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Australian Ballet.


The first performance in Melbourne of William Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated tended to overpower the premiere of resident choreographer Stephen Baynes's newest ballet, Shadow in the Facet. Because the Forsythe work ended the program it was the main topic of conversation afterward, but Baynes's work remained a haunting, tantalizing memory. Oddly placed between these two contemporary pieces was Aurora's Wedding (Act III of The Sleeping Beauty).

Shadow is Baynes's third commission for Australian Ballet, his confidence and authority as a choreographer have visibly grown with each successive work. Using Maurice Ravel's 1922 Sonata for Violin and Piano as his inspiration, he has made a dense, sophisticated, enigmatic ballet dealing with relationships among seven dancers. In this sonata Ravel expressed what he felt to be a basic incompatibility between the violin and the piano, and Baynes echoes this subtle discord.

The set, designed by Michael Pearce is an important part of the whole, dividing the stage and confining the two onstage musicians and the dancers between a gold metallic screen across the back and six shimmering mesh panels in front. The dancers move in and out among these panels, which sometimes turn sideways and at other times form an impenetrable curtain, appearing to isolate each dancer in a cell. Baynes's program note likens the set to "a cross between a jewel case and a prison."

The women wear elegant, subdued evening dresses, the men suits, their chests bare under their jackets, as three couples dance closely and gently with each other. The jazz-inspired second movement introduces a seventh dancer--a woman in a bright red gown who disrupts the group. One man leaves his partner and dances intensely with the outsider; then the other couples change partners as the atmosphere becomes menacing, the dancing almost frenetic. The woman in red leaves as mysteriously as she entered, but her influence has altered, probably forever, the lives of the three couples.

All seven dancers--Miranda Coney, Steven Heathcote, Justine Summers, Nicole Rhodes, Lynette Wills, Matthew Trent, and Kip Gamblin--showed sensitivity to the work's subtleties. Baynes's choreography is thoughtful and classically based (the women on pointe), revealing his deep understanding of music.

Australian Ballet's dancers have probably been as eager to dance Forsythe's choreography as audiences here have been to see it, and In the Middle, with its surging energy, stretched, space-piercing, off-center movements, and thrilling rhythmic electronic score (by Thom Willems), fulfilled all expectations. with the stage stripped bare to the back and in harsh, revealing lighting, the dancers stomp on, singly or in small groups, and suddenly, seemingly nonchalantly, decide to dance the demanding and exciting choreography. Rhodes, Heathcote, Rachael Read, and Damien Welch were particularly brilliant.

The traditionalists among the audience (some of whom complained bitterly about Willems's score for In the Middle) were more comfortable with Aurora's Wedding, but AB's production of The Sleeping Beauty is overdecorated and all that gilt and glitter look even more extreme in between two more simply designed works. The fact that much of the ballet was taken at a dreary tempo did not help. However, it was partly redeemed by the blithe, aerial Bluebird of Campbell McKenzie, with Lucinda Dunn as Princess Florine, and liked to a genuinely exciting plane by the marvelous, flawless dancing, partnering, and charm of Li Cunxin as Prince Florimund in the grand pas de deux, with a radiant Lisa Bolte as Princess Aurora.
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Title Annotation:State Theatre, Melbourne, Australia
Author:Laughlin, Patricia
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Oct 1, 1996
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