Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School’s annual major dance season, a lovingly curated mixed program entitled Serenade, capably demonstrates the depth of talent and the breadth of curriculum at the school.
Presented over four performances at the Malthouse Theatre, the season is as professionally staged as it is highly entertaining. With a series of short works before a climactic Balanchine piece, the program draws strong parallels to the most recent presentation by The Australian Ballet; the point of difference here is the wider variety of styles performed by the VCASS students.
The program begins with VCASS Ballet Coordinator Maggie Lorraine’s 2015 work Les Voyageux, a vibrant major piece that infuses classical ballet with elements of contemporary dance. Dressed in bright orange sherbet dancewear, the large cast performs with dazzling precision through five movements of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Tim Newman’s lighting creates a dynamic checkerboard layout that continually draws the eye as young dancers are shown moving through increasingly complex levels of dance as they journey through the school. An all too brief massed moment provides a fitting finale.
Demonstrating faith in their students’ talents, the program includes Breathing In, choreographed by current year 11 students Amy Lim and Ziggy Debrincat. Working as one, seven dancers in filmy, flesh coloured outfits perform rapid-fire movements with tight discipline. The dancers are largely choreographed in unison, but having them face in different directions creates a striking effect. The accompanying musical track creates a stereo effect of inhalations of breath, which is taken over by the dancers when they form a massed unit and take a distinctly audible combined breath in the final moment.
There is a lovely balance to Doubt, in which a pair of VCASS alumni on piano (Olga Polyetayeva) and cello (Joseph Kelly) play a Debussy sonata while current students Lily Sherlock and Eden Kew dance this excerpt from Jonathan Taylor’s Of Equals. Sherlock’s fiery red dress could signify confidence, but her well-calibrated performance clearly conveys the character’s doubt of her male partner.
Enraptor is an exhilarating major piece for the school’s junior dancers. Isaac Lummis’ black skintight costumes with splashes of metallic green and gold create a Cirque du Soleil vibe for this acrobatic contemporary work. Dappled light suggests a jungle in which a playful species thrives. Dancers in yellow high-vis vests portray a ruthless work crew who move through the jungle chasing and clearing out the wildlife. The final moment shows one last group of the exotic creatures, giving the positive message of hope that the species will ultimately survive.
The first half of the program concludes on a dazzling high, as senior students channel the glamour and drive of Hollywood in Ambition. Choreographed by faculty member Tanya Mitford, this piece of pure entertainment is a joy to watch. With the boys in midnight blue and the girls in fresh spring tones, there is a sense of a Technicolor musical movie come to life on stage. Dancing to selections from La La Land and The Boy From Oz, the company chases the allure of the spotlight. Moving on to a Fosse-inspired sequence, costumes change to black, and the action builds to a fabulous chorus line of Rockettes. The full company returns to coloured costumes for a dazzling finale set to La La Land’s infectious opener, “Another Day of Sun.”
After interval, VCASS Contemporary Coordinator Steven McTaggart presents his new contemporary work, Fold. McTaggart has generously shared choreography credit with students; their work can be seen in the multiple pockets of small group dance occurring simultaneously about the stage. Attired in steely greys, purples, crimsons and teals, the dancers reach a level of discipline that allows their performances to seem spontaneous and organically inspired.
A work of serene beauty, George Balanchine’s 1934 ballet Serenade was choreographed on students of the School of American Ballet. While this background makes the piece a highly appropriate choice for this program, there were clearly far less boys in ballet 80 years ago.
The female corps de ballet projects an ethereal beauty in gossamer ankle-length skirts over the palest of pale blue leotards. Under the direction of Eve Lawson, the company works with delicate grace to achieve Balanchine’s immaculate symmetry.
Laura Ruether, as the late arrival, is part of a very well matched trio of lead female dancers that also includes Holly Frick and Lily Folpp. As the lone male dancer for much of the piece, Nathan Pavey, an elegant, yet masculine, dancer, avoids the temptation to be showy by adopting a highly supportive presence. The strong male support continues with a focused performance from Samuel Winkler.
Dancing with Pavey, Ruether beams with an air of gentle radiance. Ruether performs a stunning fall, in which she deftly flicks her hair out of its bun, and also impresses with her extraordinary balance as she is carried out in the ballet’s final moment.
Serenade was reviewed 7.30 Friday 8 September 2017. The sold-out season continues at 2pm and 7.30pm Saturday 9 September 2017.