Category: Ballet

Review: Nutcracker

Christmas classic dances into the dreams of a new generation

By Rebecca Waese

Last night’s opening performance of Melbourne City Ballet’s The Nutcracker was a joyful Christmas treat. I saw a number of parents and grandparents clutching the hands of excited young children in the audience who had come to watch young Clara’s dream unfold. I brought my eight-year old daughter with me and teared up when she gasped at the Snow Queen, played last night by Emma Cheeseman, rise and pirouette on pointe in her glorious costume and tiara. With strength and grace the dancers delivered a top-quality performance, choreographed by artistic director Michael Pappalardo and principal artist Brendan Bradshaw, that engaged the audience.

Melbourne City Ballet began in 2013 with the vision of director Michael Pappalardo, a former dancer, who saw a need for a professional ballet company that could deliver the classical stories to audiences without the exorbitant ticket prices associated with the ballet. With a surplus of highly-trained dancers in the city, Pappalardo saw an opening where dancers could use their talents and provide accessible classics to metropolitan and regional audiences right in their communities. In The Nutcracker, Melbourne City Ballet brings together dancers from their Finishing Year Program and Ballet School as well as children from the Community Participation Program to play minor roles.

There was a commanding stage presence by Uncle Drosselmyer (Brendan Bradshaw) and an enjoyable sibling rivalry by last night’s Clara (Yuiko Masukawa) and last night’s Fritz (Soji Shinse). Masukawa’s grace and flexibility gave her an ageless quality and sense of wonder as Clara. For me, the Arabian dancers were a highlight, particularly the lithe extensions and sheer strength of Alex Rolfe whose grace and muscular structure was a sight to behold. Emma Cheeseman as the Snow Queen was captivating and the magic of the snow and the growing Christmas tree did not disappoint. For the young boys in the audience, unfamiliar with the sheer athleticism of dance, there were the astonishing mid-air split jumps of the Russian Dancers and creeping life-size rats to intrigue them.

With the film The Nutcracker out this Christmas holidays, this is a terrific opportunity to take the family to Melbourne City Ballet first and follow up at the cinema to see how the storyline comes alive differently on stage and on the screen. The music by Tchaikovsky is recorded but still emotive and stirring. There were a few inconsistencies with synchronicity of legs near the beginning and a few wobbles here and there, but overall I was impressed with the quality and polish of the performance. I was grateful to Melbourne City Ballet for dancing this joyous version of The Nutcracker into the dreams of a new generation of young dancers. Buy a ticket for a young dancer you love, as it’s a great pre-Christmas treat to enjoy together.

 

The Nutcracker is being performed 14 – 16 December at Darebin Arts Centre, 20 December at Frankston Arts Centre and 21 December at Plenty Ranges Arts & Convention Centre. Tickets can be purchased online. 

Rebecca Waese is an Honorary Associate at La Trobe University in the Department of Creative Arts and English.

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Review: The Australian Ballet School Showcase

A chance to witness Australia’s up and coming classical dancers

By Leeor Adar

Entranced from the moment the curtains open upon the dancers, it is evident that there is no such thing more beautiful than the artistry and skill of the ballet.

The Australian Ballet School prides itself on its high quality training opportunities for talented young performers, and I am thrilled to say that the talent very much shines in the 2018 Showcase directed by Lisa Pavane. Dancers from Level 1 – 8 perform under the direction of some of the best teachers Australia has to offer, and the pieces vary from contemporary to fairy tale, flamenco-inspired to the tongue-in-cheek.

The Showcase opens with a tiny ballet dancer lifting the veil upon the scene, and we begin with the masterwork of choreographer Paul Knobloch, an Australian Ballet School alumnus with the capacity to arrange 121 dancers into stunning visual formations with the Grand Défilé (a grand parade in literal translation). The Défilé is really a glorious start to this production, as the choreography is just gorgeously cinematic in its scope. Knobloch has an enormous task on hand, but manages to make this a triumph. This was the perfect opportunity to let any doubt of the calibre of the young performers disappear into the tulle.

If the audience had any doubts about the extent The Australian Ballet School could stretch its flavour, the Alegrías choreographed by Areti Boyaci which featured on stage Spanish guitar by Werner Neumann established the Showcase as something to be reckoned with. The flair with which the performers managed keep to the 12 beat rhythm of the flamenco was an excellent choice for exhibiting the performers’ versatility.

The Don Quixote, Dryads, Act II was a charming nod to tradition, featuring Ludwig Minkus’ music, with extraordinary costumes. I enjoyed the sweep into fantasy, but admittedly craved something bolder, which I had begun to really expect after such enticing earlier numbers. I was delighted by the Wolfgang Dance choreographed by the excellent Simon Dow to Mozart’s Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (which we know as ‘A Little Night Music’). The Level 4 students were brilliant and able to bring an enormous humour and spirit to the performance, which featured baroque white wigs and many laughs from the audience.

A standout performance for me was the wonderful troupe of male dancers in the Knobloch choreographed Valetta. Knobloch establishes himself as a master of ballet ensemble here, and the dancers are absolutely breathtaking moving works of art as they perform the classical movement which featured the flair of the late 1950s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals.

The final act featured the elegant and fluid wonder of the Ballo Barocco, choreographed by Stephen Baynes, featuring the beautiful music of Bach. Initially created for Level 8 dancers, the Level 6 dancers took on this piece with astonishing mastery. Heart Strings was a poignant series of dances choreographed by Margaret Wilson showcasing the experiences of the Level 6 students. With humour and incredible maturity, these pieces were navigated by the students, with notable standouts in Enter the Protagonists and the Bullied.

