Arts Centre, Melbourne.
9 September 2018.
School showcases don’t get much slicker than this; yet, for all the production value and rigorous attention to detail, The Australian Ballet School’s 2018 showcase event was much like any other school concert. The auditorium was full of mums, dads, siblings and “besties”, and the atmosphere was one of excitement, apprehension and pride. Furthermore, the action on stage was driven by forces other than the purely performative, for this event is part theatre, part examination and, to be fair, partly about participating.
However, having said all that, Showcase 2018 makes one thing abundantly clear: the future of classical ballet in this country is in very capable hands. Sure, the students’ imperfections are clear to see (the timing out here and there, lines not quite right, the occasional over balance), and for much of the two-hour performance, there was a distinct lack of emotional intensity, but these dancers are teenagers and for all their inexperience, their prowess is exemplary. Indeed, the final two pieces, featuring the top two year levels, were genuinely absorbing and beautifully executed short works.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the exercise is the respect shown by the teachers and choreographers who put Showcase 2018 together. Despite the core realities involved in working within a school context, they clearly refused to water anything down. The intricacy, complexity and level of technicality are genuinely testing and, indeed, honours the traditions of the form.
For an outsider, though, there is obviously less to enjoy than there is for the loved ones. Mostly, we get the usual ballet tricks. At times, the stage looks like a swan colony, all twirling tutus on pointe. Either that or boys in tights leaping around like Nureyev mimics. However, of the nine vignettes, three depart from the Belle Epoque template and offer us a glimpse of ballet’s potential to extricate itself from European fairy tales and offer us a more youthful reiteration of its cherished grammar.
So, why would anyone not related by blood or friendship go and see this year’s Australian Ballet School kids spin through their routines? Because, aside from the obvious limitations imposed by inexperience and the “show and tell” effect of the programme’s structure, there is beauty and promise and the unmistakable, almost hormonal, electricity of the young. It is, after all, the future we’re watching. For a jaded hack like yours truly, there is something quite humbling and palpably touching about being in the presence of such abundance.
By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.