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SPECTRUM February 11-12, 2012

Making a pointe LIFE & CULTURE,



February 11-12

What brought the English National Ballet from sell-out London seasons to Sydney INSIDE IN

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The Sydney Morning M Herald


February 11-12, 2012


Coup of grace and beauty

The English National Ballet will showcase landmark works and sizzling chemistry, writes ELISSA BLAKE.



company. You may have three different ballets with six to eight principal dancers. ‘‘ Swan Lake is wonderful but it’s not the only thing about ballet.’’ The company embraced some unusual projects as part ofi ts quest to spread knowledge and enthusiasm about the art form. This year, 10 ballerinas will perform with Flawless, a street-dance troupe that came to prominence via the television show Britain’s Got Talent . The production will fuse street dance, ballet and acrobatics. ‘‘It’s an integration of classical ballet and popular culture on the same level,’’ Eagling says. The company experienced a sellout season of Strictly Gershwin at the Royal Albert Hall last year. The production encompassed ballet, tap and ballroom and will tour in England this year. A BBC documentary, Agony and Ecstacy , also screened last year after recording a year in the company’s life. Attracting broad audiences to classical arts can be a challenge but Eagling says ballet has universal appeal. ‘‘Everybody can dance,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s one of those real fundamental instincts among people. I think that one of the really strong things about the art form is that everybody can relate to it.’’

a company like the ENB makes people sit up and pay attention.’’ The company’s artistic director, Wayne Eagling, has never been to The Concourse but he says the dancers are used to performing at diverse venues. As a touring company, the English National Ballet performs to 200,000 people on average a year, often shifting productions around Britain, from London and York, to Wycombe and Manchester. Since its earliest days in the 1950s, the company has aimed to take classical ballet to a broad geographical audience. ‘‘We want to encourage people who would never go to the ballet to come and see performances,’’ Eagling says. ‘‘When we tour, we present ballet of the quality that audiences would see in London.’’ The program at The Concourse is a mixed bill, opening with George Balanchine’s collaboration with Igor Stravinsky, Apollo , and closing with Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc . In between, the company’s stars will perform a selection off amous pas de deux. Eagling acknowledges audiences can be uncertain about mixed bills. ‘‘People do tend to come and see narrative work,’’ he says. ‘‘They think it’s difficult to follow a mixed program but, to me, that’s a mystery. ‘‘If you do Swan Lake , you have a wonderful ballet and a couple of principal dancers. If you do a mixed program, you’ll get more from the

The English National Ballet performs at The Concourse, Chatswood, from June 8-17. See

Adventurous ... Jia Zhang and Junor Souza in

udiences for the English National Ballet’s coming visit to Sydney will be treated to a feast of choreographic styles and a rare opportunity to see some of Europe’s outstanding classical dancers. Among them are the Czech-born principal ballerina, Daria Klimentova, and her Russian partner, Vadim Muntagirov, who, at 21 years old, is almost 20 years her junior. Their ‘‘sizzling chemistry’’, which has reignited Klimentova’s career, has resulted in the British press dubbing them the new Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. ‘‘The British critics are very, very excited about this pairing,’’ says the former artistic director of the Australian Ballet and now artistic adviser to the English National Ballet, Maina Gielgud. ‘‘Daria is a mature principal and a wonderful dancer. Vadim is fabulously talented and he is bringing the best out in her.’’ Sydney audiences will see the pair in George Balanchine’s neoclassical masterpiece Apollo and in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s celebrated romantic bedroom pas de deux from Manon . On alternate nights they will also perform two of the most Suite en Blanc . Photo: Annabel Moeller virtuosic pas de deux in the classical

repertoire, the black swan in Swan Lake and the wedding scene in Don Quixote , both choreographed by the French ballet master Marius Petipa. The English National Ballet’s program also includes Trois Gnossiennes , a contemporary ballet by veteran Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen set to the music of Erik Satie, and Suite en Blanc , a romantic neoclassical work by late Russian ballet master Serge Lifar. Twenty-two dancers will come to Australia, including Georgian principal dancer Elena Glurdjidze and her partner, Cuban dancer Arionel Vargas. Acclaimed Cuban dancer Yonah Acosta will dance in Apollo and perform the lead role in Suite en Blanc . Japanese dancer Shiori Kase and French ballerina Anais Chalendard will rotate roles in Manon , Apollo and Suite en Blanc . ‘‘Anais is very special,’’ Gielgud says. ‘‘She has a very beautiful elongated line and Shiori is getting a lot of attention at the moment.’’ Gielgud says the English National Ballet’s program features works that have become landmarks in the history of classical ballet. Apollo , created with composer Igor Stravinsky for the Ballets Russes in

1928, is widely considered Balanchine’s masterpiece. The Russian-born choreographer went on to found the New York City Ballet. ‘‘Balanchine was so innovative,’’ Gielgud says. ‘‘He stripped back all the costuming and design, putting the dancers in leotards and short tunics, because he believed the music and the choreography was of vital importance without any extra trappings. And the choreography in Apollo is extraordinary. It uses the classical technique but takes it that much further.’’ Lifar was a star with the Ballets Russes, playing many lead roles in Balanchine’s ballets (including Apollo ), before joining the Paris Opera Ballet, where he stayed for 20 years, creating his own works and dancing lead roles, including Suite en Blanc . ‘‘It was quite adventurous for the time,’’ Gielgud says. ‘‘It looks very classical with all the ladies in white tutus but it has very interesting offbalance choreography.’’ Gielgud says the dancers are ‘‘craving’’ to perform the bedroom scene from MacMillan’s Manon . ‘‘It’s very, very sensual and very dramatic, with fabulous choreography. It’s just so romantic.’’

