Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Apr 29 – May 16, 2015
Choreographer: Frederick Ashton (reproduced by Francis Croese)
Image by Daniel Boud
Frederick Ashton’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream distils all the magic and fantasy of Titania and Oberon’s Fairyland, and uses the ethereal qualities of ballet to provide lyrical expression. Familiar characters are vividly brought to life in dance form, with performers from The Australian Ballet investing in their roles surprising colour and fitting charm. Particularly engaging is Chengwu Guo as Puck, whose powerful and nuanced work is an effervescent highlight of the production.
Retaining original visual design elements for the programme is perhaps unexpectedly effective, especially for Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, which is presented as a prelude to The Dream. Sophie Fedorovitch’s delightful set and costumes for the 1946 piece looks as modern today as it must have seven decades ago, with a stunning backdrop reflective of the early emergence of post modern design at the end of the second World War and in the wake of the Art Deco movement. Ashton’s work features six dancers, all of whom remain on stage for its entire duration, and although adventurous and dynamic by nature, its presentation on this occasion seems too aloof, and energy levels too consistent, to portray the multi-dimensional qualities of its choreography.
The first (of three) Ashton works in the schedule is Monotones II, created in the mid 1960’s to the music of Erik Satie. With just three dancers and a disarming starkness to its visual language, the piece is absolutely unforgiving, and requires of its performers, the utmost in precision, focus and cohesion. When moments coalesce, we obtain the kind of sublime beauty that we seek of the art form, and as inevitable imperfections reveal themselves, one is reminded of the “wabi-sabi” philosophy from Japanese aesthetic principles. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also gives greater meaning to the rest that are present. Perhaps more than any other discipline, ballet’s incessant pursuit of perfection is fundamental to its very meaning and existence. For those of us who deny the possibility of perfection (and hence probably not possess the traits required of professional dancers), it is that very act of pursuance that appeals. The spirit is always willing and pure in our best performers, so even if the body can never live up to our abstract fabrications, what we witness in good theatre is always that passionate belief in something greater, something borne of the brave hearts of our most courageous idealists.