Celebrating the glorious past and looking firmly toward the future, The Australian Ballet School marked the truly landmark occasion of their fiftieth anniversary with a wonderful evening of ceremony and celebration.
Concluding her remarkable 16-year tenure as Director, Marilyn Rowe has the distinction of being part of the entire 50-year history of the School, having started there as a student in 1964. What a thrill for Rowe to see all the success that has been achieved, and what a thrill for the audience to have a chance to see Rowe dance again.
Chairman of the Board Leigh Johns opened the night, and introduced a new short film that paid homage to the three outstanding women who have guided the School over its 50 years of operation: Founding Director Dame Margaret Scott, Director Gailene Stock and Rowe. Of particular significance was a comment by Scott regarding the School’s origins: Australia’s ballet schools used to work towards students achieving scholarships to train overseas, a trend Scott wished to reverse by having the dancers train here. To say that this wish has been fruitfully achieved is an understatement.
A Fanfare saw a procession of all current students, joined by past students now in the Australian Ballet as well as past students now retired. The epic assembly was capped off by the presence of Scott herself, a glittering gold cane the only concession to her age.
The major classical presentation of the evening was George Balanchine’s exquisite Raymonda Variations. Danced entirely by students, the strength and grace on display in Victoria Simon’s restaging of this pure piece of classical ballet indicated how well prepared graduating students are to move forward with their professional careers. The quality was completed by the recreation of Barbara Karinska’s original costumes, which featured heavenly shades of pale pink and ice blue. Principals Atau Watanabe and Callum Linnane exhibited the poise and polish of highly accomplished dancers, working together with notable synergy in their grand pas de deux.
The third section of the night brought together an eclectic mix of styles and featured some high profile guest dancers. Current stars of The Australian Ballet Adam Bull and Amber Scott joined a phalanx of some 14 male dancers for Paul Knobloch’s witty delight Valetta. Rowe herself surprised the crowd as the opening dancer for Areti Boyaci’s Soleá Por Bulería. Looking fit and eternally youthful in a stunning red flamenco dress, Rowe proved she still has “it.” Teachers Simon Dow, Joanne Michel and Lynette Wills also joined a selection of students for the lively sequence, which featured vocals by Lucía Leiva, and Werner Neumann on flamenco guitar.
Three works by Jiri Kylián completed the program, all performed exclusively by the students. Dream Dances began with a gorgeous pas de deux from Elise Jacques and Yipeng Xu, before Linnane again proved his power and flair in a thrilling solo. Chantelle van der Hoek and David Power next performed a cheeky pas de deux, which ended on a surprising upside down lift that drew appreciative gasps from the crowd. Evening Songs brought a change of pace as the dancers performed Kylián’s fluid, gentle choreography to the dreamy music of Dvořák. The grand finale was Piece d’occasion – Polonaise from Arcimboldo, a massed item from the entire company of Levels 6 to 8 students. Dressed in Joke Visser’s voluptuous, fiery red costumes, the dancers created physical fireworks before the climax showered the stage with a rain of actual golden sparks.
The highly memorable evening left no doubt that ballet in Australia is in a supremely healthy state, and should continue to be so for the decades to come.
The Australian Ballet School 50th Anniversary Gala took place at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne on 27 September 2014.