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  1. And from Australia: Two Firebirds: First Graeme Murphy's production, with stand-out performances by Lana Jones and Brett Chynoweth for TAB, and second Queensland Ballet's performance of Liam Scarlett's Firebird. Laura Hidalgo was mesmerising as the firebird, and Rian Thompson almost equally so as Koschei. Mia Heathcote and Joel Woellner also memorable. Looking back, I think the real difference between the two versions was QB's focus on layering character, while TAB focused on story- telling. Whatever, both performances were wonderful. Then QB's A Midsummer Night's Dream (Liam Scarlett). Delightful. Victor Estevez dominated the stage as Oberon, while Laura Hidalgo gave a gentle and endearing performance as Titania. Kohei Iwamoto's Puck was great! Mark Morris's Leila and Majnun was also great, but if I have to single anyone out it would be Alim Qasimov (and his daughter, Fergana). I've listened to them with delight for years and they were equally good this time round. A superbly integrated performance of musicians, dancers and set designers. Thank you! And last but certainly not least, Alex Campbell in Ratmansky's Cinderella. And Leanne Stogmenov as Cinderella. Unforgettable. And finally (counting the two Firebirds as one - cheating, I know) I can't leave out Hallberg's masterly Albrecht, with Leanne Stogmenov as Giselle (she retired, her last performance being Cinderella to Alex Campbell's Prince. A real loss, but good luck with whatever comes next, Leanne). It's been a great year, and next year looks wonderful as well. If I may beg the indulgence of Forum members, they may remember that several months ago the Bolshoi announced that it would be appearing in Brisbane, at which news I said, "Be still my beating heart". Within a remarkable short period of time the announcement had disappeared from the Bolshoi's website, leaving me to speculate that either the news was false (oh woe), or that the Centre for Performing Arts (QPAC) had 'requested' its removal ( please let this be so). Anyway, on Christmas Eve (!) an email appeared from QPAC saying to expect BIG (their capitals) news in the new year. So it rather looks as if it's on. Be still my beating heart. Role on June. And happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year to all forum members.
  2. I was thinking of starting my comments with 'Ratmansky rules OK', but after last night's performance it should be 'Alex Campbell rules OK', or maybe 'Campbell and Ratmansky rule OK', with Campbell in first position (sorry, Ratmansky!). But first things first. As Cinderella, Leanne Stojmenov gives a stand-out performance. Her Cinderella is resiliant, at times bowed down with loneliness and grief, but always able to pull herself together, laugh at herself, and get on with things. Her evident delight when she finds herself transformed, beautiful in a stunning off white frock, is something to behold. Against her are the ugly sisters, Skinny (Ingrid Gow) and Dumpy (Jill Ogai). Danced by women (thank heavens) and without a trace of slapstick. They are, of course, terrible; gargoyles, a good friend suggested, but not evil. When you see the mother (Dana Stephenson), a spitting ball of angles and high kicks one minute, embraces the next, you understand. The ugly sisters desperately want love and attention, their mother desperately wants to get them happily established, but their every action is off-key and grotesque. The Fairy Godmother (Gillian Revie) is a drab figure in grey, with a long nose and a bowler hat, but she casts stars and calls up planets to transform Cinderella. Which brings me to Alex Campbell as the Prince. Stunning. When he makes his entrance to the ball at the beginning of act 2, he is plainly a bored and spoiled adolescent, going through the motions of greeting his guests. Then he sees Cinderella. Interest gives way to love and love to desperation as Cinderella disappears at midnight. All this is conveyed though a glorious pdd, glorious both technically and in the arc traced by the Prince's changing emotions. If Act 2 starts the process by which the Prince grows up, Act 3 completes it, as he travels the world, resisting temptation from both men and women before finally finding his love, celebrated in a final tender pdd. Overall, there is a contrast between the misdirected love represented by the ugly sisters and their mother, and the real thing as presented by Cinderella and her Prince. This contrast is underlined by masterly set design. Dali's pouting scarlett mouth of a sofa reflects the neediness of the ugly sisters and their mother. Schiaparelli's shoe hats underline the misplaced nature of their actions. The Prince's adolescent disrespect for the ladies of his court is nicely illustrated by the stool he has them sit on to try on the slipper, a stool the legs of which are womens' legs. In high heels. Bluebird has described other aspects of the set above, so I won't discuss them again. A second theme relates to appearance. The Fairy Godmother is a drab figure but she makes dreams come true. Cinderella dresses in rags, but she is sympathetic and loving, a Princess in waiting. When her Prince finally finds her, her rags are whisked off and she is once again in her ball dress, a nice suggestion that everyone is beautiful when seen through the eyes of love. The choreography is wonderful, and neatly picks up the dark sub-text that runs throughout Prokofiev's score. Great dancing, especially by Campbell and Stojmenov, but by no means only by them. A trully memorable evening.
