Sunday, July 30, 2023

UNHINGED - The Training Ground.


Produced, directed and choreographed by Bonnie Neate and Suzy Piani.

Videography and 3D animation by Trent Houssenloge and Chris Curran.

Erindale Theatre 28th and 29th July 2023.

Performance on July 28th reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

The Unhinged Ensemble with Larina Bagic (Coppelia) - Imogen Addison (Doctor Coppelius) - Joshua Walsh (Franz) - Alice Collins (Swanhilda). 

“Unhinged” is the third in a series of popular classical ballets de-constructed and re-imagined by Bonnie Neate and Suzy Piani as dynamic contemporary dance presentations for students of The Training Ground.

The Training Ground has been established by Neate and Piani for the specific purpose of providing young dancers with professional ambitions with practical transitional pre-professional experience.

“Giselle” and “Romeo and Juliet” were the subjects of the first two presentations. This year it is “Coppelia”, normally an innocuous ballet about a group of kids who break into a toyshop and terrorise the elderly owner. In this production it becomes an intense, twisted, psycho drama which explores themes of control and manipulation with stripped back costumes and stunning visual effects.

Neate and Piani have invented their own unique choreographic vocabulary for these productions which currently involve extraordinarily disciplined unison movement for the ensemble and demanding floor-work, acrobatic lifts, tumbles and extensions for the soloists.

They eschew the music specifically written for these ballets in favour of dramatic contemporary soundtracks spliced with popular songs, and choose costumes, which while attractive, differentiate the characters only minimally.

It is not necessary to have any knowledge of the ballet which provides the inspiration to enjoy this thrilling dance experience, although obviously some knowledge would add to the pleasure, particularly as each production is supported with exceptional professional standard production values.

“Unhinged” for instance, is re-imagined with a cast of twenty dancers, five principals, Larina Bagic (Coppelia), Alice Collins (Swanhilda), Imogen Addison (Doctor Coppelius) Isabelle Becvarik (Head Doll) and the only male, Joshua Walsh (Franz) together with a tight ensemble of fifteen dancers.

Joshua Walsh (Franz) and Alice Collins (Swanhilda) in "Unhinged". 

For the opening scene, which establishes the testy relationship between Swanhilda and Franz, the ensemble is costumed in short-skirted blue costumes. For later scenes the short skirts are discarded and the ensemble perform in either blue leotards as townspeople or flesh coloured leotards as dolls in Doctor Coppelius doll factory.  

Doctor Coppelius  initially wore a short loose smock, later replaced with a blue sequined leotard, and Franz wore loose-fitting shirt and pants throughout. Coppelia was costumed in a blue leotard and Swanhilda’s leotard was red.

Larina Bagic (Coppelia) - Joshua Walsh (Franz) - Alice Collins (Swanhilda)

For those following the storyline ,there was plenty of heavy drama surrounding  Swanhilda and her response to the burgeoning relationship between her boyfriend, Franz, and Doctor Coppelius’ AI doll, Coppelia. This was depicted in a succession of spectacular duets, trios and ensemble numbers which climaxed in a sensationally staged immolation scene.

For everyone else there is plenty to impress with the incredibly disciplined unison work of the ensemble, particularly when they were depicting dolls in the factory, as well as the level of skill exhibited by the five principal dancers, all of whom would already be assets in any professional dance company.

As well, there’s the remarkable choreography, the immersive soundscape and the incredible video projections which surround the dancers. Given the standard of this production, it seems a shame that there are not opportunities to tour it widely. It deserves to be seen by a much wider audience than those lucky enough to have been present at either of these two performances.

Larina Bagic (Coppelia) and ensemble in "Unhinged".

                                                      Images Eliza Swiderski

    This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.