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Review 1, 9-16: Ready, Lukewarm, and Green
Lions and Tangos and Cubs in Oz, oh my
By Chloe Smethurst
Copyright 2004 Chloe Smethurst
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MELBOURNE -- Opening
the Australian Ballet's "Red Hot and New" program Friday at the
State Theatre was Christopher Wheeldon's 2002 "Continuum." Performed
to a complex score for piano and harpsichord by Gyorgi Ligeti, the
challenging accompaniment was well matched by both choreographer
and dancers in mood and intensity.
Comprised of concise
solos, duets and ensemble sections for a cast of eight, the piece
gathered momentum as it progressed. It began clinically geometric
and angular, with the first pas de deux for Fan Xiofeng (formerly
of the Shanghai Ballet) and Robert Curran very formal in structure
and traditional in style. Promenades and arabesques occasionally
softening into a flexed and contracted attitude allowed little room
for expression other than the display of razor-sharp technique.
Danielle Rowe and Matthew
Lawrence danced a slightly less austere duet, combining suspended,
rounded shapes with a little more modernism in their partnering
work, while Madeleine Eastoe and Marc Cassidy whirled around the
stage with lightning-quick footwork in their short solos and pas
de deux. Separate ensemble sections for the women and men were less
effective in their impact but still very well danced.
Lighting design by Natasha
Katz made the most of the cyclorama and black curtains, altering
the coloring, brightness and shape of the backdrop for each vignette
to compensate for the lack of set. Simple green leotards for costumes
kept the focus on the clean lines of the choreography.
The highlight of the
work came in the final duet performed by Damien Welch and Olivia
Bell, both dancing with assured confidence and exceptional artistry.
Here Wheeldon revealed his true creative voice with seamless, unconventional
partnering and imagery both subtle and startling. His choreography
went beyond the boundaries of ballet and became a language outside
the limits of any set technique, the dancers using their hands and
arms to create miniature worlds within the movement. As the last
notes were drawn out into silence I was left longing for more.
Unfortunately the triple
bill went downhill from there, as the inexperienced Burnett and
seemingly under-rehearsed Fonte works could not stand up against
the faultless performance of "Continuum."
Nicolo Fonte's "Almost
Tango," choreographed in 2002, was interesting for its use of male
partnering and the dominance of the male dancers. With a cast of
14, only four of whom were women, Fonte filled the stage with male
presence, as it would have been in the tango halls of Argentina,
where the men outnumbered the women.
Focusing on the style
and energy of tango rather than a literal interpretation, it is
not until the closing sequences that Fonte features a male-female
partnership which resembles the tango we know. While the novelty
of seeing dynamic male partnerships captured my interest, the remainder
of the work was rather forgettable.
The influence of Nacho
Duato on Fonte's choreography could be seen in his emphasis on fluidity
in the upper back and expressive arm movements. He also tends towards
high kicking hyper-extension through the legs and hips, a direct
contrast to the precision of the previous work. On this cast that
was the downfall of the piece, with too many personal interpretations
amongst the ensemble making the unison sections messy and hard to
For different reasons,
the premiere of Adrian Burnett's first piece for the Australian
Ballet as its resident choreographer was also difficult to watch.
"Aesthetic Arrest" is an unfocussed, unstructured and at times awkward
attempt at modern ballet. Choreographing to "Fearful Symmetries"
by John Adams, Burnett appears to be experimenting with adding movements
from the contemporary dance repertoire to classical ballet. It has
been done before, and with much more success than in this piece.
There was a definite
lack of intention from both creator and performers -- nobody seemed
to know what the point of this work was. In his program notes, Burnett
writes, "I chose the name 'Aesthetic Arrest' because I love the
sound of it." Not exactly the most comprehensive engagement with
his subject material I would say.
The only dancer who
seemed comfortable was Marc Cassidy, who opened the piece with a
whimsical solo including warped handstands and grounded, relaxed
movements. Adam Bull and Olivia Bell performed the main pas de deux,
both looking uncharacteristically clumsy in Burnett's ungainly choreography.
At one point, Peter
England's box-like set is pushed downstage by the men and spun around
to reveal unevenly spaced crimson booths inhabited by writhing dancers
displaying their flexibility. It is a scene which doesn't appear
to have any relationship to the rest of the piece and would perhaps
be more at home in a music video.
Overall, Red Hot and
New could have benefited from more judicious programming. Perhaps
moving "Aesthetic Arrest" to the start of the night would have reduced
the pressure on the choreographer who was making his debut, leaving
the more accomplished Wheeldon to finish the night on a high note.
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