Telstra Ballet in the Park
The Australian Ballet
Reviewed by Samara Purnell
Knowing full well that the impending rain was keeping away at least a few people who had planned on attending this event, the size of the crowd gathered at Stage 88 was impressive.
This one-off, free performance from The Australian Ballet was a gift to Canberra for the Company’s 50th birthday, as we no longer have the pleasure of being part of their regular season.
A short rainfall just before 7pm stopped right as the performance was due to commence. The night was mild and no more rain fell, so apart from soggy picnic blankets and muddy shoes to deal with, there were no more dramas with the weather, as anyone planning an outdoor event in Canberra recently would have worried about!
And those who came were well rewarded, once a vantage point was found, between umbrellas and those standing or preferring chairs to braving the wet grass. It wasn’t an easy feat, as the venue was about as crowded as I’ve seen it.
Thankfully, due to the antics of an over-zealous man in a high-visibility jacket, (whom we mistakenly took to be an official, later to realise he was simply a patron of the arts like the rest of us who had taken it upon himself to enforce a rigid policy in no uncertain terms that you “MOVE to the side with umbrellas or SIT DOWN so those behind can see”) meant we umbrella-less souls were able to see for most of the performance.
It was exciting to see Commonwealth Park used for this event, and the setting was actually quite magical – bats rustling overhead, even the prospect of watching ballet in the rain seemed romantic.
A blank canvas for the dancers - no sets, and only simple light projections onto the back wall left all the focus rightly on dance. No interval would be included, which worked well with this programme of about one-and-a-half hours.
Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello opened the show in the energetic and colourful La Favorita. They danced fabulously together, clad in red and gold ornate costumes. Gaudiello impressed with his personality and confidence. It felt as though both dancers were holding back a little with the absolute abandon in their aerial work lacking, perhaps due to any residual rain on stage or an unfamiliar dancing surface. But this hesitancy seemed to have vanished by the next act and indeed by the next time these dancers took to the stage.
If the chance arises to see Molto Vivace in full, choreographed by Stephen Baynes, I will possibly jump as high as some of the dancers at the opportunity. With simply a projected full moon and dark lighting, monotone costumes by Anna French and set to a beautiful Handel score, Amber Scott and Adam Bull created a sensual dynamic, smooth, silky movements blending into effortless lifts and slow releases. The beautiful rawness of the choreography executed with fluidity and control, was for me, seeing it for the first time, one of the highlights of the evening’s performance. The mood was momentarily broken by one of our party commenting that if one of the bats flew past the projector thereby making the batman signal on the full moon it would be pretty cool. True, but this was by no means a reflection on their interest or enjoyment of the show and said party thoroughly loved the whole evening.
A pas de deux from Don Quixote followed with Chengwu Guo and Reiko Hombo taking the stage. Guo gave an enthusiastic rendition, with a strong, masculine performance. The chemistry between Guo and Hombo was not entirely convincing. However their solo performances were impressive.
The familiar notes of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” wafted across the audience, who enthusiastically applauded the solos of Juliet Burnett and Andrew Killian.
And then there was Giselle. A staple in the repertoire of any ballet lover. It was fantastic to once again watch former Canberran, Rachel Rawlins, a stalwart of the Australian Ballet, dance. And how perfect she was. Floating across stage en pointe, as if suspended above the ground, Rawlins completely encapsulated the sheer beauty and skill of a life dedicated to the art of classical dance. So captivating was her Giselle that Albrecht, Ty King-Wall, was barely noticeable until his solo.
I was particularly anticipating Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, having not seen it live before. Typically giving his contemporary edge to classical ballet, his interpretation was low-key and required maturity and subtlety to pull off Odile's seduction of Prince Seigfried and the jealousy of Odette, which Scott and Amy Harris achieved. In this instance, Bull’s lanky, casual dance style just missed the mark and so did a couple of turns, with his landings a little shaky at times.
Murphy’s pas de trois and ensemble work usually leaves one wondering how the dancers did not tie themselves up completely in knots. And this pas de trois was no exception, with wonderful emotion and timing, especially from the females. The choreography gave a feeling as if underneath the smallest or seemingly simplest of manoeuvres, lies a world of unbelievable choreography, skill and layers of meaning waiting to explode out at any moment.
The most obvious audience response to an individual was in Le Corsair. Guo received enthusiastic applause mid-dance for his acrobatic display of spin-turns that just seemed to hang in the air far longer than gravity would dictate possible for mere mortals. The dancing from Kubota and Guo really had the wow factor, with the showy and acrobatic choreography suiting them very well.
An ensemble piece from La Bayadere closed the show. This didn't highlight the strongest dancing or most captivating choreography of the evening, but it was fitting to end with a traditional, ensemble piece, with dancers donning white tutus. With a solo from Dimity Azoury, another Canberra-trained dancer, the dancers from the Australian Ballet bid us goodnight.
What a wonderful night. If ballet inspires young, non-dancing men to post about it on Facebook, as was the case, then that must be saying something. Telstra Ballet in the Park was a blatant reminder of how keen we are to turn up to see the Company perform – rain, hail or shine. I can only hope that the Powers that Be decide to reinstate our city on the Australian Ballet calendar or at the very least that we will be graced again with an event such as this. Perhaps for Canberra’s 100th birthday next year?