  3. Sophoife said that she was opening this thread in the hope that I, amoung others, would write a review before she saw TAB's Cinderella next week. Really sorry, Sophoife, but I thought I'd write after I've seen Alex Campbel, so that I can hopefully effuse about at least one dancer that many BCoF will have seen or be able to see. Having said that, I have also to say that Cinderella is terrific. The dancers are fantastic, the choreography wonderful, the music music engrossing and the set design amazing. More next week.
  4. Well, it's been quite a year .... Firebird, two of them, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Leila and Majnun, Spartacus. Good thing there's no mandated maximum to the number of highlights you can have, because I don’t know what I'd drop from the list. And there's still TAB's Cinderella to come. But right now there's Teatro alla Scala's Giselle and Don Quixote in Brisbane. First, Giselle. With David Hallberg. Which I didn't know when I purchased the ticket. And Nicoletta Manni. There has been criticism, elsewhere in this forum, of David Hallberg's performance. With respect, I largely disagree. It is true that his performance, particularly in Act 2, lacked fireworks. Great partnering, but no fireworks. But his presentation of the character of Albrecht was wonderful. At the beginning an arrogant aristocrat bent only on seduction, he became more and more enamoured, his gaze seeking out Giselle, and softening, even when she was on the opposite side of the stage. When confronted with the Duke, he froze; then Bathilde appears and the horror of the situation breaks over him. Only with difficulty is he able to pull himself together and greet her. Then Giselle intervenes and the rest is history. It occurs to me that Giselle could be seen as a study in the consequences of ignoring the law of cause and effect. Giselle falls for a completely unknown young man, someone with no ties to the village. I am sure that her over-protective mother must have warned her about the dangers of unknown and unattached young men. (Yes, I know that with Giselle herself, I'm drawing rather a long bow, but hopefully less so with Hilarion and Albrecht.) Giselle has clearly indicated to Hillarion that she does not love him, but he clearly believes that he only has to get rid of Albrecht and he will be home and hosed. Giselle's own wishes don't seem to register in his mind at all. He appears sublimely unaware of the possible effect on Giselle herself of exposing Albrecht's deceit. As for Albrecht, well, he has clearly no concern about the effects of his seduction (what else are attractive peasant girls there for?), until he falls in love, ending up in far deeper water than he had previously experienced. He is consequently shocked to the core when Bathilde (Emanuela Montanari) appears, and watches Giselle's disintegration with impotent horror, aware of his responsibility, but unable to intervene in events. This sets up Act 2, where Giselle intervenes discisively, rather nicely. Whatever, in Act 2, Nicoletta Manni is a feather-light Giselle, flying across the stage, rarely touching the ground. In Act 1 she had been a quiet, even shy girl, coming to life as she fell more and more under Albrecht's spell. Now she is loving, mourning, pleading for his life. The fireworks are provided by Christian Fagetti. His Hillarion is a far more sympathetic character than is usually the case, and his terror, his desperation, his pleading results in a brief but spectacular burst of dance before he is hustled off the stage and out of this life with unusual rapidity. Overall, this Giselle was very different from the TAB presentation I saw in August, a presentation also featuring Hallberg. Don Quixote was a very different kettle of fish. This was an exuberant, colourful ballet, and Nicoletta Manni a vibrant, cheeky Kitri, one who knew her own worth and was not about to settle for second best (BTW, Nicoletta Manni danced Giselle on Friday night, Kitri on Saturday and Giselle on Sunday. How she did it, I don't know, but thank you, Nicoletta; you were great. 😊) Basilio was danced by Leonid Sarafanov of Moscow's Mikhalovski Theatre, and I didn't know that he would be dancing either. Anyway, he provided fireworks aplenty, as well as being a worthy foil for Kitri. His dancing was technically assured and the chemistry between him and Manni convincing. Special mention needs to be given to Giuseppe Conte's Don Quixote, a characterisation second only to that of Robert Helpman in Nureyev's 1972 film with Lucette Aldos and TAB, and anyone who has read my previous posts on DQ will know that I have no higher praise. His DQ was elderly and deluded but eternally dignified. Great costumes and wonderful sets, especially the wonderful woodland setting of Act 3. Overall, two memorable performances and a great trip to Brisbane.
