The Australian Ballet’s production of The Merry Widow is, in a word, stunning. From beginning to end, the dances (and dancers) are mesmerising. Not that I am an expert in the field of ballet, but I know that when the choreography looks completely effortless, you know you are in the presence of some of the best classical dancers in the world. Pirouette after pirouette, arabesque after arabesque, the only people within the walls of the Opera Theatre at the Sydney Opera House to tire of this display were the dancers themselves (and they certainly didn’t show it). This is a production that could have gone a lot longer than the 134 minute duration and the audience would have remained entranced.
Under the Artistic Direction of David McAllister AM with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (led by Music Director and Chief Conductor, Nicolette Fraillon), The Merry Widow not only has amazing visual displays but also a magnificent sonic accompaniment. From the moment the curtain is raised, the audience is immediately transported to Paris in 1905. With the old world music playing as male dancers dressed as minor officials and the French Attaché, Camille de Rosillon (Andrew Killian) sweep along the bench, finishing up their paperwork, we enter a very glamorous time.
It is during Act 1 we meet The Ambassador, Baron Zeta and his young, petite French wife, Valencienne (Madeleine Eastoe). Camille and Valencienne establish their love for each other as he embraces her and flings her along the working bench. Both dancers have great chemistry and as individuals, tremendous technique and character. In Scene 2 of Act 1 Hanna Glawari (Rachel Rawlins), the merry widow meets Count Danilo Danilowitsch (Robert Curran). Their love also blooms throughout the story and throughout they execute some remarkable waltzes.
Apart from these principal dancers, the senior artists and soloists produce some great performances, particularly at the Pontevedrian soiree and at Chez Maxime. The soiree gives the dancers an opportunity to showcase their versatility, moving from classical ballet technique to the character dance style. The vibrant red costumes highlight the festivities which reach their peak as the can-can dancers enter, with their lively ruffled orange costumes, throwing their legs up into the air, all the while remaining on pointe. The glitz and glamour of a night in Paris comes to life at Chez Maxime as the men, dressed in their suits, and women in beautiful long dresses, dance the night away.
The most wonderful thing about this production is that it speaks a universal language. As David McAllister pointedly remarks, this ‘no singing, all dancing’ production appeals to all ages and all nationalities.
The Australian Ballet presents
The Merry Widow
Music Franz Lehár
Based on the operetta by Victor Léon and Leo Stein
Arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchbery
Choreography Ronald Hynd
Venue: Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Dates: November 10 – 28, 2011
Tickets: $32 - $182
Bookings: www.australianballet.com.au | www.sydneyoperahouse.com