Neoclassical ballet

WA Ballet’s Goldberg Variations: Performance at His Majesty’s Theater by choreographer Natalie Weir

The staging of her 4Seasons work with the West Australian Ballet as part of the company’s 2021 Ballet at the Quarry program hasn’t quite gone to plan for Brisbane-based choreographer Natalie Weir.

The WA border closed in Queensland just days before she was due to fly west and an incredibly disappointed Weir was forced to plug her computer into the living room TV and work on the piece remotely via Zoom.

“It was hard to get a sense of the dancers as people, so that was probably, for me, the most frustrating thing,” Weir shares.

“My work is very much about the individual, but it worked and I think it was beautiful.”

So when WA Ballet Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella asked Weir if she would be interested in another opportunity to create a new neoclassical ballet with the company in person – using Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations – she didn’t. didn’t have to think twice.

Camera iconNatalie Weir, choreographer of the Goldberg Variations. Credit: Justin BensonCooper/western australia

Bach’s musical composition consists of an opening aria, followed by 30 variations inspired by that aria’s theme, so Weir began his search for something to bring together all the short pieces of the dance work.

She discovered in several unsubstantiated accounts that Bach had created the Goldberg Variations at the request of a Russian ambassador to the court of Dresden, a count who “complained of insomnia and desired music of such a sweet and somewhat lively that it could be a little brightened”. ” by having something to listen to during his sleepless nights.

“No one can verify whether it’s true or not, but I guess it didn’t matter to me,” Weir says.

“It was there and I immediately hooked on the idea of ​​a man who couldn’t sleep and this music as a catalyst to keep him company. What do you think about when you’ve been awake for a long time? Qu going through your head?

“So this male character became my hero or protagonist and we visualize the dance work through his eyes.”

The work is based on Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations.
Camera iconThe work is based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Credit: Justin BensonCooper/western australia

Baroque period music is the driving force behind Weir’s choreography. She embraced the length of each piece – which changes in mood and tempo – placing the ballet at court and incorporating a number of dance styles for the corps de ballet, from waltz to jig.

The four-section narrative, each with its own unique lighting and costume color design, follows the sleepless man in his partial dream/wake state as he conjures up visions of four women who had a strong influence in his life.

Osma plays the count in the 75-minute production.
Camera iconOsma plays the count in the 75-minute production. Credit: Justin BensonCooper/western australia

“It has a lot of emotional resonance . . . especially for the man who’s on stage all the time,” she says.

“It’s 75 minutes (no interval) and I’m asking them to dig in and tap into that emotional honesty.

“I was really nervous on the first day, even after all these years. It’s always scary to walk into a dance hall, especially when you have this blank page and you haven’t started yet, but I I felt very quickly welcomed and inspired, I work very collaboratively and the dancers reacted fantastically.

Written for the harpsichord and originally played by a Bach employee named Johann Goldberg, hence the title, Goldberg Variations was arranged with strings and other instruments for live performance on a pit. orchestra elevated by the chamber orchestra of the WA Symphony Orchestra.

“Since the music was the starting point for the inspiration, and even in the work itself the man refers to the orchestra and you know he hears the music, it was important to have at least a partial view of the orchestra,” says Weir.

Hilton as one of the lovers in Goldberg Variations.
Camera iconHilton as one of the lovers in Goldberg Variations. Credit: Justin BensonCooper/western australia

“We couldn’t put them on stage because we couldn’t put so many. It’s a beautiful theater with a wonderful sense of history and it feels like an intimate space perfect for that.”

Goldberg Variations is at His Majesty’s Theater September 9-24.