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Reviews/Dance

Diverse double bill sees dancers rise to the occasion

16 June 2021

WAAPA’s second year dance students have risen to the challenge posed by a classical and contemporary pairing, writes Rita Clarke.

‘Rise’, WAAPA second year dance students ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 14 June 2021 ·

Bringing together classical and contemporary works, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) dance department’s annual “Rise” season is aptly named, giving second year students their first public evening performance of the season.

Guest artist Leanne Stojmenov (former principal artist with the Australian Ballet) and WAAPA Lecturer Kim McCarthy have restaged the early 20th century classical ballet Les Sylphides to open the program, producing an arresting structure in which their students can flex their burgeoning wings. WAAPA alumni Kynan Hughes’s demanding contemporary work, Memento Mori likewise sets a challenge.

From the first well-known strains of Frederic Chopin’s music (sensitively played by pianist Gennaro Di Donna) the quixotic and tender mood of Les Sylphides is set, and the tutu clad dancers appear on stage, visions of your iconic jewellery-box ballerinas.

Choreographed by Michel Fokine and premiered by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909, Les Sylphides features a young poet (Daniel Powell) dancing amongst a host of alluring mythic maidens. Many of these spend their time forming a decorative fringe around the soloists, producing the lengthy tableaux vivants of the period. Whilst these dancers will be hoping it won’t be long before they can move their aching limbs, the audience is able to appreciate, as in an art gallery, the beauty of their motionless stance.

A male and female ballet dancer - she holds an arabesque, he stands behind her supporting her. Both wear white, she is in a tutu.
Alysa Byrne and Daniel Powell in ‘Les Sylphide’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

To Chopin’s mellifluous music, soloists Laura Harwood, Nina Domashchenko, Alysa Byrne and Tamika Farrugia execute with disarming grace the ornamental mannerism of the Romantic ballet idiom. Particularly magnetic with her yearning sweetness and command was the weightless Farrugia.

Powell has the looks of a future principal dancer and upheld the trickiest intricacies when supporting his partners but rarely convinced as an object of desire, which a poet in this situation would surely have wished. He no doubt will grow in Nureyev bravura – he has the power, illustrated in his formidable jetes.

Sascha Budimski’s sound composition for Memento Mori, is as far from Chopin as we are to our next inhabitable planet. Mostly made up of beating rhythms it screeches rather prophetically, across the airways like back-fire flung into the future. Hughes’s choreography, being maverick and ardent, suits it.

His 18 dancers, dressed in black, three-quarter legged leotards and white shirts (Alicia Mathews) have a stylistic identity of their own, dancing solo or in groups. They are mostly on stage all together, the movement vocabulary consisting of wide legged and thrusting arm gestures and crumbling bodies, sometimes corpse-like, being dragged along the floor.

The dancers possess the physical agility to propel the fast-paced work to the emotional crescendo of the final scene, mainly featuring only four performers (Drew Holloway, Max Higgins, Sarah Kinch and Madilynn Bayliss. With shirts discarded, framed in a subtle black-on-black lighting design (Kalib Gwilyn) the four performed some eye-grabbing combinations with a sophisticated ease perhaps unexpected for their stage of development.

As Goethe pointed out of a poet – as of, surely, any dramatist – he/she “should articulate the present and if there be anything about him, he will articulate the universal.” Hughes came intensely close to illustrating the predicaments of our global present day situation.

“Rise” continues until 17 June 2021.

Top photo: ‘Memento Mori’ by Kynan Hughes. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

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Author —
Rita Clarke

Whilst studying arts at UWA Rita found herself working at Radio 6UVSfm presenting the breakfast and Arts shows, and writing and producing various programs for ABC’s Radio National. A wordsmith at heart she also began writing features and reviews on theatre, film and dance for The Australian, The Financial Review, The West Australian, Scooby and other magazines. Tennis keeps her fit, and her family keeps her happy, as does writing now for Seesaw.

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