  5. Great idea. See you there! And any other BcF members who happen to be around!
  6. I have just, after a great deal of effort over the last few months, and finally, after getting TAB in a hammer lock on the floor, managed to establish dates for Alex Campbell's performances in Sydney in Ratmansky's Cinderella. Acknowledging all the usual caveats about injuries and cast changes, he will be dancing on Wednesday December 12th and Friday December 14th. So go to it all you Sydney -based (Australia-based?) BcF regulars, and if you already knew, good on you and hope to see you there.
  7. Li Cunxin, formerly principal dancer, Huston Ballet and The Australian Ballet, and now AD Queensland Ballet, is interviewed by Geraldine Doogue for Compass, an Australian program exploring the many facets of belief. It's a fascinating insight into a great dancer and an inspiring personality. https://iview.abc.net.au/show/compass/series/32/video/RN1711H034S00
  8. I was on my way to see the Sydney Dance Companies' latest program when I realised that it was Dussehra, a Hindu festival celebrating the victory of good over evil, and sacred to Saraswati, the godess art, music and learning, among others. 'Now that's a good omen', I thought. Then I passed a well-known outdoor sculpture, a very large rock dropped from a great height on a very small car (a vw?), so I was left wondering which omen I should pay attention to. Both, as it turned out. The program offered Raphael Bonachela's Frame of Mind, followed by Antony Hamilton's For Ever and Ever. I really liked Frame of Mind. Frenetic, yes, but engrossing. The stage is stark, and dominated by a great tall window through which light streams. The panes, however, are dirty, and it is impossible to see outside. Interesting, that. The work starts with a woman staring out the window. She is joined by more and more dancers, each of whom dances individually. A pair emerges out of the throng, which melts away, leaving the two to dance a tentative pdd, at first very cautious and gradually become more intimate. This pattern is repeated twice more, the second pdd being a much more violent affair, while in the third, the two dancers are close, accepting and intimate from the beginning. Angles throughout are generally turned in. Bonachela says of the work, that it 'engages with the aspiration that we all have, to engage and be understood without the need for words: to be held, supported, confronted, lifted and guided by those we hold dear'. Indeed. Music was provided by the Australian String Quartet, on stage, or a least on a projection at the same level as the stage, and playing works by Bryce Dessner, brief blocks of sound that added up to more than the sum of the parts. Overall a satisfying if at times confronting work. I wish I could say the same of Forever and Ever. The music was techno, I am informed, meaning that a single five note drum beat dominated for 35 minutes. The composer, Julian Hamilton, is Antony Hamilton's brother. According to Julian, his brother often suggested that he 'do less ... less parts ... make it more repetitive and less complex'. He succeeded. (But then I'm a geriatric with no understanding of contemporary music 😊). There were some potentially interesting ideas. A single dancer (Jesse Scales) dances in darkness (or semi-darkness) on stage as the audience is returning from interval. The normal hum of chatter is abruptly cut off as the stage lights suddenly come up (and, of course, the theatre lights abruptly doused). Her solo is contained, contorted until she is joined on stage by a tightly packed line of dancers who are completely shrouded in black (8 dancers) or white (6 dancers), even their faces hidden behind cotton masks. Given the enveloping nature of their clothing, it is not surprising that the dancing was initially uninspiring. The dancers gradually shed both their shrouds and some of the layers of clothing underneath them, though the dancing remains contorted and constricted. At times however, two or three dancers to the rear of the throng employ much more rounded and lyrical movements, making an interesting contrast. Lighting was interesting. At first some of the dancers carried large square toroches which they turned on briefly at intervals as the stage was drenched in cold white strobe light. At other times the stage was briefly lit in primary colours; red, blue, yellow, green. Overall, I couldn't discern any narrative, though my companion, a non-dance goer, felt it was about institutionalisation and the loss of identity that this entails. Perhaps. Overall, my appeciation of Bonachell's work was affirmed; less so my appeciation, or indeed my understanding, of Hamilton's work.
