Matej Perunicic and Nikki Blain in Candice Adea's work p as part of Genesis 2019. Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Style in the studio

Review: West Australian Ballet, “Genesis” ·
West Australian Ballet Centre, 27 June ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

Comprised of eight short pieces, West Australian Ballet’s 2019 “Genesis” program is relatively short and pleasingly snappy. Presented annually, the formula of dancer-choreographed works performed in the company’s own studio concludes with a small twist in this iteration; the final work, Presley Suite, is by WAB’s ballet master, Craig Lord-Sole… but more about that later.

It must be said that I am a huge fan of the “Genesis” season. There’s a physicality we witness watching dancers in a studio setting that is lost in the context of a theatre. The proximity amplifies the experience, whether it’s the athleticism of Matthew Lehmann’s Fermi Paradox, the sensuality of Sara Ouwendyk’s Simul Perfectus, the clean and graceful lines of Claire Voss’s Beyond what really matters… Ode to Marie Jeanne and Kirsty Clarke’s when the bough breaks or the moodiness of Jack Whiter’s Prelude.

As choreographer Candice Adea remarked in the Q&A that followed opening night, there’s also something invigorating about seeing the dancers take on styles, shapes and lines beyond the company’s usual repertoire. Adea herself reveals a quirky sense of humour in her work p; interspersing an otherwise serious work with a hunched and undulating trio, and a lilting, limping one-pointe-shoe-one-pump interlude.

The comic highlight (and an audience favourite on opening night) is Adam Alzaim’s Cha cha cha du loup, a duet performed with crisp attack and irrepressible charm by Melissa Boniface and Alzaim himself.

And then there is Craig Lord-Sole’s Presley Suite, a tender love story framed by rock ‘n’ roll. Though I’ve seen male duos aplenty, I can’t recall ever having seen one about a couple. It was moving and refreshing to finally see a same-sex relationship take centre stage.

Whether you’re a long term ballet fan, new to the form, or in between, I highly recommend snaffling a ticket to this studio season.

“Genesis” runs until July 6.

Pictured top are Matej Perunicic and Nikki Blain in Candice Adea’s ‘p’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Please follow and like us:
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A rare treat

West Australian Ballet, La Bayadère ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 9 May ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

La Bayadère or The Temple Dancer is not widely known; curious perhaps, considering the 1877 ballet was originally choreographed by none other than Marius Petipa – of Swan Lake and Nutcracker fame. The universal themes of love, betrayal and redemption combined with an exotic setting, lilting music by Ludwig Minkus and technically challenging choreography meant the ballet became a revered hit in Russia, and eventually in Europe when it was finally staged in full, late in the 20th Century.

This co-production between West Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet sees the classic story modernised by choreographer Greg Horsman, injecting Petipa’s original choreography with new sequences and setting the story in a more “real” India, in 1855. Die-hard ballet fans will still recognise Kingdom of the Shades (Act II, Scene I) repertoire and many of the solos, which are regularly performed as competition or gala excerpts around the world. This version’s story, however, hinges on a political treaty to bring an end to hostilities with an arranged marriage and, as a result, a tragic love triangle.

On opening night, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was in excellent form under the careful guidance of conductor Judith Yan. Nigel Gaynor’s musical arrangement, with its initial strum of a sitar, instantly gives the ballet a sense of place. Visually, too, the production is striking with sumptuous sets and luxuriously detailed costumes – both designed by Gary Harris – complemented by Jon Buswell’s glorious lighting, which features rich dramatic sky-scapes that stain the stage pink and orange. While a spectacle for the senses, aspects of the design and direction waver dangerously into religious ambiguity and clichéd “exoticism” – a detail that, one would hope, would be considered in a modern re-telling.

