Ballet at the Quarry delivers a timely cross cultural work

Milky Way: Ballet at the Quarry | Quarry Amphitheater | Until 3rd March | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

The Polish composer’s lament about motherhood and loss was first recorded in the mid 1970’s but it didn’t become popular until American soprano Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfonietta recorded the work in 1992.

Here choreographer Gary Lang has teamed the piece, which was sung live by Cheetham, with traditional Aboriginal performance and music for a timely work that mixes different cultural elements to provoke deeper thought.

Milnjiya, Milky Way – River of the Stars is a ground breaking collaboration between the Darwin based NT Dance Company, the West Australian Ballet and Cheetham. The work also involves dancers from the Rachael Wallis Aboriginal Dance Collective and the Moonfish Dance Collective.

The work brings together multiple first nations including the Larrakia, the Yolngu and Yorta Youta, and through it’s mesmerising performance, it also brought together a diverse opening night audience into the fold.

To create this important work WA Ballet’s Artistic Director Aurélian Scannella and Executive Director Jessica Machin, and their families, travelled to Yirrkala in the Northern Territory to request permission from Lang’s adoptive mother to create the work which was developed from a story expressed by Lang’s grandfather.

The story is about how lingering spirits are called via song cycles and given permission to be released into the next realm. The river of stars, the Milky Way, representing all the spirits that have already moved on.

This slow, powerful work was fascinating to watch. Guest artist, dancer Darren Edwards was particularly eye catching and prominent in the piece.

Draped in costumes made from digital screen prints of paintings created by Lang, the dancers moved in a way that was flowing and natural. This was not a work about feats of balance or technique, here the dancers moved like rain water running across a dry desert.

Running at 40 minutes the work, partnered with Górecki’s moving symphony, the work creates a space for reflective thought. Given the ongoing debates about Australia Day, Closing the Gap and the government’s rejection of the Uluru statement, you couldn’t help but think about indigenous issues and reconciliation.

Cheetham’s outstanding vocals brought sorrow, but the dancer’s movements conveyed strength and wisdom.

Prior to the presentation of Lang’s stunning work, three other pieces were performed.

French choreographer Patrick Delcroix has worked with the company for the first time. They performed his work Paradise Within, a energetic piece which saw dancers darting across the stage.

Les Indomptés from choreographer Claude Brumachon was an intricate duet between two male dancers. Jesse Homes and Mathew Lehmann worked together in perfect synchronicity delivering the intricate and energetic moves.

A third piece created by company member Christopher Hill, Ghost Gum was distinctly different to the work Hill presented during the quarry season in 2017.

Here he used two female dancers, Polly Hilton and Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, to tell a tale about the ghost gum with the dancers taking on the roles of the earth and water. It was a piece filled with fluid movement and grace.

As it is every year, the WA Ballet’s season at the Quarry Amphitheater presented a smorgasbord of high quality contemporary dance against a backdrop of picturesque surroundings.

Under the Milky Way: Ballet at the Quarry is on until 3rd March, get tickets from WA Ballet.

Graeme Watson, images Sergey-Pevnev and Edward Pope. 

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