The Australian Ballet’s Sylvia is imbued with a sense of fun from the narrative down to the buzz of the Corps de Ballet.
Ako Kondo and Kevin Jackson in Sylvia. Image: Jeff Busby.
The posters around town might lead you to think Stanton Welch’s Sylvia follows the adventures of one bold heroine, but you’d be wrong. This production is actually an epic tale of three strong and unique women: Artemis, Psyche and Sylvia.
Set against an Ancient Greek backdrop, these women face trials and tribulations to be with the ones they love. From deceit to trickery to travels through the underworld, there is nothing these women can’t overcome. Welch has, despite a traditional fairytale ending, radically reinterpreted Sylvia so that these female characters can be centre stage.
Welch proves himself to be a masterful storyteller with three tales told concurrently in just one production. More importantly, he nurtures the three women’s multifaceted nature as his choreography creates dialogue through movement. This is particularly the case in the smaller, quieter moments which allow the unique quirks of Artemis, Psyche and Sylvia to come to the fore.
However, it is the dancers that flesh out these moments and give them life. Robyn Hendricks as Artemis, Benedicte Bemet as Psyche and Ako Kondo as Syliva deliver exceptional performances. Kondo affirms her place as one of the most transformative artists at The Australian Ballet and Hendricks’s delivery shows surprising maturity – communicating a plethora of emotions in one look.
It is thanks to her performance that Artemis’s storyline feels like the emotional core of the production. However, as the rapid pacing and experimental storytelling style take time to get used to, the connection between the characters in her arc aren’t given space to develop, so Artemis’ journey doesn’t pull on the heartstrings as much as it has the potential to.
The rapid pacing puts the audience on an enthralling treadmill where the action never stops. This is made possible by the use of beautiful projections, against a minimalist Aegean-inspired set, that enable speed-of-light transitions between each story. But with the ability to use limitless backdrops, the sense of place for each story is at times lost, making it harder to ease into the production’s rhythm of switching between stories.
Benedicte Bemet and artists of The Australian Ballet. Image: Jeff Busby.
This does little to dampen Sylvia’s engaging choreography and sense of unfettered fun. Welch captures the style of a romantic ballet while maintaining a sense of modernity. This results in a feast of utterly bewitching shapes and movement from start to finish.
There is a buzz across the whole cast but the Corps De Ballet are particularly electric. Kevin Jackson revels in the character of The Shepherd, youthful and trusting, and his chemistry with Kondo is a joy to watch. The Fauns, with their on and off homages to Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, are deliciously camp, and Marcus Morelli shines as Eros, impossibly deft and nimble as he flies across the stage.
This production is overwhelmingly delivered with a sense of fun, from Welch to the dancers to set and costumes. It doesn’t take itself too seriously – the pervading cheekiness and countless comedic moments are a testament to this.
Sylvia achieves everything it sets out to do; it is a joyous production that showcases exhilarating choreography and the exceptional talent of The Australian Ballet.
4 stars out of 5 ★★★★
A co-production between Houston Ballet and The Australian Ballet
Choreography: Stanton Welch
Staged by Louise Lester
Guest Repetiteur: Mark Kay
Set and costume design: Jérôme Kaplan
Lighting design: Lisa J. Pinkham
Projection design: Wendall K. Harrington
Cast list, Melbourne
31 August-10 September 2019
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Sydney Opera House: 8-23 November 2019
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