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  1. Free speech is not as simple as it sounds. Young gay boys have committed suicide because of the homophobic comments made on-line. Is the right to say anything you want more important than young mens' lives?
  2. I saw Queensland Ballet's Masters Series; Balanchine's Serenade, Kylian's Soldier's Mass and McIntyre's The Shadows Behind Us on consecutive nights last week, each night a similar distance from the stage, but on opposite sides of the theatre. I saw two rather different performances. First off was Serenade, a work that I have seen on Youtube, but never in real life. Superb. Really, different but superb, from both angles. The corps de ballet established a gloriously romantic setting for the action, if that is the right word. Yanela Pinera and Victor Estevez on Friday, followed by Laura Hidalgo and Kohei Iwamoto on Saturday encapsulated beauty and elegance, while Lucy Green, Georgia Swan and Patricio Reve on Friday and Lina Kim, Vanessa Morelli and Dylan Lackey on Saturday represented heartbreak, betrayal and the ballerina's vulnerability. I know this is a long list of utterly unfamiliar names, but these dancers deserve that their performances be recognised. They were wonderful. McIntyre's The Shadows Behind Us was, to my mind, much less successful. Friday night's performance I did not like at all. I was more impressed with the performance on Saturday night, but am not at all sure of the extent to which this was the result of sitting in a different section of the theatre. Trey McIntyre is a freelance choreographer and founder of the Trey McIntyre Project, a full time company based in Boise, Idaho. The Shadows Behind Us consists of 6 (mostly) pas de deux danced to what McIntyre calls pop songs. I am not sure that characterising songs such as 'Sometimes I feel like a motherless child' or 'Our day will come' as pop songs is appropriate, but the distance between the choreography of Serenade and that of The Shadows Behind Us could scarcely have been greater. The latter featured holds and lifts involving men and women grappling each other and throwing or at times dragging each other across the stage. Hmmmm. Finally, I really liked Kylian's Soldier's Mass, different again as it was. Danced by 12 male dancers, it is really unlike any ballet I have previously seen. It celebrates the comradeship and mutual support that develops between young soldiers, and is unrelentingly anti-war. Seemingly simple but actually fiendishly difficult choreography. Overall, a satisfying evening and I will remember Serenade for a long time to come.
  3. You may remember that Graeme Murphy, TAB's famous choreographer, pulled out of presenting his latest work, The Little Prince only a couple of months before it was due to premiere. Ill health. Anyway, TAB replaced it, in Sydney, with Giselle, which was presented in Melbourne last year ( I saw it with David Hallberg as Albrecht. Unforgettable.) This presentation was good but not great. Ako Kondo was a feather-light Giselle, dazzled by the wonderful, good-looking, apparently considerate creature who was interested in her. You saw her move from dutiful daughter, remembering her mother's (undoubted) warnings, to confident and care-free woman, secure in her love. You saw her reluctance to hurt Hilarion (Andrew Killian) but her determination to respect her own feelings. Chengwu Guo, as Albrecht, was less impressive. He is a great dancer, capable of exploding into action, apparently from stillnes. However, his Albrecht showed no development. You did not see him gradually fall in love with Giselle. In fact his somewhat disengaged demenour at the beginning of Act 1 was largely unchanged at the end of the act. Act 2 was better, but I got little sense of the desperation which needs to underpin Albrecht's dancing. The dancing of the corps de ballet was wonderful, rivetting. In Act 1 they created a sunny, untroubled vision of village life against which the tragedy unfolded. In Act 2 they were steely and flint-hearted: exacting terrible revenge for their own suffering. Overall, a good evening, so I will avoid unnecessary comparisons with last year in Melbourne.😊
  4. Sydney Dance Companies' latest celebrates 90 years of performance, which appears to be an improbably long time. Deborah Jones, in her review, cites 50 years, but 90 years was projected onto the stage curtain last night. Whatever, the program shows SDC to be in rude health. It consisted of three works: Bonacela's Cinco, Nankivell's Neon Aether and Lane's Woof. Lane's Woof is an unforgettable creation, for me the first two thirds of which brought the Elgin marbles strongly to mind. Not in terms of the shapes created by individual dancers, but by the way that groups of dancers defined the space around them: triangles, squares, rectangles. Much of the dancing in the last third was on demi-point and dancers gradually moved from the geometric shapes created by groups to pairings and single dancers, although the group as a whole remained on stage. Nankivell's Neon Aether, to a clanking, banging score that at times included the human voice, evokes our relationship with space, outer space. As with Woof, the group predominates, but a red-clad Ariella Casu strikes an individual and often lonely figure, especially as the piece closes with her dancing alone on a mist-shrouded stage. Bonacela's Cinco, featuring, not unexpectedly, five dancers to Alberto Ginastera's Second String Concerto, is a completely abstract work devoted to exploring the relationship between movement and music, and between the dancers and the shapes they make. Overall, a memorable evening, and one which promises a rich and fulfilling 50 (or 90!) years to come.
