To many, ballet is an island where others live — a place just seen in glimpses. In a reasonable universe, the Australian Ballet’s production of Madame Butterfly would be one to dent that idea.
The first thing to strike you will be the audience. The ballet crowd are a fantastic and hilarious mob: tuxedos and pearls stand beside too-blue jeans and just tucked polos. A confusing scent of musk, mints, and Vicks chestrub will hang over the foyer, but be not repulsed, for they are a good-looking crowd, and tall; you can spot the dancers among them, present and past. Civvies can’t disguise those straightened spines, the opened chests, those purposeful and weightless strides — even if those steps are just to join the queue in the dunnies or to grab that last pre-curtain gin.
You will be inside now, and you might be thinking that, while terribly camp and quite fun, a night at the ballet is still a drink for other’s tastes. Then; the lights will cut, the conductor will appear with his hand poised above the orchestra’s pit, ready to signal that first drawn bow, and a very special something will fall across the room.
The Australian Ballet’s working of Giacomo Puccini’s opera is fairly considered a contemporary classic, and 16 years after its premiere it clings tightly to that newness and sense of brash energy. The story is of love and its capacity for frailty and cruelty, underscoring the humour and pricks of astounding beauty and agony of Stanton Welch’s choreography.
It is remarkably Australian; the pain and potential of old worlds meeting new. More importantly, it is fun: scout’s honour, no kidding, fun.
The details: Madame Butterfly plays Melbourne’s State Theatre tonight and for nine more performances until March 9 — tickets through the Arts Centre. It opens in Adelaide on March 28 and in Sydney on April 7.