Neo classicism and freedom of movement were working in exquisite simpatico for me recently in a performance of Chaconne by the New York City Ballet; my first viewing of this particular Balanchine work; part of their spring Architecture of Dance program. The scene opens on nine women in lightly flowing swathes of earthy tones, long hair unbound, moving together. Following is a pas de duex; two figures that float around each other and eventually take flight. I was captivated by Wendy Whelan’s interpretation with Philip Neal; dancing to Gluck’s haunting “Orphée et Euridice” – mesmerising.
Last year’s performance The Times called ‘a distillation of the French Baroque spirit in all its ultraelegant subtlety’ but I could not help seeing neo classical etherium. The only image I can find that captures something of the feel of that first scene with pas de duex is NYCB’s photo of Robert Fairchild and Wendy Whelan in Opus 19 / The Dreamer by Henry Leutwyler – an image that was all over the city last year, and has such resonance it is still in my mind.
It’s a not dissimilar spirit I see being captured in the collections of Kirrily Johnston. Echoes of inspiration abound from dance and movement by the likes of Martha Graham. I’ve been interested in Kirrily’s work since her first collection in 2004; for the conceptual nature of her draping and the unique way she looks at the body within a constructed form. I also shared the same crazy landlady with her that year and had similarly just moved from Melbourne to Sydney, though as is a neighbour’s want, we only ever exchanged friendly hellos. Her latest collection continues to ‘think outside of the square’.