Category Archives: Dance

Complexions Contemporary Ballet

 


His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

reviewed by Deanna Blacher

 Complexions - group shot lr

 

 

 


 

Complexions Contemporary Ballet would have been a largely unknown quantity in this part of the world before its opening night on Tuesday. But anyone coming away from its first performance at His Majesty’s Theatre is unlikely ever to forget it – and for all the best reasons.

 

Led by co-founder and principal dancer,  Desmond Richardson, (who will surely join the ranks of the great American modern dancers of the 21st century) astounded, astonished  and inspired this reviewer. Complexions reveals a strikingly different world of dance, in which hitherto unknown levels of technical accomplishment become the norm.

 

These extraordinary bodies are poetry in motion. What distinguishes them from so many other good dancers is that their technique, all encompassing as it is, remains the servant of their musicality, passion and artistry.

 

Dwight Rhoden, the company’s founder and resident choreographer, could hardly be better served by these very special dancers. Their training allows them to convey the illusion of honey in their limbs, rather than bones, especially the hips. They meet every technical and interpretative challenge head on, sailing through the most complex of  dance vocabulary with the nonchalance of mastery.

 

Highlight of the evening was Desmond Richardson’s unprogrammed solo, Moonlight, which comes across as a distillation, a summing up, as it were,,of everything the company stands for and is.

 

Superhuman control, phrasing, timing, passion, originality and an ability to draw and hold the attention of the viewer add up to memorable dance theatre  in which the whole is greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

 

The opening ballet – Moon Over Jupiter  – to music by Rachmaninoff was for me the most intriguing and satisfying of the works performed on opening night.

 

Athleticism and sheer virtuosity, especially in some very innovative solos and pas de deux , gave this work an edge that was highlighted by the exposed lighting rig in a  design by Michael Korsch.

 

Notwithstanding a view that a bigger stage was needed for the playing out – and appreciation of – the complexities of these splendid choreographies, this production succeeded at every level, especially in the manifold ways in which the music was interpreted, to highlight the various strengths and differences of the dancers. They are made to work as a tightly knit unit, but retain their individuality.

 

An exposed lighting rig featured in all the presentations and seemed to surmount the technical limitations of the theatre’s stage without difficulty, thus adding immeasurably  to the worth of each choreography .

 

In so many-splendoured an offering, it would be invidious to single out individuals for special mention – but it would be ungracious not to mention Patricia Hachey who shone in everything from Rachmaninoff to Billie Holiday and U2, displaying a versatility that was  breathtaking.

 

I noted with interest that the company has in its repertoire the works of other choreographers apart from those of its founder, Dwight Rhoden.

 

Apart from occasional lapses in timing and a sometimes too-loud and distorted sound track, this will be an evening that will be remembered long after the applause dies away.

 

Can we hope for a return visit of this very special company to give us an even broader view of their artistry?

 

Swan Lake on Ice

 

 

The Imperial Ice Stars

 

 

Burswood Theatre

reviewed by Deanna Blacher

 

Swan Lake on Ice, presented by The Imperial Ice Stars, prompted a rapturous, thoroughly deserved standing ovation on opening night at Burswood Theatre.

 

Not knowing what to expect – and a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist balletomaine of many decades – it was with some trepidation that I took my seat in the sold out house. I need not have worried. Within minutes of curtain rise,  I was transported – and for all the best reasons.

 swan Lake

This was not a contemporary take on Swan Lake in the manner of, say, Matthew Bourne. Nor was it entirely faithful to the original, which would have been an impossibility given the very different techniques of classical ballet and ice skating

 

One was left in no doubt, though, that we were in the company of great artists and great skaters, whether in the leading roles or smaller parts. This production carried no passengers..

 

By and large, the overall story was adhered to, the story made perhaps more plausible in this version. The original 4 acts were played in two, the roles of black and white swans divided. – and von Rothbart acquired a host of attendants.

And the music for the famous, 32 fouette episode ended up as a London Palladium-type duet for Siegfried and Benno !

