The Australian Ballet’s 20:21 wowed audiences with a Triple Bill of modern and contemporary dance, that moved the audience to their feet. The costumes and the sets were minimal so the production relied heavily on the skill of the dancers and the talent of the choreographers.
If the dancers felt exposed by their limited artifice, they did not show it, in fact, they embraced it.The dancers were un-caged flying freely though the score and exploring modern motifs. The zeal of the dancers slapped the audience awake as they were witnessing their living time and their Art. It was beyond fable, it was flesh and blood, it embraced our moment.
The third and final ballet of the triple bill was Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, it was reminiscent of ‘The Red Shoes’ but with a twist. Those that dance beyond a dalliance, are not outcasts, doomed to roam alone, but rather the front-runners of fashion. The audience may have been on the bench but they had gone to the party.
Costume designer Norma Kamall has to be congratulated for telling it all, by disclosing less.
In 1917, Pablo Picasso left (war effected) Paris and moved to Italy to join Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes where he would become close friends with Igor Stravinsky, a brilliant composer. Choreographer George Balanchine joined the company and was also regarded as a leader of his craft. It was a unique collaboration of Masters, each eager to explore Modern motifs.
The Australian Ballet presented Symphony In Three Movements (1946) in 20:21, at The Art Centre Melbourne, recreating the collaboration between Stravinsky and Balanchine. It’s a ballet wedged between the classical and the contemporary. Eve Lawson has used cotton gloves to protect the integrity of the historic statement and gives the audience an opportunity to witness the Modern Wave in a digital world. Music Director and Chief Conductor Nicolette Fraillon recreates the rhythmic pulse.
Picasso entered Diaghilev’s Ballet a bohemian, a womaniser, and an abstract painter. He was regarded as a Master Artist due to his break-through work Les Demoiselles Davignon and enjoyed the patronage and support of Gertrude Stien.
He was admired by his avant-garde peers for leading the modern movement. Joining Diaghilev’s Ballet was an unexpected career move that alienated many of his contemporaries.
Diaghilev’s led the Ballet Russes with brutal force and Picasso’s powerful personality had to submit to the expectations placed on him. He would be seen in suits during this period.
By the time that Picasso had freed himself from Diaghilev’s tyranny he was married, gentrified, a classical figurative artist and his peers were Russian Royalty, that had escaped civil war.
Just as Diaghilev had altered Picasso (temporarily) into a more conservative aspect of himself, Picasso’s presence was also influencing Diaghilev. The Russian Ballet had been marooned in Italy, unable to return home as they were regarded as Imperials, by the communists. The Modern Art movement was sweeping Europe at the time and these new influences inspired Diaghilev to move away from the traditions of ballet. He was also pro-communist.
The employment of the new Modern Masters which included Picasso as set and costume designer, Stravinsky as the score and later Balanchine as Choreographer enabled Diaghilev to create a new vision. It was not an easy transition for him, although he made great strides forward, he was never be able to fully shake off his roots, just as Picasso could never abandon his Bohemian ways.
‘The fact that neither Spain or Russia had undergone a Renaissance made their mutual understanding all the more instinctive’ JR
Picasso and Stravinsky met and firmly bonded, it was a lifetime friendship. It is through this friendship that we learn more about the influences that drove the musical direction of Stravinsky. He created raw minimal pieces and reframed older compositions. Both of these artists drew from their environment in unexpected ways, Picasso could find character in a fork and Stravinsky found music in a scratching sound.
‘Stravinsky had at a stroke re-established himself as the most chic and brilliant modernist’ JR
Picasso left the ballet and embarked on his first marriage with one of the Russian dancers Olga Khokhlova. Stravinsky remained within the Diaghilev hub and teamed up with Balanchine. Stravinsky and Balanchine shared a vision that the music and the choreography should be equal parts that worked together.
Although Stravinsky had been able to work solidly through WW1, it was not a safe place for him in WW2 ,so he had to refugee to America. His new country afforded him employment, but not on his terms.
The Stravinsky that had fooled about with Picasso had grown reserved in America. In Italy, he had sourced from popular culture and allowed himself moments of wild abandonment with the cream of Modern Art .
‘Very drunk Stravinsky raided the rooms upstairs and tossed pillows, bolsters and mattresses onto the heads of the guests below.The ensuing pillow fight kept the party going until three in the morning’JR
Despite the numerous set backs and forced immigrations, Stravinsky stayed one step ahead of destruction. In 1946, he was commission by the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York to compose Symphony in Three Movements. Balanchine created a ballet that would translate the music.
