This is a ballet that ensures the dancing brings out the story, plot and character of the parties involved.
Apologies for the fail at cropping. The dress in the middle should be Chihiro’s from Midnight Waltzes. Blue Snow is to the left; Serenade is to the right.
Made up everyone’s role along the way. Can’t stick to the names in the book, not sure why.
Kwok Min Yi plays the swooning young Henrietta who’s always desired to be swept off her feet at the ball – slightly silly but completely harmless, and entirely ready for L-O-V-E and a night of handsome young men. The Master of the Waltz, Etienne Ferrère, also teaches her dance and he tries to remind her to behave and dance properly, but she can’t care less. She is Ready to be the Butterfly and Belle of the Ball.
There’s Rosa Park, daughter of the Marquis (of course that’s made up! and I can’t call her the Marchioness for short, unfortunately), in a dress of blue trimmed with pink; and her date, the Scholar (书生; a bespectacled Lewis Gardner), whose unfortunate and inappropriate timing (kneeling abruptly so that she inadvertently leaves him behind; charging on ahead short-sightedly without her) draws giggles from the audience.
Nazer Salgado – in for the second act of the night – is Handsome Man Andrei, noble and stately and et cetera, while Chihiro is the White Countess, wandering in and about quietly.
Last but not least of the main characters are the three Amigos – Yozuru Kensuke, Nakamura Kenya and Zhao Jun – preening as they prepare for the ball in their long coats and little bow ties, deliciously pleased with themselves.
The main set for the ball has the three chandeliers from theatre pictures of Theme and Variations. At the back of the dance hall is a corridor of sorts, through which various guests at the ball pass occasionally. It’s in this hall that the ladies line up to one side and the gentlemen to the other, before the opening dance. It’s an interesting balletic take on Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube – ballet flourishes, lifted legs, men swinging the girls in circles, the better to show their silken skirts.
Aram Ilyich Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite is used for much of the ballet, marked out below where I remember it:
It doesn’t take long after that, for Andrei to be introduced to the daughter of the Marquis, and they disappear through a door, while their partners – young Henrietta and the Scholar respectively – search amongst the dancing couples, looking into each person’s face for the face of the missing couple.
Andrei and the daughter of the Marquis have drifted out to chat under the light of a great moon against water, while in the background, a top-hatted young man (the Master of the Waltz?) appears to be proposing to a young lady.
I loved the music for the dance between the Andrei and the Marquis’ daughter – a little modern, almost jazzy, yet yearning and tender. Not quite the neat decorous classical waltz earlier. At the height of the music, as Andrei lifts the Marquis’ daughter so that she soars against the sky, Henrietta discovers the pair, and is heartbroken. On the other side of the lovestruck couple, the Scholar realises his dance partner is in Andrei’s arms. (Nocturne, 5:43)
It’s a fitting piece of music, because Andrei and the Marquis’ daughter’s joy is crafted on the ruins of someone else’s misery, and the piece is gorgeous and sweet and uplifting in parts, yet manages to be a little heartrending, if you read it that way.
Before the show gets too heavy, the three Amigos spring into action, Looney Tunes-style, sweeping the White Countess Chihiro off her feet (literally, but not figuratively) and vying for her attention as she tries to get away. It’s neatly choreographed so you can see that quite obviously, she is distressed by their attentions, remains unimpressed with them and undesirous of getting to know them any better, and at the very end, rejects all of them, leaving them to fall dejectedly to the ground with a loud thud. (Mazurka, 10:00)
We return to the Scholar and Henrietta, each in their own private grief: the Scholar has a brief wrenching solo of agony; while Henrietta’s waltz with an imaginary, non-existent dance partner breaks the heart. (Parts of Romance, 13:10)
But all this misery doesn’t last long, because the White Countess stumbles upon the Scholar, and he catches her eye; and as he leaves the stage, she follows. This leads to two young guests gossiping a little about them, and a little pas de trois between the two guests (Beatrice Castenada and Nakahama Akira again) and the Master of the Waltz, Etienne Ferrere.
This is followed by waltzes upon waltzes; the White Countess and her Scholar acknowledge the Marquis’ daughter and Andrei, and all are pleased.
The Master of the Waltz later runs into the Three Amigos and chats with them, with the happy result that they discover Henrietta and lavish attention and kisses upon her enthusiastically, to her delight; and thus ends the first ball of Henrietta’s life, and peace is restored to the world.
