Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Australian Ballet's Butterfly

Miwako Kubota as Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly
Performed by the Australian Ballet
25 Feb 2011
Reviewed by Jordan Beth Vincent

Madame Butterfly, choreographed by Stanton Welch and based on Puccini’s opera, tells the story of a naïve geisha (Rachel Rawlins) who puts her trust in a two-timing American cad, Pinkerton (Robert Curran). It is a nod to 19th century romantic ballets with exotic characters, lavish costumes, and tragic content.

In addition to its decadent exterior, Madame Butterfly is riddled with conflicting emotions and cultural clashes. These elements find easy expression in the operatic libretto but are lost in translation in Welch’s classical ballet vocabulary. The dancers ‘explain’ the action through wild gesticulations, and present sketchy characterisations of coquettish geishas, grimacing Japanese warriors, and blond American bimbos.

However, Welch excels at crafting more straightforward emotions, such as in the pas de deux that closes Act I. Pinkerton’s lust for Butterfly is shown through his masterful manipulation of her body– he catches her as though snatching a length of silk from the air. She responds with a spinning serpentine embrace, sliding limply to the floor in a puddle at his feet.

Rawlins is an interesting choice for Butterfly. She has the poise and experience to execute the challenging choreography beautifully, yet is a little too assured to convince as a naïve, lovestruck teenager. Leanne Stojmenov, as Butterfly’s loyal servant, and Tzu-Chao Chou, as the creepy marriage broker, bring outstanding relief to a somber and laboured landscape.

For tragic romantics, Madame Butterfly will hit the mark. Those who cringe at the notion of a 19th century style story ballet had best sit this one out.

A version of this review was published in The Age newspaper

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