Balanchine’s Ballet is an eclectic blend of cultural references and popular trends. The 50’s were about to dawn and the Ballet showcases girls with long pony-tails in dancing gangs, exotic Asian influences, soldiers and clocks, all portrayed in leotards with no scene props. It is classically rich, within a sheer minimal exterior.
It is modern art, moving.
Scott and Bull photo by Justin Ridler
The Life of Picasso, The Triumpant Years 1917-1932,John Richardson 2010 Alfred a.Knopf
Curtains parted for the opening of 20:21, Melbourne Press attended the dress rehearsal of Filigree and Shadow.
To triumph over fear, when mere mortals run and hide.
A wild festival of sound and performance, ignited by Tim Harbours vision and the troops intuitive expression, creates a dramatic dance, executed with precision whist appearing to be passionate and spontaneous.
The artists burst through the turbulent score with a shrill that showcases their skill. They are in their natural habitat and the forces that challenge them, invigorate them. Harbour’s choreography has lit a fire in the dancers and they are intoxicated in a cult of Art.
Kelvin Ho, the Set Architect, has created a theatre within a theatre.The clean minimal design effortlessly divides the space, allowing shafts of light and a wall for the shadows. It seems as though the audience is spying an event, like a natural phenomena ; birds in a hurricane, steering into its calm eye or dolphins in a storm that are performing tricks on crashing waves.
“I’ve gone to that vicious, angry,frustrated place – what better place to exorcise yourself” Harbour explains.
There are no dull moments, it is absorbing and riveting, from beginning to end.
Filigree and Shadow are one of the three performances of 20:21 which also include Symphony In Three Movements (1946) by Choreographer George Balanchine and In The Upper Room (1986) by Twyla Tharp
When clothes do matter! Cinderella is the ‘It girl’ of the season. Even without a mother, there is the godmother to provide a night out on the town. The wicked sisters may lack the talent, taste and kindness of their rival sister but their comic timing is perfect.
The costumes are a remarkable stroke of insight. They communicate a large hunk of the tale. Ballet has no voice; the palette is made up of dance, drama, costume, score and set. The show is catchy with a surrealistic bite, re-told with a modern edge.
No one has moves like the Prince (Ty King Wall). The magnetic duo are drawn together when Cinderella (Lana Jones) ‘steals the show’ and sets the tone at the ball. The twisted sisters are deliciously offbeat.
There is nothing like a dance story told by a dance company, frock them up and send them to a Ball. This is why you should go! The dancing and Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography is a visual delight.
Cinderella is an interesting fairytale to re-visit; it carries life lessons in a purse of simple context. Jealousy is unable to suppress the hopeful soul. When humans fail, the stars align to aid her journey and her destiny.
As the full moon hangs heavy over Melbourne skies, another moon and another season, the ‘Midsummer Night’, takes flight in the deep chambers of the Art Centre, on the opening night of The Dream.
Enter into the enchanted forest where mischief casts spells on the unaware and leads them into late night folly, only to awake with a hangover of regret. Does it sound familiar? Of course it does. One can always rely on Shakespeare to understand the human heart.
“How can these things come to pass? O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!”
One does not need to read the play, to love The Dream. The magical blend of music and ballet lead the audience through the drama. The audience chuckled spontaneously through the performance, it’s bewitching and it’s funny. They cheered and applauded.
The visual beauty of the set and performance is unworldly; it’s easy for us to be tripped into its spell. The music and the dance are fused into one. The poetry of our slumber awakens to newer world, an alternative, and a deviation from the probable path into a fantastic alternative that leads us safely back, to our destination.
Ballet of this calibre is a sublime experience.
Puck, (Chengwu Guo) the mischievous fairy, is a tad liberal with his love potions, which leads to squabbles and confrontations. His dance is super-imposed with thrill and adventure whereas the ‘labourers’ trod a heavy step. It’s the unique combination of dance that binds multiple styles and creates a visual texture to the play that is echoed by the score. Kevin Jackson is mesmerising as Oberon.
Chief Conductor Nicolette Fraillon leads the orchestra gently into the play with the strings and piano opening the drama, she builds the momentum with the wind instruments that tantalise the audience into a heightened state of expectation.
David Walkers set is magnificent, enriched by the lighting techniques of John B Read. It’s a sensory feast. The evening begins with the abstract dance of Symphonic Variations and Monotones 11, which showcases the talent of Frederick Ashton and the skill and grace of the dancers. This clears the pallet to make way for the rich, full-bodied production of the Dream.