Inside the lean, clean building is the 1000-seat concert hall with walls of warm-hued American rock maple, a 500-seat theatre that hosts the English National Ballet in June, studio space, rehearsal rooms and conference venues. There’s also a touch of Melbourne’s Federation Square in the wide-open exterior expanse, including a screen that – it’s hoped – will broadcast the London Olympics later this year. Besides providing a stage for

robust community organisations such as the Willoughby Symphony and Willoughby Theatre Company, The Concourse has secured an impressive roster of coming international attractions. Folk icon Judy Collins performs on March 8, 1970s balladeers 10CC on March 25, American troubadour Steve Earle on April 9 and the esteemed soprano, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, on April 13-14. And yes, there’s even an Elvis impersonator – not Reilly but Max Pellicano – on March 23. How has the newly minted venue scored such names? Century Venues manages The Concourse (along with other high-profile venues such as the Enmore Theatre and the Metro) and its executive director, Greg Khoury, says he wants to give Chatswood a more eclectic vibe. His vision includes cabaret performances, children’s shows and daytime events that draw in some of the 20,000-plus library-goers who trot past The Concourse each week.

Dream house One council’s vision for an Opera House on the north shore has finally come to fruition, writes KATRINA LOBLEY.

Poise ... Daria Klimentova and Vadim Muntagirov in Romeo and Juliet ; (top left) the English National Ballet in Suite en Blanc . Photos: Annabel Moeller

A Herald Special Report Cover The English National Ballet performing Apollo Editors Bellinda Kontominas and Daniel Dasey Advertising Deahn Taylor, 9282 2554, Readerlink 9282 1569


A mixed bill

A new arts centre has secured the unlikely services of a world-class ballet company, writes LOUISE SCHWARTZKOFF. he English National Ballet is the kind of company that is usually booked out years in advance. It performs at Britain’s most prestigious venues, including the London Coliseum, and counts Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, as its patron. When such companies visit Australia, audiences expect them to perform on famous stages. The Sydney Opera House, for instance, would fit the bill. But a suburban arts centre surrounded by cinemas, shoe shops and sushi joints? Not likely. Nevertheless, when the ballet company comes to Sydney in June, it will perform exclusively at The Concourse in Chatswood, in a theatre with just 500 seats. ‘‘It’s very true [that people have been surprised about the venue],’’ the executive director of The Concourse, Greg Khoury, says. ‘‘Jaws drop. It is really a spectacular facility but it is in a suburb of Sydney, so it doesn’t have that profile yet . . . If you say to a company like this, ‘Come out and play the suburbs’ . . . it’s a harder sell than a city theatre.’’ It took a series of connections and coincidences for the ballet to come on board. Khoury had previously worked with the ballet company’s artistic advisor, Maina Gielgud, who was once the artistic director of the Australian Ballet. The company’s managing director, Craig Hassall, worked with The Concourse as a consultant during the venue’s early planning days. There was a hole in the ballet company’s performance schedule for this year, so Gielgud phoned Khoury and proposed a tour to Australia. Still, he says, the venue had to suit the company’s needs. The theatre may be small but its facilities are impressive. There is an orchestra pit, dressing rooms and an automated fly tower, which enables big changes in backdrops and scenery. For The Concourse, the ballet company’s 14-performance season is an invaluable marketing exercise. ‘‘It’s putting our money where our mouth is and saying this is a firstclass venue,’’ Khoury says. ‘‘Having

February 11-12, 2012

NO ONE needs to convince Willoughby’s mayor Pat Reilly the performing arts are important. With a predilection for pulling on Elvis jumpsuits to belt out a tune, he’s experienced the spotlight himself. Reilly, who has been on the council since 1987 and mayor since 1997, wasn’t the only one to notice his local performing arts venues – the 850-seat Town Hall and the 350-seat Bailey Hall in Chatswood’s Civic Centre – were straining at the seams. Something needed to be

done. In the mid-1990s, Reilly and his colleagues started dreaming big – really big. Could they build a centrepiece venue – a real showstopper – that could draw a crowd from beyond council borders and become something like the Opera House of the north shore? Well, they’d try their damnedest. Such a lofty ambition, which included building a bigger library, required big decisions. Should they rebuild in stages or demolish and start over?

In 2008 they tore down the Civic Centre and work began on the $171 million project that would become NSW’s second-largest performing arts centre. Amazingly, the council has funded The Concourse almost entirely on its own, after selling some leases and properties and securing a loan. It opened in September with a performance by the soprano Yvonne Kenny (who once belonged to the Willoughby Musical Society) and David Campbell on MC duties.



MOZART, HANDEL, STRAUSS, PUCCINI Accompanied by pianist

Terence Dennis

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