  5. For those of you who have followed my news flashes about the drought, I spent last week in far western New South Wales. Flat, flat, flat. Yellow, yellow, yellow. Dry, dry, dry. Even the Old Man Salt Bushes are dying. What else can I say? Poor fellow, my country. But turning to The Australian Ballet's first offering of the year: Verve, a program of three short ballets all by TAB's resident choreographers. First up was Stephen Baynes' Constant Variants. Stephen Baynes has been resident choreographer with TAB since 1995, and Constant Variants was great. Reasonably conventional, but great. Music, setting, lighting and dance worked wonderfully together. Setting was dominated by a number of huge right angles, picture frame corners lit in golds, ambers and greys. The dancers themselves were meagerly lit, yellow light that left part of each dancer in darkness. Music -Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme, which set the stage for the variations in the dance. Main event of the evening was Alice Topp's Aurum. Alice Topp is TAB's most recently appointed choreographer (last year) and a Choryphee with the company. Aurum was extraordinary. The work is inspired by kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold lacquer. Breakage thus becomes an acknowledged part of the history of the object. Aurum asks us to celebrate our imperfections and discover beauty in our brokeness. As Leonard Cohen says, "There's a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." The vocabulary of movement was far more ground-breaking than was the case in Stephen Baynes' work. Really exciting. Very simple stage dominated by a backdrop reminiscent of cracks in ceramic, cracks which are suddenly and unexpectedly illuminated in gold at the end of the first movement. Interesting work with shadows. At one point the dancers' huge shadows shrink as they approach the back of the stage. Then the dancers move in one direction while their shadows move off-stage. Sounds 'cheap thrills', but it works! Final work of the evening was Tim Harbour's Filigree and Shadow, and I have to confess that I did not warm to this work. Frantic music and movement. The governing metaphor was explained as that of birds in a cyclone. Apparently, such birds fly above the maelstrom below, and, while they may be blown hundreds of kilometers off course, they survive the experience. To my mind, that leaves them in the middle of the Pacific with no land in any direction for hundreds of kilometers. A wonderful and engrossing evening, but when I got home I found an email from TAB thanking me for attending and offering half-price tickets if I wanted to go again. Did I?! But no tutus and no nice ballerinas, so audiences must be down. Aaaaaggghh!
  6. The drought is over. Well, the metaphoric ballet drought is over. The real drought still has much of western NSW in its grip. In fact, the parents of my nephew's partner (is there a word for that?), from Wagga in the west, were in Sydney a couple of weeks ago during a particularly heavy rainstorm. And they just sat on my sister's balcony, watching and listening to the rain. Nearly broke my heart. But the ballet drought ... nothing from December to March, is over. And given the heaviness and sadness of the last 10 days, it's a real relief. Thank god it was Liam Scarlett's Dangerous Liaisons. If it were his Swan Lake, I don’t think I could have taken Seigfried holding the lifeless body of Odette. But it wasn't Swan Lake. It was Dangerous Liaisons. Dangerous Liaisons is the first work that Scarlett has created on the Queensland Ballet: and this only 6 years since Li Cunxin took over an insignificant little provincial company. My admiration for Li Cunxin is boundless! As Michelle Potter, an influential critic, stated, QB is a national treasure. Anyway, as I'm sure you know, Dangerous Liaisons is about Sex. And sex. And sex. The audience gets a foretaste of what's to come when the curtain rises on the funeral of the husband of Madam de Merteuil, the female protagonist. The guests leave and Madam de Merteuil has it off with the Compte de Gercourt, her lover, right there on the coffin. The first night audience gasped and laughed ... nervous laughter if ever I've heard it. The audience the following night was rather more blase, but it was a shock. Things went on from there. First night I gave up trying to follow who was doing what to whom, but second viewing gave me more of a handle on the plot. The dancing was extraordinary as Valmont (Alexander Idaszak) tossed and threw Merteuil (Laura Hidalgo) around in what can only be described as desperate, vicious sex. The contrast with the calm, restrained PDD as Cecile (Yanela Pinera) and Danceny (Rian Thompson) fall in love was striking. Apart from the dancers, however, mention must be made of Tracy Grant Lord's costumes. The nobility dressed in sumptuous costumes which became a vital aspect of the dance as they billowed, flashing vividly coloured underwear, before being ruthlessly crushed. The young and innocent dressed in whites, creams and pastels, gentle creations that served to underline the fluidity and purity of line of their dance. As Madam de Merteuil, Laura Hidalgo was mesmerising; imperious, utterly immoral and utterly sure of her right to command. Every gesture, every step expressed her complete and vicious self-absorption. Music is by Saint-Saens, and Martin Yates, the arranger, characterises what he did as plunder Saint-Saens' work. Each character is associated with a musical theme (something which really helps distinguish who's who) but these are woven into a rich orchestral score which sounds as if it were created ab initio for the work. Overall, Liam Scarlett has created a lasting and extraordinary work, richly textured, a work which tells a complex and difficult story succinctly and clearly, if you take the time to absorb the many strands that make up the tale.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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 😊
  13. 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.
  14. Great idea. See you there! And any other BcF members who happen to be around!
  15. 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.
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