Wednesday, September 3, 2008

From the archive: White

The Australian Ballet

June 9, 2005

State Theatre, the Arts Centre, Melbourne

Reflecting on the history of the white tutu in ballet, White is a trilogy of ballets spanning three centuries.

Couched between two well-known ballets - La Bayadere and Suite en Blanc - is Relic, a new work by resident choreographer Adrian Burnett.
Burnett tries to acknowledge history and move towards the future of the "ballet blanc", but is not entirely successful.
Relic features 11 men and a woman, a play on the large female cast and single male of traditional white ballets.
In the opening scene, Rani Luther, in a fussy white tutu (pictured), is ensconced in pale drapery with a large chandelier, immediately linking the tutu with a past era.
Emerging from the cocoon, she is joined by the men, who are wearing loose white skirts. As the work progresses, layers of costume are stripped away, down to a bare beige tutu and finally unisex, skin-toned leotards.
The movement is an incongruous mix of showy ballet steps interspersed with modern dance cliches. Unfortunately for Burnett, a flexed foot and an off-balance tilt do not constitute new movement, as he purports to create.
Nor does he explore alternate partnering techniques. Even in the two male pas de deux, there is little variation from traditional ballet forms.
Despite his insistence in Relic's program notes that the woman is more than an object of beauty - "She is the equal (of the men) in every way" - Burnett's choreography reads otherwise. Luther is repeatedly lifted, paraded and manipulated, rarely moving independently. Her expression is strong, yet the choreography betrays her, constantly returning her to passivity.
Relic is far from a satisfactory modern ballet experience. The one saving grace is the fascinating score by Bartok, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste.

Act 4 of Petipa's 19th-century ballet, La Bayadere, is titled The Kingdom of the Shades. It follows Solon, an Indian prince, hallucinating about finding his murdered lover Nikiya in a ghostly other-world. The shades, in gauzy white tutus, slowly descend in a snaking line to the dark stage, illuminated by a murky moon, with symmetrical grace.
The technical demands of the two lead roles are easily met by Lucinda Dunn and Robert Curran, yet the dramatic possibilities are not entirely realised.

Suite en Blanc is a series of picturesque ballet variations, choreographed in 1943 by Serge Lifar. While beautifully simple to watch, the choreography is deceptively difficult for the dancers, who gave an outstanding performance.
Madeleine Eastoe was demure yet gorgeous and Lana Jones again displayed her astounding athletic ability. Lynette Wills' brilliant technique shone in the pas de trois with Curran and Matthew Lawrence. But it was the star performances of Rachel Rawlins and Gaylene Cummerfield that really impressed. Cummerfield performed the fiendishly difficult Variation de la Cigarette with confidence, chic style and joyful effervescence, while Rawlins was elegant and musical in her equally demanding variation and pas de deux with Tristan Message.

(First published in The Age newspaper)

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