Simplicity and style shine through WA Ballet’s ‘Goldberg Variations’

Goldberg Variations | His Majesty’s Theatre | Until 24 Sept | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

This stunning new work from choreographer Natalie Weir draws inspiration from Bach’s Goldberg Variations and the result is a masterclass in beauty obtained by restrained simplicity.

Adhering to the adage that ‘less is more’, this modern classical work takes the audience on a journey through dreams, frustration, torment and tender recollection. The mix of expressive performance and, bold but simple, backdrops is the perfect combination.

Bach’s work, created for the harpsichord, is based around an aria and 32 different variations. It is a composition that is meditative and trance-inducing with it’s repetitive motifs. While the work is named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, the artist who may have been the first to perform it, there is also another story attached to the music’s creation.

The commissioning of the music has been attributed to Count Herman Karl von Keyserling, who reportedly struggled with insomnia. It has been suggested that he asked for a piece of music to be written that he could enjoy while he struggled to sleep. While this may well just be an urban legend – it is the spark for the narrative of the ballet.

The curtain rises and we discover a man, portrayed by Juan Carlos Osma, who tosses and turns, rising from his bed and returning again, disturbed and frustrated by his inability to drift off into a slumber.

We begin to follow him as he descends from insomnia to mania, a passage through different loves in his life, marked by different colours and an evolving intricacy of choreography and staging.

Through is dreams we encounter a mirror version of our protagonist, played on opening night by Ludovico Di Ubaldo. He appears behind a layer of scrim which simply creates a mystical other world. We then progress through interactions with four different muses, coloured white, blue, pink and red.

Kiki Saito starred as the White Muse, Dayana Harda Acuna performed the role of the Blue Muse, Polly Hilton took a slightly comedic turn of the pink Muse, and Alexa Tuzil wrapped up the night’s dreams as the Red Muse.

With the arrival of each muse the mood of the work shifts, some of it is sensual, others bring an air of prim and proper society, moments of dark torment, and the head rush of love and affection.

The decision to include a comedic element with the Pink Muse was one I pondered over as the show progressed, while it brought a moment of lightness and fun to the proceedings, it also broke the trace of the dreamlike state of the narrative.

The simple but striking costume design by Bruce McKinven is highly effective, and the lighting from Matthew Marshal works in perfect unison to create a distinctive world of dominant colours.

It’s hard not think of similar works such as Peter Greenaway’s film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, but it’s a striking look, and it’s greatest achievement is how subtle the many changes in staging were, almost as if they were a slight-of-hand.

The combination of visually appealing choreography, simple costuming and clever lighting, alongside the hypnotic effect of Bach’s composition, conjured a meandering oneirophrenia.

The opening night came on the same day as the announcement that Queen Elizabeth II had died, the company dedicating it’s season to the late monarch.Like many Perth landmarks, the facade of the theatre has been lit in purple hues to note the solemn occasion.

Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella took to the stage before the show asking for a moments silence, and also noted that the company was celebrating it’s 70th anniversary this year – the same amount of time of as the Queen’s reign.

It’s wonderful to see the WA Ballet commissioning another new work to add to the company’s growing repertoire. Hopefully this is a production that we’ll see many times in coming years, and will also tour to other regions. Rush to see it now at His Majesty’s Theatre.

The season ends of 24th September, get tickets now.        

Graeme Watson

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