Saturday, March 17, 2012


The Australian Ballet

Stage 88, Commonwealth Park, Canberra,

16th March 2012.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

                                             Dimity Azoury - Rachel Rawlins - Alana Jones
                                      Canberra dancers featured in Telstra Ballet in the Park
                                                        News Limited photo - Kym Smith

If anyone needed proof of the importance of art in daily life then surely the attendance at the Telstra Ballet in the Park is a shining example of the value people place on it.

Thousands braved the prospect of a drenching to attend this one-off performance of the most beautiful and esoteric of the performing arts, classical ballet, offered on this occasion by the Australian Ballet as a gift to celebrate their 50th Year.

Many who attended had probably never been to a ballet performance before, but their curiosity was rewarded with a truly remarkable performance which they are likely to remember fondly for years.
                                                    Crowd gathering in front of Stage 88

Throughout the afternoon dark storm clouds hovered over the city, drenching various suburbs in turn. But encouraged by radio reports that the performance would proceed as advertised, people began arriving in their hundreds from around 5pm in time to watch the company go through their warm-up on stage 88 in preparation for the performance timed to begin at 7pm.

The warm-ups proved a welcome diversion, especially for the little girls who mimicked the dancers movements while their parents staked out soggy patches on which to settle into the ingenious cardboard chairs provided free by Telstra. They also provided an interesting and rarely seen insight into the more mundane side of the dancer’s preparation. However, just as the warm-ups were winding up the heavens opened again and another heavy shower drenched the area.

Miraculously, right on 7pm, the rain stopped. Australian Ballet Artistic Director, David McAllister took the stage to introduce the Telstra representative, who welcomed the audience, before the lights lowered and the program commenced with a prettily costumed pas de deux, ”La Favorita”, choreographed by Petal Miller-Ashmole to music by Donizetti, and danced with panache by Canberran Lana Jones and her husband, Daniel Gaudiello.

Amber Scott and Adam Bull followed with an elegant performance of another stylish pas de deux, “Molto Vivace”, this time choreographed by Stephen Baynes to music by Handel, following which Reiko Hombo and Chengwu Guo took the stage for an electrifying performance of the famous “Don Quixote” pas de deux”.

This was the first time Canberra audiences had had the opportunity to see Chengwu Guo, but even those with only the most rudimentary knowledge of ballet, quickly realised that they were watching an extraordinary performance from a remarkable young dancer, so that when he made his second appearance, this time in the showy “Le Corsaire” pas de deux, for which he was partnered by Miwako Kubato, Chengwu was greeted with cheers.

Less showy perhaps, but equally exciting, was the beautiful “The Nutcracker” pas de deux, elegantly danced by Juliet Burnet and Andrew Kyllian to the music of Tchaikovsky, and the supremely romantic “Giselle Act 11” pas de deux, for which Ty King-wall partnered another Canberran, Rachel Rawlins, who appeared to float around the moon-lit stage as lightly as thistledown.

Among all these very classical showpieces, the Act 111 pas de trois from Graeme Murphy’s “Swan Lake” was an interesting inclusion. Stripped of dramatic context in this environment, it nevertheless provided, for those who had never seen Murphy’s version of this ballet, a tantalising glimpse of his  mastery of utilising classical technique in a contemporary setting, and was superbly danced by Amber Scott, Adam Bull and Amy Harris resplendent in elegant Kristian Fredrikson costumes.

An excerpt from Act 11 of “La Bayadere”, featuring a corp of dancers in white tutu’s, and Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello returning to perform the pas de deux, provided a suitably elegant conclusion to an evening of superlative dancing, and the opportunity to see Queanbeyan dancer, Dimity Azoury, together with Amy Harris, both among the six dancers competing for the 2012 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award, and Reiko Hombo, each of whom performed solos during this item.

Despite the vagaries of the weather, Stage 88 proved an excellent venue for this program. Following the rain, the evening remained balmy and calm for the duration of the 90 minute program which was presented without interval.

David McAllister had wisely chosen a program to please ballet enthusiasts and the wider audience alike, without in any way comprising the high standard of dancing and production expected of our flagship ballet company. The procession of pas de deux allowed us to enjoy the dancing of many of the current principal dancers, including several past winners of Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards who are now soloists and principals, as well as several of the nominees for the 2012 Awards.

The Australian Ballet is set to return to Canberra in 2013 to premiere a new ballet as part of the 2013 Centenary Celebrations. Given the numbers attending, and the enthusiasm demonstrated for the Ballet in the Park event, is it too much to expect that Canberra once again will be included in the Australian Ballet’s annual touring schedule?

Meanwhile, thank you Australian Ballet for your delightful and very cherished gift.   

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