YOUR SUMMERTIME AT THE BALLET VIEWING GUIDE

Posted on 24 February 2021 By Rose Mulready

The sun is out ... and it's time for our dancers to do what they do best! Are you joining us for a performance of Summertime at the Ballet, or will you be live-streaming it? Either way, these insights into the program will help you get the most out of your experience. 

THE KINGDOM OF THE SHADES FROM La Bayadère

Twenty-four dancers in ghostly white tutus slowly perform sweeping port de bras and deep arabesques in unison. It is a hypnotic display of control and grace, and one of classical ballet’s most memorable images. The Kingdom of the Shades scene is taken from Marius Petipa’s 19th-century ballet La Bayadère, an Indian fantasia about a temple dancer, Nikya, in love with a warrior, Solor. After Nikiya is killed by her rival, the heartbroken Solor smokes opium and has a vision of Nikiya and her fellow ghosts descending the Himalayan mountains.

Benedicte Bemet. Photography Lynette Wills

TRIO FROM FILIGREE AND SHADOW

Filigree and Shadow was choreographed by Tim Harbour for The Australian Ballet’s 20:21 triple bill in 2015. Harbour says it “was designed to be a catharsis for aggression and about the moments emotions become action. The trio you will see happens halfway through the full-length ballet. Its choreography took its inspiration from drummers – people like Keith Moon from the band The Who. His frenzied drum solos found a balance between chaos and control – the very essence of creativity – and are mesmerising to watch. The dancers and I have looked to bring those contrasts into
the dance, to hurtle through the form, music and emotion at the very edge of control.

"The music was created especially for Filigree and Shadow by Siegfried Rössert and Ulrich Müller who together composed under the name 48nord. Sadly, Siegfried passed away after a long battle with cancer in November 2020. These performances of Filigree and Shadow are dedicated to him.”

In loving memory of Siegfried Johannes Rössert. 1 May 1955 – 29 November 2020

Jill Ogai, Christopher Rodgers-Wilson and George-Murray Nightingale

Pas de deux from Molto Vivace

Choreographer Stephen Baynes says, “Molto Vivace took as its starting point the works of Watteau and Fragonard, two French painters of the 18th century – and in particular a genre known as fétes galantes, in which people were depicted at leisure in idealised natural surroundings … Watteau’s works often depicted a kind of yearning melancholy whereas in many of Fragonard’s works there is a barely concealed, bawdy eroticism.” While much of the full-length ballet was antic and comic, its central pas de deux, set to the languorous, stately Largo from Handel’s Xerxes, creates an air of plangent romance.

Amber Scott and Adam Bull

EXCERPTS FROM ACT I OF SPARTACUS

The story of Spartacus, first turned into a ballet in Soviet Russia, traces the journey of a Thracian king who is enslaved by Imperial Rome and put to work as a gladiator. He leads an uprising against the oppressors, which is initially successful but then cruelly and bloodily crushed. When choreographer Lucas Jervies was creating his 2018 production of Spartacus he researched slavery in our own time, submerged himself in the Khachaturian score and worked with a fight director, Nigel Poulton, to develop a gritty, explosive style, which is on show here in the scenes where Spartacus and the other slaves train for gladiatorial combat. Afterwards, exhausted, Spartacus sleeps and dreams he is visited by his wife Flavia. Freed for a moment from his misery, he shares an ecstatic moment with her.

Jake Mangakahia and Imogen Chapman

Act III Bridesmaids Dance and Pas de deux from Don Quixote

The 19th-century choreographer Marius Petipa, usually associated with the pure classicism of the Kingdom of the Shades, Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, had great successes with ballets set in exoticised versions of foreign lands. Don Quixote, based on the Cervantes novel about an ageing knight who lives in a delusional world based on his favourite books, concentrates less on this central character and more on a pair of mischievous lovers, Basilio and Kitri, who, forbidden to marry by Kitri’s father, run away together. After a series of adventures and narrow scrapes, they finally get to marry. Their wedding pas de deux is the height of classical technique, given a touch of true Spanish fire by Petipa, who studied Spanish dancing in Madrid.

This version of Don Quixote was choreographed by the great Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. In 1973, he made an acclaimed film of his production with The Australian Ballet, putting the fledgeling company on the international map.

Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo

Waltz from The Merry Widow

The Merry Widow is one of The Australian Ballet’s most beloved productions, and for many years was its signature piece on international tours. Desmond Heeley choreographed this heady, romantic version of Franz Lehár's beloved operetta, a tangled tale of two lovers, Danilo and Hanna, who part in their youth and meet again years later in Paris. This scene, from the ballet’s first act, is set in the Pontevedrian embassy, where a ball is given to honour Hanna, now newly widowed and fabulously rich. Her beauty matches her wealth: every eye is upon her, and every man competes for her hand.

Amber Scott and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Kate Longley

Tschaikovsky pas de deux

In 1953, a piece of music Tchaikovsky composed for Swan Lake, thought lost, was discovered in the archives of the Bolshoi Ballet. The Russian choreographer George Balanchine, who during his time at New York City Ballet revolutionised classical ballet, had trained at the Imperial School and revered Tchaikovsky; he gained permission to use the rediscovered music for this piece. Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, with its lyrical duet and delicate female variation, its spectacular jumps and fishdives, is a tribute to the era of Russian ballet when Tchaikovsky and the choreographer Marius Petipa were at their height; but it also has the speed and attack, the giddying lifts and plunges that gave Balanchine’s choreography an edge of risk and modernity.

Masami Sato. Photography Branco Gaica

CLAY (excerpt from Logos)

In 2019, Alice Topp choreographed a duet, Clay, on London’s Company Wayne McGregor. It was performed at the Dance@TheGrange festival that year. In 2020, that duet became part of Topp’s one-act ballet Logos, one of the works danced by The Australian Ballet in its final performance before the COVID pandemic forced the closure of theatres. Of Logos, Topp said, “How do you wear your monsters? When do you start to wear another’s monsters as your own? Life can feel full of modern demons and pressures. Sometimes it becomes a dance with your devils of grief, a wrestle with pain, a bargaining with your beasts of fear. The storm around us drowns us, and before we know it, we have lost ourselves, engulfed in the whirling turbulence … How can our fears be so great that our only solution is to turn on ourselves and each other? In these times, isn’t hope and love our greatest weapon and armour?”

Nathan Brook and Karen Nanasca. Photography Jeff Busby

PAS DE DEUX AND FINALE FROM THEME AND VARIATIONS

During his prolific career, George Balanchine both worked within and redefined the classical ballet vocabulary. Some of his works are the epitome of streamlined modernity; others are more obvious tributes to the great works of Russian ballet he grew up with, most notably those of Tchaikovsky and Petipa (whom he spoke of as “my spiritual father”). Theme and Variations pays homage to both of these great artists. The final duet gestures towards the grand pas de deux that crowns so many Petipa ballets; the majestic polonaise for 24 dancers that concludes the ballet to Petipa’s spectacularly crowded stages. It is a fittingly splendid end to The Australian Ballet’s first performances of 2021.