Swan Lake – Colin Peasley and Rachel Rawlins and Colin Peasley farewell performances
Sydney, Opera House.
19 December 2012
Colin Peasley interview (2012)
Rachel Rawlins interview (2012)
Rachel Rawlins showed us last night how much we will miss her.
There were no tears, no jitters and no faltering in her farewell, just an exquisite and no-holds-barred performance by a dancer who ended her 21-year career on the final night of the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary year at the Sydney Opera House.
In a sold-out season of 22 performances of Stephen Baynes’ Swan Lake, Rawlins was one of six principals dancing the role of Odette-Odile, but she was cast in only two shows, with the first a matinee last Saturday.
Which made her farewell all the more remarkable, for the confidence, élan and relish she brought to her performance, for her tenderness as Odette, and the brilliance of her Odile. She tore into the fouettés with no apparent hesitation, pulling off doubles with a ‘take that’ look in her eyes and victorious smile.
Rawlins, 39, shared the numerous curtain calls with Colin Peasley, who must surely have broken some records for the longest full-time dancing career with one ballet company in history.
His first appearance with the Australian Ballet was in Swan Lake (staged by Peggy van Praagh) in November 1962. (That was a year before the current artistic director, David McAllister, was born). By chance, Peasley’s last appearance, 50 years later, was also in Swan Lake, in a character role (the husband of Siegfried’s Nurse), in Baynes’ new production.
Rawlins joined the Australian Ballet in 1991 and, with her then partner, Nigel Burley, moved to London to join the Royal Ballet in 1999. But after two years they returned to the Australian Ballet with Burley as a principal and Rawlins a senior artist, then principal in 2004. Only three other dancers who were principals, senior artists or soloists at the time remain in the company – Lucinda Dunn, Olivia Bell and Madeleine Eastoe.
The Australian Ballet is a company of young dancers, which means there are very few character dancers such as Peasley, whose ability to portray many characters, from Dr Coppelius to Baron Zeta, was clear from the start. He was cast as Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker in 1963 and as the Master of Ceremonies in Aurora’s Wedding in 1964. At the time he was the company’s oldest member of the corps de ballet having joined the Australian Ballet at its inception, aged 27.
Peasley had taken the scenic road to ballet. Not for him the direct journey of childhood classes, teenage training and a corps de ballet contract. Instead Peasley was an exhibition ballroom dancer, studied contemporary dance, learned tap and acrobatics then graduated to jazz. At the age of 21, wearing a pair of shorts, he took his first ballet class from the Sydney teacher, the late Valrene Tweedie, who had danced with Col de Basil’s Ballets Russes. Once he found his calling, Peasley stayed with it. How he stayed.
It’s hard to know who will replace him in such roles as Dr Coppelius, Baron Zeta in The Merry Widow, the Widow Simone in La fille mal gardée and Gamache in Don Quixote. But perhaps his place will be taken initially by Steven Heathcote, who will play the role of the Don in Don Quixote for the Australian Ballet’s 2013 season.
But Peasley may yet return to the stage for a guest performance now and then. Will he be able to resist the chance to reprise one of his favourite roles, Madge in La Sylphide, due to return to the Australian Ballet repertoire in August next year?