Kaleidoscopic images. Pictured front is Carina Roberts. Photo: Sergey Pevnev

Despite a lengthy three acts, the story moves swiftly, thanks to considered scene changes and clarity of story-telling, assisted by strong character roles. Seasonal Artist Andries Weidemann, as the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, and Company Ballet Master Craig Lord-Sole, as the Governor-General of India, are noteworthy in reinforcing the themes of familial honour and obligation with appropriate sobriety and concern. To keep the peace, a marriage between their children, Prince Solor (Matthew Lehmann) and Edith (Chihiro Nomura), is arranged. In secret, however, Solor has already declared his undying love and devotion to Nikiya, a temple dancer, played by recently appointed Dayana Hardy Acuña.

Lehmann’s trademark ease in partnering and accomplished acting were evident in this challenging role, that demands prowess and stamina. Acuña also shone as Nikiya, with beautifully articulate port de bras, breath-catching control and graceful expression. The stand-out performance on opening night, however, was Nomura, who not only excelled technically but captured Edith’s full emotional gamut, from comic cheek to furious rage, gushing fiancée to wilful seductress.

Acts I and III blend genres of dance, from kaleidoscopic images of a Hindu deity, to vast ballroom scenes incorporating waltzing tuxedos and turbans in equal measure. But it is Petipa’s famous Kingdom of the Shades scene in Act II that is a particular highlight.  This is ballet at its most exposing. Mesmeric sequences of arabesques performed slowly, carefully one-by-one down a moon-lit ramp and across the stage require exceptional focus and strength from the corps de ballet. Exacting formations and vulnerable balances felt both artistically ethereal and technically rock solid in the performance viewed – the choreography bold in its simplicity and precision. Special mentions to Candice Adea, first to enter, for her poise and control and to soloists Carina Roberts, Ana Gallardo Lobaina and Polly Hilton, for demonstrating immense skill and generous artistry in their difficult solos. Opening night jitters or perhaps a slippery stage created a few tense moments for Lehmann and Acuña, though they remained composed and recovered swiftly.

Despite some issues in this re-telling, La Bayadère has something for ballet fans and the uninitiated alike. It is a rare treat to see this technically challenging production in Perth.

La Bayadere plays until May 25. 

Pictured top is Alexa Tuzil as Nikiya (photo is from a different casting, due to unexpected cast changes). Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Please follow and like us:
Two dancers, one male, one female, both with silvered hair, slicked back with paint. They lunge into one another.
Dance, News, Perth Festival, Reviews

Some hits, some misses

West Australian Ballet, ‘In-Synch: Ballet at the Quarry’ ·
West Australian Ballet, Friday 8 February ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

West Australian Ballet’s annual outdoor season sees ballet fans flock to Floreat’s magnificent Quarry Amphitheatre for a balmy summer evening of dance. This year’s programme, “In-Synch: Ballet at the Quarry”, features four short contemporary ballet works, including a unique collaboration with WA’s flagship contemporary dance company, Co3 Australia. Arriving early at the venue allows for the added luxury of a shared picnic in the setting sun and the chance to observe the artists warm up and prepare for the performance.

Opening the evening, Finnish choreographer Johanna Nuutinen’s X-It uses both live performance and a projected film, which was shot in the iconic Fremantle Prison. Unsettling in theme, the work explores our psychological reaction to constant surveillance.

An eerie, suspenseful solo, aided by Thomas Norvio’s sparse sound design, unfolds both on and off the screen, performed with strength and precision on opening night by Kymberleigh Cowley. Though the concept is not fully explored and ideas feel fractured, the piece is technically impressive, as the cast of six weave and arc through physically demanding duets.

Itzik Galili’s The Sofa follows a short interval. This comical romp, originally performed by the company in 2014, delighted the opening night crowd. Though thematically a little dated on the issue of sexuality and dare I say, consent, on the whole this work is clever and engaging with charming characterisation (in this casting) from dancers Matthew Lehmann, Chihiro Nomura and a sassy Oscar Valdés.

The world premiere of In-Synch follows. Conceived by Aurélien Scannella and Sandy Delasalle this is an improvised work with the musical score selected by the audience each night. Performance improvisation, as those of us who have tried it will attest, is immensely challenging and demanding. The craft often requires years of specific training even without the added restriction and specificity of the classical form, and unfortunately this ambitious experiment misses the mark.

