The Australian Ballet finds an ideal balance between classical story ballet and classical abstract ballet in this delightful evening of Frederick Ashton masterworks.
The program commences with a pigeon pair of plotless pieces, each blending classical dance with subtle but distinct modern edges.
Each of the perfectly matched pair in the first half projects an air of tranquil serenity. Grounded, exquisitely controlled dance comes forth gently in these ponderous, delicate offerings.
Monotones II is set against the dark blue of twilight, with a trio of beautifully matched dancers looking like literal monotones in full length unisex white unitards. Capped in tight white turbans and flecked with hints of glitter, the trio moves with tight precision. The dancers’ pristine white costumes are reflected on the gleaming tarkett.
Natasha Kusen is flanked by Brett Simon and Jared Wright in arrangements that alternate between sharply symmetrical designs and breakaway pairings. Satie’s music flows ever so languidly, yet movement is still rhythmically synchronized thanks to well rehearsed shorthand communication that is telegraphed ever so surreptitiously.
As the twilight fades to the full dark of night the under-fifteen-minute piece is over all too soon.
After the briefest of pauses, the curtain reopens to the startling vivid yellow backdrop of Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, which is enjoying its long-awaited Australian Ballet premiere season. While the soaring black lines on the scenery apparently represent the rolling hills of an unspoiled England, they could equally be interpreted as the lines of the musical stave gone haywire, tying in with the variations of the ballet’s title.
The piece opens with female dancers Dimity Azoury, Natasha Kusch and Ako Kondo taking centre stage, framed by males Brett Chynoweth, Cristiano Martino and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson. Again in white, with neat black trim lines to complement the scenic design, the six dancers remain on stage throughout, gently pushed and pulled into various combinations.
Franck’s music is arranged as a call and answer conversation between grand piano, played by Stuart Macklin, and other instruments. Each dancer has their moment to lead as the music gently ebbs and flows around the pit. In a neat conclusion to the cyclic work, the piece concludes with the dancers back in their opening positions.
Particularly striking in these stripped back, unadorned works is the level of sheer beauty the dancers can create even without the trappings of tutus, tulle and tiaras.
In crisp contrast to the sheer open stage of the first half, the curtain rises after interval to reveal the richly detailed forest setting of The Dream, Ashton’s miraculously condensed telling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
David Walker’s tactile, textured sets look all the more intricate for the mystical lighting design of John B Read (recreated here by Francis Croese). Walker’s fairytale costumes share a unified palette of dark turquoise green with the mossy foliage of the scenic design. The pairs of lovers stand out in warm shades of amber.
Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson are a superbly regal pair as Titania and Oberon, imparting the storytelling with flair and conveying the gentle comedy with ease. Sporting a billowing gossamer cape, Jackson is nonetheless as masculine as ever, modifying his commanding presence for this pleasantly genial role. Eastoe is a natural Fairy Queen, moving with heavenly grace and beaming with angelic joy. A grounded, free flowing affair, the pair’s climactic pas de deux ties in strongly with the earlier ballets, nicely tying the evening’s program together. Eastoe and Jackson dance with effortless beauty, making Eastoe’s imminent retirement all the harder to take.
As nimble sprite Puck, Chengwu Guo leaps about with such dynamic energy it almost looks like he is a magical effect that has been added using cinematic CGI. Guo’s brilliantly controlled movement and delightful facial expression captures the spirit of mischievous Puck perfectly, adding further layers of enjoyment to the storytelling.
Interludes by dainty fairy corps punctuate the briskly told tale. Ashton uses a different vocabulary of dance for The Mechanicals, who make a masculine entry midway. Corps de ballet dancer Joseph Chapman makes a wonderful showing in the crowd-pleasing role of Bottom, the mechanical who is cursed with a donkey’s head. Dancing en pointe, Chapman prances about with utterly deceptive ease, creating delicious moments of comedy as Bottom nibbles on the flowers on Titania’s dress and “brays” to Mendelssohn’s music.
Galvanised by the expert creative input of a legion of international experts, including the “owners” of each ballet, The Dream is a polished, ponderous, pristine night at the ballet.
The Dream plays at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 13 June 2015.
In this Year of Beauty, Man in Chair has also reviewed:
Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in Maina Gielgud’s Giselle: “Lovingly restored to full glory, Maina Gielgud’s 1986 production of Giselle returns to its place as one of the most treasured jewels in The Australian Ballet’s repertoire.”
Photos: Daniel Boud