Dance

Rafael Bonachela and Jacopo Godani with the Sydney Dance Company

Contemporary art has been around long enough now to be no longer necessarily contemporary with the present day and likewise Avant-Garde seems sometimes more a style than an attitude or movement. Contemporary dance, as free and expressive as it generally is, sometimes feels held back by its stock of conventional movements and gestures. These movements are becoming less and less abstract even if they can be expressive and exhilarating and every good choreographer has their own touch with them. Of course classical ballet has its own stock of traditional steps, but these are meant to blend together smoothly; in a way the ultimate aim of the choreographer and dancer is to meld these individual steps together into the transitionary movements to become a single fluid movement and an expression of a whole more than the sum of its steps. The audience forgets to see or analyze the steps as separate.

An English-Glaswegian Nutcracker in Australia

To create a seamless, whole Nutcracker, Peter Wright and John Macfarlane have married the ballet’s greatly varied styles, scenes and tones, with their own greatly varied décors, colours and styles while melding reality with fantasy. Not fantasy in the sense it’s often used these days to describe something frivolous and unreal, but the act of creating a subworld (to refer to Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories) full of wonder, inspiring curiosity with a self-propagating energy and its own internal logic or rules which allows more than the mere prosaic “suspension of disbelief,” but draws us in, absorbs us, allowing us to keep our belief and private imagination intact as we participate. And it leaves a piece of itself with us for a long time afterward. Their ballet is naturalistic too, certainly organic, as if it grows and comes alive, the décors and costumes showing a deep observation and understanding of nature, often recalling Robert Herrick’s poem Delight in Disorder. Each scene changes naturally and smoothly with the music, lightly carrying and passing on the momentum of wonder however great the change in tone. Recognizable historic and stylistic fragments — subtle but familiar images or patterns — thread through the piece. They deftly weave many other threads through the whole ballet to connect discrete dances and divertissments and make them seem all of a piece. Fore example, Clara dances in almost every scene, adapting to and relishing the different styles of the Spanish, Chinese, Flower Fairy etc. dances while retaining her character’s personality.

It’s Twilight Time With the Australian Ballet

The Australian Ballet presents three short recent ballets which would seem at the surface to have nothing in common. In At the Edge of Night, first performed in 1997, but last performed 11 years ago, Stephen Baynes sets an impressionist ballet to seven preludes by Rachmaninov. The choreography, set design and costumes share the sensibility of the music, rolling subtly between nostalgia, longing, pining, contemplation, mild remorse, occasionally melancholy, ambivalence, poignant joy and other emotions only the piano can give a name. The brand new ballet, Halcyon by Tim Harbour, sets the Greek myth of Halcyon and Ceyx to dance with original music by Gerard Brophy. It is a particularly relevant myth about love oppressed by religion. The last ballet is Molto Vivace again by Stephen Baynes, first performed in 2003, but completely different in tone. It sets a light-hearted rococo comedy to Handel. All three are liminal, either touching, delving or diving into where phases change. We meet frontiers either as precise as the sea’s surface, or as blurred as half conscious memories, or as completely black and mysterious as that between life and death and the other.

Roland Petit with the Paris Opera Ballet

In the decade after the second world war, Paris and London, in addition to the big national companies, supported a myriad of small and prolific ballet companies. One of these was Boris Kochno’s Ballets des Champs-Elysées. Kochno had been Serge Diaghelev’s secretary in the Ballets Russes days, so in a way it was he who inherited the Ballets Russes tradition in Europe while Colonel de Basil and Serge Denham’s two respective Ballets Russes spin-offs were still touring the US and Australia. Kochno, as artistic director, founded the company with writer Jean Cocteau, and dancer and choreographer Roland Petit, who had trained in the Paris Opera Ballet School and danced in the corps de ballet until the Liberation. In 1948 Petit started his own small company, the Ballets de Paris, which only lasted a few years, but managed to cause great excitement in Paris and travelled well to London. Indeed, he worked with Margot Fontaine several times. We don’t often get to see his ballets nowadays (though there are also a great many other modern ballets from those years, even some of Michel Fokine’s, that don’t get much air either), but the Paris Opera Ballet is currently showing three of Petit’s short pieces, Le Rendez-vous (1945), Le Loup (1953) and Le Jeune Homme et La Mort (1946) which have been in the national company’s repertoire since 1992, 1975 and 1990 respectively.

The English National Ballet at the Southbank Centre, London

Walking across the Charing Cross footbridge, wishing the Thames didn’t look muddy no matter how blue the sky, I spied what looked like a Safeway supermarket attempting liftoff from the opposite shore. Actually, it was Royal Festival Hall. The building consists of a multi-storied cube topped with a plain barrel vault. You’d never suspect the interior was devoted to music and dance – it could easily be a widget factory. But gratitude is due the city planners, who plunked RFH down in 1951 when the South Bank was littered with little else but closed factories and depressing detritus from the war. This year the hall reopened after expensive refurbishment, with public promises that its bad acoustics had been remedied.

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