WA Ballet hits high notes at 70

25 June 2022

Traversing a range of human emotion, West Australian Ballet’s latest triple bill is an evening of beautifully performed contemporary dance, reports Kim Balfour.

‘STATE’, West Australian Ballet ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 24 June 2022 ·

West Australian Ballet’s contemporary dance triple bill, “STATE”, cuts deeply into a rich vein of human emotion, exploring desire, human connection, and dread. It’s a fitting and relatable range of moods given the past few years of relentless global uncertainty.

An annual program that debuted last year, “STATE” is intended to expand and broaden the company’s repertoire. The works in this collection prove to be worthy additions.

The world premiere of With|In|Sight, by internationally-renowned Australian choreographer Craig Davidson, opens the evening. It’s an atmospherically ambient work of layered movement, soundscapes and muted visual palettes. Davidson explores the inevitability of personal turmoil and its relationship to clarity. Sometimes everything falls into place, peppered with serendipity.

The sensory elements of With|In|Sight – the choreography, Damien Cooper’s shadowy pale pastel mists, Jonathan Heck’s moodily layered score, and Alana Sargent’s elegantly subdued costumes – fall into an ambiguous space between turmoil and clarity, their peaks and troughs clipped, their sharp edges rounded.

It is interesting to experience movement as you might experience ambient music – hypnotic, trance like. The dancers feed this mood, shifting between metronomic gesticulations and smooth, sliding transitions, the tempo of layered movement converging, merging and overlapping. This is an intriguing work that plays with the mood state of its audience.

A woman stands, posed, her face tipped upwards and one arm extended from the elbow. A man sits in front of her, his back to the camera, holding her and looking up at her.
Matthew Lehmann and Carina Roberts portray Pygmalion’s longing and desire and Galatea’s naivety and playfulness. Photo: Bradbury Photography

In the duet Galatea & Pygmalion, Hong Kong choreographers Li Sze Yeung Justyne and Wong Tan Ki tackle the Pygmalion story of Greek mythology. Pygmalion creates and falls in love with a sculpture of his ideal woman, Galatea, who is brought to life by Aphrodite. Pygmalion eventually dies and the immortal Galatea is left alone, hopefully with enough superannuation for an eternity. The story’s existential themes of man creating life in his own image, and that life perhaps supplanting humans, have prevailed within the arts for centuries.

Performing to the mesmeric music of Philip Glass, Matthew Lehmann and Carina Roberts portray their characters well – Pygmalion’s longing and desire to Galatea’s naivety and playfulness.

Li and Wong relate the story of Pygmalion efficiently, employing various lighting techniques to show the important element of time passing, in both abstract and literal ways, and clever choreography depicting the sculpting, creation, shaping and controlling of Galatea’s body and mind. Galatea & Pygmalion received a Hong Kong Dance Award for this work in 2011 and, judging by the reaction of the opening night audience, it was a well-deserved gong.

Six couples on stage: the women have one leg extended high in the air, to the side of their bodies, and one arms around their partners, who lunge away from them. All have their eyes downcast.
The harsh sea of emotions: Nils Christe’s ‘Before Nightfall’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

Created in 1985 for the Paris Opera Ballet, Dutch choreographer Nils Christe’s Before Nightfall will already be well known to many people. It has become a staple contemporary work for companies worldwide, with WAB Artistic Director Aurelian Scannella having performed in the work himself in 1995.

The ballet is set prior to the outbreak of World War II, and the tone is one of dread and foreboding, heightened further by Bohuslav Martinů’s aggressive, melodramatic score. Christe’s choreography feels like a jagged march toward imminent danger, the dancers effectively portraying the harsh sea of emotions one might expect in the circumstances.

Thomas Rupert’s simple yet effective set design, an evocative and portentous expanse of dark crumpled sky, menacingly complements the controlled chaos of Annegien Sneep’s costumes. The production comes together as a compelling, cohesive whole, gripping the audience with its oppressive jaws from start to finish.

Before Nightfall is comprised of three lead couples, and a supporting ensemble of six. The leads – Chihiro Nomura and Oscar Valdés, Kiki Saito and Matthew Lehmann, and Dayna Hardy Acuña and Juan Carlos Osma – all deserve mentions for their artistry and commitment to Christe’s work. There is a tension and anxiety effectively conveyed among dancers, sharp staccato movements mixed with signature gestures of hands over ears, as if blocking out the approaching threats. The three duos handle the demanding choreography exceptionally well, performing with urgency and virtuosity.

“STATE” presents a vast range of human emotion, captured in a single evening of beautifully performed dance. It’s wonderful to see the company continuing to hit the high notes during its 70th anniversary year.

West Australian Ballet’s “State” continues at the State Theatre of WA until 2 July 2022.

Pictured top: Kiki Saito and Matthew Lehmann in Nils Christe’s ‘Before Nightfall’. 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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