26 Sep 2011
On Dance and the Arts
I don't necessarily like Graeme Murphy's radical reworking of traditional ballets. Sometimes I do, just not always. His Tivoli, for example didn't do it for me. Neither did Swan Lake. Nutcracker, on the other hand was pretty good. It all depends, I guess, on whether he leaves in the bits I expect to see. If they're not there, I get grumpy.
No matter what you think of Murphy's work though, there is no denying that they are always spectacular productions. The scenery, the choreography and the sheer artistry of the dancers is always in a class above other productions.
On Saturday we went to see The Australian Ballet dancing his production of Romeo and Juliet. It was with a little trepidation - would we like it? Would Jemimah?
Well the answer was Yes - but with reservations.
Certainly Murphy's interpretation of this ballet was marvellous for its entertainment value. The translation of the traditional marketplace scene into an Indian Bazaar provided the most wonderful opportunities for colour and movement that highlighted both the dance and the story as well as working well with Prokofiev's sublime score. Somewhat more strange was the need to New-Age the ballet by the inclusion of Japanese temples, a bed of skulls in the dessert instead of the traditional crypt and the strangely blended Buddhist/Hari Krishna hybrid monks. I was saddened by the overt signs of Australia's post-Christianisation, and the replacement of Franciscan Friar Laurence with an Eastern Holy man failed to resonate with us at all.
We resubscribed to new season of The Australian Ballet a couple of weeks ago. Unlike past years it was not a straightforward decision. A year's subscription for a family - even with only one child - is a significant financial investment, and we needed to consider carefully whether we were wise to invest this money in something that many people consider classist, frivolous and unnecessary when we are still living in a flood ravaged home with little furniture, our possessions packed in boxes, and borrowed beds.
The inclusion of the Visual and Performing arts as part of our children's education has often come under scrutiny. Is a study of literature, dance, music, opera, painting and theatre as important as our acquisition of skills like reading, writing, science and mathematics?
Certainly the arts have, since primitive times, occupied an important part in the lives of man. Jubal was making musical instruments - the harp and the flute - back in Genesis 4, and throughout the ages men have recognised the pleasure that the arts can introduce into our lives. The arts are a mirror into the hearts of man, and our appreciation of the arts and culture is one of the characteristics of being human, making us different from animals. As I watch Graeme Murphy's Romeo and Juliet, I view a profound expression of his understanding of human existence and of his religious commitment, and I gain an appreciation of Australia's new values and beliefs - beliefs very different from my own.
It is not only the secular communities, though, that recognise the importance of the artistic expression. Throughout history Christians have produced a wealth of art, both liturgical and non-liturgical. The singing, music, dance, the beautiful vestments and the fine decoration of the temple, are all hugely visible in the Old Testament. A study of the arts of man provides us with some of the clearest manifestations of human religious beliefs throughout the ages. We see clear evidence of their values, beliefs, and the importance they place on them.
These then, are some of the reasons that we include the arts in our children's education.
I would like to say that Jemimah's father and I considered all these things when we weighed up whether or not to renew our subscription to The Australian Ballet's 50th Anniversary Season. I'm afraid, though, that the most important factors of all in our decision were the fact that we love the ballet. We love getting dressed up and eating out. We love the music, the dance, the spectacle. We love the memories. The ballet is one of the things that we do as a family, and we all enjoy it very, very much indeed. I'm so glad we're going again next year.