So, last night we went to the ballet, a most unusual thing for me. I've never really got the ballet, something I will openly admit. I mean, sure I enjoy ogling the hot bodies of the males and admire the athleticism, but it does not move me. Not the way a good opera performance will. But that is me, others will.
So, there we were at the ballet, seeing three pieces from the Australian Ballet's past, put together as Icons. All three are significant works from the past of the company, and in many ways, each has helped to define the company through the years, being works that keep being presented at regular intervals.
The first one, "the Display" I am will openly say I did not like. It seemed both an unlikely piece and one that portrayed Australian society in an unpleasant light. A girl goes into the bush for a picnic, watches a lyrebird dance, is joined by her boyfriend, his friends and their girlfriends. the boys drink beer, play Aussie rules and then an outsider turns up. He flirts with the girl, the other males get annoyed, the boyfriend fights the outsider and they all leave the outsider for dead. The girl comes back later, finds the outsider, who then "rapes" the girl, they get disturbed by the lyrebird, causing the boy to run off. The lyrebird mounts the girl, with her apparent willingness.
Now, don't get me wrong. I could see most of that happening (apart from the lyrebird mounting a girl, obviously) But, as a ballet I found the subject lacking the beauty I was expecting. Where was the pleasure I was paying to get (Although I had not paid in this case, it was a gift from a friend for us) To be sure, it spoke volumes about our fractured society in Australia, that even a bird paid more attention to a girl, than the man she was supposed to be in love with. But there was no one I felt any thing for. Not one person left me moved, not even the plight of the girl. I just watched, impressed by the dancing, unmoved by the story (and there was much to admire in Sir Robert Helpman's choreography, especially the football scene).
Which makes my love of the next piece all the more interesting.Gemini (set to the music of the recently deceased Hans Werner Henze Symphony 3) was a totally abstract piece, with no story, just movement and the interplay between the four dancers. Yet it left me utterly gripped. Amazing performers dancing on a stage whose scenic elements looked like it was a nightmare of a 70's disco, with plain lycra costumes, it gripped you. It was long enough to ensure it did not overstay its welcome, yet left us feeling "that was special" As I said afterwards "that was everything I don't like about ballet, yet I loved it" If I knew ballet well, I could probably explain why, just accept the fact that while it ticked every box that should have set my wankometer into overload, it didn't through some weird alchemy of impressiveness.
Which leaves the final piece, "Beyond Twelve" a piece choreographed by Graeme Murphy to Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. This on paper sounded even more self absorbed and wankerous than the previous piece. The title refers to the age of the dancer of the start. A young boy, caught between his love of (Aussie Rules) football, and the ballet, and his awkward relationship with his parents. The second part of it looks at the same performer after 18, approaching the peak of his power, and experiencing first love, with his dance partner. And the third part (danced to the slow middle movement of the concerto, just to confuse) was about the same dancer as he approached the end of his dancing career, looking back on his life in dance, and towards an uncertain future. You can see why my wankometer threatened to go through the roof for that!
Yet this was definitely the most moving piece of the night. It was funny, it had believable characters and it had humanity. Graeme Murphy has always been a choreographer who at his heart likes to tell stories, and this worked beautifully. Yes, it was self referential, but it was concerned with universal themes, with ageing, and the way that men struggle to deal with growing old, if they dare to stop and think about the changes. It ended with a dance between the three men who performed the different aged performers, which managed to not be in any way homoerotic, while still demonstrating the power and athleticism of each dancer. The others then left the stage, as the mature dancer took the spotlight, while the scenery was removed, leaving the backbones of the stage, reflecting the uncertain future out of the spotlight. It was a moving ending and an unexpected coup de theatre that felt just right. Just like all of this third part of the night.
The Display, music by Malcolm Williamson, Choreography by Sir Robert Helpman
Gemini, Musc by Hans Werner Henze (symphony 3), Choreography by Glen Tetley
Beyond Twelve, music by Maurice Ravel (Piano concerto in G), choreography by Graeme Murphy