Reviews/Dance/Perth Festival

Passion under the stars

16 February 2021

On opening night of ‘As One: Ballet at the Quarry’ the audience was transported by West Australian Ballet’s emotional expression and technical prowess, Kim Balfour says.

‘Ballet at the Quarry: As One’, West Australian Ballet ·
Quarry Amphitheatre, 15 February, 2021 ·
Review by Kim Balfour ·

For decades, “Ballet at the Quarry” has been a popular highlight of the Perth Festival, a much-anticipated treat reliably delivered by our very own State ballet company in a beautiful setting under the stars.

This year – apart from some interesting artistic decisions – the opening night audience was swept along on a passionate journey of love and loss by the emotional expression and technical prowess of the dancers of West Australian Ballet (WAB). “As One: Ballet at the Quarry” is a triple bill of neo-classical works and focuses on overlapping and conflicting emotional themes and how they collide to form raw human experience.

Carina Roberts and Oliver Edwardson in ‘Heartache’ (Matthew Lehmann’s ‘Femi Paradox’). Photo: Bradbury Photography

Given the idyllic setting, Quarry performances are a delight to attend, even before a performer steps on stage. But the works chosen for the venue need to be large and expansive, otherwise a performance risks being engulfed by the Quarry’s idyllic void. The first work on the bill, Heartache, suffers somewhat from this problem, and its origins may be the reason.

Like a post-break-up mixtape, Heartache might be better enjoyed in a more intimate environment. Directed by WAB Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella and Principal Rehearsal Director/Artistic Associate Sandy Delasalle, Heartache is a compilation of short works about a man, Jack, who ruminates on a lifetime of love, loss and regret. The works are devised by Delasalle and five company dancers, some drawn from previous choreographic workshop seasons. Chosen by Delasalle and Scannella for their shared themes, these previously stand-alone works have been woven together into a loose narrative by Matej Perunicic’s brooding dystopian electronica music and the introduction of the mournful character of Jack.

There were some notable performances in Heartache on opening night, including Julio Blanes and Candice Adea’s smoothly executed pas de deux in Delasalle’s “Fallen”, and Carina Roberts and Oliver Edwardson in Matthew Lehmann’s “Femi Paradox”.

Next on the bill, Moment of Joy – choreographed by WAB dancers Juan Carlos Osma and Dayana Hardy Acuña – does what it says and delivers a work of pure joy and romantic exuberance. Designed by Hardy Acuña, the dancers’ costumes deepen in colour vertically, from a pale neutral to a deep pink, like the variations on a peach. Movements throughout the work are dreamy, graceful, languid, and juicy, suggesting an expression of the choreographers’ internal sense of romantic love. Matthew Marshall’s lovely lighting effects interplay with the costumes and elegant, fluid limbs gliding through space.

Moment of Joy is more generous and expansive than Heartache, with transitions from harmonious duos, trios, and ensembles executed not only smoothly but with artistry. Michael Brett’s dramatic live performance of his own piano compositions and improvisations provided the performance with a bright, dynamic and integral element.

Brent Carson, Jack Whiter and Jesse Homes in Dayana Hardy Acuña and Juan Carlos Osma’s ‘Moment of Joy’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

Seasoned Queensland-based choreographer Natalie Weir has consistently created gorgeously lush works of rich movement. Originally created for Expressions Dance Company and Singapore Dance Theatre in 2013, her work 4Seasons is an exploration and expression of universal questions about life and love, performed to recordings by various musicians and ensembles of music from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and from the album Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons.

Structured around four pas de deux – one for each season – the work is framed by and interspersed with ensemble and solo work. It begins with twenty dancers bursting into ordered chaos, canon after canon of weaving, winding and falling bodies in a continuum.

The ensemble is costumed in dark tones of lace and rich fabric, while the four couples who represent the seasons are adorned in metallics, rich reds and gold, all designed by Bruce McKinven.

The lead couples all performed beautifully, though I did favour Winter, performed by the very controlled and languid partnership of Mayume Noguromi and Christian Luck. Solo performances by Oscar Valdes and Jesse Homes were superb examples of virtuosity and control.

4Seasons acts as an excellent showcase for the company’s many strengths. Weir’s choreography takes full advantage of the venue’s vast open space, the dancers’ wild, ravenous movement leading the eye to the centre of the storm.

I hadn’t seen a West Australian Ballet performance for many years – viewing the company with fresh eyes after so long was a pleasant experience. The company of dancers is fresh, moves in harmony, and can more than handle the virtuosity and expression that the “As One” season demands of them.

‘Ballet at the Quarry: As One’ is on at the Quarry Amphitheatre until Saturday, 27 February, 2021.

Pictured top: Dayana Hardy Acuña and Juan Carlos Osma in Natalie Weir’s ‘4Seasons’ (Autumn). Photo by Bradbury Photography

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Author —
Kim Balfour

Kim Balfour is writer and former professional dancer, who has danced with companies such as WA Ballet and Sydney Dance Company. Kim has worked as a freelance writer for over 15 years, including the role of dance writer for The West Australian newspaper. In 2020, Kim was selected as a writer-in-residence at the Centre for Stories, and is currently writing a work of creative nonfiction on gender identity and expression in dance. As a child Kim was sometimes seen sitting on a gently spinning playground carousel, deep in thought, staring at her feet as they dragged along the ground.

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