The Silver Rose

Lyric Theatre< QPAC (Australian Ballet)


Lavish, sensual, evocative! If you like Lady Gaga music video clips you’ll love The Silver Rose by the Australian Ballet choreographed by Graeme Murphy.

Famous actress the Marschallin (Lucinda Dunn) is having a fling with young Octavian (Ty King-Wall). Their love-making is interrupted by the arrival of her impresario Baron Ochs (Andrew Killian) with his over-the-top camp entourage and bringing a silver rose intended for his fiancee Sophie. Octavian hides by dressing up as a maid. Baron Ochs takes a shine to the young man dressed as a woman and chases her/him around the stage and through the bed. Thus begins this gender-bending, saucy bit of nonsense.

Lucinda Dunn is magnificent. She dances with the grace and presence of the superstar she is. The curtain opens with her twirling backwards through time with young men writhing about her holding mirrors to prevent escape. Is this choreographer Graeme Murphy holding the mirror up to nature? Or just a theatrical flourish? Hard to tell at times.

Amidst the froth and bubble there are moments of transcendental beauty. In an early pas de deux between the Marschallin (Lucinda Dunn) and Octavian (Ty King-Wall) the delicates tones of flute and cello melt even the hardest heart. The Queensland Symphony Orchestra in full complement play out of their skins, led by concertmaster Warwick Adeney and conductor Nicolette Fraillon. Carl Vine’s music, to borrow a phrase from artistic director David McAllister, reminds us that it is not only Tchaikovsky who can compose great ballet scores. If you are one of those sad, visually challenged folk who find ballet dull come along, close your eyes and be transported by the music. Who knows? You may even open your heart and your eyes!

Octavian is given the tricky job of presenting the silver rose to Sophie (Juliet Burnett) on behalf of her betrothed Baron Ochs. The proposed union is much encouraged by Sophie’s father Faninal (Damien Welsh) but Sophie has eyes not for the boring Baron but for the muscular messenger Octavian (now sought after by three different characters). Well, I shan’t spell it all out but if you can’t make a comic farce from this you’re not really trying.

Damien Welsh dances masterfully as the grey-haired father, a guest appearance following his retirement as Principal Artist last November. A touch of irony struck your reviewer upon recalling a quarter century ago Damien’s father Garth Welsh dancing brilliantly with the Australian Ballet. Tempus fugit!

Brisbane is hosting the first Australian performances of this work commissioned by the Bavarian State Ballet and premiered 10 December 2005 at the Munich National Theatre. To add to the pressure of opening night and an Australian premiere two young dancers Juliet Burnett (Sophie) and Ty King-Wall (Octavian) were given the opportunity of principal roles. Their debut was triumphant. The depth of this company is breathtaking.

The corps de ballet dance beautifully in prodigious number with sumptuous costumes amidst splendid sets. This production is not an exercise in the subtly understated.

In true Lady Gaga mode the paparazzi feature heavily. Journalist (Gina Brescianini) and photographer (Rudy Hawkes) give us the intrusive, scheming, scandal-creating fourth estate we love to hate. Costume and set designer Roger Kirk observes, “I saw a guy walking along the street in King’s Cross in Sydney in all black leather and thought,’a version of that would be great for the photographer!'”.

It’s not all black and white. In the final Act (plot spoiler!) the Marschallin (Lucinda Dunn) realises she has lost her beloved Octavian to the arms of Sophie and lets the young lovers go with her blessing in a morally generous, restoring pas de trois. A cello gently lets slip the fading demons of unrequited love. It is a moment of which only a great artist such as Lucinda Dunn would be capable.

Choreography by Graeme Murphy

Music by Carl Vine

Set and costume design by Roger Kirk

Lighting designer: Damien Cooper

Playing from 26 February to 3 March 2010

Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval)

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Thu 25th February 2010)