Category Archives: Dance

Blanca y Negra

Crooked Spire Coffee House, Midland

reviewed by Helga Sand

Fascinating flamenco finesse informed every moment of a traditional Farruca at the Crooked Spire Coffee House. It was an ideal curtainraiser for Nicole Levy and Karen Henderson to demonstrate their skill and style in this most attractive of flamenco dances. Impeccable footwork was a particularly pleasing feature.

There was a most attractively styled Solea por Bulerias and a no-less meaningful account of a Siguiriyas, each given a contemporary take on the traditional versions. In both instances, style, technique and a fine sense of line and rhythm gave point and meaning to these flamenco staples. Castanet playing was of fine standard. A concluding Alegrias, with a beautifully gowned Henderson and Levy striking in a Spanish trouser suit, did wonders in this most approachable of flamenco dance styles. Their performance would surely have charmed even the grumpiest of audience members.

Laurels aplenty to guitarist Kieran Ray who excelled on flamenco guitar. His playing, radiating authenticity and buttressed by an impeccable technique provided ideal accompaniments for the dancers. For much of the evening, mystifyingly, he was at times barely visible, a dim figure in the gloom, the very antithesis of his radiant playing. This aside, Sarah Levitt’s lighting design was everything one could have hoped for.

It is only very infrequently indeed that the violin is heard in a flamenco context so Stuart Robertson’s strongly emphatic playing was of particular interest – and Genevieve Wilkins and Jackson Vickery were both faultless on cajon.

Adding to the visual dimension of the production was the use of drawings of bullfighting and flamenco dancers, images of which were projected onto the rear of the stage. The originals, on sale, were displayed on the walls of the cafe area.

Having worked for decades as a reviewer in Perth, I can say that, compared to some of the hideously uncomfortable seating provided for audiences in too many local venues, the seats in the Crooked Spire theatre border on the heavenly.



2nd & 3rd-year WAAPA dance students

reviewed by Helga Sand

For followers of the dance, it was an evening of fascination revealing, as it did, not only the creative gifts of the choreographers but the focus and commitment of the students of WAAPA’s dance department.


I particularly admired Xianrong Xiao’s Flowing Stone which, like some aesthetic magnet, drew the viewer ineluctably into the remarkable world of an astonishingly imaginative choreographer – and students clearly able to give point and meaning to its fascinating ideas.


Emilia Blanco’s lighting design was visual magic, an impression enhanced by the skill of the dancers. Its opening moments in which dancers appear to be lying on their backs on the surface of a pond were the first of many memorable visual pleasures.


Music is drawn from a variety of sources, each episode as fascinating to watch as to listen to, a true marriage of mood and movement.


Aaron Carey-Burrows was particularly effective, moving about the stage more often than not burdened with the stones that are so significant in this choreography.


Earlier, Nils Christe’s SYNC made for intriguing dance-theatre. The female contingent danced en pointe  – beautifully – and, throughout, with impressive discipline. A single prop, a stage-length scaffolding structure, was the backdrop for a finely unfolding visual treat with Blanco’s lighting doing much to enhance the presentation.


In both these offerings, time flew. But Michael Whaites’ Life Cycle, for all its many virtues, might to advantage have been more concise. A major, intriguing feature of the work was a rather curious sale of goods  in which a number of very ordinary items (some of which could fairly be described as junk)  –  a reconditioned watering can, a cycle helmet, a tatty copy of Enid Blyton’s Folk of the Faraway Tree – were auctioned off. There was a good deal of repetitiveness here. Perhaps some condensation of material might have held the attention more successfully.


Strange Affliction was memorable, not least for port de bras of  finesse which added significantly to the overall lyricism of the presentation. It was beautifully lit.


Choreographer Kynan Hughes has dedicated the ballet to three remarkable spirits: Dot Butler, Rae Ogle and the unforgettable and much loved Maggi Philips.




Mozart Dances

Mark Morris Dance Group

His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn

As I watched Lauren Grant in ensemble with the Mark Morris Dance Company, I recalled, vividly, another, very celebrated American of approximate height.

Older readers may recall Maureen Connolly, the sensational, pint-sized tennis genius who won five grand slams single titles. Her amazing skill and stamina on the courts were such that she was dubbed Little Mo. (Big Mo, at the time, was one of the US Navy’s most formidable battle ships). But Grant, who stands a mere 4 feet 11 inches is only one of a wondrously gifted dance ensemble which, at the weekend, demonstrated their mettle to the music of Mozart.

Mozart DancesThere’s nothing in the least flashy about the company: no purpose-made, dainty dance shoes or glamorous costumes. With minimal make-up, the company are garbed in austere white, grey or black, set against a white backdrop on which are large daubs of paint. The women are uniformly fine, their techniques finely honed with impressive, fluid ensemble and grace. There is nothing effete about the male dancers, muscular, macho figures, some sporting beards and hairy chests, a number looking as if they could be useful on a rugby field.