The company dancers move between a series of constructed tableaus using guided frameworks featuring morphing lighting states by Michael Rippon and movement provocations by former WAB dancer David Mack. For the most part, the work felt structurally transparent and tentative at the performance viewed, though a brief duet by Dayana Hardy and Juan Carlos Osma found space to captivate with stunning partnering and responsiveness.

Concluding the evening, is Reincarnation, a new work created for this season by renowned Australian choreographer Garry Stewart. Bold and visually striking, Reincarnation uses company artists and dancers from Co3 Australia, to full exertion. Clad in saturated reds and blues, ungendered bodies parade in ritualistic procession, moving with Stewart’s characteristic tension and physical intensity. Eccentric and at times ironic, the suspended fantasy felt bewildering and otherworldly but it was difficult to remain completely absorbed, despite the theatrics. Fire-cracker Katherine Gurr (Co3 Australia) and the lithe Polly Hilton (WAB) delivered powerful commanding performances amongst a cast of proficient and committed artists.

Artistic opinions aside, it was wonderful to see an Australian choreographer, particularly one of such esteem in the programming this year, as well as witnessing the (currently) rare opportunity for professional West Australian artists in ballet and contemporary disciplines to share the process and the stage together at a Perth Festival event. I look forward to future collaborations between these two wonderful companies.

“In Synch: Ballet at the Quarry” runs until March 2.

Pictured top: Julio Blanes and Carina Roberts in ‘X-it’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Dancers of West Australian Ballet and Co3 Australia in ‘Reincarnation’. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.
Please follow and like us:
Liam Green as Uncle Drosselmeyer with Carina Roberts as Clara and Matthew Lehmann as the Nutcracker in The Nutcracker. Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A joy to watch

Junior review: West Australian Ballet, The Nutcracker ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 17 November, matinee ·
Review by Bethany Stopher, age 12 ·

Even before the curtain was raised on West Australian Ballet’s Nutcracker, the air was buzzing with excitement. The matinee was filled with little girls in party dresses. We were greeted by the backdrop of a quaint toy shop and city with foot-thick snow that glowed under the lamplight. There were even falling speckles of snow projected onto the background. After the lights had dimmed, the little toy shop’s windows became transparent and there we could see Uncle Drosselmeyer (Christian Luck), preparing his toys for the party. Then, the doors slid open to reveal the shop inside.

Those opening moments are just the start of the magical scenery, props and special effects to come. At the party, Uncle Drosselmeyer does some wizardry with a walking stick, making it leave his hands and suspend in the air. When the grandfather clock strikes midnight and Clara (Asja Petrovski) returns to the beautiful living room to retrieve her doll, the Christmas tree grows to the ceiling, mist surrounds her and remote control rats with glowing green eyes scurry around her. Amazingly, in the dance of the snowflakes, pretend snow falls to the floor. However, the snow, though beautiful, seemed slippery for the dancers on stage.

Carina Roberts as Clara and Matthew Edwardson as Fritz with Child Guest Artists in The Nutcracker. Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Exceptionally talented: Carina Roberts as Clara and Matthew Edwardson as Fritz with Child Guest Artists (from an alternate cast to the one reviewed here). Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

I was impressed by the costumes and I think everyone else was too; in fact, I heard a little girl whisper behind me “Look at her dress! It’s all sparkly!” when Clara‘s costume changes in the Land of Snow. In the party scene, no two costumes are alike, which gives it a realistic appearance. All costumes are delightful, even the rats’ with their humongous furry heads and velvet waistcoats.

And most importantly, the dancers. The duets and solos of the Nutcracker Prince (Julio Blanes) and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Candice Adea) were breathtaking; their turns, their jumps, their lifts! It was astonishing. Christian Luck also played a very fine Uncle Drosselmeyer, with his quirky movements and kindly expression. Asja Petrovski was an excellent Clara, as she captured Clara’s child-like spirit. Oliver Edwardson was convincing as Clara’s sulky brother. The corps de ballet’s work was extremely precise and the child guests were exceptionally talented for their young age.

