Australian Ballet’s Nijinsky and SDC’s New Breed

A classical company delving into the modernist genre with a hint of verbal theatrics and a company steeped in the neoclassical genre also getting mouthy. What is the world coming to?

Have I momentarily lost my mooring or was this inevitable? I do see from the paper program that the next ballet to be presented will be Coppelia and realise John Neumeier’s Nijinsky is a one off, a chance for the Australian Ballet to spread their wings, as is their occasional wont.

I’ve sat on this last blog for quite a while. Two weeks to be exact, because I was looking for an angle, a perspective from which to introduce John Neumeier’s work Nijinsky as performed by the Australian Ballet. Then I saw Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed and all of a sudden I had too many angles and not much point.

Stop writing in riddles, Vicki.

This is how it went. In my mind, before actually seeing the work, I had prepared a blog about trends in the peripheries eventually making their way to the mainstream. But upon watching the show and subsequently reading up on the Ballets Russes I found this not to be true. The Ballets Russes, the company where Nijinsky both danced and choreographed his most seminal works, including The Rite Of Spring, influenced the dance world on a global scale; from elevating the role of the male from mere partner to masculine virtuoso, to seeding dance companies including the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine, as another of founder Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes choreographers. But it is the company’s trademark inter-disciplinarity that is perhaps one of its most significant legacies, with set and costume designs by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Coco Chanel amongst an impressive long list of prominent artists as collaborators.

Of course I knew of the Ballets Russes. There was a major exhibition of the costumes held at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, in 2011, and a subsequent exhibition titled Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music, in 2013. Australia is one of the many destinations that the company toured, under several incarnations between 1936 and 1940.

Yet despite this revolutionary dance lineage, as I watched the Australian Ballet perform I couldn’t help but think that the recreation of early modernist dance vocabulary through American Neumeier’s Nijinsky looked slightly out of place on the dancers. Perhaps it is my own link to modernist dance through extensive training of (Martha) Graham initiated at NAISDA and completed in New York which prompted this observation. The angular geometry the bodies assumed when performing the then emerging vocabularies lacked the architectural weight modernist dance training supplies.

But I am not painting an accurate picture because this work demanded an almost superhuman physicality from its main cast. Besides, how many contemporary dance companies would be able to incorporate intricate ballet petite allegros or pointe work into their repertoire?

Running at approximately 2.5 hours (plus interval) Neumeier’s Nijinsky demanded a similarly superhuman focus from the audience as well. It was dance about dance. There were dancers dancing the dance, dancing the training process, dancing the significance of the dance to the individual characters as portrayed by the dancers, whilst also placing the dancing alter ego alongside the dancer’s (Nijinsky’s) life events and lastly, dancing the legacy of the dancer’s (Nijinsky’s) dance upon the world. This was a not-so-linear narrative, a story ballet of pluralities, a complex weaving of an external reality simultaneously embellished with a representation of the inner psyche.

Nijinsky was an ambitious and at times chaotic production. When I came out the other end I thought I had achieved something by staying with it and trying to decipher what and where I was up to in terms of Nijinsky’s biography. In fact I felt most at ease when I recognised Nijinsky’s final descent into madness, only to be foiled by the fact that in fact more than one character suffers insanity and that it may have been Nijinsky’s brother going crazy at times and not the character of Nijinsky at all.

Jump forward one week and I am seated in Bay 20 at Carriageworks watching New Breed. This is the fourth year of an initiative by Sydney Dance Company, which aims to provide a platform for new choreographic voices in dance.

I have come to look forward to this event because it has the feel of a showing in progress (my favourite stage to view a work), only with fantastic production values in terms of staging. Ben Cisterne’s lighting is always to be commended. Cisterne manages time and again to elevate a work from an idea to an occasion, lending weight and substance through the dramatic intensity in which he shapes the stage in lieu of a set.

The first two pieces were created by resident performers Jesse Scales and Richard Cilli. They reveal a desire to explore other performative dynamics and textures. Both works, Scales’ What You See and Cilli’s Hinterland, incorporate elements of the pedestrian into highly virtuosic sequences. Scales uses gesture that seems intimate as if conducted rather than performed and Cilli employs a live vocal score that is playful, consisting of onomatopoeic accompaniments and nonsensical dialogue that could’ve been organically concocted in the Sydney Dance Cafe, before being imbued with a slightly surrealist context for an audience in Carriageworks.