The chief joy of the production was the consistently lissome quality of both dance and music, an aesthetic marriage made in arts heaven.

Mark Morris’ choreographies do not indulge in the more extravagant, over-the-top

extensions of the avant garde. They are much more in keeping with the essential simplicity that is the hallmark of Mozart’s ideas – and all the more welcome for that..

Three works were danced to the music of Mozart with Colin Fowler presiding over a much-reduced W.A.Symphony Orchestra in the pit. The opening and closing choreographies were presented to piano concertos – K413 and K 495 – of Mozart, the middle work danced to the Sonata for two pianos in D. The concertos featured as soloist a gratifyingly in-form Amir Farid. His playing here was stylistically impeccable and fluent, a joy to the ear. Clarity, limpid tone and fluency were first rate. The Sonata, in ensemble with Colin Fowler, though, was less than uniformly pleasing. While nearly all the notes were there, it lacked the impressive standard of ensemble so pleasingly apparent between pianist and orchestra in the concertos.

Gales of thoroughly warranted applause greeted choreographer and artistic director Mark Morris as he came on-stage to take a bow.

Viva Espana!

Danza Viva Spanish Dance Company

Octagon Theatre

reviewed by Ken Gasmier


Vivas rebounding for Danza Viva’s splendid Viva Espana! which saw flamenco and clasico espanol artist Paloma Gomez return to perform and work with the company (Octagon Theatre, January 25, 2014).

Justly famed as solo dancer and teacher, Gomez was a member of Spain’s national dance company from age 17 and has been lead dancer with companies in Spain, USA and Canada. From the extrovert passions of flamenco to the cool power of classical Spanish dance, Gomez’ style is proud, exalting. The graceful statement of her arms alone can express hauteur or humour, sadness or sexuality.

It’s well known that Danza Viva’s visiting artists muck in behind the scenes with the Company. Thus Gomez led intensive workshops in flamenco clasico espanol, escuela bolero and castanets. But this special engagement foregrounds too onstage:

Gomez’ star quality was in no way flown in to be simply grafted or plonked onto a merely industrious background formed by a local chorus. For one thing, Danza Viva obviously has artists whose levels of practice in choreography, costume and dance itself can seamlessly match and counterfoil. One thinks of artists such as Nicola de la Rosa who leads the Company or indeed Deanna Blacher herself.

All this is very authentic to Spanish dance, which is definable as a percussive ensemble form where each dancer is allowed individuality not interfering with the overall art. Indeed, the audience found itself reflecting on the differently pleasing stage personalities of each dancer, perhaps, but not always, stemming from Australia’s hard-won multiculturalism.

Here was true ensemble where solos stood out, interwove or melted into the whole dance canvas. A lesson perhaps to today’s professional opera where disparate international soloists with widely differing ideas of, for instance, vibrato and tuning, frequently fail to achieve ensemble on the night. And the results are broadcast.

Concierto de Aranjuez to Rodrigo’s music firstly set a high which the program continued.

Well-known, probably clichéd, music but new things were said to it in the choreography of Gomez and Blacher for an ensemble of twelve including Gomez.

The slow central movement was pure solo, unadorned, exposed, with Gomez emerging from a black wrapped foetal position of grief and vulnerability to pay emotional homage to the memory of her late father. His own theatrical cape, in fact, became fluidly airborne and, if one listened very carefully as the printed program prompted us to do, the adapted words of Garcia Lorca were spoken from offstage …this cape when it swirls carries hidden in its flight… memory.

The right balance of recorded music (including even film music in no. 4 Habla con Ella) and live music was struck:

Flamenco singer Antonio Soria is at heart an unspoilt and naturalistic tenor yet steeped in the vocal technique of his chosen art. He can exude the studiously casual bravado of the stage Latino or be noisily, spontaneously earthy. Kieran Ray showed why he is arguably our finest flamenco guitarist. No precious clunks on the finger board here. His instrument sang with Antonio. Whether in ensemble with the dancing cast, or in movements purely their own, the duo brought welcome male energy toppling into machismo. But more please, in the form of male dancers would have been very welcome:

When for instance in no. 3 El Vito, little girls joined the ensemble mid-act, smilingly bright like babuschka doll versions of their bigger female colleagues, and similarly elaborately costumed, I eagerly awaited black waistcoated little matadors with brilliantined hair. Alas, there were no older male dolls from which they could pop. The powerful beer, barbeque and footy culture of Oz is at work here, I am sure, and not the inclusive vision and effort of the Company over many years.