  9. Mark Morris's Leila and Majnun is extraordinary. Leila and Majnun is the Central and East Asian equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, except that the two lovers are permanently separated, united only in death. Alternatively, the Suffi interpretation sees the story as allegorical: Majnun (his real name was Quays: Majnun signifies 'possessed', or even 'mad', as in possessed by love), seeks ultimate union with, and annihilation in, the Beloved, the Divine, the Truth. In order for Leila and Majnun as a 'western' dance-drama to manifest, three elements had to come together. The first was the story, the ancient oral love story first made into a famous poem by the Persian poet Nezami Ganjawi (1140-1209 CE), followed by many others. The second was the music. In 1908, the great Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyli composed the first opera of the story, the first piece of music, in fact, formally composed in Azerbaijan. It combines the tradition of western opera with the rich Azerbaijani heritage of mugham. Mugham is an improvised modal music, a branch of the muqam tradition known throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. As a trully multicultural composition, Hajibeyli's work attracted the attention, 80 odd years later, of the Silkroad Ensemble, under the artistic direction of Yoyo Ma. The Silkroad Ensemble sees music as a global phenomenon, musical genres and styles acting as bridges between cultures and across time. To create Leila and Majnun they teamed up with mugham singer Alim Qasimov and his daughter and student Fargana Qasimova. Qasimov is wonderful. Think Pavarotti. Think Placido Domingo. If you're not familiar with his work, type his name into Youtube, but lock your western opera ears in the cupboard 😊. And a confession. It was the inclusion of Qasimov and his daughter in the line-up that persuaded me to go down to Melbourne for Leila and Majnun. Mark Morris's work has not, in the past, moved me. Anyway, the Silkroad Ensemble teamed up with Alim Qasimov, leaving the third element to be found. Yoyo Ma persuaded Mark Morris to listen to the music, and suggested that Morris was the only person to choreograph a dance. Morris agreed that he was the only person, but it took Yoyo Ma close on 10 years to persuade himto actually do it. Which he did. Finally. And what he, and they, did is phenomenal. The work takes place on a simple set, against a striking backdrop of predominantly red and black. All dancers and all musicians are on stage virtually all of the time. The musicians occupy the centre of the stage, with Qasimov, Qasimova and players of the tar, (lute) and the kamancheh (spiked fiddle) seated on a raised dias, with the other musicians (violin, cello, double base and pipa) behind them. The dancers dance on either side, in front and behind the musicians. They dance often, but by no means always, in sex segregated groups, men on one side of the stage, women on the other. The dancing had a strong vertical component, dancers falling to the floor, then rising, their arms reaching up toward heaven, or reaching out in supplication or yearning. Strong upper body work. Male and female dancers seldom touch, and then only hand to hand, but this in no way detracted from the passion and longing imbuing the piece. The work was divided into five sections, Leila and Majnun being danced by different dancers in each section. And finally, the two protagonists having died, all dancers leave the stage before two women return and slowly, reverently extinguish two candles. Leila and Majnun is an extraordinary work, and one that succeeds in bringing the great works of cultures with which few of us are familar sensitively and passionately to life, avoiding the simplifications and sentimentality that frequently characterise such work.
  10. You're right. Yes, it was. In my very real enthusuasm for the ballet, I forgot to talk about its origins, which involve a request from Ethan Steifel, then AD of New Zealand Ballet, to Liam Scarlett. And after having worked with QB to present the ballet, Scarlett became Artistic Associate in 2016. A real coup for AD Li Cunxin. Earlier this year QB presented his Firebird, which I loved, and in 2019, they will be presenting his Dangerous Liaisons.
