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Reviews/Dance/Perth Festival

The joy of movement

10 February 2020

Nina Levy finds much to enjoy in WA Ballet’s ‘Light and Shadow’ in the Quarry Amphitheatre.

Review: West Australian Ballet, ‘Light and Shadow: Ballet at the Quarry’ ·
Quarry Amphitheatre, 8 February 2020 ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

There’s a pleasing sense of balance to WA Ballet’s 2020 Quarry Amphitheatre program, “Light and Shadow”. In contrast to last year’s “In-Synch”, “Light and Shadow” feels thematically unified, with three abstract works of neoclassical and contemporary ballet that encourage the audience to revel in the joy of movement for movement’s sake.

Though Saturday night didn’t provide the traditional balmy conditions for this annual outdoor season, racing clouds about a near full moon provided a pleasingly dramatic backdrop.

First up is an extract from Air and Other Invisible Forces by legendary Australian choreographer, Graeme Murphy, created for Sydney Dance Company in 1999, at the heart of his 31-year reign as artistic director. The contemporary ensemble piece is set to “Mourned by the Wind”, an orchestral work composed by Giya Kancheli in 1989 (music for the entire program is recorded, the lack of an orchestra pit being the venue’s only downside). Though Air is abstract, plaintive strings underpinned by heavier notes from brass and wind sections create a poignant backdrop to the work, in which the dancers seem at the mercy of the elements.

Chihiro Nomura and the dancers of WA Ballet in ‘Air and Other Invisible Forces’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev

Renowned fashion designer Akira Isogawa’s asymmetric costumes are a highlight of this work. In particular, the sheer green dresses of the early scenes seem to suggest an aquatic realm as the dancers waft and wave, anemone-like, around an undulating soloist.

Choreographically, a folding and falling pas de deux, executed with feeling and precision by Chihiro Nomura and Ludovico Di Ulbado in this casting, is notable. A somersaulting section for three pairs of male dancers and an acrobatic duet for six male/female pairs are also exciting to watch but looked slightly precarious at this opening weekend performance.

After interval, the mood remains relatively sombre in Architecture of Hope, a work for eight dancers created for this season by Dutch rising star Wubkje Kuindersma and set to the rhythmic and driving patterns of Ezio Bosso’s Symphony No. 1 (Oceans) – Movement 1 and 4.

From the sculptural opening female solo into a pas de deux that slices sharply through the space (performed with precision by Carina Roberts and Jesse Homes), there’s a sense of tight choreographic control in this work. Another duet follows. With gentle gestures and undulating arabesque lines, it’s softer but no less athletic; performed in this casting by Dayana Hardy Acuña and Juan Carlos Osma with their trademark dynamism.

Transitions – from ensemble, to multiple duets in unison, to featured pas de deux – are almost imperceptible. The work is dynamic, canons of arching lifts and soaring jetés are uplifting to watch. Contrasting the deep burgundies worn by the men, the women shoot filaments of red through one ensemble scene. It’s invigorating.

A second interval makes way for a change of pace. In Light and Shadow, by Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor (of Dracula fame), is all about play and was danced with evident enjoyment by its cast of 18 on Saturday night.

Clad in brightly coloured outfits that range from shiny ball dresses to sporty shorts and singlets, the dancers form a stark contrast to the Baroque formality of Bach’s “Goldberg” variations, punctuated by Orchestral Suite in D.

The dancers of WA Ballet in ‘In Light and Shadow’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev

With courtly gestures and steps, the choreography pays homage to the Baroque era, but is interspersed with cheeky shoulder rolls and hip circles. The pace is fast from the outset and it gets faster as solos, duos, trios, ensembles overlap and intertwine.

It’s hard to pick favourites but a section in which the female dancers perform a mini-marathon of breathtakingly fast footwork – in memory a blur of pas chat, pas de basque, échappés, retirés and more – bathed in an orange glow from the legs down, is a standout. And the swirling maelstrom that is the penultimate scene is absolutely joyous.

I have just one quibble: while I applaud this year’s programming choices, there are so few opportunities for up-and-coming Australian classical choreographers. It seems unfair not to include one in this program (as has been done before).

That said, whether you’re a diehard fan of this season or a newbie, “Light and Shadow” showcases WA’s flagship company in one of our state’s most beautiful theatre spaces.

“Light and Shadow”: Ballet at the Quarry runs until 29 February 2020.

Pictured top: Carina Roberts and Jesse Homes in “Architecture of Hope”. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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