Karen Henderson, also a dancer-soloist, undertook the design and making of costumes. These worked freshly and seamlessly as one of the forces lifting Viva Espana! into excellence. I found the tessellated fringes of no.9 Ay Jondo and the early Technicolour tones and felt-like surfaces of costumes in no.6 El Polo, charming.

Just as J. S. Bach wrote the The Art of Fugue, Deanna Blacher could write, or has effectively already written, The Art of Segue.

Because Viva Espana! was also satisfyingly about how transitions were managed, how were they varied? Some were so gradual as to be unnoticed. Some were dramatically sudden, often through clever use of lighting. Often the ensemble was theatrically joined halfway through an act by additional members. A clever orchestration lay also in how some cast left in one number and re-entered differently costumed. No series of separate tableaux here but a forward moving, seductive flow. It’s all about links and joins matching content. A novelist, film maker, musician or even humble reviewer has much to learn from Danza Viva.

So why do Spanish dance? Is it a necessary commodity ? How does it fit with our mainly suburban life ? Why, indeed, learn Chinese and research the Great Wall or how to sing Schubert ? Or labour to invent a solar powered air conditioner ?

Intensely physical, Spanish dance also opens up and populates the imagination. It is the antithesis of the Australian Idol dream of instant fame and gratification:

Blacher has written words which apply to any creativity:

For me Spanish dance is about freedom of expression but with a very structured and demanding technique as onerous as any devised in classical ballet and contemporary dance.

Finally, Viva Espana! seemed about how artists use their allotted resources – not that in this case these needed in any way to be eked out, for they are very rich. The choreographic variety of both Spanish classical and flamenco traditions were faithfully represented, even lovingly added to.

A company of differing levels, experience and ages were so melded into a greater whole of colour and movement by the Company’s artistic leadership that our attention and appreciation was constantly held at a high level. There was the art which conceals art and the best possible ordering of movements to tell a subliminal story. Any slight glitches seemed down more to backstage technical support nerves than from the proudly centred performers.

A wide ranging and appreciative crowd came for both afternoon and night showings. From those in this lively audience who were hardboiled dance professionals, to those who like myself, may not always have known a castanet from a candelabra, all loved it as one of Danza Viva’s best and most beautifully paced offerings so far.

BALLET – Onegin



W.A.Ballet Company

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

reviewed by Alice Woode


Mood-wise, this production of Onegin near-perfectly captures the autumnal essence of Pushkin’s immortal tale of love and despair.


In visual terms, its muted, finely balanced colours in both lighting, costumes and decor evoke bittersweet nuances of a tale of love spurned and lost, disappointment and violent death.


Jayne Smeulders is an altogether convincing Tatiana. In the famous letter scene, she could hardly be faulted, beautifully conveying the tragic heroine’s infatuation with Onegin and her devastation when she realises he does not return her affections. Melissa Boniface, too, is entirely persuasive as Tatiana’s sister Olga.

Jayne Smeulders and Jiri Jelinek RES

Jayne Smeulders and Jiri Jelinek
Photo Credit – Jon Green

Lavish bouquets for the manner in which technical skill and expressiveness blend to often moving effect in all the pas de deux in which Smeulders and Boniface are partnered by Jiri Jelinek in the title role and Dane Holland as Lensky;  these were the gems of the production, with finely honed technique and a world of disciplined emotion.

It was only in the duel scene where inspiration seemed to flag; it lacked the intensity and high drama that were needed.


One of the many delights of the production is the quality of the corps de ballet. With disciplined fluidity of movement and first rate ensemble, the corps’ dancing is like a silver thread through the production. The charm-laden ball scene in which both young and decrepit give comic point and meaning to the dance is in the best sense of the word diverting. Whether light-hearted or sombre, the corps come up trumps again and again. Carole Hill does wonders as Tatiana’s often hilariously fussy nursemaid.


Although the dancing is to the music of Tchaikowsky, one of the greatest of all composers for the ballet, none of it, of course, is purpose-written for the dance. Happily, though, nearly all of it fits seamlessly into the late John Cranko’s superlative choreography. A good many episodes are danced to orchestrations of some of the composer’s short pieces for piano: the haunting Autumn and the quiet rapture of the Barcarolle (both from The Seasons) – and the exquisite Nocturne from opus 19. Again and again, one is able to savour how cleverly Cranko’s choreography blends both movement and music to beguiling effect.


Imaginative lighting, too, does much to underscore the autumnal nature of the piece, an impression further enhanced by the use of Elizabeth Dalton’s wing scenery depicting, inter alia, a leafy forest that brings a charming, rather faded, mid-19th-century perspective to the production. Dalton also designed the costumes worn with great flair by the company.


At times, one wished for rather more uniform tonal sheen from the string section of the WASO.