Swan Lake - red

Highlights were the pas de deux of Odette and Siegfried,  which was  a very beautiful,  part aerial ballet, part skating choreography. And the Pas de Quatre of the cygnets was brilliantly transposed for skaters.The finale of the first half was also a show stopper with von Rothbart left twirling in a ring of fire.

 

All principal roles were well cast with some fine mime from consummate artists.

 

Sets were reminiscent of Tolstoy’s Russia , the costumes and lighting absolutely impeccable.

 

There was the odd wobble in final poses and an occasional fluffed lift but these are small  quibbles , and due, no doubt,  to opening night nerves.

 

Despite being left with some doubts as to the viability of some of the alterations made to the story and the original Tchaikowsky music, this is, overall, a winner and should provide happy hours for everyone, young and old throughout the world. Bravo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Los Tres Rios (The Three Rivers): Lorca in New York

 

Downstairs at the Maj

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

 

reviewed by Jo Donnellan

*

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), poet, playwright and musician, wrote:

 All the Arts are capable of possessing duende, but naturally the field is

 widest in music, in dance, and in spoken poetry, because they require

 as interpreter a living body.

(Duende: the creative magic flowing from the very core of the soul).

Five musicians and four dancers brought their living interpretations to the intimate downstairs cabaret theatre of His Majesty’s in a programme reflecting on Lorca and his experiences in New York.

The programme interwove traditional songs of Spain, that Lorca collected and arranged for piano and voice, between dances and instrumental items. Thus the three rivers to which the title refers: music, dance and the spoken word, flowed through the evening.

With two exceptions, all dance offerings were of the introspective cante jondo, ‘deep song’ flamenco genre which was of great significance for Lorca. Choreographies by José Torres and Antonio Vargas were arranged by Deanna Blacher.

A sombre opening: four beautiful women in dark tailored trousers, bare-armed in waistcoats, smooth hair unadorned, seated on wooden chairs on a dimly-lit stage, clapping in bulerias rhythm to flamenco guitar and percussion accompaniment. With piano accompanying the mezzo-soprano in a love song Los Cuatro Muleros, the dancers rose one by one and began moving to the twelve-beat rhythm, building atmosphere by the peremptory tattoo of their feet on the resonant floor and by the supple weaving of their arms.

Torres’ Solea por bulerias followed. The name of the dance comes from the word soledad, translating approximately as solitude. Invented by a male, the quality of this dance was reflected in Ashanti Suriyam’s intense, almost aggressive, expression. Tension was created by the arms moving as though against the resistance of a weight of water. Danielle Ricercato’s exquisitely flared fingertips gave an aching quality to the filigrana, the delicate folding and unfolding of the fingers. Sofia Pradera’s expressive eyes conveyed a poignant mood.

Nola Formentin came into her own in two light-hearted songs, Las Tres Hojas and Las Morillas de Jaen. Her confident, disarming stage presence underpinned the dark timbre and clear top notes of her voice. Neville Cohn, every inch the storyteller with his cloud of white hair and confiding manner, explained the origins of the songs and paid tribute to Lorca’s pianistic and compositional skills. Cohn’s piano accompaniment supported the singer without dominating proceedings.

There followed a charmingly feminine rendition of Dos Muchachas, ‘two friends’. The classic tall blonde Ricercato, as Amparo, sat at her embroidery whilst the servant Lola, played by Karen Henderson, mimed the washing of linen. The two danced together, separated by wealth and class but united in their longing for ‘love in the orange grove’; the whole evoking a rustic, wistful, sensuous atmosphere.

José Giraldo (flamenco guitar) and Marcus Perrozzi on percussion displayed their skill and verve, elaborating on the theme from the film Orfeo Negro, set in the Carnevale of Rio de Janiero. Perrozzi brought brio to his engagement with many different drums. Giraldo announced the plaintive melody and embroidered the variations with masterful restraint and sureness.

In 1929, Lorca seized the chance to travel to New York. Arriving with barely a word of English, the Wall Street crash in progress, his first experiences were daunting. Then he discovered Harlem with its negro spirituals (now called gospel songs), blues and jazz music, the diverse population, the accepting atmosphere: here was nourishment for his wounded soul.

