Australia and Britain have particularly close artistic ties, cooperatively sharing artists, as is well documented in the British Liaisons program, along with fascinating pictures. For example, the Irish Briton Ninette de Valois, who helped found the Royal Ballet, sent expertise to many countries in the form of dancers and teachers from her company, Peggy van Praagh in Australia's case, and she also traveled much herself, for example to Turkey and the Yugoslav nations to help set up their national ballet companies. De Valois also gave Robert Helpmann opportunities to use his acting and dancing talent after he came to England from Australia as a young man. Not mentioned in the program, de Valois in 1928 commissioned a score from the avant garde Australian composer Elsie Hamilton for her ballet The Scorpions of Ysit, though the original failed at the time, it would be interesting to restore it. A good 21st Century example is Peter Wright and John MacFarlane's (an Englishman and Scot respectively) Nutcracker, which is also now in the Australian Ballet's repetoire. In any case, the three ballets in this program, all from British choreographers, give a much more articulate description of modern artistic collaboration with Britain and show off its diversity. In addition, this program offers an opportunity to hear well played 20th century music that is not often heard.
J. R. R. Tolkien
I have heard it lamented "O, if only Mozart had written 25 violin concertos in the 1780's and only 5 piano concertos." Notwithstanding the alternate universe where Mozart lived to 89 and wrote many of each, the D major concerto for piano and violin, as Philip Wilby reconstructed it in 1985, goes some way to consoling the lamenting violinist. Mozart began composing the fragment (which W. J. Turner in his 20th century biography, disappointed not to have more of it, called a "remarkably fine work") sometime during his month-long stay in Mannheim in 1778 on the way back to Salzburg from Paris. Whereas Mozart wrote the 5 violin concertos for himself to play, this concerto he intended for another violinist, Ignatz Franzl, probably intending to perform the piano part himself; he wrote to his father just before leaving Paris that he wanted to give up playing the violin. This was at a weighty juncture, or at least a phase change, in Mozart's life often implicitly or explicitly considered the fulcrum between "early Mozart" and "late Mozart." Indeed the double concerto shows some of the Mozartish profundity and ecstasy of the later piano concertos while still having much of the humor, play and levity of the young Mozart.
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.
The Orpheus and Eurydice tale never really spoke to me, as it is now accepted in Ovid's version. I was fed it over and over again through school, but always felt manipulated by Eurydice's double death, which the storyteller designed to be super affective by describing their ardent love with so much intensity. It is really a quadruple death since the two lovers become so absorbed into one another, one's death is the other's; all pathos is destroyed in the end and the story goes beyond mere tragedy. The pivotal twist caused by Hades' rule forbidding Orpheus to look back at Eurydice as they leave the underworld is arbitrary and puritanical; placing such negative importance and obsessively focussing on a simple and natural physical movement is a hallmark of Puritanism and conservative Catholicism. Also, the Eurydice in Ovid's myth is a very weak character, only existing to be a victim. In fact, according to Robert Grave (The Greek Myths, 1960), Eurydice's death and the the lovers' rendez-vous in the underworld is a late addition to the myth of Orpheus, priest of Dionysus, resulting from misinterpretations of paintings depicting Dionysus' harrowing of the underworld to rescue his mother Semele, a journey on which Orpheus accompanied him to charm Hecate and the spirits of the dead. Eurydice herself is a literary descendant of the more ancient queens, whose sacrifices were sometimes poisoned with snake venom. The barbaric Dorians who invaded Greece from the north several centuries after the fall of Knossus may have made many brutal additions to myths, like the double death. They imposed their patrilineal customs and changed the native myths to suit by depreciating women. The more ancient version does end with Orpheus' death by Maenads tearing him limb from limb, but this somehow makes more sense, like Le sacre du printemps, on a mystical level, something which attracted Yeats, whose plays A Full Moon in March and The King of the Great Clock Tower were based on Orpheus' Irish counterpart King Bran.