Pirouetting through the ages with pizzazz

6 May 2023

From the elegance of classical ballet to the exhilaration of jazz-infused Balanchine, West Australian Ballet’s new triple bill is a delightful dance across time, writes Kim Balfour.

Ballet to Broadway, West Australian Ballet
His Majesty’s Theatre, 5 May 2023

A bold and diverse strut through dance history, West Australian Ballet’s Ballet to Broadway weaves its way through classical elegance, poetic romanticism and the dynamic pizzazz of jazz.

This powerful and captivating triple bill makes for an exciting and immersive experience of the company’s artistic versatility and commitment to dance excellence.

A man mid-way through a grande jete (split leap). His height off the ground is impressive.
The company’s updated pas de deux from ‘Sylvia’ is enchanting. Pictured is Gakuro Matsui Photo: Clinton Bradbury

Aesthetically – even when performed well – Raymonda [Act III] is not my favourite ballet – the original choreography by Marius Petipa is rigid and awkward, and diabolically difficult to perform. In this latest version, however, Javier Torres brings a fresh interpretation to the stage, while preserving the essence of the original choreography.

Created for WAB, Torres’ version still features the work’s intricate and demanding technique, but imbues it with a more accessible modern twist, to arrive at what is in the end a spectacular “party piece” of virtuosity.

Erika Turunen’s beautifully rendered costumes complement the ballet’s historic atmosphere, while Lucy Birkinshaw’s lighting design further enhances the production’s charm.

The company’s updated pas de deux from Sylvia follows, an enchanting restaging of this classic mythological Arcadian work, which tells the love story of Aminta and Sylvia.

Aurélien Scannella and Sandy Delasalle-Scannella’s choreography to Léo Delibes’ captivating score expertly balances traditional and contemporary influences. Leads Chihiro Nomura and Gakuro Matsui were mesmerising, infusing the choreography with a sumptuous liquid energy befitting the work’s raw romantic tone. This work was my personal favourite of the evening.

The program culminates in George Balanchine’s energetic Who Cares?, an exhilarating fusion of styles. Set to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, this piece takes audiences on a journey through 20th-century American culture, blending the elegance of classical ballet with the playful energy of jazz.

A woman poses in an arabesque en pointe. She has a luminous smile.
Chihiro Nomura (pictured) and Gakuro Matsui infused the’Sylvia’ pas de deux with a sumptuous liquid energy. Photo: Clinton Bradbury

Set against a backdrop of soaring skyscrapers, the work starts and ends with an explosion of ensemble dance. But the moody “after dark” essence of the ballet is sublimely captured by the Lead Man, Julio Blanes, and three female soloists, Candice Adea, Glenda Garcia Gomez and Carina Roberts. The heart of the work is a series of solos and duets featuring a Pink, Orange, and Purple Lady, danced spectacularly by Adea, Garcia Gomez and Roberts respectively.

Integrating elements from creative periods across time, and incorporating multiple layers of dance, music, and aesthetic styles, cross-generational influences are in full swing in “Who Cares?”. As stated in Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, the play of references in Who Cares? “can grow almost infinitely complex”. The work gives a nod to Raymonda, specifically the men’s variations in both works, and Balanchine’s own Apollo and the three muses.

Skilfully restaged by Sandy Delasalle-Scannella, Matthew Lehmann, Craig Lord-Sole, and Reika Sato, Who Cares? showcases the WAB dancers’ versatility and athleticism. Allan Lees’ set and costume design capture the essence of the era, while Jon Buswell and Lucy Birkinshaw’s lighting design add further depth to the production.

Ballet to Broadway‘s combination of classical elegance, romance and energetic fusion makes for a rich and rewarding experience that showcases WAB’s artistic excellence and virtuosity.

Ballet to Broadway continues at His Majesty’s Theatre until 13 May.

Pictured top: Kiki Saito and Oscar Valdés in ‘Raymonda[Act III]’. Photo by Clinton Bradbury

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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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