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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,
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,
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
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.
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.