Transient Beauty

Byron Bay Community Theatre (Collusion)


This challenging modern ballet finds moments of transient beauty amidst the dross and angst of domestic conflict.

The intimate space of the Byron Theatre puts the dancers and the musicians up close and personal with the audience. In your face, it is. In your mind, it gets.

The love of a housebound separated mother (Janette Mulligan) for her children (Rachael Walsh and Melissa Tattam) wanting to leave the nest is a force of nature akin to storm and tempest.

A home is set on stage by a simple plan of white tape on the floor. A single doorframe seems to be held in place by blu-tack. When this work was performed earlier this year at the Brisbane Powerhouse it had more elaborate lighting but the Byron simplicity works just fine.

Gareth Belling’s choreography tells a story of strict control, alienation and rapprochement. At least that is what your reviewer guesses for the program notes are cryptic. Some modern choreographers are reluctant to tell the story in the medium of words lest the fertile kinetic imagination of the audience be fettered. On the other hand, some of us mug punters like to know the yarn behind the movement.

In program notes with Collusion director and violin player, Benjamin Greaves, Belling expresses it in these terms: Glimpses of beauty always exist between those re-constructing their lives amid turmoil, anguish and loss. Without an understanding of suffering, the value of love, ecstasy and companionship too often goes unnoticed. Transient Beauty explores conflict, sorrow and finally the unison of experience. We all deep down understand the transience of one anotherÕs emotions. It really is beautiful.

Belling has the good fortune to have secured the services of the Queensland Ballet’s outstanding prima ballerina, Rachael Walsh, for this production. She displays not only technical virtuosity but also emotional subtlety and range an extraordinary dancer and actor in one. Belling is a lucky man to have both Walsh and Mulligan in his array of dancers.

Walsh dances beautifully with her “mother”, Janette Mulligan, former senior principal of the English National Ballet just as a cello sweeps in to enrich the spare tones of the piano keyboard. There is something austere about their interaction strained with tension, yet hinting at a larger dimension. Walsh has an uncanny ability to express the constrained discipline within the house as well as the abashing fear of freedom beyond it. She interacts on a park bench outside with the separated father/voice of experience (Gareth Belling) in a way which bridges the gap between estranged members of the family.

Melissa Tattam (the younger daughter) impresses with vigour and feeling but perhaps without the emotional depth demonstrated by the more experienced Walsh and Mulligan. She embodies the raw energy of youth.

Composer and musical director Susan Hawkings has created an engaging soundscape for this modern drama. The five musicians (piano, violin, cello, clarinet and percussion) perform barefoot with occasional interactions such as between the violin player, Benjamin Greaves, and the dancer/choreographer, Gareth Bellings. This interplay is novel but limited. It has the germ of a good idea without fully blossoming.

Similarly the choreography provides a good deal of angst with but a modicum of dramatic relief. Perhaps life does not fit into the ready framework of theatrical catharsis but more light and shade would give greater texture to this work.

It is exciting to see the creation of new dance and music. Choreographer Gareth Belling and composer Susan Hawkings are to be commended for having delivered a work which expresses the human condition in unexpected and enlarging ways. Cultural life would atrophy without such fearless explorations of the boundaries of loneliness, family life and affection.

This ambitious work sparkles with the bedazzling genius of Rachael Walsh and Janette Mulligan. They transport the audience for a moment into an ethereal beauty hidden inside even the most dysfunctional of relationships.

Choreographer: Gareth Belling
Composer: Susan Hawkings
Music performed by Collusion
Production designer: Anthony Spinaze
Lighting designer: Ben Hughes

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Fri 2nd November 2012)