Shian Law’s Epic Theatre presents an intellectual engagement by highlighting the dichotomy of the black box environment and blurring the two realms; of audience as spectator and performer as product. His vocabulary choices are reminiscent of reality TV. Think Kim Kardashian or, better still, the Osbornes, with their serialised in-house MTV intrusion on daily activities, who really kicked off Andy Warhol’s idea that everybody will have their 15 minutes of fame.

Epic Theatre begins while we’re downing halftime refreshments in the foyer. Half of the audience then enjoy the next gambit on stage before assuming original seating, culminating in the production manager calling the last LX cue from the stage as the lights go dark. It is the inclusion of everyday bodies as extras, with greater variance in gait and physique and an atmosphere made so dense with haze which could literally be deciphered as the fog of war (on banality perhaps?) that sets this work apart. Like the one before it (Rachael Arianne Ogle’s Of Dust) Epic Theatre alluded to a scale that prompts us to think of a bigger picture, where intimacy is secondary, almost irrelevant.

I suppose my blog does have a point. And that is lineage. No, it’s that there are rules and that the next generations are always out to challenge them, even if that means they/we are inadvertently repeating history. With the advent of the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo (one of those incarnations) we have the Australian Ballet via Edouard Borovansky. From this there is born a slew of contemporary choreographic talent including Leigh Warren, Meryl Tankard and Graham Murphy who goes on to direct Sydney Dance Company, until under the directorship of Raphael Bonachela we have the next New Breed. From an era of great experimentation there is the consolidation and conservatism only to be replaced by another era of experimentation. As a member of the independent dance sector I still believe we have a hand to play in the new direction of this New Breed…. albeit from the peripheries, from the grassroots, or the ground up.

Tonight marks the beginning of Sydney Dance Company’s Pre Professional Year’s End Of Year Production, also at Carriageworks, with pieces by Thomas Bradley, Kristina Chan, Zachary Lopez, Narelle Benjamin and Rafael Bonachela. I am intrigued as to what may unfold. Runs from the 6th-8th December.

Vicki Van Hout

 

 

 

 

A classical company delving into the modernist genre with a hint of verbal theatrics and a company steeped in the neoclassical genre also getting mouthy. What is the world coming to?

Have I momentarily lost my mooring or was this inevitable? I do see from the paper program that the next ballet to be presented will be Coppelia and realise John Neumeier’s Nijinsky is a one off, a chance for the Australian Ballet to spread their wings, as is their occasional wont.

I’ve sat on this last blog for quite a while. Two weeks to be exact, because I was looking for an angle, a perspective from which to introduce John Neumeier’s work Nijinsky as performed by the Australian Ballet. Then I saw Sydney Dance Company’s New Breed and all of a sudden I had too many angles and not much point.

Stop writing in riddles, Vicki.

This is how it went. In my mind, before actually seeing the work, I had prepared a blog about trends in the peripheries eventually making their way to the mainstream. But upon watching the show and subsequently reading up on the Ballets Russes I found this not to be true. The Ballets Russes, the company where Nijinsky both danced and choreographed his most seminal works, including The Rite Of Spring, influenced the dance world on a global scale; from elevating the role of the male from mere partner to masculine virtuoso, to seeding dance companies including the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine, as another of founder Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes choreographers. But it is the company’s trademark inter-disciplinarity that is perhaps one of its most significant legacies, with set and costume designs by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Coco Chanel amongst an impressive long list of prominent artists as collaborators.

Of course I knew of the Ballets Russes, as there was a major exhibition of the costumes held at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra in 2011 and a subsequent exhibition titled Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music in 2013. Australia is one of the many destinations that the company toured, under several incarnations between 1936 and 1940.

Yet despite this revolutionary dance lineage, as I watched the Australian Ballet perform I couldn’t help but think that the recreation of early modernist dance vocabulary through American Neumeier’s Nijinsky looked slightly out of place on the dancers. Perhaps it is my own link to modernist dance through extensive training of (Martha) Graham initiated at NAISDA and completed in New York which prompted this observation. The angular geometry the bodies assumed when performing the then emerging vocabularies lacked the architectural weight modernist dance training supplies.

