Culture: Swan Lake at Bondi Icebergs

It’s one of my favourite locations and one of my favourite ballets, so I couldn’t resist posting these pictures of Australian Ballet dancers at Bondi Icebergs. The company took advantage of the weekly emptying of the iconic beach-side pool to celebrate the new season of Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake launching in February 2015.

65c00590-40e0-4e42-9284-a0d1c91f447e-320x480

Since the ballet’s premiere in 2002, the current version of Swan Lake has undoubtedly become the company’s masterpiece and has a recurring spot on the schedule to match. Having seen it for the first time in Melbourne last year, I fell instantly under Murphy’s spell. Over ten years on from its inception, I think it benefits from increased distance from its tabloid-worthy subject matter (it was originally inspired by the death of Princess Di) to explore more universal themes of love, deception and betrayal.

437c9da8-4448-41f3-99ed-d333b37200eb-620x413

df29857a-4faf-4e87-bf7e-b1f5c3f43fd4-620x372

f2862c75-9426-4afc-b3b0-124bc7b7df37-620x372

Whereas the traditional story sees the black swan Oldie tricking the unwitting prince into betraying Odette, in Murphy’s version, our prince is simply in love with two different women. Rather than casting the female leads as innocent and devious; black and white; they are both suffering from being in love with someone who hurts them – something that I think makes the story more complex and in a way, darker. I find the way the vampy Baroness becomes more vulnerable, while Odette takes on a harder edge towards the end of the ballet, particularly haunting, especially the expression of this through their evolving dancing styles and on-stage presence.

The other thing I love about this version is the clever, bold and quite modern connection between the choreography, score, costume and settings. There’s a scene where Odette is confined to an asylum. Devastated by grief, she becomes passive as people move around her and she stares lifelessly out into the woods outside. It’s here, in the distance, that her imagination is free. As we enter her mind, the walls of the asylum are wrenched away to reveal her swans dancing on an elevated mirror/lake. The movement of the sets with the dancing and musical crescendo come together in a really powerful way to represent how painful and maddening love can be – I defy anyone not to be moved by that at least.

Travel: A Weekend in Sydney

I think the measure of a great city is one that changes slightly with each visit. Sydney passes that test with ease, offering previously undiscovered treasures as well as a fresh perspective on those classic views for anyone willing to head off the tourist trail.

20140219-192718.jpg

Here are my top picks for cool things to do should you have a few days to spend in Sydney sometime soon.

Cockatoo Island

History geeks and ghost hunters alike will love exploring the bleak warehouses and creepy corners of Cockatoo Island. Sydney often feels like an extremely young city, but Cockatoo Island gives a rare glimpse of the desolate and deadly environment that would have greeted convicts arriving on her shores and the desperately harsh life they would have led.

20140219-193143.jpg

20140219-194453.jpg

A former convict prison camp turned ship building site, the island is dotted with colonial buildings and creepy WW2 tunnels. The best part is that you’re pretty much completely free to explore each building; walking around the old machinery and giving yourself the chills imagining all the lives lost over the years.

20140219-191944.jpg

If history and ghosts don’t appeal to you, the island happens to host one of the coolest bars in Sydney, where you can sip rum cocktails on a sun-lounger with a great view of the harbour in the distance. So there’s always that.

Porteño

It’s probably fair to say Porteño is having a bit of a moment. Part traditional South American BBQ joint, part 50s cocktail lounge, Porteño has the good fortune to be set around a beautiful indoor courtyard with a nostalgic, Mexican vibe. Plus the perfectly-quiffed rock-a-billy staff bring just enough retro-cool without being kitsch.

20140219-191902.jpg

Despite a long wait for a table when me and Alex went, we were happy to decamp to the bar upstairs, which serves a pretty decent whisky sour. From what I remember after drinking a fair few, the food was pretty good too. Luckily they sent us home with a doggy bag, as by that stage I wasn’t too much help at getting through the BBQ lamb and pork my husband ordered.

The Grounds at Alexandria

My favourite kind of places happen to be those that mix great architecture, design and foodie treats, so The Grounds at Alexandria is always on my list of favourite hang-outs. The kitchen garden and cute market stalls provide a great distraction while you’re waiting for a table in the converted former pie-factory inside.20140219-194521.jpg

Coffee lovers come here for the speciality roasts and space-age machinery but the food refuses to be overshadowed, with beautiful organic breakfasts and an incredible array of freshly baked breads, cakes and pastries.

Bronte and Manly Beaches

20140219-194534.jpg

You can’t visit Sydney and not hit the beach. Although not particularly visually appealing, I’ve always found the surf at Manly to be even and reliable and you can rent boards right off the beach. Meanwhile Bronte is one of the city’s most beautiful beaches and also has pretty sweet waves. If surf hopping isn’t your style, why not try Paddle Boarding at Rose Bay instead?20140219-191930.jpg

Honorary mentions:

I also love stuffing my face at Black Star Pastry and Belljar Coffee (both Newtown) and Adriano Zumbo’s cafes.