The Nutcracker is a Christmas family tradition and a joy to watch. I definitely recommend it, I love the magic, humour and dance in this ballet and I think you would too.

The Nutcracker plays His Majesty’s Theatre until December 9.

Read a review of The Nutcracker from senior reviewer Amy Wiseman here.

Pictured top is Liam Green as Uncle Drosselmeyer with Carina Roberts as Clara and Matthew Lehmann as the Nutcracker (from an alternative cast to the one reviewed here). Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Please follow and like us:
Liam Green as Uncle Drosselmeyer with Carina Roberts as Clara in The Nutcracker. Photo by Sergey Pevnev (3)
Children, Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Wintry delights

Review: West Australian Ballet, The Nutcracker ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 17 November ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

West Australian Ballet’s enchanting production of The Nutcracker treats audiences to a little magic before they even enter His Majesty’s Theatre. A snowy blizzard falling onto the street outside transforms a mild Perth evening into a wintry wonderland befitting this Christmassy tale.

Inside the auditorium, projected snowflakes fall softly onto the white-dusted set of a London street. Choreographed by Jayne Smeulders, Sandy Delasalle and Aurélien Scanella in 2016, this version of The Nutcracker, set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic and beloved score, follows the story of the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve party and is filled with child-like wonder and magic.

Act I opens with Uncle Drosselmeyer (Liam Green) in his toymaker’s workshop, adding some final adjustments to his most prized dolls. As the much-loved, eccentric uncle, Green impressed in this performance, with broad sweeping arabesques, light confident allegro and a hint of appealing cheek.

Wonderfully intricate sets and costumes by design duo Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith present continual surprises; peep holes open to reveal the whole magical scene, realised by Jon Buswell’s stunning lighting. As the Stahlbaum party unfolds, gathering guests enter a large ball room; the centrepiece, a table laden heavy with presents under a giant festive Christmas tree.

Clara and Fritz, the Stahlbaum children, are excited by Drosselmeyer’s arrival. Dancing the role of Clara in this cast, Carina Roberts was delightfully earnest, while Matthew Edwardson charmed as her boisterous and jealous brother Fritz. A highlight of this scene was the polished and exuberant performance given by the eight young guest artists. The company dancers were elegant in dark gowns and suits, sweeping across the stage with ease, but it was Roberts and the children who stole the spotlight.

Drosselmeyer enchants the children, weaving magic and giving them wondrous toys, and Clara is entranced by her Nutcracker doll. Much later, unable to sleep, she returns to where she has left the Nutcracker, under the Christmas tree, and the real magic begins. There’s an epic battle between evil pirate rats and her now life-size Nutcracker, accompanied by an army of toy soldiers, assisted by Uncle Drosselmeyer. As the King Rat, Christian Luck was sassy and comical in the clever battle sequence that leaves Clara and her Nutcracker victorious.

Matthew Lehmann (Nutcracker Prince) and Claire Voss (Sugar Plum Fairy) in The Nutcracker. Photo by Sergey Pevnev
Matthew Lehmann (Nutcracker Prince) and Claire Voss (Sugar Plum Fairy) in ‘The Nutcracker’. Photo :Sergey Pevnev.

Drosselmeyer transforms the Nutcracker into a Prince (Matthew Lehmann) who dances with Clara before journeying together to a Winter Wonderland. Twelve dazzling snowflakes and a Snow Queen (Claire Voss) demonstrated sparkling footwork, precise formations and graceful port de bras in this kaleidoscopic waltz, complete with softly falling snow. The corps de ballet were again strong in Act II, in which Clara, the Prince and Drosselmeyer venture to the Land of Sweets. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s invitation for the special guests to view a suite of performances provides a showcase of dancing feats. Dressed in candy-pink tutus for the well-loved Waltz of the Flowers, the corps wove through creative compositions, demonstrating beautiful technique and style, supported by the glorious music of the West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra under the seamless direction of Myron Romanul.