But I am not painting an accurate picture because this work demanded an almost superhuman physicality from its main cast. Besides, how many contemporary dance companies would be able to incorporate intricate ballet petite allegros or pointe work into their repertoire?

Running at approximately 2.5 hours (plus interval) Neumeier’s Nijinsky demanded a similarly superhuman focus from the audience as well. It was dance about dance. There were dancers dancing the dance, dancing the training process, dancing the significance of the dance to the individual characters as portrayed by the dancers, whilst also placing the dancing alter ego alongside the dancer’s (Nijinsky’s) life events and lastly, dancing the legacy of the dancer’s (Nijinsky’s) dance upon the world. This was a not-so-linear narrative, a story ballet of pluralities, a complex weaving of an external reality simultaneously embellished with a representation of the inner psyche.

Nijinsky was an ambitious and at times chaotic production. When I came out the other end I thought I had achieved something by staying with it and trying to decipher what and where I was up to in terms of Nijinsky’s biography. In fact I felt most at ease when I recognised Nijinsky’s final descent into madness, only to be foiled by the fact that in fact more than one character suffers insanity and that it may have been Nijinsky’s brother going crazy at times and not the character of Nijinsky at all.

Jump forward one week and I am seated in Bay 20 at Carriageworks watching New Breed. This is the fourth year of an initiative by Sydney Dance Company, which aims to provide a platform for new choreographic voices in dance.

I have come to look forward to this event because it has the feel of a showing in progress (my favourite stage to view a work), only with fantastic production values in terms of staging. Ben Cisterne’s lighting is always to be commended. Cisterne manages time and again to elevate a work from an idea to an occasion, lending weight and substance through the dramatic intensity in which he shapes the stage in lieu of a set.

The first two pieces were created by resident performers Jesse Scales and Richard Cilli. They reveal a desire to explore other performative dynamics and textures. Both works, Scales’ What You See and Cilli’s Hinterland, incorporate elements of the pedestrian into highly virtuosic sequences. Scales uses gesture that seems intimate as if conducted rather than performed and Cilli employs a live vocal score that is playful, consisting of onomatopoeic accompaniments and nonsensical dialogue that could’ve been organically concocted in the Sydney Dance Cafe, before being imbued with a slightly surrealist context for an audience in Carriageworks.

Shian Law’s Epic Theatre presents an intellectual engagement by highlighting the dichotomy of the black box environment and blurring the two realms; of audience as spectator and performer as product. His vocabulary choices are reminiscent of reality TV. Think Kim Kardashian or, better still, the Osbornes, with their serialised in-house MTV intrusion on daily activities, who really kicked off Andy Warhol’s idea that everybody will have their 15 minutes of fame.

Epic Theatre begins while we’re downing halftime refreshments in the foyer. Half of the audience then enjoy the next gambit on stage before assuming original seating, culminating in the production manager calling the last LX cue from the stage as the lights go dark. It is the inclusion of everyday bodies as extras, with greater variance in gait and physique and an atmosphere made so dense with haze which could literally be deciphered as the fog of war (on banality perhaps?) that sets this work apart. Like the one before it (Rachael Arianne Ogle’s Of Dust) Epic Theatre alluded to a scale that prompts us to think of a bigger picture, where intimacy is secondary, almost irrelevant.

I suppose my blog does have a point. And that is lineage. No, it’s that there are rules and that the next generations are always out to challenge them, even if that means they/we are inadvertently repeating history. With the advent of the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo (one of those incarnations) we have the Australian Ballet via Edouard Borovansky. From this there is born a slew of contemporary choreographic talent including Leigh Warren, Meryl Tankard and Graham Murphy who goes on to direct Sydney Dance Company, until under the directorship of Raphael Bonachela we have the next New Breed. From an era of great experimentation there is the consolidation and conservatism only to be replaced by another era of experimentation. As a member of the independent dance sector I still believe we have a hand to play in the new direction of this New Breed…. albeit from the peripheries, from the grassroots, or the ground up.

Tonight marks the beginning of Sydney Dance Company’s Pre Professional Year’s End Of Year Production, also at Carriageworks, with pieces by Thomas Bradley, Kristina Chan, Zachary Lopez, Narelle Benjamin and Rafael Bonachela. I am intrigued as to what may unfold. Runs from the 6th-8th December.