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Review: Australian Ballet's Gala Spectacular

Arts & Culture

The Australian Ballet’s Gala Spectacular is a star-filled highlights program designed to delight both ballet regulars and those new to the art form – and the audience response showed the ambitious production delivers on both counts.

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The Entertainment Centre is not the company’s usual Adelaide performance space, which perhaps explained some of the empty seats on opening night, but the change in venue from the Festival Centre (which is currently undergoing renovations) offered unexpected benefits.

The purpose-built stage meant the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was seated behind and above the dancers, rather than hidden in the pit, so the audience was treated to a full view of both the musicians and the dancers.

This unique arrangement was amazingly powerful, as was the energy of music director and chief conductor Nicolette Fraillon. Because the orchestra was behind instead in front of the stage, the audience was also closer than usual to the dancers, resulting in welcome intimacy that is often unavailable to all except those in the first few rows at the Festival Theatre.

It meant we could better see the detail in the spectacular costumes, and appreciate the technique in each masterful move.

The first hour of the program featured tasters from some of ballet’s most famous productions. Up first was an extract from the ballet Sylvia by Leo Delibes, followed by Grand Pas Classique, performed by Lana Jones and Brodie James, who demonstrated incredible strength, grace and lightning footwork. Indeed, all the dancers displayed the same awe-inspriring athleticism and grace which makes The Australian Ballet iconic.

Act III from Don Quixote saw Ako Kondo as Kitri and Ty King-Wall as Basilio, in gold bolero jackets. The Act III pas de deux from Spartacus followed, with tutus replaced by sparse, nude-look slips. Jarryd Madden, as Spartacus, and Robyn Hendricks, as Flavia, held the audience spellbound.

Something had to follow, and the extract from Cinderella suffered somewhat by comparison, although the performances by leads Leanne Stojmenov (Cinderella) and Kevin Jackson (The Prince) were faultless.

Closing the first half of the show was an excerpt from one of the best-known ballets of all time, The Sleeping Beauty. The costumes alone in this piece were worth the price of a ticket, with audiences transported to an 18th-century French court: romantic tutus, Marie Antoinette wigs and flower arches were pure fairyland stuff, and witnessing the full cast on stage like this was unforgettable. Lead Amber Scott was delightful as Aurora, and the three princes were equally as charming.

Suite En Blanc. Photo: Lynette Willis

If Act I showcased some of ballet’s most memorable moments, Act II moved audiences to a new modern classic – Suite En Blanc, by choreographer Serge Lifar.

Suite En Blanc featured the entire cast in white throughout, and the choreography, while still decidedly classical, pushed the boundaries with contemporary twists on classic moves, arrangement and motifs. It empowered the ballerinas to occupy those power-leads usually performed by men, and also allowed the male dancers to show more feminine moves.

It was both a nod to the past and showed the audience the evolution of ballet — classical, powerful and astounding.

There is no doubt the Australian Ballet is world-class in everything it does. The two-hour performance passed in the blink of an eye, with audience members left smiling at the end.

Unfortunately, the Gala Spectacular was in Adelaide for only one weekend, but the company will be back in July 2018 with The Sleeping Beauty in its more usual home, the Festival Theatre.

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