Lisa, a former principal artist and now part of our Philanthropy department, recently led a group of lucky ballet fans to Houston and New York for the dance tour of a lifetime. Here are some excerpts from her letters back home…
Hello from Houston, Texas, where we have stopped for a six-day pre-tour on our way to New York. After gathering from all over Australia, our tour group was greeted by Luke Ingham (formerly a soloist at The Australian Ballet) at welcome drinks. Luke is in fine form, and still very much the all-Australian young man we love.
Today we enjoyed our first performance, Houston Ballet’s Made in America program – what a treat! The program was well balanced, featuring Mark Morris’s Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, and the Nicolo Fonte ballet See(k), with its exquisite partnering, and highly atmospheric dancing by every performer. Then for me it was like going back in time, seeing Balanchine’s Theme and Variations again. It’s a truly brilliant ballet – but I felt a touch disappointed that it looks easier to dance than it ever felt!
The tour’s off to a great start – can’t wait to see what the next days will hold.
We have thoroughly enjoyed the Texan leg of our tour! Arriving back from a quick side trip to San Antonio in time to see Houston Ballet’s dress rehearsal of Ben Stevenson’s Romeo and Juliet, we were treated to some wonderful dancing. Steven Woodgate (once a dancer of The Australian Ballet, now a member of Houston Ballet’s staff) directed a smooth rehearsal from the production desk, and it was great to see Luke out on stage.
Today we were given a tour of the recently finished Houston Ballet Center by Artistic Director Stanton Welch. The largest dance centre in North America, its entire $US49 million cost was funded by the Patrons of Houston Ballet – a staggering demonstration of what giving can achieve! The centre has nine glorious studios, a large studio theatre and a bridge that connects it directly to the Wortham Theater Center, saving the dancers from having to brave the extreme heat.
To end our Houston visit, we attended a magnificent opening night performance of Romeo and Juliet. The pas de deux and solos of Ben Stevenson’s version have been carefully crafted, and are sensitive to the music. Romeo, Mercutio and Tybalt have some feisty sword fights, and each cast gave believable portrayals of this romantic story.
Next stop New York City!
All 36 Renaissance tour guests met at The Metropolitan Opera House before our first performance, arriving early to hear an American Ballet Theatre dancer speak. We had a lovely surprise when our very own Stephanie Williams (formerly a dancer with The Australian Ballet) walked in to light up the room. She told us all about her exciting new adventure, dancing with American Ballet Theatre and living in New York.
I was completely overwhelmed to be in this theatre again as dancing here with The Australian Ballet in 1990 stays very close to my heart. If you haven’t had a chance to see a ballet or opera at the Met – the chandeliers resemble stunning sparklers and the theatre is of grand proportions.
We were spoilt with Onegin. The stars – including Sarah Lane, who you may have seen dancing as Natalie Portman’s double in Black Swan – danced brilliantly. The most significant difference to The Australian Ballet’s production was that the lavish sets and costumes (created by designer Santo Laquasto) used different colour palettes and textures. There was a mixed reaction to the performance by our Australian group; some of our Sydney Patrons, having just attended our season of the ballet in May, were pleased to be able to say that our dancers glowed equally in this work.
On my way to the hotel from a post-performance supper with Miranda Coney (a former principal artist of The Australian Ballet), it was wonderful to see Chengwu Guo, Brooke Lockett, Andrew Wright and Jacob Sofer enjoying the ambience of the balmy New York evening with Stephanie.
After a few hours’ sleep and an insightful tour of the downtown area, we attended New York City Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the David Koch Theater.
The next company to perform in this theatre will be The Australian Ballet!
I am still buzzing hours after the Infinity season opened at the Lincoln Center. With many Australians turning out to cheer on the company, I certainly wasn’t the only one to feel anticipatory nerves as we waited for the show to begin.
The dancers excelled, as ever, showing their energy and individuality. I hadn’t had the opportunity to see Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929 before and it was wonderful to watch our dancers move in such extraordinary ways, highlighting their obvious enjoyment of the ballet and of dance itself. Some of the Patrons asked me if the dancers improvise sections of this work. I had no simple answer – even as a former dancer, I can’t imagine how they retain and perform this complicated work with such ease.
In Warumuk – in the dark night, the performance flowed easily. It was extraordinary to see such growth in this work since its opening earlier this year. I was sitting next to some New Yorkers, who were unanimous in their praise for the Australian dancers.
I look forward to the next performances of Infinity – and it’s only a few more days until Swan Lake.
It’s hard to believe the New York season has come to an end so soon. I was so fortunate to be able to attend so many performances and to celebrate with the company after the opening of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. The ballet was wonderfully received on opening night – generous applause and a standing ovation!
At the post-performance party, corps de ballet dancer Alice Topp spoke to me of her immense feelings of pride as she danced a swan in Acts II and IV. Alice, like those of us in the audience, was excited for Madeline Eastoe, Kevin Jackson and Lucinda Dunn, who made the evening with their heartfelt interpretations of the principal roles (Lucinda was dancing her first performances after having her second baby and is back in stunning form). You could feel the spontaneous relief of the dancers as they enjoyed a well-deserved high after performing in one of the world’s great dance cities.
The swans, revelling in the energy of the performance, had displayed an impressive unison. Amy Harris and Juliet Burnett led the swans; the cygnets were Halaina Hills, Brooke Lockett, Heidi Martin and Karen Nanasca, who danced in perfect harmony. The sheer exhaustion that comes with many hours of international travel and a long day’s dress rehearsal, followed by opening night, was not visible at any level. What we saw was commitment and a great respect for this outstanding production.
Travelling on the plane home yesterday allowed me time to reflect on this incredibly special visit to the USA.
Until the next time …