West Australian Ballet (WAB) has outdone itself. Its highly accessible, exquisite contribution to the Perth International Arts Festival means the company could cruise through the rest of the season resting on its laurels, simply riding on the goodwill from this production.
The event was classy but far from the frenzy of propriety one might expect; a perfect treat for a partner or a bold move sure to impress a date. The well-to-do crowd, families included, picnicked on the grass of the gorgeous quarry amphitheatre beneath a clear sky speckled with stars as the dancers warmed up on stage.
Each piece gave the dancers involved a chance to be on display, intermittently soloing and, at times, all sharing the stage in elaborate choreography. There were no sets (beyond a barre in To the Pointe), which allowed the dancers to use the space in its entirety, moving from one side to the opposite.
The 1.5-hour affair launched with 5, a short excerpt from Act 1 of Giselle, the efforts of celebrated British choreographer David Dawson, who returns to work with the company after sixteen years. In this, its Australian premiere, the 10-minute piece had a classical score and was performed by 5 dancers (the 3 ballerinas wearing traditional white tutus; the stuff of childhood dreams). Special mention must go to the arresting dancing of Adam Alzaim and Andre Santos .
To the Pointe followed; a sexy mix of backlit ballet, contemporary, and hip hop dance. Collaboratively choreographed by the seven dancers, it included moves from three time Australian BBoy Champion Pepito (aka Carlos Estigarribia) who burst onto stage sporting white kicks, a do rag, and bucket hat. The catchy tune Big Spender by Gentleman’s Vibe had the crowd moving, and the performers looked suitably urban in black costumes overwritten with graffiti. Also a short 10 minutes, their bodies looked a little stiff at points (not that I could do it), perhaps being less accustomed to this movement’s vocab.
Third came Ambiguous Content, which Australian choreographer Craig Davidson created for Ballet at the Quarry. With an ensemble of 8, who looked like the kind of humans the Greek’s mythologized, they wore grey and silver little nothings designed by Kate Venables, and moved to a score that might have come from a Lars von Trier film. Blooming into fast and urgent synchronicity, with lifts and turns and jetes, its pinnacle was a dance writ in sombre shadow by principal dancer Brooke Widdison-Jacobs – stunning and indefatigable – buoyed along by Alessio Scognamiglio, Christopher Hill and Andrew Radak.
Performed by principal dancer Matthew Lehmann and Ballet Mistress Sandy Delasalle (meaning she directs and trains the company on top of dancing), On the Nature of Daylight saw a partnership equal to that of Riggs and Murtaugh play out onstage. Face lit by dark passion, company strongman Lehmann was excellent and Delasalle owned the space in the mesmerizing, extended duet, again an Australian premiere by David Dawson.
The final offering, In Black, was from Brazilian WAB dancer Andre Santos. With thirteen performers, this was a showcase piece that drew more from the corps de ballet. My favourite work, it had surging score – including pieces from 3 different composers – and had been developed since Santos presented it as part of Genesis in 2014 (an annual platform for up and coming choreographers from the ranks of WAB’s own dancers to demonstrate a short work). Soloist Florence Leroux-Coléno (France) and demi-soloist Polly Hilton (Hong Kong) really stood out in this inspired work that had the audience enraptured.
There were occasional moments of problematic timing, but the preened and perfect dancers moved with such incredible grace and strength – they neared half human, half unicorn- it was rarely noticed. The spectacle might only have been improved if the music had been played live; WAB has been known to collaborate with the West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra. The dancers, somehow masking their exertion with pearly white smiles, were something to behold. I appreciated the aesthetic of their glistening, rippling abs and iron thighs as I lounged back and quaffed wine, completely enthralled by their sure footed athleticism in pointe shoes. My body groaned as it imagined attempting the supreme way they moved; supple and utterly elastic.
Words by Samuel J. Cox
‘Five by Night: Ballet at the Quarry’ runs 5 – 27 February at Quarry Amphitheatre, City Beach. Tickets available here.