Highlights of Act II included the fiery and stylish Polly Hilton with her three Spanish suitors, Adam Alzaim’s fabulously athletic, crowd-pleasing Russian solo and the trio of sweet, striped Mirlitons (Nikki Blain, Stefano Russiello and Chihiro Nomura). While tradition has its value, I found elements of this scene problematic for a 2018 platform – particularly the cultural misappropriation within the Arabian and Chinese sections, which could be easily avoided with updated choreography. That said, both dances were sensuously and effervescently performed.

The Grand Pas de Deux had some thrilling moments and improved in confidence throughout but was a little shaky in the performance viewed. The Sugar Plum Fairy (Claire Voss) showed grace and poise in the main, but her performance felt tense and laboured at times. Her Prince (Lehmann) demonstrated neat turns and skilful, reliable partnering, though his allegro occasionally lacked attack.

A lively and colourful finale brings the story to conclusion, but was it all just a dream? This is a timeless and engaging story with beautiful dancing, stunning design, enchanting music and magic galore that will appeal to the young and the young at heart.

The Nutcracker plays His Majesty’s Theatre until December 9.

Read a review of The Nutcracker from junior Seesaw critic Bethany Stopher, age 12.

Pictured top: Liam Green and Carina Roberts in The Nutcracker. Photo: Sergey Pevnev.

Please follow and like us:
Ballet at the Quarry
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, Perth Festival

Dance: Ballet at The Quarry

8 Feb – 2 Mar @ Quarry Amphitheatre ·
Presented by West Australian Ballet ·

Dance with a difference is heading to the Quarry Amphitheatre as West Australian Ballet presents three exciting new works under the summer night sky.

Acclaimed choreographer Garry Stewart joins forces with WAB and one of Australia’s newest contemporary dance companies Co3 Australia to explore themes of death and transformation set against brooding backdrops of nature – a bewitching forest, a foreboding lake, an ominous moon. A visually dazzling work embodying ritualistic and other-worldly tones Reincarnation evokes an alternate universe where metamorphosing bodies pass through a cathartic journey of resurrection and renewal.

Experience In-Synch, an improvised dance work accompanied by world- renowned vocalist, beat-boxer and looper MB14. Aurélien Scannella and Sandy Delasalle, alongside Sydney Dance Company and former WAB dancer David Mack, create a frame of movement for the dancers who each night improvise in response to MB14’s pulsing live melodies.

Being constantly under surveillance … What kind of emotions does this stir in a person? In X-It dancers move between the stage and synchronised worlds borne from video projections. The choreography is built on the foundations of the study of emotions and shifting power balances within human relationships.

Order your picnic hamper and settle in for a night of dance and dining under the stars.

Presented by the West Australian Ballet in association with Perth Festival and supporting partners Bankwest & EY

More info:

Pictured: Ballet at The Quarry, credit: Liz Looker

Please follow and like us:
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Dark and dangerous

Review: West Australian Ballet, Dracula (co-production with Queensland Ballet) ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 6 September ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

West Australian Ballet’s Dracula is a visually arresting, two-act neoclassical ballet, designed with adults rather than younger audience members in mind. A world premiere by Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor, the work is an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s late 19th century Gothic horror novel of the same name.

A darker ballet than the company’s usual repertoire, both in theme and decor, Dracula instantly wows the viewer with  jaw-dropping sets and sumptuous costumes (by Phil R. Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith), and stunning lighting design (by Jon Buswell). The prologue introduces us to Young Count Dracula, played on opening night by the fervent Matthew Lehmann, who is mistaken as dead after a battle, causing his grief-stricken wife Elizabeth (Carina Roberts) to throw herself from the castle tower in despair. Upon discovering that his beloved wife is lost, Dracula renounces humankind and transforms into a ruthless vampire. Adorned in fabulous 15th century gowns, capes and finery, Roberts and Lehmann performed this opening partnership tenderly, passionately and adeptly.

