Edge of Night | The Australian BalletRobert Curran and Kirsty Martin in At the edge of night. Photo - Jez Smith

The Australian Ballet’s
latest triple bill, Edge of Night, features work by company alumni Stephen Baynes and Tim Harbour. From a sensitive exploration of memory, to a Greek mythological love affair, and an 18th century erotic romp in the park, Edge of Night explores romance, immortality, and the complex relationships between men and women.

Stephen Baynes’ At the edge of night (1997) opens the performance in stunning style.

In the loneliness of nightfall, dancers emerge from the darkness. They seem slightly blurred – like images on an old movie reel or sepia photographs come to life. A barefoot girl on a swing, kisses stolen in the shadows, the passage of time marked in slow, symmetrical steps – these images are the profoundly beautiful and sad memories of the woman in the scarlet dress (Kirsty Martin).

Martin is serene and elegant in the lead role, her reclining image mirrored in a large charcoal sketch that frames the doorways and spaces of her mind. As always, Robert Curran demonstrates his exemplary partnering skills, moving Martin from one yearning embrace to the next.

Baynes’ choreography combines classical ballet sequences with familiar modern movements. Flexed feet, split falls, walking patterns and even gestures are reminiscent of twentieth century American choreographer Martha Graham’s iconic images, in a softer, less contracted, and certainly more balleticised style. Rather than hindering the imaginative scope of At the edge of night, these thematic choices and (conscious or unconscious) historical references succeed in placing the work in a nostalgic ‘yesteryear’, as do the set, music, and old-fashioned costumes.

Stuart Macklin offers an inspired solo piano performance of Rachmaninov’s preludes to create a single musical voice to match the restrained passion onstage, and this seamless marriage of music and movement lifts At the edge of night to a very special place.

Baynes’ second work of the evening, Molto Vivace (2003) is a poetic offering to a shrine of silliness. Drawing on the 18th century paintings by Watteau and Fragonard for inspiration, Baynes’ choreography toys with love and eroticism within an uptight, highly structured, petticoat world. The ‘painting’ might still be in its infancy – the dancers are set against a paint-by-numbers grid – but the characters have been vibrantly drawn.

Four cheeky cupids (Daniel Guadiello, Reiko Hombo, Brett Chynoweth, Eloise Fryer) inspire havoc amongst the mere mortals. Some relationships (like the tender pas de deux between Amber Scott and Adam Bull), ring true, while others (like the unfortunate couples in a zany slapstick wedding ceremony), are a little less pure. A selection of music by Frideric Handel lends itself to this kind of humour, and the dancers bop, flap and skid in time to the music in the most dandified manner.

This particular rendition of Molto Vivace demonstrates not only the strength of the company’s characterisation skills, but their admirable fearlessness in the face of buffoonery. In tangerine-coloured point shoes, Laura Tong stands out as a brilliant comedienne, while Gaudiello’s performance as a lead cupid exhibits a Shakespearean combination of boyish cheekiness and self-deprecation.

Sandwiched between At the edge of night and Molto Vivace, is choreographer Tim Harbour’s new ballet, Halcyon (2010). Wind goddess Halcyon (Madeleine Eastoe) falls in love with young mortal Ceyx (Ty King-Wall). She is plagued by premonitions of his death at sea, and is unable to prevent him from meeting that tragic fate. Only after transforming into a bird is Halcyon reunited with her love, and the final image of the ballet is two pieces of fabric, dancing intertwined in the winds.

Like Baynes, Harbour augments a neo-classical vocabulary with contemporary movements, ‘updating’ ballet with contemporary gestures and jazz shapes. Unfortunately, some non-traditional gestures and movements are thoughtlessly tacked on to challenging classical sequences.

Halcyon features costumes by Alexis George, lighting and set design by Bluebottle, and an original score by Gerard Brophy. But, as with the choreography, there is something jarring in the execution of each of these elements.

The detailed cutouts and intricate shapes in some of George’s costumes are quite beautiful, but are barely visible in the uneven lighting design. 

Though generally lovely, Brophy’s music has moments where it seems old-fashioned and unduly referential. In one long sequence, the phrasing sounds like those nineteenth century ballet composers whose scores reflected the myopic Western perspective of “An Exotic Locale” or “The Ancient World” without much concern for authenticity or context. 

Perhaps Harbour and his creative team were too ambitious in their plans for Halcyon; perhaps more rehearsal time could have created a more cohesive result. Whatever success it enjoys, however, is due to the professionalism of the dancers through the challenging physical and dramatic material. However, Harbour’s interest in multi-disciplinary artistic collaboration is heartening, and bodes well for his future as a contemporary ballet choreographer.

It is interesting to see the works of these two Australian choreographers side by side, because both men performed with the Australian Ballet, with Harbour performing as a dancer in some of Baynes’ earlier works. This shared heritage might be responsible for some of the similarities in their style.

Throughout this triple bill, we see a strain of romanticism, (both choreographers excel at shaping those tender, loving, pas de deux) and a reliance on unison that is simultaneously a strength and a weakness in each of Baynes’ and Harbour’s individual artistic styles.

Overall, Edge of Night is an enjoyable program that highlights the company’s interest in producing contemporary Australian choreography.

Australian Ballet presents
Edge of Night

(with Orchestra Victoria)
Venue: State Theatre, the Arts Centre
Dates: 26 August – 4 September, 2010

(with Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra)
Venue: Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Dates: 11 – 29 November, 2010

Bookings: australianballet.com.au | 1300 369 741

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