The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra teamed up with The Dust Palace last Friday night in the ASB Theatre of Auckland's Aotea Centre with dazzling acrobatics set to orchestral excerpts. This was a second collaboration with the leading Circus Theatre company and it attracted a wider audience than you might see for an orchestral concert. The all-ages audience enjoyed tantalising visuals and some tasty musical morsels.
The Dust Palace circus skills on display were astonishing in strength and artistry. The entangling with aerial ropes and silks brought gasps from the audience. There was a routine on a whirling hoop (I gather it’s called the Lyra) as well as acrobatic feats of balance and contortion. The main cast of experienced artists was joined by an ensemble including talents as young as twelve years old.
The framework for the performance was a plot in which a man was cast out of his home for fear he was turning into a monster. His daughter sets out on an adventure to redeem her father.
This rather flimsy storyline didn’t really make or break the evening. And even though the joins between the scenes didn’t provide much dramatic glue there was enough dazzle and noise to keep the audience happy. The title Dawn gave the evening a poetic oeuvre but didn’t reflect the story and maybe it could have been given more scope in terms of narrative and design.
Highlights of the action on stage included a clever stacking of chairs to create the movement of a boat on a river.
Even though Herr Wagner may well have been turning in his resting place, his Ride of the Valkyries made an excellent soundtrack to a fabulously hammed up circus exhibition by Prince Nick Davies.
A trio of artists on black silks formed beautiful shapes set to Fauré’s Pavane. An astonishing piece of body throwing for lack of a better phrase used the energy and darkness of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 as well as stirring excitement from the APO wind section.
Finally Mary Piggin’s emotive clambering and crying upon ropes at the climax of the piece brought a welcome moment of intensity.
The orchestra was directed with confident precision and energy from the podium by conductor Tianyi Lu, guiding the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra to deliver an evening of variety and storytelling. The orchestra could have just dished out lollypops and there were Smetana’s Má vlast and Greig’s Peer Gynt. However, also on offer were some contemporary classical New Zealand and Australian composers.
Interestingly presenting contemporary works interwoven with 'top of the classical pops' arguably gives modern works a chance to be heard. Eve de Castro Robinson’s Aurora was originally commissioned by the APO in 1990 and brilliantly brought a forest of creatures to life with percussive rattles and string glides. Robinson's Releasing the Angel gave an opportunity for a splendid cello solo from section leader David Garner. Also notable in the programme was a luscious violin solo from Associate Concertmaster Liu-Yi Retallick in Borodin’s Nocturne.
Although I’m not a fan of amplifying an orchestra as it tends to flatten and equalise the tone however this was done subtly enough just to enhance. Intelligent lighting design from Max Mackenzie also added to the atmosphere of the evening.
Even though Dawn wasn’t going to change the world, it lit up the stage of the Aotea Centre with dazzle and wonder. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s choice of musical excerpts created a good colour painting. Here was a highly entertaining chance to hear a world-class orchestra perform live with the exhilarating circus visuals of The Dust Palace.