The final performance of the night, the Danza de la Vida choreographed by Simon Dow borrowed from the tango traditions of Argentina. I found this performance a nice piece to cap the Showcase, however there was a pool of talent that I felt had been under-utilised. Despite that, it was an elegant way to end the evening, and certainly proved that The Australian Ballet School harnesses and hones the astonishing talent of its young performers.

The Australian Ballet School’s 2018 Showcase is headed next to Canberra for a showing on the 22 September. Tickets can be purchased online. 

Photograph: Supplied

Review: Le Sacré

Daring and exciting fusion of circus arts and classical ballet

By Lois Maskiell

The National Institute of Circus Arts has joined forces with the Australian Ballet School in the bold, large-scale production, Le Sacré. With over forty bodies on stage, directing this large work, which fuses two distinct art forms as well as showcases diverse student talent, is no easy feat.

The directorial team includes NICA’s Movement and Performance Coordinators Zebastian Hunter and Meredith Kitchen along with Simon Dow, the Resident Choreographer at the Australian Ballet School. With additional creative input from Francois-Eloi Lavingnac, these collaborators have devised a piece using all the right key ingredients. Though despite the advertised aim to expose the themes inherent in Nijinsky’s the Rites of Spring, I found that the narrative development left any deep exploration of its themes to the wayside.

What was identifiable was two distinct parts: the first filled with riotous dance scenes and the second filled with smaller acts and the ceremonious choosing of the young girl or sacrificial victim. One ingenious directorial choice was how the ballet’s story is transferred from a pagan world of ritual to a twisted ball where power constructs are playfully altered through a camp aesthetic mixed with a techno sensibility.

The technical abilities of these bold, young students are manifold. Their talent is abundant, particularly during smaller group acts that made me wish for more solos. Standout performers include Georgia Webb, a chameleon of skill whose aptitude for acrobatics is as dynamic as her skill on lyra, rue cyr and hand balancing. Straps performer, Troy Griffiths had an intriguing presence, covered in tattoos and endowed with grace and flexibility, he was a brilliant embodiment of circus’ power to subvert the mundane to something extraordinary.

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Stark and beautiful choreography was found in a visually poetic rue cyr act that featured three wheels. Jessie Carson on dance trapeze was serene and of a penetrating icy calm. Her timing was in complete unison with her apparatus and like a seasoned performer she didn’t reveal a hint of exertion in her execution.

The ballet dancers doused the show with energy and elegance, approaching their form without such distinct specialisations as found in circus. With powerful leaps and complex foot work, the differences between the two art forms were exposed. An exceptional skipping rope act involved classical ballet steps accomplished in the minute gaps of the rope’s swing. The pas de deux and pirouettes in the second half were exact and powerful.

The stirring result of circus arts and classical ballet coming together in such a novel and bold production as Le Sacré is exiting to say the least. Collaborations like this do push boundaries and it would be wonderful to see more in the future.

Le Sacré is being performed at the National Institute of Circus Arts until 23 June. Tickets can be puchased online.

Photographs: Aaron Walker

Melbourne City Ballet Presents Sleeping Beauty

Beauty and grace on display in an opulent fairytale world

By Christine Young

Melbourne City Ballet’s touring production of the almost 130-year old ballet Sleeping Beauty is a beautiful, breathtaking performance inspired by the original choreography of ballet master Marius Petipa. The ballet company’s founding artistic director Michael Pappalardo has choreographed a stunning first-rate production, which showcases the talents of an ensemble cast, that ranges in skill level from emerging to principal artists.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s original score, the ballet is performed in a prologue and three acts closely based on the classic fairytale Sleeping Beauty. When the red curtain at Darebin Arts Centre draws open, the audience is invited into the opulent palatial world of a King and Queen preparing for the christening of their daughter, Princess Aurora.

This is a fairytale world full of beauty, grace and serenity animated by five fairy godmothers and their leader, Lilac Fairy (Alexandra Rolfe) who dances with outstanding skill and agility. Lilac Fairy is the positive, stabilising force responsible for bringing blessings and peace to the royal family before and after the uninvited evil fairy Carabosse (Alexia Cannizaro) casts the curse on Princess Aurora.

 

Ms Cannizaro as Carabosse is a delightful villain (if that’s possible!) who is tall, nimble and perfect for the role. Award-winning ballerina Ariana Hond as the 16-year old Princess Aurora gives the standout performance of the production. Ms Hond’s dancing is flawless and the only disappointment is that Princess Aurora doesn’t have more stage time. Audience members can look forward to incredible pirouettes and impressive control as well as strength and dexterity from this young dancer.

In fact, Mr Pappalardo is spot-on with all casting choices which shows he fully understands the strengths of his dancers. Principal artists, Yuiko Masukawa and Brendan Bradshaw appear in smaller roles but their extensive experience creates a lasting impression.

Princess Aurora’s suitor, Prince Désiré is performed by junior artist Henry Driver whose overall performance was strong, but he faltered a little in his initial pas seuls (solos) – this didn’t stop him from smiling though. Mr Driver recovered well for the remainder of the ballet, delivering a perfect pirouette in a later moment. Overall, this production is beautiful and graceful and I loved the lavish, Baroque-style costumes, which were just as alluring as the dancing itself.

Sleeping Beauty is being performed at Darebin Arts Centre until 22 April before touring Victoria via Wangaratta, Frankston and Geelong until 5 May. Tickets can be purchased online.