  11. Liam Scarlett's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a magical delight. The ground is of course well covered, by Ashton and Balanchine as well as others, but Scarlett manages a unique take. The narrative is pared right back (as with Ashton): Oberon and Titania quarrel over the foundling boy, played by Jules Missell with a cheeky sparkle that is not hidden by his enveloping onesy. And, perhaps to reassure those of us who had wondered just why Oberon wanted the boy so badly, Titania and Oberon finally unite in returning the boy to the place in which he was found. Meanwhile, the four lovers and the mechanicals together become explorers searching the forest for heaven only knows what, and Puck makes mayhem as he tries to remedy lovers' quarrels. Rian Thompson makes a surprisingly endearing Bottom. I don't know if it is appropriate to talk of chemstry between Bottom with his asses' ears, and Titania, but if it wasn't chemistry I need another word. I have in the past not warmed to Principal Dancer Victor Estevez, but as Oberon he was riveting. His Oberon was commanding and authoritative, with something of the wizard about him. He dominated the rather cramped stage with great leaps and glorious arm gestures, high and wide. In contrast, Laura Hidalgo's Titania was gentle and romantic, while not sacrificing her authority. Their pdds included multiple beautiful high lifts that emphasised their affinity with the air and the magical. The fairies were delightful, dressed in deep blue powderpuffs (I really can't call them tutus), skimming across the stage and huddling in tight, excited groups. Kohei Iwamoto gave us an irrepressible Puck, bounding back from each setback with an endearing shrug and a startling leap. The human characters, in contrast, were much more earth-bound, not withstanding the romanticism of Hermia, beautifully danced by Yanela Pinera, and Lysander (Joel Woellner). Great chemistry there! The slapstick that characterised Helena (Mia Heathcote) and Demitrius (Alexander Idaszak) belied the complexity of their choreography, while the rustics were, well, rustic. The set itself, the work of Tracy Grant Lord, emphasised the difference between magical and mundane. It was a wonderful set, think Avatar's Pandorra, overseen by the outline of a huge full moon, and offering lofty vantage points from which Oberon could survey his realm, while Puck variously slid down a pole from his erie, and, on one spectacular occassion, swung down on a rope. The mortal characters were restricted to ground level. My main gripe was with the character of Helena. In the second decade of the 21st century, do we really need a bespectacled, man-chasing nurd? Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses? Please!! In spite of this, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a wonderful ballet, and one that Li Cunxin is proudly taking to China in November. I just hope that while it is not scheduled for Brisbane in 2019, it makes a return to the lineup in 2020.
  12. I believe the role has been recast for him. International rugby player, not Prince.
  13. When I found out that TAB was presenting a new version of Spartacus in 2018, I was not amused. Just what ballet needs right now: another gendered production with strong men performing unbelievable leaps while their female counterparts twirl decoratively with or without tutus. I was wrong. Lucas Jervies, the choreographer, states firmly (and accurately) in an interesting article in the Guardian (I've put the web address below), that gender did not feature at all in the choreography. Rather, he was exploring ways of making the Roman experience accessible to a contemporary audience. I found the work profoundly disturbing, and given the terrible nature of the story, and its resonances with the contemporary world (making the world of Rome accessible to audiences today), that's not surprising. But I'm not sure if I liked it or not. Things I really liked: the relationship between Spartacus and his wife, Flavia - an equal, caring, passionate relationship. The chemistry between Kevin Jackson (Spartacus) and Robyn Hendricks (Flavia) was palpable, as seen in a couple of beautiful pdd, tender, gentle and yearning. This relationship was contrasted with that between Crassus, the Roman general (Ty King-Wall), a man with no redeeming features, and his wife Tertulia (Amy Harris, who was made a principal at the end of the show). A much more conventional relationship: dominant man, submissive wife. It was this contrast that for me constituted the axis of the work. The fight scenes: beautifully choreographed. The costumes and sets (Jerome Kaplan), simple, stark, stripped back. The lighting (Benjamine Cisterne), evocative. And finally, the