Bangarra Dance Theatre's latest show Gathering at the Sydney Opera House last night was another engaging performance. The embattled telcom Telstra recently cut their funding sponsorship of Bangarra. The Australian Ballet then invited Bangarra to combine with them for a show. The Australian Ballet is currently sponsored by Telstra. A canny move, but I'm not sure that it was a good move on every level artistically.
David Page, Bangarra's usual composer, collaborated with Elena Kats-Chernin on the score for the first piece Amalgamate. Bangarra doesn't usually work with a pit orchestra and David's music, in previous productions, has always been an inventive mix of traditional indigenous music and contemporary electronic or studio-based composition and sampling. Elena Kats-Chernin's more conventional score was very uninspiring. At times it sounded like a cross between 50s musicals like 'Showboat' or 'Oklahoma' (and then very muddy) and television themes like George Dreyfus's music for the old 60s Australian tv show 'Rush'.
The Sydney dance critic, Jill Sykes, described Kats-Chernin's score as 'sounding mushy, like Mantovani strings'. David Page hardly got a look-in. So his brother Stephen Page's choreography became increasingly merely illustrative of the poor score as the piece progressed and finally Amalgamate looked like a dancer's exercise in style. What a disappointment.
Scene from Amalgamate
Fortunately, the second half of the bill was terrific. Rites was commissioned nearly ten years ago by the then director of the Australian Ballet, the late Ross Stretton. He asked Stephen Page to create a work to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. It premiered in Melbourne in 1997 and toured to New York in 1999. This time, again in combination with dancers from the Australian Ballet, it was a fast, mesmerising and very beautiful work that is what, as a regular at their shows, I've come to expect from Bangarra's powerful performances.
It's GOOD Friday and all the shops in this neighbourhood are doing a roaring trade in chocolate eggs and hot cross buns when once they would have been closed to observe this Christian holy-day. Heathens R us. I am happy to have received this little easter message