The current season of the West Australian Ballet Company, 'Ballet at the Quarry' presents a varied offering of short works by younger choreographers.
The current season of the West Australian Ballet Company, Ballet at the Quarry presents a varied offering of short works by younger choreographers. Ranging from contemporary to neo-classical in style, each piece seeks to explore an emotional or philosophical proposition through the language of dance. The first two pieces, It is, and Door No. 1, are by local dancers turned choreographers. Cass Mortimer-Eipper’s quirky opening work,It is, uses a vocabulary of mechanistic movements which relate perfectly to the chosen excerpts of music by Itchee & Scratchee and Ichy & Scratchy, although sometimes leaving the more classically oriented of the audience somewhat bemused. Originally choreographed for the Strut's season Short Cuts last October, this piece places intense demands on dancers to maintain their individual movement style while interacting with the other members of their group. Beneath the obvious humour, Mortimer-Eipper makes the serious point that, although separated by external difference - the dancers belong to either the Reds or the Greens - such boundaries are only surface-deep and may be crossed. In retrospect, a message that the world could well learn at present. Still dancing with the Company, Mortimer-Eipper appeared in four of the other works on the program. In Door No. 1, Timothy O’Donnell explores some of the different consequences that follow each of the choices we make in life. First choreographed for WAAPA in 2008, the work is a series of interludes, interrupted by the shrill of the doorbell. Largely contemporary in style, set to the music of Yann Tiersen, O’Donnell uses contrasting dance vocabularies to portray the different possibilities offered by the open door. I particularly enjoyed the segment where the three male dancers – Cass Mortimer-Eipper, Marco Pagetti and Joseph Simons – danced with sustained lyricism in an unfolding adagio. As in life, there were moments of sheer perplexity. I must confess it is the first time I have seen a scratch behind the ear become part of dance vocabulary, but it certainly worked here. Whether due to the nature of the Quarry Theatre, with its limited lighting and structured entrances and exists onto the stage, or to the nature of the works themselves, there was little opportunity to single out individual dancers during the night. One exception was the incredible dancing and stage presence of leading artist Daryl Brandwood, who held the audience spellbound in Tobin del Cuore’s piece Consider the Raven, choreographed especially for him. The emotional intensity came from a clever interplay between the music – excerpts from Andrew Bird, Jon Brion, Yo Yo Ma and Bobby McFerring, - a clever use of lighting effects, especially the highlighted gum tree and Brandwood’s shadow thrown dramatically on the rough cliff wall, and Brandwood’s flawless technique. But it was his stage presence that held the audience. This was a magic piece of contemporary choreography, possibly made all the more magical by the fact that it had been what del Cuore described as a ‘last-minute, unforeseen adventure’. If this is the kind of experiment Artistic Director Ivan Cavallari is leading the WA Ballet towards, then more power to him. It certainly worked for this member of the audience. The last offering in the first half was Timothy Harbour’s delightful Fractal Joy, in which patterns of light formed an essential part of the whole. Choreographed to music by Nishimura and Double Image, the contemporary piece explored patterns – patterns between bodies, between dark and light, as well as the patterns one body could form, through the undulations of arms, legs and torso. The eight dancers explored fluidity, balance and a sense of fun. Underlying the whole was an explosion of joy, summed up in the final tableau with the word JOY formed in lights in the dancers’ hands. The manipulation of lighting demanded extra attention from the dancers, especially in the representation of the skipping rope games of childhood, which posed some challenges and awkward moments. Both pieces in the second half included the vocal element in their score. Lickety-Spit, by Spanish-born choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, was inspired by the quirky songs of Bay Area musician Devendra Banhart, and developed for Hubbard Street Dance, Chicago, a company of young dancers. The three couples explored the changing nature of relationships, through a movement vocabulary that ranged from more stylised classical forms to contrasting contemporary movements. I found the interludes of running rather disconcerting, but on reflection see them as indicating that dance exists within the everyday and that in all expression there must be moments of relaxation, where we can let go of intensity. The final offering Natalie Weir’s Lacrimosa, was an accomplished piece of choreography to the evocative music of Mozart’s Requiem. More classical in language than the other pieces it provided the four leading artists, Victoria Maughan, Jayne Smeulders, Daryl Brandwood and Chrisian Luck, an opportunity to reveal the fullness of their classical technique in a choreography that was embroidered with contemporary movements. Jayne Smeulders dazzled with her sharp brilliance, as she had in earlier pieces. and with Christian Luck created a moving attempt to maintain the link between the supporting chorus and Brandwood as he contemplated the nature of death, finally giving himself up to the waters of oblivion. Again Brandwood held the audience with the intensity of emotion expressed through his movements. The contrast drawn between the virility in his technique and the foetal position as he curled behind the bowl of water (representing tears or the Styx, river of death?) mirrored his longing for life even as he contemplated death. The foetal position reflected, as Weir had suggested, the image of death as an end that is also a beginning. I have not forgotten the other dancer, Victoria Maughan, completing this foursome that carried the main narrative against the interwoven expression of grief portrayed by the corps de ballet or chorus in the pure tradition of Greek tragedy. A graduate from the John Curtin College of Arts and WAAPA, Victoria was a young artist at the Ballet Company in 2008 before moving into the full- time company. And in Lacrimosa she showed the purity of line, and the feeling that led to this promotion. She is a beautiful young dancer with much promise. Although the whole program no doubt made many demands on the dancers, it was never apparent to the audience. The variety of choreographic styles ensured that everyone could find something to appeal, and, more than likely, something that would challenge accepted views and so stretch the audience as well as the dancers. West Australian Ballet in Ballet at the Quarry Quarry Amphitheatre, 11th to 26th February, 8:30pm

Trisha Kotai-Ewers

Tuesday 17 February, 2009

About the author

Trisha Kotai-Ewers is a reviewer for Arts Hub.