One of my personal favourite things about Midnight Waltzes was the attention to detail – to the backdrop and other couples, in particular. I liked how, between scenes and even in scenes, couples would waltz past like drifting ghosts in an abandoned dance hall, sometimes rocking their shoulders along to the music; sometimes waltzing and turning proper; and in one scene, women with arms round the men’s shoulders, lifted and swirled right off the ground. Right off the bat, I can recall Shan Del Vecchio and Ines Furushashi-Huber sweeping past a few times.
I also liked seeing people stop to chat in the corridor behind the ballroom. Lovely atmosphere.
I haven’t any idea when this piece can next be revived, though, other than another year’s MiM. BUTS is in the heat of summer, and the dresses and coats will be murder on the dance floor. Passages is for contemporary dance. I wonder.
The music is Michael Torke’s Ash. The youtube version was unfortunately taken down. You can hear a different version elsewhere online, if you google it; I rather prefer the original. Here – you can hear the opening and a bit of it in the background to this interview, though the choreography in this video is quite entirely different from Edward Liaang’s:
This is the only brochure picture that has a picture of the dance that was performed, because the other two were new to the company’s repertoire:
I’ve not talked much about Opus 25 here.
How do you even begin to describe it? The darkened stage; the rush of red as four dancers pull a huge scarlet cloth forward across the stage and then whip it back to unveil the entire company in a little white nucleus in the centre. The speedy moves, the angles, the points of feet! Ladies lowered to the ground, held by their arms and whipped round in a circle on the ground, so their legs sweep in large circles on the floor; the girls, held high up by their waists, flinging their legs and arms forward like firecrackers; or, with their legs held open in standing splits, contorting to dive through the space between the torso and the raised leg; Jake Burden whirling solidly, endlessly in a corner.
In a quiet moment, Rosa Park and Chen Peng emerge on stage. It’s always lovely to see the stellar Rosa Park supported ably and stably by Chen Peng.
Possibly, one of the most stellar moments of Opus 25 is when Rosa lies on her back, turning over as Chen Peng steps over her legs; and as he bends, facing her, to lift and hold her by the ankles, she slides her torso under and raises herself, as seen in this awesome iconic photo of Opus:
How do you talk about the awe-inspiring moment when everyone enters as separate flocks of birds, crossing one another’s paths and wheeling out again; or describe Elaine Heng and Chua Bi Ru complementing each other so well in their solid turns on stage?
Or that incredible feeling of anticipation when the entire cast is onstage, men seated with knees raised, women with their backs to us, a single pure white spotlight on each cast member? You’ll not have seen such a scene like that before.
Towards the end, a few dancers form a row on stage (amongst them, Etienne Ferrère, Li Jie, Lewis Gardner, Shan Del Vecchio, Chen Ruifeng), each moving slowly to his or her own beat, but they all halt as Zhao Jun enters the stage.
Zhao Jun is Angry Man, the passionate soul moving to his own beat, awake and alert to all that is around him while his compatriots in the background are frozen in time. At the height of the music, he claps his hands together and collapses, bent double – and the others awaken, gathering around him as more dancers enter from the curtains and draw in to give him their strength. Then the entire troupe retreats slowly as the red curtain rolls forward like a great red wave, and pulls back to reveal an entirely empty, dark stage.
The thing about Opus 25 is that almost every moment feels like a favourite moment: all the group dancing is massively, jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and all the moves are beautifully choreographed. Everything seems right – nothing extraneous, nothing extravagantly misplaced. The action rushes on ahead in time with the music, and yet there are lovely, slow, reflective moments, such as those with Chen Peng and Rosa Park, and the line of dancers mentioned above.
New faces to this dance include Ruth Austin (in a circle of female dancers, alternately running and leaping forward while opening their arms as if leaping through open doors) and Reece Hudson (centre stage when the men sit in the white spotlights). Nazer Salgado plays a different role from before, stepping into Timothy Coleman’s shoes as Chihiro’s partner in a few segments. And, as mentioned earlier, Xu Lei Ting is back, which is good.
There’s this Enid Blyton story about a King who was given a wonderful ice (cream) with a magic spell stuck on top of it, and every time he finished it, he would sigh, “Oh, how I wish I could eat it agin!” and voila, it would appear (by virtue of the magic spell) and so he could happily eat it again and sigh for the ice again, and so on to eternity.
That’s how I personally feel about Opus 25.
Oh, how I wish I could see it again.