Classical Detour

Classic Arts Features   Classical Detour
Patricia Laughlin talks to Stanton Welch about his new ballet Divergence.

Stanton Welch's ballet Divergence is a striking work, not only for its quirky and dazzling choreography, but also for its costumes and lighting effects. There are hints of sexual engagement - notably from the leading couple - sometimes confrontational and at other times a teasing sense of fun. Set to excerpts from Georges Bizet's L 'Arléssiennic Suites, the ballet's technical demands on the dancers are great.

Welch himself says of the ballet "I wanted to take classical ballet, and diverge from it. The first image in the work is what one would consider very traditional classical ballet. From then on, I kept branching off into different paths. I wanted to show the women working as hard as the men. I wanted to show the inside of ballet, to make it look difficult and athletic. I wanted to show the pain and the strength and the difficulty behind what dancers were doing, rather than hide it"

Divergence bears no resemblance whatsoever to the stereotyped ballet world of white tutus, princes and princesses. Its mood and attitude are very 21st century - young, hip and cool. Relationships in the ballet are wary, teasing, occasionally antagonistic, and physically beautiful. The main pas de deux is very sexy and exciting.

Vanessa Leyonhjelm's costumes for Divergence are unconventional in the balletic sense. The female dancers wear black, pleated, flat tutus that look like industrial-strength rubber. However, according to the wardrobe supervisor, it seems they were made of air-conditioning filter mesh - spray painted with acrylic to matte black. There are sixteen feet in each skirt - gathered into a ruff - and attached to black lycra briefs. These skirts are removable, leaving just the sleek figure of the dancers. The female dancers also wear black bustiers, made of molded polyurethane foam, with elastic backing and lined with leather; black tights, and small fitting headdresses. The male dancers wear black tights, and apart from some criss-crossing straps, have bare chests.

Highlights of Divergence include an intriguing dance for three women (minus their skirts), who enter on pointe, but in deep plies, moving sideways in crab-like style, and a stunning pas de deux for the principal couple, in which the male partner repeatedly twines the female around his neck and finally lifts her above his head, holding her backwardly prone body aloft with just one arm until he bends and slides her bodily off the stage.

Welch demands great physical energy and strength from his dancers, and receives it all in the finale of the ballet, when all the female dancers remove their tutus, throw them into the wings and join with all the male dancers a lively finale.

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