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Letter from Melbourne, 9-4: Destinies
Australian Ballet Celebrates Massine; Tanja Liedtke, RIP

By Chloe Smethurst
Copyright 2007 Chloe Smethurst

Ballets Fantastique & Otherwise

MELBOURNE -- Seen Thursday at the State Theatre, where it continues through September 10, the Australian Ballet's Destiny program featured a double bill of Leonide Massine's landmark symphonic ballet "Les Presages" and a new commission, choreographed by Krzysztof Pastor to Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."

Massine's choreography for "Presages" has been pieced together from notation, archival footage and photographs and restaged by Ballets Russes dancer Tatiana Leskova with the aid of the Australian Ballet's repetiteur, Wendy Walker.

Created in 1933 and set to Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, "Presages" is truly a total art work. Massine's almost architectural choreography is perfectly married with the dramatic score, vividly colored backdrop, fantastic costumes and allegoric libretto. For this production, the original scenery by Andre Masson has been reconstructed and the costumes redesigned, both by Toer van Schayk.

As the curtain rises and the orchestra begins to play, the backdrop is lit in sections, revealing a comet, blue green waves, stars and flames. The first movement is titled Action, with Danielle Rowe in the title role in Thursday's cast. Dressed in a long, apricot gown, Rowe's presence was forthright and commanding. For both soloist and corps, the choreography in this section has a modernist feel, with hands flattened and elbows bent at right angles, or stiff arms circling through a full shoulder rotation in a strident arabesque.

In the second movement, Adam Bull and Olivia Bell made a statuesque couple as L'Homme and Passion. They entered the stage on tip toe, gently reaching upwards in a depiction of pure love. A passionate pas de deux follows, with numerous 'Presage' lifts as L'Homme succumbs to his baser passions, until finally they return to the opening phrase, recovering their higher ideals.

In complete contrast, Damien Welch as Destiny became a violent, almost evil presence. Dressed in green and black lycra with his face made up as a skull, he beat his chest as he travelled around the stage on flexed feet and turned-in legs, causing many hands to be thrown to the forehead in despair.

Frivolity was brilliantly danced by Lucinda Dunn, who reveled in the allegro of the third movement. With the corps now in classical mode, they created attractive sculptural poses about the stage using more conventional, balletic positions.

In the final movement, the large corps of men and women become an army, marching off to war. The dancers arms again became stiff, with fists clenched, their movements regimented as befit the scene. It's here that Massine's brilliance for organizing bodies in space becomes apparent, with many striking arrangements for the group, powerful unison sequences and interesting lifts.

The company was well rehearsed, performing Massine's stunning, deceptively simple spatial designs with conviction and accuracy. The overall effect is powerful and quite overwhelming, with so much detail in each of the contributing art forms that it's difficult to digest all of the elements in one viewing. It's little wonder that "Les Presages" was such a popular work in its day.

The second part of the program was the world premiere of "Symphonie Fantastique," by Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor. Massine created a work to the same score in 1936, which followed the narrative Berlioz described when he composed the piece. Pastor's version is somewhat different from the original; it retains a Romantic sensibility and the basic premise, but omits some of the more 'fantastic' elements.

In the opening movement, The Artist, danced Thursday by Robert Curran, dreams of his ideal woman. Enter Kirsty Martin as the Idee Fix and a chorus of eight women in wafting white dresses and skin toned pointe shoes, their arms and legs busy with Pastor's fluid but complex modern classical choreography. The dreamlike quality of the scene is enhanced by a projected backdrop of slowly moving clouds, which, like the costumes, was created by Tatyana van Walsum.

The second movement is a ballroom scene, with eight couples in gorgeous crushed blue outfits. The group remains in a circle, dancing a unison partnering sequence in front of van Walsum's falling raindrops, while The Artist and the Idee Fix come together and are separated, frustrating and disappointing the passionate protagonist. Pastor's choreography here emphasizes non-traditional pathways for the arms, with a hint of Kylian in the style. It's pretty, but not particularly interesting.

The next scene was one of the most successful, featuring Madeleine Eastoe and Remi Wortmeyer as the Pastoral Couple. Their duet was sympathetically danced and their connection strong, embodying the care and love of a deep relationship. Their pale costumes soaked up the warm lighting, allowing them to blend in with the swaying ears of wheat in the backdrop and making them seem a part of nature.

Against a field of blood red poppies, the Idee Fix returns, insinuating herself into the scene and eventually stealing Wortmeyer away. Eastoe's solo after losing her partner was brief, but memorable for the tension and sadness it contained, without falling into melodrama.

As The Artist begins to despair and poisons himself with opium, nightmarish visions appear, including a haunting, dark face in the background. The color scheme changes to black and red, as The Artist becomes more and more tortured. Here, the movement for the corps clearly echoes the eerie, witchy score, in timing, intensity and mood.

While Curran portrayed The Artist with full Romantic ardor, both his character and Martin's are quite one dimensional. The unreal scenario makes it difficult to identify with either character, which in turn makes it hard to connect with the work on a personal level.

Pastor's movement language never strayed too far from its classical roots, and while it wasn't earth-shatteringly innovative, it wasn't without imagination. The slinky signature movements for the Idee Fix, with undulating pelvis and neck, became more vulgar as the piece progressed, while the very first and last moments, both solos for The Artist, were poignant and well crafted.

True to the Ballets Russes tradition, van Walsum's designs were integral to the work, equal in significance to the choreography and music.

It's a weighty program, but certainly from the evidence presented of Massine's brilliant choreography and innovation in his daring use of symphonic music, well worthwhile.

Tanja Liedtke

Last month, the future of Australian dance was changed when the newly appointed artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, Tanja Liedtke, was tragically killed in a road accident. Liedtke was yet to take up her post at SDC, but at just 29 years of age, her potential as an exciting, innovative choreographer was well evidenced. The loss of her talent is immeasurable, both to the company and the entire dance community.

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