One wonders if the WA Ballet dancers and staff approach their annual outdoor season with a small pocket of dread. February nights can bring stifling humidity and/or summer rain.
Saturday evening, however, was mild and the sole, brief shower was a considerate one, falling during interval. As is traditional, this year's program is a mixed bill of contemporary ballet. The highlight for many will be George Balanchine's work Serenade. It has a freshness that belies the fact that it was created in 1934.
Set to Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, the speed and complexity of the pirouette and allegro enchainments is exciting to watch. It is the relative stillness that accompanies the stirring introductory music, however, that is most moving. The dancers, augmented by dance students of the WA Academy of Performing Arts, captured the mood and exquisite lines of Balanchine's seminal work, although the footwork lacked crispness at times.
Also on the bill were three new works. The show-stealer of the trio is Strings 32, created to the string music of composers such as Paganini and Kreisler, by artistic director Ivan Cavallari. The strings in this lively work are physical and emotional, as well as musical. A lone violinist roams the stage, dancers are tethered to elastic strings which zip energetically across the stage on release, dancers are divided by strings that cut the space. A stand-out solo was performed by Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, to the plaintively expressive sounds of guest artist Madeleine Anton's violin.
Now hyper-extended, now bent at awkward angles, Widdison-Jacobs' long limbs seemed connected to the violin by invisible marionette strings.
After the rain-soaked interval, Reed Luplau's The Sixth Borough ensured that the audience was dampened in spirit only. First performed in the 2010 Neon Lights season, The Sixth Borough was again popular with the audience. It is easy to see why - with its catchy blend of music ranging from Daft Punk to Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, it has the familiar feel of a pop music video clip - at times funny, at times athletic, and always sexy.
The ensemble work featuring the four male dancers is a highlight of the work, and the moments where Andre Santos was tossed through the air were breath-taking. Santos's quivering gluteals were also noteworthy - a comic highlight. Dynamic dancer Meg Parry was an attention-grabber too, revealing a naughty sense of humour.
The work that appears last on any program of more than three works is always going to have its work cut out. That said, Terence Kohler's Rhetoric felt like an odd choice for the closing number because it is the most obscure of the four works.
The program notes sound promising enough - Rhetoric is inspired by the enormous popularity of online role-playing games. With the dancers costumed in what appear to be suits of armour for hand-to-hand combat, there is something tribal about this work. Collisions between warring factions make for interesting choreography, but the large prism-shaped objects inscribed with words like "script", "cyber" and "modernism" feel esoteric because it is not clear what we are meant to gather from these words.
In spite of this challenging conclusion, the program was satisfying. As always, Ballet at the Quarry is a great way to celebrate summer in Perth. <div class="endnote">