Reviews/Ballet/Dance/Perth Festival

Platinum standard under the stars

12 February 2022

West Australian Ballet launches a landmark year with a Perth Festival favourite, and Kim Balfour is swept up in the display of raw emotion.

‘Platinum: Ballet at the Quarry’, West Australian Ballet ·
The Quarry Amphitheatre, 11 February 2022 ·

West Australia Ballet (WAB) has marked the start of its 70th anniversary year with a suite of abstract neoclassical works in its annual “Ballet at the Quarry” program, each of them oozing with a raw interior of dramatic romanticism. 

Produced by talented local and international artists, three of the four works are world premieres, employing music ranging from Radiohead to Mendelssohn. With immense depth of talent, the company demonstrates how ballet can transcend its rigid technical boundaries to produce a living breathing artform.   

The first of the evening’s works, Reset, by Brazilian-British choreographer Daniela Cardim, engages with various human interactions embedded within the increasing intensity of modern life. Couples, trios and ensembles shape and form abstract depictions of mundane life and precarious human relationships, the dancers’ bodies wringing out every last drop of raw human emotion.

Accented by the striking clean lines of dynamic strip lighting – an elegant design by Matthew Marshall – there is constant dynamic tension between the lilting, weaving, bouncing mass of human bodies, until a reprieve, a reset. 

A male and female dancer embrace in an emotion charged moment
Nikki Blain and Ludovico Di Ubaldo in Matthew Lehmann’s ‘Truth‘. Photo: Bradbury Photography

The dancers remove their sporty red and grey jerseys to reveal their sunset palette unitards, designed by Bruce McKinven, as they shift gear and create a vast undulating body of water. 

The tensions between the dancers and their environment are mirrored in Gabriel Prokofiev’s vibrant classical and electronic music score. On opening night, leads Chihiro Nomura and Julio Blanes excelled in style, technique and artistry, and the ballet as a whole was beautiful to watch. 

Truth, a pas de deux created by West Australian Ballet dancer Matthew Lehmann, interrogates the concepts of perception, honesty and trust with an Emily Bronte-level Romantic tone. 

Under lighting designer Kristie Smith’s subtle moonlit night, Nikki Blain and Ludovico Di Ubaldo’s simple flowing grey costumes rippled perfectly in the opening night’s light breeze, as their poetically languid movements filled the stage with appropriate drama and yearning. 

Ludovico Einaudi’s emotionally wrought score for strings and piano enriches the graceful partnering on offer. Truth is a solid standalone duet that will be loved by those who are suckers for a magical romantic tryst. 

Based on women crossing boundaries and living unapologetically, Concerto Impertinente! (“impertinent concert”) is the most purely neoclassical work of the evening. In the tradition of Balanchine, Concerto is comprised of structured formations, speed, exquisite line and razor-sharp virtuosity, complemented by Marshall’s sophisticated minimalist lighting design. 

While WAB dancers can appear shackled to classical technique and its vocabulary, Concerto demonstrates that freedom, playfulness and creativity can emerge from structure and discipline. 

Dancers Chihiro Nomura, Claire Voss, Nikki Blain and Kiki Saito contributed to Sandy Delasalle’s work, created collaboratively over Zoom while distancing measures were in place in 2020.

Performed brilliantly in sheer black diamante-encrusted costumes, by Delasalle and BODILE, Concerto’s pieces fit together so tightly it belies its jigsaw puzzle origins. 

Choreographed by Poland’s Robert Bondara, Take Me With You has more than 4.5 million views on YouTube. While some of those hits are obviously a consequence of the work’s Radiohead score, Take Me With You stands on its own artistic merits and its opening night ensemble cast performed with the same punch and expertise of the earlier three works. 

Two ballet dancers on stage, leaping into the air with legs and arms at full stretch
Chihiro Nomura and Julio Blanes in Daniela Cardim’s ‘Reset’. Photo by Bradbury Photography

Take Me With You is an intriguing existential examination of what distracts us from finding the true meaning of life. 

Pushing through the ensemble, a single naked form emerges, falls from the darkness, and is left writhing on the floor. The cast morphs into rolling heaving balls of flesh struggling to find shape and form. Are they helping or absorbing the new arrival? Forms break away from the mass to perform duos full of dynamic tension and sensual control. 

Standout performers in this piece – from a very strong cast – included Dayana Hardy Acuna and Alexa Tuzil, the latter’s coiled strength something to behold.  

The underlying theme of “Platinum: Ballet at the Quarry” is what our internal emotional worlds look like in physical fleshy form. The collective skill of the WAB dancers allows an audience to get swept up in that raw emotion being conveyed on stage. It cannot be overstated how well the company is currently creating and performing world-class dance works. 

“Platinum: Ballet at the Quarry” continues until 5 March 2022

Pictured top: Dayana Hardy Acuna, Julio Blanes and dancers in ‘Take Me With You’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

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Author —
Kim Balfour

Kim Balfour is a 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 more than 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 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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