Ashanti Suriyam choreographed the tap dance in Harlem Surprise, her evocation of that sector of New York in 1929. There were several surprises. First, the pianist entered carrying a trombone. Formentin, a plain wool poncho in place of her opulent Spanish shawl, rendered with great sincerity a moving spiritual. Suriyam, in a short orange dress, exploded onto the stage, tapping frenetically with Ricercato, Henderson and Pradera playing hand-held percussion including the tambourine. Inviting the (by now mellow) audience to clap along was a risky ploy. Surprise of surprises, the substantial Perrozzi proved to be a light-footed and accomplished tap-dancer as the singer demonstrated her versatility, playing trombone in the exuberant final ensemble.

Torres’ Tientos por Tangos opened the second half. The four dancers wore the long, flounced skirt with train, the bata de cola, so graceful and so fiendish to manage convincingly. Richly embroidered silks enfolded their svelte torsos. Henderson’s beautifully poised head and seemingly boneless arms combined compellingly with the incisiveness of her foot percussion. The dance evolved into a Tangos, the lighter mood embodied in the final turn and sassy flick of their skirts.

A classic flamenco solea followed for guitar and cajon, the simple wooden box capable of so many subtleties of sound while doubling as a seat. Giraldo’s distinguished appearance, his strong fingers plying the guitar strings, brought us a sense of his native Madrid.

Next a song, En el Café de Chinitas, of two brothers vying with each other for courage and skill in the bullfight. There followed the Sevillanas del Siglo XVIII, the regional dance of Seville as performed in the eighteenth century. Accompanied by piano and song and by their castanets, Henderson and Pradera drew on their ballet backgrounds in this energetic version with its high extensions, springs and turns. Dressed in bouffant orange costumes and ballet slippers, they embodied lightness and joy. The pianist set a stinging pace, challenging the dancers’ timeliness towards the end.

The contrasting couple, Neville Cohn and Deanna Blacher, provided an electrifying tribute to Lorca’s friend and colleague the famous dancer La Argentina, with Albeniz’ Cordoba and de Falla’s Andaluza. The pianist, dressed in quiet blacks, facing away from the audience, began the flowing introduction, drawing with apparent ease handfuls of lyrical melody from the piano. With contained dignity, resplendent in Spanish costume, Blacher carefully adjusted her castanets and took up her pose. The authority of her opening dry trill caught the audience mid-sentence. From then, not a sound was heard but the magic of the combination: music distilled from Moorish, Sephardic and gypsy heritage, rendered on these two contrasting instruments with consummate skill and feeling.

It is not possible to play melody on castanets; the right hand is tuned a little higher than the left, that is all. Blacher used graceful sweeping movements of the arms and subtle changes of pose to complement the melody. In doing so, she added a further layer of virtuosity, as the fingers must adjust to the changing orientation of the castanet shells as the arms move.

In festive floral costumes and flourishing large fringed shawls, the dancers showed their individuality and beauty in Vargas’ Tarantos por Tangos, Henderson opening with a cascade of rapid perfect chaîné turns. Skilful arrangement provided episodes of activity and quiescence rather than a continuous barrage, giving each dancer her moments of prominence.

The traditional bulerias finale in ebullient party mood gave the dancers an opportunity to let their hair down a little with their own improvised solo spots.

Flamenco is an evolving art, capable of a range of expression, from the rawest primitive heartsong to the polished cabaret entertainment seen here. The four young dancers are in command of their technique and stagecraft. They are exploring their individual essence, that which transcends technique. Producer and director Deanna Blacher allowed them a degree of autonomy in this production. Judging by audience response, her confidence was not misplaced.

*           *           *


Ballet Nacional (Spain)

Festival Theatre
Adelaide Festival Centre

reviewed by Deanna Blacher

 

This was an extraordinary dance season, not only for the quality of every aspect of the production but also for the emotions engendered – and the solidarity apparent between company and audience – in the wake of the horrific
train bombings in Madrid.

