What a night of rich juxtapositions. A new venue; a colonial celebration; a first rate ballet company; second rate speeches; all the glamour of opening night; the cringe-worthy embarrassment of a ranting monarchist; and an English company made up of Cuban, Brazilian, Russian, European and Japanese soloists.
The English National Ballet has sent 22 of their best to entertain us as part of the Queen’s Jubilee. Accordingly, the formal proceedings opened theatrically with the audience surrounded by brass and the orchestra playing a rousing version of Australia’s national anthem followed by God Save the Queen. We stood, we sang. Some of us even knew the words.
And what a mixture of A lists past and present: prime ministers, editors and arts tsars. Glitter and jeans, black tie and tie dye. The audience is part of the show darling, and the show begins in the foyer.
A great new venue, the Concourse is a short stroll down the mall from Chatswood station. Unusually intimate, this 500-seat theatre means you can hear every footfall, see the false eyelashes and stage make-up, and read the performers’ faces. This is a unique opportunity to get close to a high performance troupe in fine form.
What a marvellous luxury to hear a live orchestra, in synch with the performance. The orchestra pit won’t accommodate the entire Willoughby Symphony Orchestra sadly: the violins were acoustically compromised, the percussion straining to carry from under the stage itself.
The program of three sets (with two intervals) showcases Ballets Russes’ masterpieces. It opens with Apollo (three muses vie for Apollo’s approbation), choreographed by Ballanchine to music by Stravinsky. A divine second set of pas de deux, or duets (Trois Gnossiennes, Manon and Black Swan) has the audience in thrall. Finally the Suite en Blanc, (choreographed by Serge Lifar) showcases the troupe’s talent. In this deliberately plotless one-act ballet featuring the whole company, it is oddly charming to see some of the finest dancers in the world cooling their heels as a static tableau for others.
The charismatic Daria Klimentova steals the show, flashing charged looks over her shoulder as yet another buff boy lifts her from one improbable position to another. She is the humour and soul of this program. Her 32 fouettés(!!) (or turns) as Odile drew gasps from the audience. Gasp-worthy as they are, the rest of the company seemed focused on technique at the expense of narrative or presence.
This is very expensive entertainment to produce: 22 dancers; 30 orchestral musicians and numerous others in support. And yet this labour intensive, anachronistic art form survives and thrives. It’s a testament to the vigour and elegance that is classical ballet.
English National Ballet
Diamond Jubilee Gala Season
8 June to 17 June
Performing Arts Centre
The Concourse, Chatswood