Melbourne ballet cognoscenti are treated to an intensely intimate performance as The Australian Ballet presents a long awaited fresh new season of Bodytorque.
With a chic foyer that serves champagne and popcorn, Transit Dance Theatre is an ideal venue, its comfortable raked seating offering perfect sight-lines beneath a towering industrial ceiling. Ever gracious Artistic Director David Hallberg welcomes the audience, describing the original choreography on show as the “seed of an idea being planted.”
A labour of abundant love, the generous program sees six original works performed by a mighty contingent of the company. An added bonus sees five of the six pieces accompanied by live music. Young maestro Alexander Rodrigues demonstrates the impressive breadth of his musical range, capably conducting an eclectic range of styles. (Meanwhile, Music Director Nicolette Fraillon proves a great sport, toiling in the music crew between numbers.)
Free of settings, the versatile black box space comes to life with the simple, yet highly effective, lighting design of Graham Silver.
While this new season of Bodytorque has been a long time coming, there is nonetheless a palpable sense of the current post-lockdown craving for connection. Tactile physical interaction surges through the works, with ever-dynamic changes in fluid combinations of genders.
As the house settles, Jill Ogai has five of her six dancers set the scene with a seemingly free form series in which one dancer leaves the pack and the other swiftly follow. in time begins with subtle long notes of tension-inducing music. In the absence of rhythm, and even occasionally in silence, the dancers miraculously synchronise with deft precision.
In the second half of the piece, Rosa Clifford’s abstract score cedes to the far more traditional classical music of Bach. The choreography that has been performed to near silence now has that familiar accompaniment that brings a distinct feeling of satisfying completion.
With his dancers in tight brief singlets, Mason Lovegrove highlights the intimacy of modern dance in comparison to the stiff tights and tutus of the classical repertoire. Six dancers yield myriad pairs, moving sinuously to a strikingly beautiful score by Tomas Parrish. In a memorable highlight, sparks fly as Brett Chynoweth and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson perform a sizzling pas de deux.
Given the title of ANGEL // ALIEN, the sudden appearance of Jarryd Madden after a midpoint blackout means he could be either one of these. As the piece comes to a close, Madden partners with Imogen Chapman in a wonderfully sensual pas de deux.
Xanthe Geeves takes her title Pura Vida from the Costa Rican expression for living life to the full. Physical closeness rises another notch in this piece, with a pair of proudly shirtless men joined by two briefly clad women. The quartet of dancers vibrantly conveys the joy of performing together, maintaining palpable warmth by keeping eye contact with each other as they dance.
Working with crisp precision, the two pairs create lovely symmetry; just as fabulous are the inventive pictures staged when the four dancers combine. Performed to the music of Boccherini, this classy and confident piece brings the first half of the program to a strong finish.
Timothy Coleman daringly breaks the mould of abstract modern dance by staging a gripping psychological thriller in One Person Watching. A down-to-earth couple, charmingly played by Coco Mathieson and Joseph Romancewicz, amuses the audience with their affectionate chatter, all the while watched by Callum Linnane from his neighbouring window.
Linnane summons a hefty corps of spirits who alternately support and torment his troubled character’s mind. May Lyon’s music supports a gentle freedom in the dance while providing a tense undertone, particularly from the highly expressive notes of the contrabassoon. Linnane concludes the piece with a dazzling solo as his character descends into frenzied madness.
Cleverly named, In Ex Celsius plays with the interplay of heat energy and kinetic motion. Crafting tight and precise choreography, Serena Graham keeps five pairs of dancers (or is that two sets of five dancers?) in constant motion. Neat black and white costumes add to the clean precision.
The hypnotic music of Ravel provides a driving accompaniment, the surge of momentum ever present as the dancers create crisp, visually arresting stage pictures. A particularly magnetic pairing is seen when Sharni Spencer is partnered by Hugo Dumapit.
The program concludes with an electric jolt of energy as Benjamin Garrett expresses the passionate emotions of his generation in KIDS THESE DAYS. Recorded music provides an infectious doof doof beat while flashing lights and masses of haze conjure a nightclub setting. Beginning in androgynous soft grey hoodies, the seven dancers soon peel off their tops to reveal torn black, white and blue undergarments that are personalised for each dancer to become part of their expression.
The exciting piece moves between individualised dance and highly synchronised sequences. A signature move is seen in incredibly fast spinning arms. After the outpouring of youthful energy, the piece ends with the haunting image of the full group frozen in silent screams.
The Bodytorque cast sheet can be viewed online.
Photos: Edita Knowler