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Triple Ashton

It’s been a huge month for the Australian Ballet. Long time and much loved principal artist Madeleine Eastoe announced her retirement after 18 years with the company. A few weeks earlier, senior artist Reiko Hombo had also announced her departure. The loss of senior ranked artists is a big deal in ballet companies. But with change comes opportunity. Earlier this month, following her debut performance as Giselle, Ako Kondo, was promoted to principal artist—the company’s highest rank. She is just 24 years old. With more promotions inevitable, and a wealth of talent among the more junior ranks, there is the opportunity to witness rising stars shine as they angle for promotion.

Performance

The Australian Ballet: “The Dream”

Place

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, New South Wales, April 29 - May 16, 2015

Words

Claudia Lawson

The Australian Ballet in Frederick Ashton's “The Dream.” Photograph by Daniel Boud

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With perfect timing, the Australian Ballet’s “The Dream” offers a variety of roles to showcase talent. It is a triple bill, made up of three works by English choreographer Frederick Ashton (of “Cinderella” and “The Tales of Beatrix Potter” fame). The first two works are in a modernist vein, the third a rollicking interpretation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The opening piece is “Monotones II.” This pas de trois originally created as a gala piece in 1965 is set to the wondrous sounds of Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopédieseven those not familiar with classical music will be humming along to the well-known tune. On opening night the three dancers are Natasha Kusen, Brett Simon and Jared Wright. Clad in head to toe white lycra, they weave and interact with wonderful fluidity, never quite committing to a relationship within the three. The opening sequence is a highlight. Unfortunately, on opening night, the execution in full wasn’t there. The white costuming highlighted out-of-sync moments and squeaky shoes meant the ability to drift into Ashton’s work was to some extent lost.

The second piece, “Symphonic Variations, is one of Ashton's most celebrated and demanding works. It is also non-narrative, but this time with six dancers—three men and three women. When Aston first presented the work, Margot Fonteyn was one of his chosen six. The piece has a wonderful energy displayed through quickening choreography and a score that builds and builds. By the end of the piece, sweat drips from the dancer’s bodies. Amber Scott, Robyn Hendricks and Ako Kondo were cast on opening night at the Sydney Opera House. Amber Scott was the highlight, her seniority evident; she has an alluring calmness and suberb artistry. Robyn Hendricks and Ako Kondo were also strong. In Ako Kondo’s first performance since being promoted, there was a new confidence despite a strained face.

The highlight of the night is the third work, “The Dream.” The performance takes on a completely new pace, a captivating interpretation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream. With a wonderful light-heartedness, we watch as mischievous sprites mess with the love-lives of mere mortals. The star of the night is Chengwu Guo. In the role of Puck he is perfectly cast. Mischievous, naughty and with elevation beyond belief—he flies effortlessly across the stage executing bold and technically difficult jumps with ease. He is a joy to watch. Joseph Chapman is also a highlight, plucked from the corps de ballet to play the role of Bottom. Decked out in pointe shoes and a donkeys head, he perfectly portrays the stubborn awkwardness of the role. Benedicte Bemet as moth, is another stand out. With mesmerising stage presence and talent to boot, even amongst the corps de ballet, it is hard to look anywhere else when she is on stage.

With the magnificent Madeleine Eastoe departing, one can only hope she will return in some form to pass on her knowledge of artistry and technique to the up-and-comers. Her clear love for this art form is evident in the care she takes with every step. In the lead role of Titania she is simply wondrous.

“The Dream” presents an interesting mix of Frederick Ashton’s choreography. The first two pieces lacked the buzz or joy of the final piece, but “The Dream” is a wonderful opportunity to experience world-class dancers perform modernist dance as well as classical technique wrapped up with quirky Shakespearean characters—all set to glorious scores.

Claudia Lawson


Claudia Lawson is a dance critic based in Sydney, Australia, writing regularly for ABC Radio National, ABC Arts, and Fjord Review. After graduating with degrees in Law and Forensic Science, Claudia worked as a media lawyer for the ABC, FOXTEL and the BBC in London, where she also co-founded Street Sessions dance company. Returning to Sydney, Claudia studied medicine and now works as a doctor. She is the host of the award-winning Talking Pointes Podcast.

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