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Warumuk – in the dark night… and Infinity: The Australian Ballet’s Triple Bill at Lincoln Center

June 21, 2012

Artists of The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre in Warumuk – in the dark night, Photo by Jeff Busby

Infinity was the title for the Australian Ballet’s triple bill, part of the company’s tour celebrating its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1962 by founding Artistic Director Peggy van Praagh, it’s the company’s third appearance in New York since 1990. The triple billed evening consisted of Luminous (2012), Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929 (2009) and Warumuk – in the dark night (2012), a new work in collaboration with Indigenous dance company Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Luminous was a collection of classic pas de deux and dances that have been pivotal in the development of the Australian Ballet, from La Favorita to the classic Giselle and Nureyev’s Don Quixote, as well as works from Australian choreographers Stephen Baynes and Stanton Welch.  Tying these together was a specially commissioned film by The Apiary, images, interviews and past performances drawn from various archives that helped visualize the 50 year history of the company.

Luminous was an interesting selection with some exceptional stand-out performances. Rachel Rawlins and Ty King-Wall’s pas de deux from the Second Act of Giselle was simply wonderful. Ms. Rawlins was soft and possessed a dream-like qaulity that is vital to the role and was simply beautiful. Reiko Hombo and Chengwu Guo were so good in Nureyev’s Don Quixote that I do not even nowhere to start.  Ms. Hombo turns were spot on and Chengwu Guo’s every moment of stage was riveting. His performance in the male’s variation was one of the best I’ve seen. But my one complaint/question is the costumes used; they were variations of gold and white, not the traditional black and red in keeping with the Spanish motive of Don Q. I thought that curious and a little out of character for the work.

Kevin Jackson and Lana Jones in Dyad 1929 (Infinity mixed bill). Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929 it is one half of a diptych created by Mr. McGregor in celebration of the centennial of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. Dyad 1929 was created for the Australian Ballet in Melbourne in 2009 and the other half of the diptych Dyad 1909 (In the Spirit of Sergei Diaghilev) was created in London in the same year for Wayne McGregor’s company Random Dance.

Dyad 1929 was also dedicated to the memory of Merce Cunningham for his commitment to collaborations and his many innovations in dance. The influence of Merce is present in the work. It is in the construction of the work, the many collaborators, and there are fleeting images, shapes, ways of movement reminiscent of Merce Cunningham technique. Not overt just a slight hint of coloration here and there.

Everything is black and white; Moritz Junge’s costumes are a mixture of trunks and tops in various combinations and patterns of white and black with one couple in neutral with black dots. The flooring is white with black dots as is the back wall.

Steve Reich’s “Double Sextet”, made for two identical sextets of instruments, each made up of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone and piano, leant complex repetitive rhythms that intertwined with the tone and melody.

Robyn Hendricks and Daniel Gaudiello in Dyad 1929. Photo, © Jim McFarlane

Dyad 1929 is made for twelve dancers, six women and six men and is combination of solos, trios and duets woven together but yet each distinct. The dancers walk into and exit the stage in a very casual manner, unhurried but still focused. Once they are on stage their bodies are twisted, knotted, stretched and molded into flowing geometrics, arms and legs bent, straightened, and at angles. The movements flow between sharp and percussive to almost lyrical. Daniel Gaudiello tilts Robyn Hendricks at precarious angles, legs and feet in one direction, her head and body going in the opposite, then swiping her around while still holding onto her waist, Ms. Hendricks arches her back her arms reaching for the floor. Kevin Jackson and Lana Jones were another standout in the performance and of particular note was Mr. Jackson’s solo.

Lucy Carter’s lighting and stage concept must be applauded, adding both dimension and depth. A yellow neon light, stretching from one side of the stage to the other is lowered and raised slowly at intervals during the dance. (Is it symbolism for the passage of time, perhaps?)  It creates a barrier, establishing a window in which we as voyeurs glimpse a complex universe of both dichotomy and uniformity.

Artists of The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre in Warumuk - in the dark night,  Photo by Jeff Busby

Warumuk – in the dark night, a collaboration between the Australian Ballet and the Bangarra Dance Theater, Australia’s Indigenous dance company, gave a glimpse into a culture rarely seen in New York, together they combined to create a unique language of dance that was haunting as well as exquisitely beautiful .

Choreographed by Stephen Page, Warumuk – in the dark night is his fifth work for AB and his third collaboration with both companies. It is inspired by the myths of the Yolngu families of North East Arnhem Land, one of the five regions of the Northern Territory of Australia.

Warumuk – in the dark night, is an exploration or retelling of Yolngu creation stories within the constellation of the stars, and was created after many conversations and with guidance by the elders of the Yolngu families, but from a western interpretation. From the evening star to the morning star and in between, the work explores the Milky Way, shooting stars, the Seven Sisters, the tides of the moon and the drama of the lunar eclipse.

David Page’s composition for orchestral instruments combined with Yolngu songs and language and the “hum of the land” was moving from the first note. It possessed a rich earthiness and sometimes even otherworldliness to the ear.

Artists of The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre in Warumuk – in the dark night, Photo by Greg Barrett

The curtain rises to a woman sitting on a mountain made of men. The men revere her as a goddess as she leads them a ritualistic dance very mysteriously under an arch of stars seen against a night of blackness in the background.

Again we see the goddess concept explored as seven men weave and rotate around a lone woman. There is a calm peacefulness present that is beautiful in its serenity as they are seen underneath a constellation of stars.

Jacob Nash’s sets for “Warumuk” gave the imagination free range as you are pulled into this wonderful work. A thick rope hanging from the heavens like an umbilical cord from god in the last scene was poignant. Startling in its starkness was a large inverted white tree branch susended from where we can not see, its as if it grows out of sheer air.

Oh, the (established) critics were not kind. They moaned, groaned and lamented about the dances being bland, Warumuk was too swishy, swirly, La Favorita was vague…one critic actually used the word “anomie” in his critique. Since I have not used the word anomie in my vocabulary recently (or ever…), I had to look it up. It means “lack of social or moral standards in an individual or society”.  What? Were they and I at the same performance, in the same building, in the same city that night?

When critics start to use words that the average person (i.e. me…) has to search for a dictionary in order to define…I’m not sure I can take them seriously…

From → Ballet

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