First published in Trespass Magazine, 16/4/2010


Based on Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier, The Australian Ballet have themselves a bright, sparkly and visually beautiful ballet in The Silver Rose. Graeme Murphy’s choreography is, expectedly unexpected and seemingly nothing has been spared in the creation of the sumptuous costumes and set.

We meet the Marschallin (a majestic Lucinda Dunn) a famous actress, in Act 1. She is trapped in a dream about the rapid passing of time and the consequent loss of her youth. When she awakes, it is beside her young lover, Octavian (Ty King-Wall) and the two chase away her demons with some good old fashioned passion. That is until her entourage, followed by Baron Ochs (Andrew Killian) arrive and Octavian is forced to hide and disguise himself as a maid. Baron Ochs is going to present the silver rose to his future bride, Sophie (Juliet Burnett) and requires an emissary. The Marschallin suggests Octavian, the Baron agrees and promptly knocks over the screen behind which Octavian hides in his maid’s outfit. Of course the Baron becomes rather lusty towards the newly female Octavian and the humour in mistaken identity and that old chestnut, men dressed as women, is played to great effect by both dancers. When the Baron leaves, Marschallin, unable to leave her demons in her dream, asks Octavian to follow suit so she can be alone.

At the Baron’s wedding, Octavian meets the young bride Sophie and they fall in love, and it’s in this Act that the ballet starts to really gather momentum. The restrained movements of Act 1 give way to more flowing choreography and a brilliantly spidery routine from the paparazzo. Sophie is forced to marry Baron Ochs, who has noted the amorous gazes between Sophie and Octavian, and when the two lovers reunite on the terrace, they are snapped by the paparazzi and a brawl ensues.

Act 3 gives us a healthy dose of slapstick as Octavian plots to fool the Baron by dressing as the maid and enticing Baron Ochs into a rendezvous at an inn. The paparazzi wait for the perfect opportunity and as both the general madness and the Baron’s paranoia build, Marschallin makes her return. She urges the Baron to leave and Sophie’s father to bless his daughter’s union with Octavian.

It’s a nostalgic close to an otherwise pacy, spirited performance, as the Marschallin walks out into the snow, leaving her young lover with his true love. Her exit is probably one of the most visually appealing tableaus of the ballet.

At ninety minutes (with two twenty-five minute intervals) The Silver Rose is an interesting combination of slapstick, theatre and ballet. The score (by Carl Vine) is, like the dancing at times, restrained. It seems to ebb and flow with occasional swells, but no big, spine tingling number. Still, this works with the performance overall.

The Silver Rose largely succeeds, almost as a pastiche, never moving away from the central, longstanding themes of love and loss. It is worth seeing for its unconventionality – and, if nothing else, its beauty.

The Silver Rose is running until April 29th at Sydney’s Opera House before moving to Adelaide.