Dance

The Australian Ballet: Instruments of Dance review

In their sole triple bill for 2022, The Australian Ballet confidently blends modern dance with classical undertones in fresh, invigorating program Instruments of Dance

Everywhere We Go

In his (now traditional) opening night pre-curtain address, artistic director David Hallberg draws attention to the fact that all six of the composers and choreographers whose art is on show in Instruments of Dance are living. This is a reflection of dance as a living art form, one that the company keeps “bubbling and percolating” along. 

In the Australian premiere of Wayne McGregor’s 2016 work Obsidian Tear, the curtain opens on a lone pair of men in what appears to be a barren landscape. An extended pas de deux sees Callum Linnane, in black, drawn to Adam Elmes, in red. The pair conveys detailed physical expression as they dance in fluid abstract style to the compelling solo violin accompaniment of Orchestra Victoria’s concertmaster Sulki Yu.

Obsidian Tear

The dramatic instrumental accompaniment expands in scope as the music moves from “Lachen Verlernt” to second Esa-Pekka Salonen piece, “Nyx.” The opening pair is eventually joined by the full complement of nine male dancers, who inventively move in and out of synchronisation in varying combinations as the music increases in intensity. Fashion Director Kate Shillingford dresses eight of the men in strikingly individual black outfits, denoting Elmes’ figure in red as something of an outsider to the tribe. 

Obsidian Tear

There is minimal pairing of men; rather, the men work chiefly as a group, influencing, observing and reacting with each other. In his program notes, McGregor refers to Salonen’s music premiering at a time when ISIS was throwing gay men off buildings, a concept that is referenced as Obsidian Tear reaches its climax.

Amongst the community of men, principal artist Adam Bull readily carries an elder statesman vibe, which is as much related to his physical stature as to his vast dance experience. Corps de ballet member Elmes makes a highly memorable impact, and Linnane, still only in his first year as principal artist, thrills again with his trademark blend of passionate intensity and compelling physical expression. 

Obsidian Tear

The world premiere of new Alice Topp work Annealing also begins with a lone pair, in this case a fluidly gracious pas de deux from treasured principal artists Amy Harris and Bull. Reflecting the metallic context of the term “annealing,” Harris shimmers in dark flowing silver as Topp has the pair create sparks with constant physical contact. 

In the second movement, Elmes and fellow corps member Samara Merrick sport golden suits, again dancing in a style that suggest a sense of frictional force against one another. The stage is soon filled by a mighty ensemble of gold-clad dancers, swiftly arranging themselves in neat rows, like the crystals in annealed metal. 

Annealing

Fully strengthened, the full company appears for only a relatively brief time, the  ensemble yielding the stage to principal artists Dimity Azoury and Linnane, This talented pair of characterful dancers all but disappear into Topp’s final sweetly subtle and supportive pas de deux.

Annealing

Throughout Annealing, the purpose-written score of Bryony Marks is a delight to hear, bubbling and pulsing along with just the gentlest sense of urgency. 

The stage flanked on three sides by giant floating perspex rectangles, Topp once again demonstrates that her vision as a choreographer extends well beyond the dance itself. Prolific stage designer Jon Buswell contributes the grand construct, achieving additional striking effect by lighting the blocks from within.

Annealing

The evening concludes on a merry high with Justin Peck’s 2014 hit Everywhere We Go. Not just making its Australian debut, the season is distinguished in that The Australian Ballet is the first company outside of New York City Ballet to perform the terrific work.

A distinctly vibrant piece that keeps a company of 25 dancers very well occupied, the combination of up tempo music and sunny staging indirectly brings to mind hit 2016 movie musical La La Land. Composer Sufjan Stevens delivers a truly delightful score that could readily stand alone in a concert performance, especially as played with such deft precision by Orchestra Victoria under the nimble baton of conductor Daniel Capps. Equally adroit is the playing of Duncan Salton, giving a sumptuous featured performance on grand piano. 

Costume designer Jamie Taylor outfits the men in two-tone grey and the women in breezy marine stripes, supporting the tight precision required with this set of very uniform costumes. Additional visual appeal comes from Karl Jensen’s set design, in which a full height pair of backcloths punctuate the range of nine segments with fascinating backlit geometric patterns. 

Peck maintains a breathless sense of movement and purpose, keeping the dancers in almost constant flight until they all come to rest at ground level as the ballet reaches its satisfying conclusion. Working with supreme confidence in dance vocabulary, Peck effortlessly underpins the modern styling with classical technique, with a particular focus on the featherlight elegant of pointe work. 

Standing out in the tight ensemble piece are superlative principal artist duo Benedicte Bemet and Brett Chynoweth, proving that they are equally at ease with cheerfully sunny dance as with soulful anguish. Chynoweth goes on to seize the opportunity to impress with some superlative solo work. 

Lovers of dance will find much to enjoy in this cannily curated program. As a barometer of the depth of strength in all ranks, Instruments of Dance allows the dancers to shine in their own right, giving a wonderful indication of the sterling success of the current direction of the company. 

Instruments of Dance plays at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 1 October 2022. For tickets, click here.

Instruments of Dance plays at Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House 10 – 26 November 2022. For tickets, click here.

The Instruments of Dance Melbourne cast sheet can be read online.

Photos: Jeff Busby

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