When love gets you down, they say the best remedy is to get straight back out there. And so it is in The Merry Widow, choreographed for The Australian Ballet in 1975 by Ronald Hynd, and now revived in its season at the Arts Centre, Melbourne until June 16.
Ludicrously rich French widow, Hanna Glawari, is second-husband hunting. Her ‘Tinder’ is a world of ballrooms, glamourous gowns, chandeliers, and lustrous feather hats. And, usefully, suited-up waiters armed with enough cocktails to numb any lingering heartache.
Of course, there’s no chance a perfect suitor will dance immediately into her arms, or the show would be over by then end of Act One. Like most souls on a mission to find ‘the one’, Hanna, performed by guest artist and ex company Principal Kirsty Martin, has to go through tests of will first.
Surprise surprise, it’s the man who once jilted her for being too poor, at the insistence of his aristocratic parents, that just happens to be the town’s most eligible. However, Count Danilo, danced with the right contrast of nonchalance and passion by Adam Bull, is revelling in the bachelor life. He’s too busy getting stuck into those free-flowing Martinis to pay Hanna much attention.
But there’s obviously something in those drinks, because other lovers are also in flux. A spirited young woman, Valencienne, danced by Leanne Stojmenov, already has a sparkler on it. However, she’d much prefer she was betrothed to young and hot Camille de Rosillon (Andrew Killian) than her much older, and somewhat, well, less good looking husband Baron Zeta (Colin Peasley).
Everything, and everyone, becomes tangled— whether that be in flirting, misunderstandings, stolen passion, false engagements, or fist fights. Luckily, the narrative and the choreography has just the right mix of emotion and well-timed humour to ensure we’re fully engaged for this rom-com ride of a production.
It’s a joy to watch Martin return to the company after years off the stage, bringing maturity, cheekiness and a touch of longing to the widow’s character. Her elegant upper body work and incredibly beautiful footwork remain hard to beat, even after a solid hiatus.
When it comes to technical prowess, Stojmenov does the heavy lifting so to speak, with leaps, turns and speed. She appears made for this role, bringing delightful spirit, feistiness and joy to her characterisation.
In the broader cast, the men of The Australian Ballet had a chance to shine. A stand out moment was the Russian Cossacks routine, featuring deep squats followed by high leaps that are excruciating on the legs — but exciting to watch.
The chandeliers are just one highlights of the stunningly elaborate set by Desmond Heeley. Heeley is also behind the opulent costumes, featuring golds, reds, creams and florals. Incredible jewels and epic feather hats are characters of their own.
The waltz is key to Franz Lehár’s score, which was stirred into life beautifully by conductor Simon Thew and Orchestra Victoria. The three-four tempo is the heartbeat of the last dance, in which Hanna and Danilo finally drop their games and let love win.
At the Arts Centre, Melbourne until June 16
Main image by Jeff Busby of Kirsty Martin and Artists of The Australian Ballet