The Australian Ballet: Icons review

The Australian Ballet bathes audiences in the warm and cosy glow of nostalgia in this guided trip down memory lane.

The posters, costumes and sets on display in the foyers of the arts centre are perfectly complemented by this living, breathing, dancing exhibition of the glorious 50 year history of The Australian Ballet. With favourite traditional full-length pieces having been restaged over the past couple of years, it is wonderful to see this uniquely home grown trio of works brought lovingly back to the stage.

The Display (1964) has a rather incredible synchronicity with the State Theatre, with its central male lyrebird character spreading its feathers in basically the same position as the revered display on the State Theatre curtain. Malcolm Williamson’s music begins with an evocative natural forest soundtrack followed by a dissonant stretch as the lyrebird struts and preens before settling into a more pleasant melodies as a group of boys and girls venture forth to enjoy the nature in Sherbrooke forest.

The ongoing connection between ballet and football is seen vividly here as the boys rough house about playing football as part of their display to attract the opposite sex. An involving narrative, created by choreographer Robert Helpmann, sees an outsider bullied and beaten before recovering and then committing his own act of violence against a female.

Jack Hersee performs the head and body movements of the lyrebird most naturally, creating a characterisation that is far more National Geographic than Disney. Kevin Jackson is distinctly convincing in showing the vulnerability and pain of the outsider. Andrew Killian captures the posing of the male leader and Madeleine Eastoe is an attractive and innocent female.

Backdrops by Sidney Nolan and original lighting by William Akers complete the piece as a living work of art.

Although almost 40 years old, Gemini (1973) has a timeless modern sensibility that could have been created in this or any year. Stripped of frills and layers, the pure physicality and beauty of the four lead dancers (three principal artists and one senior artist) can be fully appreciated. Each has a solo chance to shine, with the pas de deux building to some truly beautiful pictures from all four dancers. Lana Jones, Adam Bull, Amber Scott and Rudy Hawkes are more than evenly matched, complementing each other’s strength and grace to make the whole even greater than the contribution of each dancer.

Completing the night was Graham Murphy’s superb original work Beyond Twelve (1980), a piece that could have easily been set today. A male dancer at 12 is distracted from footy by the local dance troupe. At 18, love and lust are balanced as part of his dance training. At 30, he reflects on his journey and ponders the road to come.

A must see for any male dancer, or really for any dancer, Beyond Twelve is incredibly poignant, particularly when contrasting the three stages of development by having the three males dance together. Gentle, welcome humour draws the audience in to the nostalgic tale, and film-like devices allow a speed and depth to the storytelling.

Brett Chynoweth displays a cheeky energy as the twelve year old, Calvin Hannaford’s characteristic noble grace is perfect for the eighteen year old dancer and Andrew Killian embodies the full masculine development of the thirty year old, adding wistful notes of longing to his reflective journey.

Ravel’s music is a beautiful accompaniment to the piece. Alan Oldfield’s costume and set design pinpoint the piece as uniquely Australian.

Historical connections were further enhanced on opening night with original dancers/creative coming on stage for the curtain calls. The feeling of great affection and admiration for these artists from the audience was palpable. Program notes also dedicate the season to the great Kelvin Coe, original performer of the thirty year old in Beyond Twelve.

Photos: Jeff Busby

This review was published on Theatre People 31/8/2012

Categories: Dance, Reviews

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