symbol of (Roman) victorious power - a clenched fist with the first digit raised heavenward. Very obvious, but strangly compelling, and giving the dancers an immediately comprehensible oppositional gesture as they struck down the raised finger again and again. This symbol dominates the first scene, a victory parade of captured prisoners, lead by lines of red flags flouished in unison: all too reminiscent of Hitler's celebrations, not to mention rallies in the Cultural Revolution. Things I did not like: Act 2 was set in Crassus's villa. A little too Satyricon for me. I lie. It was far too Satyricon for me. I felt the fell hand of Hollywood in the potrayal, and for me the imperative of story-telling overwhelmed the demands of ballet. A pity also that the debauched excesses of some of the later emperors have come to characterise the whole Roman era, including that of the late republic. Thanks, Hollywood. On re-reading this, it looks as if the reasons for liking the ballet, and seeing it again, far outweigh the reasons for not liking it, and from the balletic point of view, that is true. But I found the parallels with today's world (which were lightly drawn and which were probably mainly in my head), were strong enough to leave me feeling profoundly uncomfortable. So I'm not sure whether I will see it again when it comes to Sydney. *http://www.theguardian.com/the-australian-ballet-reimagined/2018/jul/05/casting-off-the-shackles-of-traditional-ballet
  14. Queensland Ballet's latest offering is Ben Stevenson's Cinderella, a work that was the first presented by QB in 2013, just after Li Cunxin took over as Artistic Director. Since then, QB has staged Ben Stevenson's Nutcracker every year, and his Swan Lake in 2017. In this way, Li Cunxin continues to honour his mentor, the man responsible for bringing him to the US, the first Chinese dancer to come, and then recruiting him to the Huston Ballet, where he became a principle. So Cinderella has a history with QB. And anyone who has read my previous posts about QB will know of the enormous respect I have for Li Cunxin and what he has done for QB. Which brings us back to Cinderella. And unfortunately, I have to say that this production left me unmoved. The dancing itself was of the standard we have come to expect from QB dancers, but chemistry between the two leads (Yanela Pinera as Cinderella and Joel Woellner as the Prince) was totally lacking. It also needs to be said that the principles were not helped by the choreography, which was simple and straightforward, without any real challenges that I could see. (This made it an excellent choice in 2013, but much less of a one today.) Prokokiev's music is complex and challenging, but the choreography totally ignores the dark sub-text that lurks constantly just below the surface, opting instead for comedy. This is chiefly seen in the ugly sisters, danced by the (male) principles Camilo Ramos and Vito Bernasconi. Pure slapstick, which is fine in small doses, but what we get here is a deluge. Cinderella herself moves from lightness and joy to darkness and weeping with unnerving rapidity, especially in the first act. One dancer to watch, however, is Liam Geck, who danced the role of the Jester with elan and real connection with the audience. Lots of fancy jumps, but these did not get in the way of Geck projecting a cheeky sense of fun. Great set design (Thomas Boyd) and costumes (Tracy Grant Lord). The Australian Ballet is presenting Ratmansky's Cinderella in December, and I look foward to seeing how he handles the balance of light and darkness in his version of the story.
  15. Thanks for this, Alison: lots to think about. But I have to disagree with you about the undeserving Albrecht. If that is all there is to him, then the ballet is much less interesting. Good woman, bad man. Albrecht is certainly initially undeserving, but he too is redeemed by love; the anguish he displays when he visits Giselle's grave is rooted in his recognition of his culpability in her madness and death. By the end of the ballet, he is no longer the heedless adolescent who knocked on Giselle's door. I like your point about Giselle making the sign of the cross, and the wilis' reaction to it. That had completely escaped my notice. However, the cross raises the troubling question of Giselle's 'suicide'. Did she stab herself or didn't she? If she did, then why go to all the trouble of establishing that she has a weak heart? And if she didn't, why is she buried in a lonely grave in the forest rather than in the local cemetery? And if she did, and so is buried in a lonely grave in the forest, then why is her grave marked with a cross? Please tell me that I am overthinking😊.
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