The scene changes and we are transported swiftly to London, 1897, where young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Oscar Valdes) is planning to travel to Transylvania on business, leaving behind his fiancée Mina (Roberts), who bears a striking resemblance to Count Dracula’s dear Elizabeth… As the elaborate story begins to unfold, we are treated to a sweeping, elegant waltz – performed skilfully by the corps de ballet – and ever more decadent scenery.

The lusciously eerie chamber of Count Dracula’s castle, in particular, is a feast for the eyes; designers Daniels and Cusick Smith have captured each detail right down to the cobwebbed cornices and glowing candelabras. It is here that we first encounter Old Count Dracula, played with a suitable cruel intensity by WAB Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella. The swapping of Draculas from old to young becomes a motif throughout the ballet, with Lehmann and Scannella neatly replacing each other at the taste of fresh blood. Memorable in this scene are the three vampire brides (Alexa Tuzil, Kymberleigh Cowley and Sarah Hepburn) who bring a lively dynamic to a party of the undead, all writhing torsos and evocative arcing limbs. Harker, who has now joined the throng, shares an unexpectedly comical duet with Young Dracula, dancing a spirited and somewhat masochistic Argentinian tango, filled with blood-lust, over nothing more than a papercut.

Dracula and victim
Melissa Boniface, Matthew Edwardson, Oliver Edwardson and Aurelien Scannella in ‘Dracula’. Photo: Jon Green.

Wojciech Kilar’s rich score, played by West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Judith Yan, builds tension and drama throughout the evening, although the penetrating chords do, at times, feel repetitive without the payoff of a true climax. Pastor’s choreography, though skilled in the main, has moments of monotony, particularly as the complex narrative weaves towards conclusion and partnerships repeat without appearing to really develop the story.

Nonetheless, the full company performed with steely precision on opening night, and special mentions must go to Melissa Boniface for her natural demeanour and dramatic range as Lucy (from sweet young woman to chilling vampire) and the energy and athleticism of Jesse Homes as asylum inmate Renfield. Roberts, as Mina, showed technical prowess and presence that belied her years, shifting seamlessly between delicate longing and fierce passion, though at times the drama felt a little heavy handed. I expect big things from this pocket rocket.

A tale of terror and seduction, Dracula runs until 22 September.

Picture top: Matthew Lehmann as Dracula with his Vampire Brides, Alexa Tuzil, Kymberleigh Cowley and Sarah Hepburn. Photo: Jon Green.

Please follow and like us:
Dracula WA Ballet
Calendar, Dance, Performing arts, September 18

Dance: West Australian Ballet’s Dracula

6 – 22 September @ His Majesty’s Theatre ·
Presented by: West Australian Ballet ·

Filled with suspense, sinister desire and raw temptation, Dracula is a must-see for ballet first-timers, thrill-seekers and ballet-lovers alike.  Follow Dracula, whose lonely soul is determined to reunite with his lost love, Elizabeth. In doing so, he begins a reign of terror and seduction, draining the life from those around her to get what he desires.

In a major coup, one of the world’s most highly-awarded and exciting choreographic talents Krzysztof Pastor joins forces with West Australian Ballet to create this new, scintillating world premiere.  And, after a 10-year absence, WAB’s own Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella returns to the stage to dance the role of Old Dracula in special guest appearances.

With a limited season of 15 shows, don’t miss the opportunity to experience this neoclassical masterpiece.

More info:


Please follow and like us:
Edward Pope and Asja Petrovski in Jack Whiter's Moonlight (1)
Calendar, Dance, June 18, Performing arts

Dance: West Australian Ballet’s Genesis

26 – 30 JUNE, West Australian Ballet Centre, 134 Whatley Crescent, Maylands·
Presented by West Australian Ballet ·

Pure imagination and raw talent comes to full fruition as our dancers release their creative flair and exceptional skill in our invigorating mini-season of short works. Be evoked. Be delighted. Be truly entertained during this rare opportunity to be up close and personal with the dancers in the intimate setting of the West Australian Ballet Centre.

