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Interplay | The Australian Ballet
Written by lloyd bradford (brad) syke   
Saturday, 08 November 2008 07:16
Interplay | The Australian BalletLeft - Robert Curran and Juliet Burnett in Semele. Photo - Jeff Busby

With a tap of her spritely baton, music director and chief conductor Nicolette Fraillon set the Australian Opera & Ballet Orchestra in sublime motion, as it traced-out Richard Mills' tinkling, cascading, sweet, romantic score, to accompany a balletic piece, in four, corresponding movements.

It had delicacy; a pleasing, vertical structure, with delicious denouement; Gershwinistic homage; and was beautifully realised.

Entitled Night Path, it was inspired by Mills' Symphony of Nocturnes; every bit as poetic and lyrical as its name suggests. Stephen Baynes has shown complete choreographic empathy, producing, through the media of superlative dancers (the likes of Madeleine Eastoe, Andrew Killian, Mat Donnelly, Laura Tong, Tristan Message, et al), elegant, linear, symmetrical setups, soft segues and a fluid, curvaceous sensuality noone, surely, could find anything less than mesmerising.

This is shimmering, modern ballet, at its finest, with a classical stamp: to my eye (indeed, to all my senses and humours), a very successful synthesis; the magic further enlivened by supremely imaginative, stylish set, costume & lighting design, by savants, Michael Pearce & John Buswell, respectively. The opening was a stunning trick of light, with Eastoe seemingly suspended, mid-air, like some freshly-risen goddess. And was that even a hint of Fosse I caught?

For mine, despite an outpouring of lavish plaudits from its first season, south of the border, Canadian choreo Matjash Mrozewski's Semele was rather more strident and even a little 'clunky'; whatever the case, I found it abrasive, unaided by its rather dark, heavy score, by Gerard Brophy. But who am I to question MM's work: his pedigree is impeccable, including works for both London's and Denmark's royal companies?

Though of an elegant, classical bent, Adam Gardnir's set & costume didn't reflect the ingenuity of Pearce's affinity for fabric, capable of inspiring mild hyperventilation. Brad Fields lighting was, however, effective and unobtrusive.

I'd like to give encouragement to Juliet Burnett, who, by dint of this piece, has taken her first steps, from coryphee to centre-stage, however. Indeed, save for one, tiny, almost imperceptible, questionable moment of confusion and disarray, if not near collision, all the dancers bodies complied with what was asked of them, without the slightest wavering.

The Possibility Space brought American dance diva, Nicolo Fonte, to the Opera Theatre's stage, but the possibilities weren't realised. Though Fields (again) effected some exciting reflected images, these outshone the actual performance, which was busy, overly complex and 'showy'. Plus, I hated the costumes and unrelenting, monochromatic sky-blue. And the fluorescence was, at first, offensive. Surprisingly, I can't say anything too much more complimentary about Ross Edwards' music, which, apparently, suggested this try-hard post-modernism: it was messy; clamourous; dischordant.

Is there a moral here? Yes. And it's not the first time I've stumbled into it, in the dance realm. While I applaud the openness of The Australian Ballet, in inviting acclaimed creative artists to extend its boundaries, the proof isn't in this pudding, on this occasion. Mills & Baynes' work is no bodice-ripper, but ripper, regardless; transcendent, in fact. It showcases the latter's consummate understanding of the workings of dance and dancer's physiques. With just the right collaborative sympathies, the pair have explored the nature of light & darkness with a complete, complementary, narrative cohesion, their clear aspiration, and given us a timeless, fairytale, audiovisual piece, to remember and treasure always.

To me, it seems the others lost the plot, caught-up in competitive frenzy, grasping for the shock of the new; which they've achieved, but not in a good way. I never thought I'd resort to jingoism, but, c'mon, Aussie, c'mon! Oi! Oi! Oi! I'm only too sorry that leaves Edwards & Brophy out in the cold. Not to mention numerous, otherwise laudable dancers, who, through no fault of their own, have suffered, as hapless, clay models, in the hands of maniacal sculptors.

The Australian Ballet

Sydney Opera House, with Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra
6 - 25 November
Bookings: 02 9250 7777
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