By Rain Francis.
June 9, 2012
The best dance companies from all over the country assembled at Arts Centre Melbourne for The Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary gala, and it was an absolute treat. The variety of offerings truly showcased the depth and breadth of artistry nationwide; there really was something for every audience member – unless your thing is tutus, because there wasn’t one in sight.
The evening kicked off with the West Australian Ballet’s, Ombra Leggera, choreographed by Artistic Director Ivan Cavallari. It was performed by Daryl Brandwood and Andre Santos, two very different dancers who worked together beautifully. Quick, playful and a bit cheeky, this light-hearted duet was a superb display of technique.
By contrast, Don’t by Brisbane’s Expressions Dance Company was dark and powerful; an “exploration of the emotional power of words”. Dramatically lit and costumed in monochrome, it depicted three couples and their struggles to communicate. From the opening solo under a dappled spotlight, to the electrifying partner work, Don’t was engaging from start to finish.
Tasdance presented a short film, Momentary by choreographer Anna Smith. I was excited to see this offering from our friends across the Strait, although this perhaps wasn’t the best setting for the film. It was hypnotic and mysterious, but I think some quality was lost somewhere along the way – projecting onto the big screen did not seem to do it any justice.
Unsurprisingly, it was Australian Dance Theatre that brought the most innovative present to the party. They performed an excerpt of Be Your Self – an exploration of the human body and the concept of the ‘self’. Whatever combination of methodologies they are getting into over in Adelaide these days, it is a winning one – these performers are verging on superhuman. Having now seen two excerpts of this incredible work on the State Theatre stage, I hope Melbourne will be honoured with the full shebang sometime soon.
Dancenorth presented a brand new work, Fugue, choreographed by Artistic Director Raewyn Hill. Inspired by Spanish bullfighting and the “dancing plague” of 1518 (where people allegedly danced themselves to death), Hill set out to “embody both a feeling of relentless and a communal experience.” This was achieved through the use of unison; the cast of eight moved in a constant swarm – which is no mean feat, especially in a piece so athletically challenging. The Sass & Bide costuming, although glamorous, seemed to swallow the dancers up and detracted from the intricacy of the movement. Ravel’s masterpiece Bolero, with its gradually building energy and repetitive structure was a fine choice to express the themes of the dance.
Another high point of the evening was Queensland Ballet’s excerpts from Cloudland, choreographed by Artistic Director Francois Klaus. The two pas de deux were performed flawlessly by Rachael Walsh and Keian Langdon, to Almost Like Being in Love and No Moon At All. Normally not a fan of choreography to music with lyrics, I was not bothered in this case, perhaps because I was swept up in the romance and pure beauty of the dance.
An excerpt from Rafael Bonachela’s 2 One Another, Sydney Dance Company’s contribution to the programme was, as expected, technically exquisite. The work explored human interaction, although the stimulus had been abstracted to a point where this fact became largely unrecognisable. Still, the combination of phenomenal dancers, innovative choreography, powerful music and beautiful costumes, lighting and staging made this another winner from Sydney Dance Company.
Tim Harbour’s new work for The Australian Ballet, Sweedeedee, painted a sentimental picture of a family. It was performed with grace and charm by beloved former Principal Artists, Justine Summers and Stephen Heathcote, as well as two Australian Ballet School students, Lennox Niven and Mia Heathcote, Stephen’s daughter. The stage was set (by Benjamin Cisterne) with an oversized washing line complete with white sheets, which were worked effectively into the choreography. Harbour’s movement in this piece was refreshingly uncomplicated, with clean lines and a gentle pace. Funny, sad and sweet, the stories it told were enriched by folk songs played live, with the Musical Direction of Chong Lim. Lexi George’s costumes were a standout, as was the magnificent lighting by Cisterne.
In his programme note, Artistic Director David McAllister cited David Bowie as the inspiration for the naming of this gala. Let’s Dance confirmed that dance is very much alive and well in this country. And judging by the spectrum of creativity and skill in the industry, it seems that Australian dance is set, like Mr. Bowie, to continue to reinvent itself, and only get better with age.
Top photo: Sydney Dance Company presents 2 One Another.