Reviews/Contemporary dance/Dance

It’s game, set and match to Elstermann

29 April 2022

Witty and clever, Scott Elstermann’s new dance work dominates the court, reports Rita Clarke.

Petrushka (Game, Set, Match), Scott Elstermann ·
State Theatre Centre, Studio Underground, 28 April 2022 ·

Scott Elstermann’s Petrushka (Game, Set, Match) is a 50-minute contemporary dance work set on a tennis court.

Like Hamlet, its choreographer knows a hawk from a handsaw, but his mind does work in mysterious ways. Not much dramatic leeway, surely, in watching a ball fly back and forth across a net? What could have inspired him?

The original Petrushka premiered as a ballet in 1911, for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with choreography by Michel Fokine and music by Igor Stravinsky. It’s set at a fair where three puppets – Petrushka, the Moor and the Ballerina – are brought to life by a magician. Petrushka loves the ballerina but she wants the Moor; a theme most likely to end in tragedy and oh so familiar to many art forms.

Maybe Elstermann’s thought process went like this: Petrushka? One of the much-loved narratives I like to adapt. Stravinsky? Avant-garde composer. Me? Courageous avant-garde choreographer and one-time tennis ace – go for it.

Well he does have the backing of serious credentials – youngest international artist to receive the Pina Bausch Fellowship, as well as various eminent dance and choreographic awards – so why not?

And it turns out that Elstermann’s adaptation, in which Petrushka and the Moor furiously compete in a tennis match, is clever, witty and well performed. Molly Werner’s costumes are nicely apt and Peter Young’s lighting, with hues of mauve and menace when the evil magician appears, equally so.

Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson as the Moor and David Mack as Petrushka compete for the affections of the Ballerina, played by Laura Boynes. Photo: Daniel Grant Photographer

David Mack (Petrushka) and Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson (the Moor) don’t quite match Roger Federer’s smooth-stroking sublimity. But then Federer wouldn’t match up to their devastating dexterity. Dressed in whites – the despairing Mack’s dirtier than the puffed-up Robinson’s – the two compete for the Ballerina (Laura Boynes). Attired in white trousers, white sleeveless shirt and shades, she sits, up in the umpire’s chair, happily awarding point after point to the Moor.

All the while the pair are being manipulated by the hard-hearted Magician (superbly captured by Bernadette Lewis). Mack and Robinson nail the slack-string puppet floppiness hilariously. Both execute the most tricky and awe-inspiring contortions on the floor – twisting their bodies in ways that make the eyes water.

How beautiful to watch though. Mack also gets your softy up a bit, with his distraught unrequited pleading, clasping his racket like a prayer-book.

The ball kids are perfect caricatures. Photo: Daniel Grant Photography

Of course, no tennis match is complete without ball kids, played here by six talented recent graduates from WAAPA’s LINK program (Emily Coles, Briannah Davis, Jo Omodei, Bianca Perrone, Giorgia Schijf and Emily Tuckwell). Elstermann has a wicked sense of humour and the ball kids are such perfect caricatures – dressed in yellowy-green shorts and tops with the ubiquitous sun cap, ear and neck flaps flapping about as they march or shoot their arms, huddled together and dancing in unison or cowering before the Magician.

The opening night audience initially seemed a bit worried about laughing but as the piece evolved responded to the humour. One of the funniest parts sees Boynes – beautifully channelling Maria Sharapova in her poses – held aloft by the feet of the prone Mack, Lewis and Robinson. She is then moved precariously about, her obvious alarm comically portrayed. And the ending is surprising and funny.

Elstermann’s dance venture into the world of tennis has played out well – his quirky ideas so in tune to Stravinsky’s dramatic, sometimes dissonant, and very disparate passages.

Elstermann is a Perth boy going places – so you won’t want to miss this.

Although Petrushka was sold out, there are now a few more tickets available thanks to eased capacity restrictions. The season continues at the State Theatre Centre until 1 May 2022.

Pictured top is Laura Boynes, as the Ballerina, supported by David Mack, Bernadette Lewis and Tyrone Earl Lraé Robinson. Photo: Daniel Grant 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.

Past Articles

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