THE MERRY WIDOW
The Australian Ballet
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Until 16 June
Misunderstandings, comic high-jinx and the rediscovery of long lost romance set the scene for this light-hearted romantic comedy. The Merry Widow is set in Belle Epoque Paris and takes its visual cues from artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and its narrative cues from the 1905 operetta by Victor Leon and Leo Stein. From the cancan dancers, waving their vibrant orange and pink layered skirts, to waltzing guests at a lavish house party in far-flung Pontevedro, The Merry Widow opens a window to a world as frothy and bubbly as the champagne the characters on stage guzzle from start to finish. In fact, dancers cavalierly hurling their empty champagne glasses offstage is one of the regular gags.
The story centres on Hanna (Kirsty Martin), a wealthy widow whose income would give a much-needed boost to the struggling Pontevedrian economy. Hanna was the childhood sweetheart of Count Danilo (Adam Bull), and the ballet tells the story of their estrangement and reconciliation. This deep, romantic love story is counterbalanced by the relationship between Camille and Valencienne, two roles danced with whimsy and confidence by Andrew Killian and Leanne Stojmenov. Colin Peasley, whose history with the company dates back to its first season in 1962, plays the role of Baron Zeta, Valencienne’s clumsy and cuckolded husband, with a great deal of wit and charm.
Peasley is not the only dancer to take a sketch of his character and bring it to life. The comic timing in The Merry Widow is one of its delights. Even dancers who are populating the background scenes are lively, individually drawn and often quite funny. Frances Leo is hilariously dry as the long-suffering Njegus and Ingrid Gow draws all eyes as a demanding and disapproving matron in Act III. However, the romance of the work hinges on Hanna and Danilo, and the return of retired Principal Artist Kirsty Martin to the stage is a brilliant stroke of casting. She is as good now as she was when she left the stage in 2011, bringing elegance and sophistication to her partnering with Adam Bull.
The Merry Widow was the first original, full-length ballet created for The Australian Ballet in 1975, and was a smashing success. With a scenario by Sir Robert Helpmann, choreography by Ronald Hynd and the nostalgic score of Franz Lehar, this is a fun and heart-warming ballet.