Not a very catchy name for what was a gala programme from The Australian Ballet accompanied by and featuring a scaled-down Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Launceston’s Princess Theatre. As the film so cleverly put together by Matthew Donnelly told us, in fact the Princess has only been a live venue since 1970: despite having been originally planned as such it was used as a cinema for its first 59 years. The first live performance was by The Australian Ballet with the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra, and featured Les Patineurs, Symphony in Gold, and Hamlet. Hem, hem, Mr McAllister. Les Patineurs!
The programme started with Peter Sculthorpe’s Overture for a Joyous Occasion, especially reworked for the event, featuring the brass section on stage. It was indeed a joyous piece, and received due recognition at each of the three performances.
As the weekend coincided with the Bodytorque.Muses programme in Sydney, and JACK Productions’ Animal in Melbourne, only a limited pool of dancers was available from which to draw. So little Launceston got 9 (of 14) principal artists, one (of 4) senior artist, and 3 soloists. Fantastic, and if I had been the casting director, unless I’d nearly killed him by casting Robert Curran in nearly everything, I couldn’t have chosen better myself.
The first pas de deux was the classical Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux with variations and coda, as seen in Sir Peter Wright’s Nutcracker as performed in 2010 in both Melbourne and Sydney. We were treated to the tall and elegant Adam Bull and the classically stylish Rachel Rawlins. Yummy. Lots of applause on opening night when the curtain went up, just at the pretty pink and silver and glittery costumes I think, although I still think the Prince’s jacket is too bunchy behind the neck.
Second on the programme was the 2nd movement pas de deux from Tim Harbour’s Halcyon, created in 2010 on Madeleine Eastoe, with partner Rudy Hawkes on this occasion as original partner Ty King-Wall was unavailable. It was wonderful to see it again, although a pity there were no programme notes so I had to summarise the ballet for those around me at all three performances. Eastoe and Hawkes were very well received at all shows, in fact the more modern pieces often received more applause than most of the “classical” ones. It did seem odd though for me not to see Zeus and Hera in the shadows.
The third item was the meltingly evocative pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain, part of the British Liaisons programme that has just finished in Sydney and will go to Melbourne later this year. Originally choreographed for retiring NYCB dancer Jock Soto, it was Steven Heathcote’s swansong as a principal in 2007. For my money, the best man in the company right now for it is Robert Curran (whose retirement is not, to the best of my knowledge, imminent), and that’s who we got, with Robyn Hendricks, Ballet Dancer Award nominee this year. I felt the combination of the experienced, mature male with the less-experienced and much younger girl worked well, although I wonder how much more emotional it would be for the audience with two experienced, mature dancers…?
…And now for something completely different, the wedding pas de deux with variations and coda from Act III of Coppélia, from the dazzling Leanne Stojmenov and Yosvani Ramos. This pair danced the full-length ballet together in 2010, and they are obviously comfortable partnering each other. Ramos’ pirouettes a la seconde are one of my favourite things to watch, as he turns on the proverbial dime: sadly not the case with everyone’s pirouettes. Stojmenov has a very special charm, perfect for Swanilda.
The first half of the evening was closed by a taste of the forthcoming Melbourne season titled Elegy, two works by resident choreographer Stephen Baynes. We were treated to a snippet of Beyond Bach, featuring Amber Scott partnered by Andrew Killian with Brett Simon, and Juliet Burnett partnered by Adam Bull with Rudy Hawkes. The lovely Air, the deceptively simple Anna French frocks, and the beautiful dancing combined to send us uplifted to the freezing street at interval.
Returning inside, the curtain rose to reveal…a cinema screen. Accompanied by an excerpt from Elena Kats-Chernin’s Wild Swans Suite, originally commissioned by the AB, company member Matthew Donnelly’s video history of the Princess Theatre was enjoyable and informative.
The curtains then rose again to reveal a backdrop: a forest at night, with a moonlit lake in the background. Upstage right was a simple cross-marked grave, with a bouquet of lilies…yep, act II of Giselle (no, silly woman behind me, not Les Sylphides, not with that grave). Rachel Rawlins was exquisite, and it was the first time I can remember seeing her partnered by Yosvani Ramos, whose broad experience overseas was well in evidence.
Amber Scott reappeared, waiting for Adam Bull to join her in a second excerpt from Stephen Baynes, Molto Vivace: a dreamy and very romantic pas de deux they performed with great success in-season in 2010. Gorgeous.