The Australian Ballet
May 28, 2001
Reviewed by Christie Taylor
Softly, it was as if my grandmother was with me, borne by a long-held memory. Richard Roberts’s three-sided, gray-scaled fabric set encapsulated retired dancer Valrene Tweedie and her younger counterparts for the duration of choreographer Stephen Baynes’s world premiere of Requiem. The lightly falling sets protected the dancers as if they were surrounded by a heavenly cocoon. There was no escape from the stage.
Calligraphic motions, mostly arabesques and promenades, created whispery brush strokes against the soft fabric behind. The dancers took turns approaching Tweedie, taking her hand and moving with her, and as they did, it was as if they physically gathered her strength and intuition, passing it along to their partners. None of this shared wisdom escaped, but built into joyous movement between groups and couples. Soloist Elisha Willis was especially fluid, floating like a leaf between the men who partnered her. She was one of the last to dance with Tweedie before everyone exited. We were left with only stillness.
As transcendental as Baynes’s piece was, resident choreographer Natalie Weir’s new interpretation of Carmina Burana seemed embraced by earth’s gravity. It was about struggle, and principal Nicole Rhodes, in a shocking red dress, was the token muse. In the shadows were hints of betrayal, as she sensually moved about the crowded stage filled with dancers and members of the State Opera Chorus and the Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus, trying to lure humanity out of complacency and quiet desperation. The result was near chaos, until the cast fused into a human wall at the front of the stage.
With each street-clothed man and woman giving his or her all, Carl Orff’s soulful score was a highlight. The singers at times were even more interesting than the dancers, whose short vignettes in the early part of the ballet were too reminiscent of the Jets’ street scenes from West Side Story, and didn’t mix with the sincerity and plainness of the rest of the cast. Dan Potra’s costumes threw plainness out the window, however, during the second act, when a line of dancers paraded down an elevated fashion runway in outrageously lavish outfits, à la Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It was each woman for herself, in a display that was wonderfully Australian: “O Fortuna” with individuality and flair.