More info:

Pictured: Edward Pope and Asja Petrovski in Jack Whiter’s ‘Moonlight’.

Please follow and like us:
Claire Voss and Oscar Valdes in La Sylphide. Photo by Emma Fishwick
Dance, News, Performing arts, Reviews

An enchanting escape

Review: West Australian Ballet, La Sylphide ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 18 May ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

Attending the ballet on Friday, I was struck by the simple joy and nostalgia of being at the theatre; the bustling “excuse-me” dance into your seat, the allure of the house curtain, the sound of a buzzing opening night crowd (many dressed in white for the occasion) and the recurring memories of countless dimming lights and opening overtures past.

Perhaps I was particularly defenceless because La Sylphide holds such weight and history for classical ballet, as one of the oldest surviving choreographies, set by August Bournonville in 1836 and passed down virtually unchanged from dancer to dancer. Marking the beginning of the Romantic era of ballet, where stories explored the supernatural, Bournonville’s style takes us back to a time of tragedy, mystical forces and temptation. La Sylphide is significant for me, personally, too – I danced in Act II in my graduation season at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

A lengthy overture, masterfully played  by West Australian Symphony Orchestra, sets the tone for La Sylphide, with rich and enticing melodies. Acting as a TARDIS, this gives us time to settle and be transported by the music, in darkness, anticipating the tale about to unfold. The curtain rises to reveal Richard Roberts’s sumptuous set, featuring an ornate chandelier, large fireplace and grand staircase. James (Gakuro Matsui) sleeps in his armchair by the fire, on the eve of his wedding to Effy (Sarah Hepburn), before being awoken by the ethereal winged Sylph (Chihiro Nomura) kneeling gracefully at his side. Transfixed, James attempts to follow her, but the elusive Sylph magically disappears.

On opening night, Bournonville’s traditional fast footwork and light ballon was wonderfully executed by the lithe Nomura, whose gorgeous arabesques and delicate port de bras channelled the era effortlessly. Her grace was matched by Matsui’s bravura, his elevation and expansive use of the space sparking cheers of enthusiasm from the audience.

Act I is fast-paced and character-driven, weaving together sweet, forbidden meetings between James and the Sylph, and lively Scottish reels that were danced with effervescence here by soloists and the corps de ballet. Christian Luck was deliciously wicked as fortune-teller Madge, who conspires to ruin everything by predicting that James’s rival Gurn (Adam Alzaim) will steal Effy’s heart. Hepburn’s Effy was at first high-spirited, accomplished and charming, but switched skilfully to convincing despair upon realising James has left her and fled to the forest; Alzaim’s innocence and crisp footwork were impressive.

Lexi De Silva’s beautiful white tulle costumes accentuate Act II. Set in a dappled forest glade, the sister sylphs gather to dance, contrasting the energy of the first half with a controlled, serene harmony. Polly Hilton as Lead Sylph had a restrained and appealing regal quality, while Carina Roberts, in the corps, was also notable for her purity of line and poise. An unintentional and tragic end sees James the victim of his own demise.

La Sylphide has a clear narrative arc and, despite its setting in the 1830s and the reliance on detailed, very particular mime, the story is remarkably accessible, with themes of desire and temptation still relevant to today’s world. Staged by noted Danish repetiteur Dinna Bjorn, the whole performance was exquisitely polished and full of charm.

With only two short acts, this is a compact, compelling production that serves as a delightful introduction to the world of ballet, or in my case, a memorable return to the form.

“La Sylphide” plays His Majesty’s Theatre until 2 June.

Pictured top: Claire Voss as the Sylph and Oscar Valdés as James in Saturday night’s performance of ‘La Sylphide’ (not the cast reviewed). Photo: Emma Fishwick.

Please follow and like us: