Perth Festival Review: “Milky Way – Ballet at the Quarry” by West Australian Ballet ·
The Quarry Amphitheatre, 10 February ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·
On a typical Perth summer’s evening, the magic of the Quarry Amphitheatre is evident; one can look up into our cavernous clear skies and see the stars. Always an atmospheric venue for West Australian Ballet’s annual “Ballet at the Quarry” season, it is particularly apt this year. While the impact of the heavenly vista is compromised initially with a conspicuous backdrop, “Milky Way: Ballet at the Quarry” gracefully weaves together four works, linked by the pursuit of celestial voyaging, under a sparkling sky.
Patrick Delcroix’s Paradise Within opens the evening, with a cast of nine dancers who cross the space in search of their own resolution. Duets morph and cascade across the space, with young artist April Maguire notable for her ease and athleticism at the performance viewed.
A personal highlight of the evening was Claude Brumachon’s Les Indomptés, danced beautifully on Saturday night by Adam Alzaim and Oscar Valdes. Syncopated canons and unexpected movement pairings, performed in close proximity, build satisfying motifs and repetitions. These give way to soaring leaps around each other, then stop suddenly to form impossible stacked balances. A wonderful shift in dynamics, this short work highlights the expression, commitment and strength of both men, demanding them to move swiftly between sharp, vigorous gestures and a despairing tenderness.
In Christopher Hill’s Ghost Gum, a free-standing set is gradually lit, showing the texture and detail of the knots and bumps of a gum tree. We see a silhouette of two women dressed in long white dresses dipped in colour at the base. While the shapes and fluidity in this piece are beautiful to watch, the choreography feels sparse and repetitive, relying on simplicity and unison rather than developing the characterisation of the pair as Earth and Water. On Saturday night Polly Hilton and Brooke Widdison-Jacobs were controlled, graceful guardians of this landscape, ebbing and rippling across the space in sweeping lines and undulating waves. The execution by both dancers was detailed, skilful and poised, although knowing that the two are powerful technicians, they felt a little under-utilised.
The final work of the evening is Milnjiya: Milky Way – River of Stars choreographed by Gary Lang; an unprecedented collaboration between West Australian Ballet, Lang’s Darwin-based NT Dance Company, traditional cultural artists from Yirrkala (East Arnhem Land) and operatic soprano and Yorta Yorta woman Deborah Cheetham AO.
A ceremonial entrance sets the tone for this Yolngu story, which tells of the transition of spirits as they leave our realm to become part of Milnjiya (the Milky Way). Cloaked in ochre, the dancers’ first movements emit powdered blooms of dust that coat the floor in white, gradually hinting at the vividly coloured costumes beneath, which are revealed throughout the work. The women rise from the dust in soft kneeling shuffles, then transition gracefully through rolling duets and endless arcing lifts, held aloft effortlessly by the men. The effect is mesmeric, and heightened by Cheetham’s soaring melody.
For a work with so many elements, the craft required to stage this feat is refined and sophisticated. While some sequences feel a little disjointed, each component holds equal value and is given space in the work to shine.
It’s a satisfying note to end a beautiful evening – a celebration of the sharing of cultures, movement and story.
Pictured top are Deborah Cheetham, Matthew Lehmann and Scott Dennis in ‘Milnjiya: Milky Way: River of Stars’. Photo: Scott Dennis.