Review: The Silver Rose

by Jane

Presented by the Australian Ballet
At the Adelaide Festival Centre, July 17 2010

For at least the past six years, I have been seeing the Adelaide season of the Australian Ballet twice: once at the final dress rehearsal, and once during the season. Beyond the fun of being privy to the dress rehearsal, straining your ears to hear direction, I love seeing it twice, once from the Dress Circle and once from the Stalls, getting a chance to appreciate things you perhaps didn’t the first time, and the best result is when you are lucky enough to see two casts.

Wonderful costumes by Roger Kirk.

While if you’re seeing one of the big musicals there is a chance you will get an understudy, generally you know whom you are going to see in each role. The ballet, however, is a whole different matter. Multiple casts brings a superb element of different interpretations of the steps and the characters, and just a beautiful opportunity to really appreciate the strengths of the different dancers.

So I this year at The Silver Rose I was lucky enough to see two magnificent casts, but today I am just reviewing the Saturday night cast: because I had a better seat, I spent less time trying to follow the plot, and I wouldn’t review a dress-rehearsal – no matter how stunning it was.

The Silver Rose is Choreographer Graeme Murphy and Creative Associate Janet Vernon’s adaptation of the Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier, whose plot errs on the il- side of logical. I don’t know that the elderly women we were sitting next to during the dress rehearsal appreciated our interval discussions as to who Sexy Pants was in love with, and who exactly were the people from The Matrix?

Ty King-Wall and Juliet Burnett: a cast I unfortunately didn't get to see.

I’m not going to describe the plot, because it would take an age, and I probably made up a lot of it so it could make sense to me. I couldn’t make up a reason as to what the police were doing in the third act, but I managed to justify (or perhaps ignore?) every other turn. Sure, the story ballets don’t usually make the most sense (falling in love with a swan? With a doll?), but this was more incomprehensible than most. I am told in Germany the story is one of their fairy tales, so when commissioned by the Bavarian State Ballet original audiences would have had a much easier go of it.

A romantic ballet, Murphy has also integrated many comedic scenes. While I believe there is no art form in which romance is represented better than dance, comedy in dance is something that is very hard to get right. Comedy is typically inserted into classical dance in one of two ways: through interesting and unexpected choreography, where the execution of the work is surprising and therefore brings an element of humour (examples can be seen in Stanton Welch’s Divergence or Jerome Robbins’ New York Export: Opus Jazz); or through comedic shtick, which typically involve very camp characters, and men dressing up as women (examples can be seen in La Fille Mal Gardee, and just to play fair, Robbins’ The Concert).

These two types of comedy serve very different purposes, and it is typically the second type that is integrated into the story ballets, an indication as to “This is the part where you laugh.” Murphy frequently integrates this blatant humour into his ballets, and I often find this a detriment to the larger body of the ballet. Interestingly, I found the humour – which, clearly is something I generally feel I could do without – in The Silver Rose less annoying, and yes, funnier, the second time I saw the ballet. Perhaps it was a case of lowered expectations to those scenes, or a heightened performance from the cast, or I was just in a better place to appreciate it that night. Who knows?

Hilarity does not ensue.

Overall, though, I am still of the opinion that these scenes detracted from the sheer beauty of the rest of the choreography. Particularly wonderful are the act one pas de deux and the act three pas de trios, but these are accompanied by more awe-inspiring solos, pas de deux, pas de trios, and a delightful act two ballroom choreography for the corps. Like I said, there is no art form which shows romance like dance.

The beauty of Murphy’s choreography was accompanied by set and costume design by Roger Kirk and lighting design by Damien Cooper. A simple colour palate in Kirk’s design: costumes in shades of white and grey through to black, and large white canopies dominate the set of the first two acts. This pallet is then accompanied by bursts of colour from costumes of the Marschallin and her entourage; rich wood tones in the Act Three Inn (The “Rose and Thistle” Inn, if I was to be specific); and Cooper’s lights changing the colour of the canopies.

Integration of the design and direction was best demonstrated in Act Three, when the large double doors opened to revel the Marschallin dressed all in red, just standing still in the snow, surrounded by trees, in front of a blue sky. Stunningly glorious stage magic.

This picture is focused on such a small area of the stage, it can't possibly convey the full beauty.

The beautiful cast of some of the company’s best dancers shone, particularly the effervescent Lucinda Dunn in the role of the Marschallin. Dunn is a spectacularly gorgeous dancer, in grace and in strength, and this role allows her to show off both her incredible talents as a dancer, but also as a sublime actor and interpreter of character, who gives depth and pathos to the role and the ballet. Robyn Hendricks power and beauty as a dancer lie in her strength, and as Sophie danced the best I have ever seen her. Rudy Hawkes, one of the many hunks of the Australian Ballet, plays the roll of young-lover Octavian with commanding strength.

Music by Carl Vine is brought together from over twenty years of his compositions, which brings a lovely variation to the score reflecting different times and focuses of Vine’s career. Moving from Symphonies through to Piano Concertos, all sections of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, under conductor and musical director, the always wonderful Nicolette Fraillon, have a chance to shine.  Trying to make my own recording via iTunes only gave me a few of the pieces, so I will be trawling the libraries and cd stores in Adelaide to make one myself.  Wish me luck!

I am not one to review programs, but I will say the Australian Ballet constantly has the best programs going. 50 pages, with an additional eight page insert of pieces from their Behind Ballet blog, and the nights cast list and plot. Only seven pages of ads, the synopses and six essays over eighteen pages (including full-page colour pictures), ten pages of biographies, four pages on the four orchestras, pages for company credits and patrons. And it’s beautiful, and only $15.

I applauded for them, even if they weren't there.

I was sad to not give the whole company their applause at the curtain: it seems the members who just perform in Act Two don’t stick around for the curtain. Not the first ballet I’ve been to where this happens; yet I am still always taken aback. The whole company is so remarkable and I want to thanks them for their work. However, I suppose they want to get home!

While The Silver Rose wasn’t perfect, it was for the most part, a beautifully choreographed piece, with an opulent design (and, as an aside, it was nice to see a design which hid the lighting rig; the exposed rig seems to be the theme in stage design in Adelaide 2010, and while I have no problem with this, it is in nearly every production!), and a brilliant cast, and, quite clearly, I loved it. I can’t wait for the Australian Ballet to visit us again in March!