Spectacular organ playing and dynamic choreography had audience members nearly dancing in the aisles.

St George’s Cathedral, Perth
March 10, 2015

It was said that JS Bach’s feet moved more swiftly over the organ pedals than many players’ fingers over the keyboards. Indeed, his music is predicated as much on the vitality of dance as it is on the complex development of a particular theme or motif, and there are few better ways to celebrate Bach’s titanic terpsichorean technique than to choreograph it.

Well, almost. This splendid opening concert in St. George’s Cathedral’s 2015 concert series saw the West Australian Ballet return to this sacred space in triumph after nearly six years (can it really have been that long since 2009’s Mozart-inspired Lacrimosa?) for four dances, the outer two for soloists and corp, the inner two, pas de deux.

But it was the sacrilegiously demonic playing of cathedral organist and master of choristers Joseph Nolan which almost stole the show from the start. Seated before the cathedral’s mammoth west organ, he opened the concert with a D minor Toccata and Fugue of such ferocious beauty that one wondered whether, as Blake said of Milton, he “was one of the devil’s party without knowing it”.

A hard act to follow, maybe. But the colourfully-clad WA Ballet pulled it off with a playful, disciplined account of Daniel Roberts’ exuberantly neoclassical We’ll move you. The music? Vivaldi’s Summer from the Four Seasons, in an engaging if not always stylistically satisfying performance by young violinists William Huxtable and Freya Swarbrick. Nolan provided the harpsichord accompaniment with his usual panache.

Its evil twin was the final work of the evening, Andre Santos’ darkly bright In Black, in which a black-clad ensemble sometimes subtly, sometimes violently fragmented into various groupings as Nolan inexorably worked his way through Bach’s brooding masterpiece, the C minor Passacaglia and Fugue.

The short intervening dance works – Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s La Pluie danced by company ballet mistress Sandy Delasalle and Matthew Lehmann and Jayne Smeulders’ Rendez-vous danced by company artistic director Aurlelien Scannella and Sarah Hepburn – gracefully articulated Bach’s Goldberg Aria and Air on a G string respectively, as did violinists Huxtable and Swarbrick Bach’s D minor concerto for two violins in a non-dance prelude to In Black.