes to walk this path.

Notwithstanding some reservations for the works presented as expressed above, this commentator applaudes the ideology of the Australian Ballet in exploring the innovative and the adventurous. Let's have more.

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