Gala promises to be a people pleaser

20 November 2020

With a snappy program that is paced to suit our social media shaped attention spans, West Australian Ballet’s ‘Gala’ is designed for popular appeal, writes Nina Levy.

“Gala”, West Australian Ballet ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 19 November 2020 ·

The practice of concluding the year with a season of The Nutcracker is common amongst ballet companies around the world and it’s no secret why. The Petipa Christmas classic is a safe bet when it comes to bums on seats.

So it’s unsurprising that West Australian Ballet has adopted the tradition, albeit biennially rather than annually.

Presumably, though, the powers-that-be are also aware that not all their regulars necessarily want to watch Nutcracker on repeat.

The decision, then, to program a gala of highlights from the company’s repertoire alongside The Nutcracker season is a smart one. Comprised of 11 excerpts and short works, WAB’s “Gala” is a broad-appealing mix of classical, neoclassical and contemporary ballet offerings. Performed over two 50-minute acts, it’s also perfect for the social-media shaped attention span.

The program opens with the driving rhythms of Eric Gauthier’s Takuto (2013. First performed by WAB in 2017, this high-octane excerpt sees the dancers become percussionists who play five Japanese Taiko drums. Led by Matthew Lehmann, who reprised his 2017 role with verve, the opening night cast gave a powerful performance, as though fulled by their own rhythms.

Matthew Lehmann and Chihiro Nomura in the first of two pas de deux from ‘The Great Gatsby’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

The difficulty factor of the famed pas de deux from Le Corsaire ensures that the atmosphere remains heightened. Choreographed by WAB’s Sandy Delasalle and Scannella, this 2019 version retains Marius Petipa’s style, shape and technical challenges. On opening night Mayume Noguromi and Juan Carlos Osma gave a tenacious performance, with Osma’s impressive pirouette a la seconde,followed by his final, dramatic collapse to the floor, the highlight.

The cracking pace continues through the next two offerings. The comedy of the first, Gauthier’s tongue-in-cheek lecture-demonstration Ballet 101 (2006), is reliant on a blend of absolute precision and charisma, which Matthew Edwardson delivered in spades on opening night.

The second, Smeulders’ 2013 take on Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “Grand Tarantelle”, is like a souped-up character dance for two couples. Stuffed full of fast footwork and speccy jumps, it teeters on the edge of eisteddfod-style, but was carried off stylishly by Kymberleigh Krzysztofiak-Cowley, Jesse Homes, Carina Roberts and Julio Blanes.

Next is the first of two neoclassical pas de deux from David Nixon’s The Great Gatsby (2013), performed in 2017. These two duets, the first a simple declaration of love, the second darker and more passionate, were performed with panache by Matthew Lehmann and Chihiro Nomura. Their partnership is a glorious one, as it soars from starry lifts to plunging penchés.

Though it’s hard to pick a favourite from this program, excerpts from Edward Clug’s Radio & Juliet (2005) might be mine. First performed by WAB at 2014’s “Ballet at the Quarry”, this contemporary interpretation of the Shakespeare classic to a soundtrack of songs by Radiohead feels better suited to the confines of His Majesty’s Theatre.

The cast of suited and masked men gave a slick performance of movement that slices and dices, but the star of the show was Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, who has stepped out of retirement to return to the role of Juliet. Six years on she has developed a sassy confidence that gave the deep plies and bird-like hand gestures of the choreography a new appeal. She and Juan Carlos Osma made a fluid and compelling couple.

A pas de deux from WAB’s CoVid Lab season, a studio showing of works created by the dancers during lockdown, gave two of the company’s Young Artists a chance to shine in the opening night casting. Beatrice Manser and Brent Carson’s rippling duet captures the mood of that moment and, in doing so, holds its own in some impressive company.

‘Architecture of Hope’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

The mood continues sombre in the aforementioned second Gatsby pas de deux, into excerpts from Wubkje Kuindersma’s Architecture of Hope, which premiered earlier this year. Though this contemporary work was created pre-pandemic, the poignant, elongated chords of Ezio Bosso’s “Adagio (White Ocean Antarctic)” and the pockets of candlelight made me wonder if Kuindersma had a premonition of what was to come. Her sculptural solos, duets and trios were beautifully performed by the opening night cast of eight.

Two pas de deux conclude the program. The first, Les Indomptés (1992) by French choreographer Claude Brumachon, is a duet for two men. Against the soulful strains of Wim Merten’s falsetto, there’s a sense of emotional conflict and resolution in this work, created by repeating gestures of physical struggle. It was performed with strength and feeling by Ludovico Di Ulbaldo and Adam Alzaim.

Finishing the night on a classical note, the Grande Pas de Deux from Don Quixote, by Dame Lucette Aldous after Marius Petipa, was expertly performed by Candice Adea and Oscar Valdés on opening night. Aldous herself danced this pas de deux opposite Rudolf Nureyev and Valdés seemed to be channelling her partner with his gorgeously lofty grande allegro enchainments and exhilarating pirouettes.

As the curtain fell and the house-lights came up, the return to reality felt abrupt. Perhaps a company curtain call is needed to enable the audience to see their favourite dancers one last time? If the opening night response is anything to go by, WAB’s “Gala” program is sure to be as much of a crowd-pleaser as its season counterpart.

“Gala” continues until 11 December 2020.

Read Seesaw’s review of The Nutcracker.

Pictured top: Juan Carlos Osma and Mayume Noguromi in the pas de deux from ‘Le Corsaire’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

Oscar Valdes in the Grande Pas de Deux from ‘Don Quixote’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

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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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