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Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Polished and professional

Review: WAAPA Dance, ‘Verge’ ·
Regal Theatre, 20 November ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Eighteen years ago I performed in my final season as a WAAPA dance student, and returning to the Geoff Gibbs Theatre to watch the graduating students always provokes nostalgia in me. This year, however, the feeling was diminished, owing to a last-minute change of venue due to technical issues. Despite the stress and disappointment this must have induced (the change involved the cancellation of several performances) the opening night performance of “Verge” at the Regal Theatre was polished and professional.

Opening the program was Suite Romantique, a montage of grabs from 19th century Romantic ballets La Sylphide (August Bournonville) and Giselle (Marius Petipa), Romantic-inspired ballet Les Sylphide (1909, Michel Fokine) and new work choreographed for this season by WAAPA classical dance lecturer Kim McCarthy, to original composition by Italian composer and pianist Ciro Barbato.

Neatly stitched together by McCarthy and WAAPA colleague Danielle Hunt, Suite Romantique delicately wafted the opening night audience through time,  and provided many opportunities for the students to shine. As Giselle, Katarina Gajic managed protracted promenades and arabesques with aplomb. She was partnered with assurance by Marcell Stiedl, who also impressed as La Sylphide’s James, with his lofty grande jetes . Also noteworthy were the ethereal Kirsty Clarke, and the charming Sara Ouwendyk. Glorious live music accompaniment was provided by Barbato and Gennaro Di Donna on piano, and Robyn Blann on violin.

‘Suite Romantique’: a Romantic montage. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Next stop was The Bus to Paradise, by acting Head of Dance Sue Peacock, in collaboration with 18 second year students. Having seen a number of Peacock’s works for WAAPA (and performed in one myself in 1999), I was struck anew by how cleverly she brings out the best in her students.

The dancers’ limbs often mimic the shapes above in ‘Bus to Paradise’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Exploring the question, “What is paradise?”, this contemporary work is witty and relatable. Beneath the bare branches of an inverted tree, the dancers’ limbs often mimic the shapes above. In pairs, trios, quartets or large-scale clumps they respond to sound that ranges from soothing ambient beats to sensual acoustic guitar… and it wouldn’t be a Peacock work without a microphone to amplify the voices of individual dancers as they relate anecdotes and pose questions about the concept of paradise. The movement is similarly eclectic – now hip-driven and sexy; now languid and lunging; now suspended, ready for explosion.

Beautifully lit by Jasmine Lifford (my favourite state was luminous green to represent “Tropical!”), the student cast performed The Bus to Paradise with panache and sensitivity.

After interval came Stirring Sketches of a Million Love Stories, created for 21 third year students by Portuguese guest artist Filipa Peraitnha. Unlike Peacock’s offering, individuality is subsumed by the whole in this contemporary work; any solo moments are brief and often obscured by the group.

Individuality is subsumed by the group in ‘Stirring Sketches of a Million Love Stories’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Against an ominously crackling soundscape, into which Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” intermittently breaks, dancers writhe, ripple, shake. Again, the lighting design, this time by Timothy Bonser, impresses. Now cones of light illuminate the dancers from above, and movement becomes crisp and robotic. My favourite section sees the group grooving to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G. Allegro. This is a smart, sassy work that was performed with depth and precision by the third year students and, though it was hard to discern individuals for long, Alexandra Kay’s seamless solo was a standout.

“Verge” is a relatively long program and by the final work of the evening, Rafael Bonachela’s 2 in D Minor, I was weary. Kudos to the third year cast, then, for catching my attention as it began to wander bedwards.

Created in 2014 for Sydney Dance Company, and remounted here by WAAPA teacher and former SDC dancer David Mack, 2 in D Minor is a series of contemporary solos, duets and small ensemble sections that respond to music by Bach and contemporary composer Nick Wales. The choreography has been personalised for this season, and to excellent effect; all dancers gave commendable performances. Particularly noteworthy was an athletic duet by Alexander Diedler and Marcell Stiedl. In contrast Sara Ouwendyk and Makira Horner’s light-hearted partnership had a child-like sense of play. And, again, Alexandra Kay impressed with her versatile combination of fluidity and precision.

Though the programme is long, it’s worth sparing the time to see the 2018 graduates before they take off into the big wide world.

“Verge” plays The Regal until November 23. A tip: seating is unreserved. Sit in the back half of the theatre if you want to be able to see the dancers’ feet.

Pictured top is Sara Ouwendyk in ‘2 in D Minor’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.

Two men dancing, one is wrapped around the other, who is lunging. A girl looks on.
An athletic duet by Alexander Diedler and Marcell Stiedl, with Kirsty Clarke looking on, in ‘2 In D Minor’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography.
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