THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary and making its first trip to the U.S.A. in more than a decade, the Australian Ballet brought four U.S. premieres to the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center (June 12-17). As if to prove they go another way, the Aussies’ repertory included versions of classics, choreographed by contemporary dance makers – “Giselle” by Maina Gielgud, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev, and Graeme Murphy’s “Swan Lake.”
The full company roster includes over sixty dancers, most of whom Artistic Director David McAllister brought for this comprehensive season. Along with members of the fourteen-dancer Bangarra Dance Theatre, directed by of the Stephen Page, they provide an impressive array of talent. The mixed bill program on June 12 ranged from classic to contemporary to indigenous, for a stunning display of the dancers’ versatility.
The opening act, named “Luminous,” capsulated with film clips the history of the down-under company to give the audience come context. The movie – compiled by The Apiary with music by Robert John and voice-over artist Robert Grubb – played like a TV show with “commercial breaks” consisting of five dance excerpts, calculated to display the wide stylistic range of the company.
The Act II pas de deux from Gielgud’s version of “Giselle,” which features Rachel Rawlins and Ty King-Wall, is a standout. Lanky, fresh-faced King-Wall proves an able partner for Rawlins, whose technical and expressive power makes her Giselle arguably the most magically ethereal we’ve seen.
Diminutive pair, Reiko Hombo and Chenwu Guo, exhibits uncanny control in Nureyev’s re-imagining of Petipa’s “Don Quixote.” Musical director Nicolette Fraillon leads the New York City Ballet Orchestra in a slower than usual tempo of the familiar Leon Minkus music, exaggerating the dancers’ absolute command of the ballet’s difficult balances, lifts, and leaps. Hondo’s obligatory fouette turns become doubles, and Guo’s Martial arts-inflected jumps stretch the classical form and ignite the crowd.
A pas de deux from “Molto Vivace” by Stephen Baynes, set to music by Handel, represents a contemporary love duet. Adam Bull wafts Amber Scott weightlessly, and these two principal artists continue to affirm the company’s technical command and artistic prowess.
The act closes with the pas de deux and ninth movement from Stanton Welch’s “Divergence,” his setting of Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2.” Costumes by Vanessa Leyonhjelm’s put the men in back and belly-baring unitards with lacing across the abs and the women in horned bras and removable tutus that look like broad Elizabethan ruffs.
photo by Lisa Tomasetti. Artists of the Australian Ballet in Welch’s Divergence
The choreography is self-consciously “modernist,” with symmetrical ranks of dancers twitching their knees and making angular arm gestures that somewhat distract from the soloists’ efforts in the center of this frenetic frame. Eventually, the women discard their tutus, and all sixteen dancers line up, front to back, in front of a fiery red-lit cyclorama and do cascading port de bras. It’s a deft assemblage of effects, geared to pure visual impact.
British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s own company, based at the Sadlers Wells Ballet is aptly named Random Dance. How interesting it is to watch Australia’s lithe dancers deftly negotiate the arbitrary convolutions and contortions of his “Dyad 1929,” which he presumptuously dedicates to Merce Cunningham! Its naïve, frontal use of space is the antithesis of Cunningham’s sophisticated spatial three-dimensionality.
photo by Lisa Tomasetti. Kevin Jackson and Lisa Jones in McGregor’s Dyad 1929.
Set to Steve Reich’s relentlessly persistent Double Sextet, McGregor’s ballet is meant somehow to reference the discovery of Antarctica (as we glean from the program note.) White backdrop and floor, sparsely dotted with rows of black dots, and a rising and descending horizon-line of yellow fluorescent lights (stage concept by McGregor and light designer Lucy Carter) and the brief white, black, and beige costumes by Moritz Junge set the gelid environment. Maybe the dancers’ perpetual motion, done at maximum physical tension throughout, is a warming tactic.
A unique attraction of the repertory is the collaboration with Bangarra Dance Theatre, in which Aboriginal and classical dancers blend seamlessly. Stephen Page’s “Warumuk – in the dark night,” with a lush instrumental score by David Page is based on Yoingu lore. The ballet explores astronomical imagery – the Milky Way, shooting stars, the celestial Seven Sisters, tides of the moon, and the mystery of a lunar eclipse.
photo by Jeff Busby. Artists of AustralianBallet and Bangarra Dance Theatre in Warumukv-in the dark night.
Sets by Jacob Nash and shadowy lighting by Padraig O Suillieabhain complete the imagery, setting the dancing in evocative, primitive locales, where athletic, floor-bound, animal-like movement becomes a metaphor for astronomical themes. In seven sections, Page’s expert massing of bodies and clear, simple motion create pungent images of nature.
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012