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  1. Wow! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to incite a firestorm. I thought I was writing an utterly uncontroversial analysis of 19th century attitudes to 'the east' as seen in LB. There is a great deal of scholarly work on the 19th century Orientalist attitudes that underpinned colonialism, especially with regard to art and literature. (If you're interested, Wikipedia's entry on Edward Said's Orientalism gives a useful introduction.) And I wasn't trying to imply that LB reflects or reflected reality. Of course it doesn't. But it does reflect attitudes, and that is why I characterise it as dangerous. Specifically, 'the east' (primarily the Arab world, south Asia and east Asia) was portrayed as sexualised, exotic, and violent, and I think you can see this in LB. That doesn't mean that LB should not or cannot be watched, but I would argue that we need to be aware of the attitudes it reflects. That's what I meant by unexamined assumptions. I also did not mean to imply that Europeans did not smoke opium, though I admit that poor expression meant that that is what I did imply. Nor does my analysis take away from the very real suffering of individuals, as for example, Solor. But I am really sorry that so many forum members were annoyed by what I said.
  2. Totally agree that LB is a European fantasy, as is Le Corsaire. But dangerous fantasies, it could be argued. As for meditation positions, well, we'll just have to disagree 😊
  3. Well, I won't get to see this production .... it’s a little far away for an easy commute, so this is just a general spray about Orientalism, with particular reference to LB. And my general reference is RB's DVD with Roja, Costa and Nunez. In general, Orientaliasm means that the orient is all about sexuality and exoticism: LB all over. However, let's start with the temple and its 'monks'. Temple dancers are restricted to Hindu temples, so no 'monks', and especially no monks wearing something vaguely reminiscent of Buddist robes. And the dancers would not be flaunting their naked middles - that's a European fantasy. The unrestrained sexuality of the east. In fact, temple dancers were respected members of society until the British came along, impoverished their aristocratic supporters and classified temple dancers as prostitutes. LB dancers establish themselves as 'foreign' with their clothes and their hand gestures ... bent at the wrist so the hand is parallel to the floor. Where in the world does this come from? Certainly not from observations of any Indian dance form. And then there is the intrusion of 'African' dancers, especially in the POB and Bolshoi versions of the story, not to mention piccanninis, elephants and god knows what. The exotic ousing from every pour. But unbridaled sexuality leads to unbridaled jelousy ... I'm looking at you, Gamzetti. And desire for revenge. And snakes in baskets (all too reminiscent of Cleopatra, that other dangerous and exotic female) are definitely an exotic and un-European way of disposing of a rival. Then we have the beautiful shades scene. But what is going on? A lovely opium dream. But Europeans don't smoke opium. Perish the thought. Only lascivious Easterners do so. Think of the opium dreams in ballet. Are any if them dreampt by good, upstanding Europeans? No they are not. At least as far as I know. And so we go on to the idol's dance. Bronze or gold, it doesn't matter, but the use of 'idol' is significant. And can I ask for once, just for once, that when the 'idol' finally sits down, after a dance that says a good deal about the needs of western male dancers, but nothing at all about the reality of male Indian dancing, that he actually sit with his crossed legs parallel to the floor, rather than his knees up around his ears. Anyone actually sitting in this position for meditation would be in agony in 10 minutes flat. I am sorry to go on at such length, particularly as, when I can bring myself to ignore the ideology, and just focus on the ballet, I like it. Nor do I expect historical accuracy in ballet. But so many, particularly 19th century ballets are awash with orientalism (think Le Corsaire and Raymonda, not to mention the early 20th century Sheherazade) that this needs to be born in mind, just as Macmillan's Judas Tree is attracting more and more negative criticism. I suppose the repertoire of classical ballets is small, so we will be seeing LB for a long time to come, but it is imporrant to be aware of the insidious infliuence of largely unexamined assumptions.
  4. Great idea. See you there! And any other BcF members who happen to be around!
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. I believe the role has been recast for him. International rugby player, not Prince.
  12. 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
  13. 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.
  14. 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😊.
  15. The drought is finally over. (I thought long and hard about using 'drought' because we have a very non-metaphorical drought, possibly the worst ever, that is bankrupting farmers, killing lifestock and starving wildlife, but I couldn't think of an appropriate alternative). So my metaphorical drought is over ... no live ballet since the beginning of May and even then, I've had to come to Melbourne for Giselle. This was my first live Giselle; I've seen many performances on DVD DVD, but never a live performance. And what a performance it was. David Hallberg (now TAB resident guest artist) gave us an interesting Albrecht, initially an aristocratic adolescent who has never come across the idea that actions have consequences. He starts with only seduction in mind, (hardly the first adolescent with this attitude). We see his increasing fascination with Leannne Stojmenov's sunny and open Giselle. At first confused and shy, she rapidly regains her confidence and sense of fun. Albrecht however is still mentally about 15. When Giselle shows him the necklace Bathilde (Natash Kusan) has given her, we see his horrified recognition of the gift before he pushes the thought away. Giselle is here and her friends like him so nothing to worry about. Once his deception is revealed and Giselle goes mad with grief, we see his appauled recognition that this is the consequence of his actions, and that, in spite of his high state, he cannot rectify the situation. Act 2 opens with a fore-screen (sorry, I don't know the proper word) behind which is a terrified Hilarion (Andrew Killian). Unfortunately the moon on the fore-screen does not correspond to the moon on the backdrop, resulting in two moons in the sky. Well might Hillarion be terrified. But for me, given that I was focussed on Albrecht, rather than Giselle, the principle interest of Act 2 relates to whether, and how, Albrecht continues the moral dvelopment begun so catastrophically in Act 1. And here is my one niggle with the performance. I remember seeing a Youtube clip of Baryshnikov as Albrecht as he retreats, under Giselle's protection, to the sanctuary of the cross. As he does so, he looks at Giselle, a look mixing astonishment, relief and guilt in equal parts. Astute psychology. Of course in Act 2, Albrecht is primarily concerned with staying alive, there is little room for moral development, but Baryshnikov showed how to do it. I would have liked something similar this time. Finally, however, Albrecht is left bereft, and all too aware of his responsibility. Great performances, Hallberg and Stojmenov especially. I loved the lightness that Stojmenov brought to Act 2, floating or flying across the stage and hovering protectively over Hallberg even as she was forced to urge him again and again to get up. Love and anguish, and then relief as the bell sounds, rapidly replaced by grief as she takes what she knows is the final farewell. The final conundrum relates to Giselle. Can you imagine her emerging again from her grave to harry other young men to their deaths? I can't. I am not even sure she was a real willie in the first place. But that's for another performance.
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