WA Ballet's diamond anniversary season covers a lot of ground historically and emotionally.
Rather than present a full-length ballet to celebrate its 60 years of existence, the Maylands-based company — it moved into new premises last month — dips into that vast reservoir of classical and contemporary choreography for its creative inspiration.
There will be a number of ballet sampler pieces of varying lengths, ranging from a recreation of Anna Pavlova's 1905 solo Dying Swan (not to be confused with anything from Swan Lake) to works by John Cranko, long-time director Barry Moreland and current director Ivan Cavallari.
There will also be a tribute to former prima ballerina Maria Taglioni, known as the queen of romanticism, with an interpretation of a humorous ballet based on one of her dreams. Maria's Dream was originally choreographed by Petr Zuska to music by Saint-Saens and Cesare Pugni.
It's an eclectic program, as the company's artistic director, Cavallari, admits. "But they are all connected, in a sense, because they are all about storytelling," he says. And while some of the stories may be short, they are filled with emotion and, in some cases, a good deal of humour and invention.
It is perhaps not surprising that Cavallari has chosen to honour the work of the late Cranko. The South African-born choreographer has long been associated with the Stuttgart Ballet, where Cavallari learnt his craft as dancer and choreographer before coming to Perth.
Cranko died in 1973 aged 45, choking to death on a plane after an allergic reaction to a sleeping pill, but his legacy of dance works for the Stuttgart Ballet and other companies is considerable. This month, for instance, the Australian Ballet is remounting his full-length ballet Eugene Onegin, one of his major works.
Cavallari has chosen two of his much shorter works — his Le Poeme de l'extase, created for Dame Margot Fonteyn, and Jeu de cartes, based on the game of poker.
"Cranko asked Margot Fonteyn on many occasions if he could create a work for her, and she finally agreed," explains Cavallari of Le Poeme de l'extase. The result is the story of a famous actress recalling her past. Flattered by the attentions of a younger man, she rejects him after recalling the fulfilment of her life with former lovers.
"Poeme de l'extase was first performed in Stuttgart and was a great success," Cavallari says. "But it was less successful when transferred to London, possibly because the rest of the cast was not as strong."
Jeu de cartes reveals Cranko at his most playful in a story based literally on a game of poker. However, Cranko has added the Joker, whose disruptive presence determines the outcome of the game. Set to the music of Stravinsky, Jeu de cartes has become a Cranko classic.
The diamond anniversary season will see the recreation of Barry Moreland's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, based on Nijinsky's famous L'apres midi d'un faune (Afternoon of the Faun).
Moreland created his own "prelude" to this famous dance work in 1985 for WA Ballet star Ronnie Van den Bergh. This time round, the role will be performed by Daryl Brandwood. The most intriguing set piece for the season is undoubtedly Michel Fokine's Dying Swan, performed more than 4000 times by Anna Pavlova after its 1905 debut.
Former international dancer and guest choreographer Margaret Illmann is recreating Pavlova's renowned party piece with the kind of artistic licence that its improvisational style will allow.
"There are some scraps of film footage that gives some idea of the emotional intensity and fluidity of Pavlova, but I've also based my interpretation of actually having seen Dying Swan performed by Maya Plisetskaya," Illmann says .
Fokine was inspired to create the solo work by Tennyson's poem The Dying Swan. Such was the power and improvisational ability of Pavlova that it became attached to her name.
To provide the poetic context for the piece, Illmann will introduce the first few lines of the original poem into the first scene as a voice-over.
"The choreography is based on classical Russian choreography, but Pavlova brought such intensity to the work that it is really distilled emotion," Illmann says. "It's proof, as one critic said, that dance, through the medium of the eye, should penetrate the soul."
To round off the season, Cavallari has included has own humorous work Fishy, created for Stuttgart Ballet's principal dancer Bridget Breiner. As the quirky title suggests, it's the brief tale of an encounter between a man and a beautiful sea creature, quite possibly a mermaid, but Cavallari won't elaborate.
WA Ballet performs Diamonds at His Majesty's Theatre from May 11-26. Book at BOCS.