Dancing, as always, with genuine passion and sense of drama, intensified in the days following the Atocha
killings, the BN fully engaged the audiences that packed the Festival Centre, Adelaide for each performance of the season. Certainly, there was an awareness that we were experiencing dance theatre of greatness, only rarely encountered in years of viewing the best – and the worst ­ in dance. These performances, though, will live in the
memory long after the applause has died and the posters faded.

The dancers of the BN rank with the very best in the world’s top classical and contemporary companies. They do a daily ballet class and it is this innate discipline as well as unusual versatility that make a strong impression. In addition to the four main styles of Spanish dance (of which flamenco is only one), jazz and contemporary dance movementare part of daily practice. The BN choreographers thus have that rare breed of dancers with whom to work: those who, in technical and stylistic terms, can do just about anything. It results in dance that is exciting to watch and infinitely more interesting than an evening of unrelieved, albeit pure, flamenco. The BN’s artistry , not least its overall musicality, is exceptional. And the percussive nature of much of the company’s presentation adds to the visual elegance and grandeur of their dancing.

Former company member, now director, Elvira Andres, who brings her own experience and training as Spanish classical and flamenco dancer to her work, has created a unique blend of the traditional and the contemporary that so many dance practitioners seek but so seldom achieve. I particularly admired her choreography entitled Mujeres (Women) which comes across as a celebration of the female form in current Spanish dance terms.

In an environment where attention is often more focussed on the male dancers (who more usually receive the lion’s share of kudos), seeing women dancers so commandingly brought into the limelight made for an engrossing experience. This abstract piece represented the inextricable interweaving of dance in the lives of these performers. Six women in elegant gray gowns, different necklines underlining their individuality, mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the intriguing mix of classical, contemporary and flamenco dance movement, seamlessly-stated castanet obligati and set to an evocative contemporary score.

The artistry of the women and clever choreography gave substance to an idea that might have worked less well in
less accomplished hands. And the legacy of Victoria Eugenia’s influence with her intensely musical setting of
the castanets within a feminine dance style, was a welcome presence in Mujeres.

El Grito, a choreography by Antonio Canales, was the curtain raiser, opening with a Siguiriyas sung in the
purest of jondo styles. Dressed in pastel shades that were reminiscent of some of Goya’s tapestries, and led by
Ester Jurado, (a Sevillana carrying the purest traditions in her blood and bones), the dancers gave us Siguiriyas, Soleares, Alegrias and Tangos in impeccable style and compas. Backed by three guitarists, as many singers, a flautist and a percussionist on cajon, this was a splendid partnership.

Similarly, the Farruca danced on alternate nights by Oscar Jimenez and Francisco Velasco, was a memorable marriage of music and dance where footwork was an additional percussive dimension and an integral part of the whole. Both have prodigious techniques which admirably serve their different interpretations.

Having seen many interpretations of the role of Medea as choreographed by Jose Granero, featuring, inter alia, those of Manuela Vargas, Merche Esmeralda, Ana Gonzalez and Lola Greco – all flamenco dancers of greatness – I cannot readily recall so gripping an interpretation as that of Maribel Galliardo. Her finely wrought portrayal of Medea as a deeply troubled woman, scorned and in emotional pain was rivetting and unfailingly in character in every one of her performances of the Adelaide season. It was a tour de force.

Juan Mata as the father and Francisco Velasco as Jason led a strong cast that created a small miracle each night of the run.

Granero’s choreography, arguably the finest of his career, skillfully weaves flamenco, folk tradition and ballet into
a satisfying whole. The danced conversations were particularly succint in a way that made program notes superfluous; the message of the story was unambiguously conveyed.

I would have liked to experience Medea to a live orchestral accompaniment playing Manuel Sanlucar’s splendid score. The togetherness that would have resulted from a sympathetic conductor presiding over events was sometimes lacking – but in relations to the splendour of the production as a whole, this is little more than a quibble.

The lighting design was consistently appropriate to the changing moods of the production.

Copyright 2004 Deanna Blacher