Writing for both the Herald Sun and the Financial Review, I find myself in the bizarro position of being colleagues and rivals of just about everyone. Sometimes both of those at once.
At the ballet Thursday night, I sat next to "The Carbon Footprint". TCF writes for the Oz. I was there on behalf of the Hun. So, colleagues
, right? Uneasily, no. The Oz blithely ignores anything so lowly (latitudinally speaking) as a Melbourne paper. My writing for the Financial Review (17 years now!) is harder for TCF to ignore. Therefore enemies. Frenemies, at least.
Last time I encountered TCF at the State Theatre, in Melbourne, she pronounced -- in that glockenspiel voice of hers -- that I was a "very ordinary journalist."
I protested. I might be 'ornery', I quipped, but I most certainly am not -- never have been and never will be -- a jourrrrnalist
. And that she should take back that contemptible insult.
Anyway, TCF flew to Melbourne for the night to see Carlos Acosta's debut performance in Australia. And speaking of footprints, the Cuban-born star dancer had flown from London to appear in a ballet that has a running time of a tad over ten minutes. (The Australian Ballet quotes thirteen, but either they're playing the Debussy way too slow or -- more likely -- allowing for curtain calls!) (And, to be fair, Acosta is scheduled to perform twice more... a total of half an hour. Hope he came out on a flatbed!)
A star principal with the Royal Ballet, Acosta has a touch of the toreador about him. He's more meaty than lithe, but his moves belie that muscularity.
He's here -- Melbourne only -- to perform in Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun
. Forty-odd years after Nijinsky did the snowdropper thing and got down and dirty with the veil of a nymph, Mister "Baskin-Robbins" turned Nijinsky's masturbation into a marginally less un-American activity... narcissism.
And instead of a faun and a clutch of nymphs, we have a danseur
and a ballerina. Instead of a glade, we have a studio. When the music begins, we discover our man asleep in a rehearsal room. (Jean Rosenthal's airy set gives us three billowingly pale cloth walls and a holed ceiling, a barre running the length of each wall.) Our faun wakes and stretches languorously. Robbins choreographs some fairly basic warm-up moves for our only slightly supernatural man.
The nymph is no nymphette, mercifully. She's all woman: tall, imperial, hair down... as substantial (in her way) as he is. She's also every bit as gorgeous. It's here, as the two mug and pose, strut and fret -- to the audience rather than each other -- that we realise that the fourth wall is not a wall, it's a mirror! They're enamoured with their own reflections. Fawning, as it were, over themselves. Like kids on E.
The orgasm of Nijinsky's original -- the dry humping of a veil at the end that so shocked Paris a dozen years into the 20th century -- is tactfully early here, symphonic in its intensity and utterly female in its rolling peaks and eddies.
Kirsty Martin, reportedly, was apprehensive about the prospect of dancing "with a star." (I'm sure her husband -- and several others in this extraordinary company -- will feel somewhat slighted by that incautious remark!) I'm wondering if, after her duet with Acosta, if Martin has allowed herself the thought that the privilege was all his?
Martin rose to the occasion. More than matched him. Bettered him, really. "Rose to the occasion" is misleading. It implies that she's not always this good. She is. It's just that she is, on this occasion, better suited to her part than he is to his.
It's a mixed mode error in computer parlance.
Shame to bring him out here -- the hot Latino -- and get him to speak Latin. Hmm.
Even more weirdly, Acosta didn't eclipse Adam Bull's performance in the role a week earlier. Though he's now ranked a senior artist, Bull is on the cradle side of 25.
I've drawn attention to this on more than a few occasions, but bear with me one more time. It's a constant delight to me that this company varies the psychology, the emotion and the drama of works -- new and old -- according to the characteristics of those cast.
In that first cast, a week ago, Bull danced like an angel. Like he'd strayed from some Death in Venice fantasy world. He's the tallest dancer in the company, and he has the kind of body that straight women and gay men drool over. But he managed to project a sublimely innocent "you can look but don't touch" thing.
His partner was principal dancer Olivia Bell, the tallest woman in the company, I think. Certainly up there. And -- bless! -- you've gotta love a boy who can make a big woman look weightless.
In their version of the ballet, the faun was not of this world and the nymph was utterly corporeal. Utterly human. In the Acosta-Martin version, the reverse was true. The faun was human. Corporeal. The nymph was the goddess.
Both pairs filled this vast stage to overflowing.
So too did Marc Cassidy and cellist Louise McKay in the next piece: A Suite of Dances. Strictly speaking, it's a solo. But the soloist dances for -- and in front of -- the cellist, on stage. She's an integral part of the action. She's so good -- so charismatic -- I was tempted to ignore the dancy dance and just watch her! (That's when I vowed to return.)
Like Baryshnikov, for whom this piece was choreographed, Cassidy is compact. And thrillingly dynamic. Dressed in two tones of dusky red, in front of a blue-lit background, the pale-skinned Cassidy seems like a wraith. This Mini Misha is insubstantial compared to the tall, spider-fingered, smiling and corporeal cellist-in-black. It's as if he is the melody made visible. First the cello winds him up. Then, in turn, resolutely declines to be wound up by him.
This pair of works, created forty years apart, are the best of Robbins. TCF was mortified, appalled, affronted when I said to her that Robbins was a hoofer. But he was... Broadway and Hollywood were the scenes of his greatest achievements.
But he had his moments in the ballet theatre. And Faun and Suite were amongst them. The Cage -- which opens this Celebration bill -- was not.
As I whined in my Herald Sun review, earlier in the week, it would have been nice to see Robbins' work for Ballet Theatre -- now American Ballet Theatre -- Fancy Free, which established him as a choreographer in the early 40s. It stayed in that company's repertoire for the next half century. It's something of a signature work. (It's a clever piece about a trio of sailors hitting on two women in a bar in New York.) I can understand why the Australian Ballet tackled The Cage. It's an attempt to show how innovative and modernist Robbins was. But, well, it's a pretty lame arse attempt. And after 30 performances, it's still looks NQR on most of the company.
Let me be lazy for a moment and quote a par from my Herald Sun review verbatim:
The Cage is a modernist curio, think Tim Burton directing Charlie's Angels. In it, wild-haired women do the bidding of their spider queen. We watch the novice spider (a mop-top Rachel Rawlins) snapping the necks of male intruders... with her knees!! (It's not as hot as it sounds!) Andrew Wright is finished off in a matter of seconds, but he's especially good.
The season ends on June 16. Carlos Acosta performs again today and Monday.
Labels: Adam Bull, Carlos Acosta, Kirsty Martin