The Australian Ballet School: Summer Season with Butterfly 2022 review

Having endured three years of various levels of frustrating interruptions, The Australian Ballet School emerges from their cocoon to present a generous, varied program centred upon their charming full-length ballet, Butterfly

Supported by her extremely capable and dedicated staff, director Lisa Pavane showcases a student body of impressive depth of talent. A clear feature of the quality of the dancers’ work is the pleasing uniformity of their style, dancing as one to create a greater whole. Every aspect of performance is finished with polish, from centre stage work to gracious entrances and exits and neatly coordinated curtain calls. 

The first act features a cavalcade of dance entertainment as five uniquely entertaining pieces play out in brisk succession.

Level 5 students present a distinctly classical beginning with The Jewellery Box. Sporting stiff horizontal dark green tutus, the 12 girls look every bit the precise, elegant toy ballerinas of a child’s jewellery box. With the support of three expressive and adaptable boys, the troupe performs Paul Knobloch’s choreography with elegance and grace. The work is strong on symmetry, which is seen at its best with the precision of the performances. 

In an extended sequence, 20 Level 8 students perform a compelling series of Latin combinations in El Tango, choreographed with classical undertones by Stephen Baynes. Against a rich red background, various combinations of girls in red and boys in black dance with sleek sensuality and hearty passion. 

The trio of Joshua Ballinger, Benjamin Cartwright, and Matthew Solovieff is a sharp, fiery highlight. In a central pas de deux, mature pair Charlotte Stratton-Smith and William Humphries light up the stage with their tightly controlled physical expression. 

In the program’s most unique piece, level 6 students provide their own beats as they dance the entirety of π (Pi) without recorded musical accompaniment. Knocking and patting, clapping and clicking, sighing and shouting, the 19 dancers create mesmerising patterns, often bringing to mind the workings of a great machine. Tightly drilling their dancers, choreographers Lucas Jervies and Oliver Northam deliver crisp unison work as well as elegantly flowing canons, making for a very satisfying viewing experience.

Choreographer Simon Dow gently pokes fun at classical tropes in Wolfgang Dance, in which nine bewigged Level 4 and 5 students dance to the well worn classical strains of Mozart. In this pacy, adorable piece, a series of comical “errors” lead to petulant “tantrums” as the dancers colour their work with cheeky personality. 

In Memory of The Moment

Act one concludes with serious ensemble piece In Memory of The Moment, choreographed by Knobloch. Dressed in sleek black unitards with dark bronze highlights, a mighty contingent of 30 Level 7 students creates a hypnotic effect with constant fluid motion. An abstract piece, there is nonetheless a strong sense of purpose, with additional intrigue coming from the choice of music by composer Ludovico Enaudi. 

In Memory of The Moment

As charming as it is characterful, original full length ballet Butterfly is the sort of inventive, engaging work that any company would be proud to have in their repertoire. 

Choreographed by Jervies, the concept for Butterfly not only for allows for wonderful dance and gorgeous costumes, it also works perfectly with existing ballet score Le Papillon by Offenbach. 

As the scenario unfolds in swift style, well-meaning teacher Ms Puttyfoot (Franco Leo) frazzles down to her very last nerve as she corrals her restlessly rowdy high school class on excursion. Having learnt about metamorphosis, when not battling and ballyhooing, the class soon boards a W-class tram bound for the butterfly enclosure at the zoo. 

In the combat zone of the schoolyard, new girl Sophie does not stand much of a chance against the existing pecking order. Fortunately, she soon catches the eye of young Jack, who is keen to both impress and protect Sophie. 

Working with a bumper cast, Jervies delivers two forms of characterful choreography, with delightfully elegant butterflies neatly contrasting the amusingly querulous kids. The ample talents of both sets of corps are well catered for, and the combined magnitude of the full cast on stage for the bows is really a sight to behold. 

With beautiful wings adorning their crisp tutus, the costumes of the female corps butterflies are an ingenious highlight of Hugh Colman’s design. Scenic design is relatively simple yet provides plenty of visual appeal.

Much as the two sets of corps have their own choreography, so too do the two sets of leads. In act one, Sophie (Sophie Burke) and new prospective beau Jack (Matthew Solovieff) dance a lively pas de deux that fully exudes their perky, playful personalities. In act two, when Jack has magically metamorphosed to a handsome butterfly, danced by Hugo Dumapit, he partners Amy Ronnfeldt as Monarch Butterfly in a vibrant grand pas de deux

Filling in for an injured student, Dumapit returns to the Australian Ballet School for this season thanks to the cooperation of his new home at The Australian Ballet. Dumapit is a strong partner to the lovely Ronnfeldt, and also impresses memorably in a spirited solo sequence. 

Endearing character work abounds in act two, with the adorable Pink Butterfly (Evangeline Beal-Attwood) and elegant Blue Butterfly (Indiana Scott) joined by the dynamic duo of the Mantis Guards (Charlton Tough, Jeremy Hargreaves). Another highlight comes with the arrival of Queen Bee, delightfully performed with magnetic presence and expressive physicality by Sophie Wormald. 

As a bellwether for the future of ballet, Summer Season with Butterfly inspires every confidence.

Summer Season with Butterfly by The Australian Ballet School plays at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 10 December 2022. For tickets, click here.

Photos: Sergey Konstantinov

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