What a joy it was to attend the end of the year summer season of the Australian Ballet School, at the Arts Centre Melbourne – Playhouse Theatre.
This year’s program was split into two major halves, providing a showcase of performances from levels 4 to 6 in the first section and a short traditional two-act ballet
“La Sylphide” in the second that featured the higher level students.
In each case the sections were well chosen, providing not only different aspects of ballet, but also showcased the skill levels within each performance.
It was an evening of pure enjoyment; the audience welcomed each aspect, the younger aspiring dancers in the audience were further encouraged, and the very young first time budding, yet to be ballerinas left with big smiles on their faces.
The first half consisted of three main sections;
The first Waltz from Birthday Celebration.
The choreography was by Mark Annear; Head of Training and Access, The Royal Ballet School. Restaged by Irina and Sergey Konstantinova. Highlighting, all of the current dancers.
The Waltz was created for level 4 and 5 students, and is a fitting start to the evening’s performances; it’s a typical ballet presentation, which underlines both the individual performances along with aspects from a very talented troupe. I loved the classical style, with its grace and flow. The Konstantinovas’ makes full use of the smaller stage, without cluttering the area, allowing ample space for the individual aspects.
Ammears’ choreography enchanted each dancer, especially the delightful point work, and timing between each segment, in all there was a total cast of nineteen dancers.
The second segment was a wonderful tongue in cheek presentation Wolfgang Dance.
Choreography by Simon Dow; Level 7 Classical Teacher, Level 5-7 Coordinator and Resident Choreographer.
The music was as the title suggests Mozart’s, the piece is from the unforgettable first movement Allegro, from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
It’s a typical quick, lively movement with nice sharp repetition, just perfect for the touches of humour taken on Mozart’s perceived younger character.
The costumes by Lara Barwick and Maree Strachan, where simple, effective and delightful, straightaway you would pick up the Mozart characteristic younger hairstyle with the wigs, The buys portrayed replicas of the younger Mozart, the girls complete with Mozart wigs, with the formality of the black neckband, and the use of white tights and dresses, in the style of the day.
Dow’s Choreography allowed for quick and timely entrances from individuals, along with group ensemble work, as they danced on the stage area and weaved between the side wings, the fun and cheekiness was also on full display through their facial expressions, it was a wonderful addition, showcasing not only the younger talents but also that ballet can be heaps of fun and varied. The cast of nine students projected all of that and more, the audience was extremely delighted providing a rapturous applause with big smiles on their faces, in appreciation for the wonderful up and coming talents.
The last of the three segments was a more contemporary section titled Heart Strings.
Choreography by Margaret Wilson. Contemporary Teacher and Resident Choreographer. This was yet again a fitting selection of quick expressions relating to current cultural themes, along with longer but still, short dance sequences highlighting various adolescent social reality perceived or otherwise. Much of it is performed in silence, and with the casts back to the audience, which allows greater emphases on what being portrayed rather than being distracted by facial expressions.
The cast comes on stage, the girls in pretty powder blue chiffon short length dresses and pony-tailed hair, the boys in simple black unitards, their backs to the audience, all in synchronised sway, including the ponytails, without any accompanied music. Once the entrance is completed, the cast squats, still with no music, the presenters usually in pairs pop up from the within the group and strike a pose for about 30 to 40 seconds, and then squats down, allowing for another pair to repeat with a different poise.
The synchronisation and precision were very effective, the silent communication effective and understood, within the time frame. One of the most memorable segments was the all-male dance mine titled the “Bulled” and the wonderful foot and point work in the segment titled “The Ballerinas”
The second half of the programme was a complete short story ballet “La Sylphide”
This was a full production, which fitted perfectly as the highlight and fitting finale to the evening’s program, Summer Season 2018.
Choreographed after August Bourneville. – (Danish Ballet Master 1805-1879)
Restaged by Greg Horsman. Ballet Master and Head of Artistic Operations Queensland Ballet. Set and Costumes courtesy of The Australian Ballet.
Set and costume design Ann Fraser. Stage Manager Marina Milankovic.
Horsman had done a wonderful job in placing full size sets onto the small staging area of the Playhouse Theatre, while at the some time allowing just enough dance area, although the festive dancing was just a little crowded for space, maybe a slight positional change for James’s mother may have provided a little more real-estate for the dancers, everything else in this production was well directed.
The story and dance are very simple and easy to follow while presenting plenty of opportunity and various challenges, for the dancers. The theatre seating with its small stage is close and intimate, which is fantastic for the audience but can be quite intimidating to performers, also the dancers have to not only dance, they have to act, express, handle a range of props and maneuver around various sets. The combination of all the elements, when executed in such a professional manner as it was on the night, is both satisfying and rewarding.
A special mention goes out to Andrew Murphy – Madge (the old fortune teller). Murphy was outstanding in this role, both in his impeccable timing when gulping down the brandies in complete synchronisation with the music change, to the extended crocked finger pointing and wicked facial expressions, his workmanship and skills were loudly appreciated with applause.
The principle character James; played by Thomas McClintock was on stage for most of the ballet, McClintock was well cast for this role, and was able to exhibit the atrabuties that good dancers strive for, Strength, Atheletic ability, Cordination of movement with grace, Balance, Hight and Stamana . It was inspiring to witness this young man and he performed the various aspects of this ballet.
The supporting role of Gurn (James’ rival) played by Jamie Delmonte was equally as strong, and yet different in a way which supported the charactors played, without making comparissions between the two wonderful dancers; both dancers complemented each other which only strengthend their performances and the ballet in general.
Hayley Thompson, The Sylphide, was graceful in movement, and light on her feet, moving around with small fluttering steps, while clearly displaying her at times slightly cheekiness and playfulness towards James, as she works on wooing him away from Effie James betrothed. Thompson displays not only great dancing skills, but also body language with coy down eyed expressions, of innocence, while all the time maintaining control of end game.
For me there are a number of highlights, other than what has already been indicated.
There were two “pinch me” moments, when I had to remind myself that I was watching a school program and not a full professional production.
Both of them are found in the troupe dance segments.
The first one was in the Festival scene towards the end of the first act.
The timing and synchronisation between the three rows of dancers was mesmerizing, the accuracy of their foot work as the moved and traversed the available stage area to the merriment of the music was simply brilliant.
The second was the troupe dance sequences with the cast of Sylphs, which on the naked stage, with only a forest backdrop; provided the opportunity to completely extend the spaces between the dances; once again showcasing the wonderful dancing and costumes with arcing dresses and extended legs. The grace and elegance of the troupe provided the level of professionalism which enhanced the principle dancers, the discipline of the troupe as they sat poised in the backdrop was noted.
The overall program was enjoyable and satisfying, the skills and talents are a tribute to both the dedication of the students and the high level of teacher excellence. The mix of presentations expanded the range and diversity that ballet has today become.