45th Anniversary Season | The Australian Ballet SchoolJiri Kylian’s Polonaise. Photo - Sergey Konstantinov

2009 marks the 45th Anniversary of the Australian Ballet School. As the Director Marilyn Rowe notes, despite the fact that its “journey has been a relatively short one” in comparison with some of their European counterparts, they are continually looking toward and creating the future of dance. In celebration of this they have put together a show that not only demonstrates their technical brilliance but also, in collaboration with a selection of world-renowned artists, cements them as an esteemed school.

In the 45th Anniversary Season, The ABS presents a collection of works that pay homage to some of the most inventive choreographers and designers of their individual times, in a well-balanced combination of eras and moods.

It starts with Overture, a piece that showcases the entire school from levels one to seven, and features examples of their technical progression as a dancer. Choreographed by Leigh Rowles, Head of Student Training, the number of dancers on stage gives it an incredible visual power.

Next is Jabula, a work in which the costumes, lighting and dance create a world quite apart from any we have seen The ABS, and indeed most ballet companies, perform. The piece is set to the African style music made famous by the film The Power of One (Hans Zimmer, Lebo Morake and Johnny Clegg). It is a risky choice considering that it is used so often as an emotive soundtrack, but in combination with the twelve dancers, it conjures up a distinct mood that is primal, tender and joyful, and one in which it is impossible not to be swept away.

Natalie Weir, Australian choreographer and Artistic Director of Expressions Dance Company, has created grounded, tribal movements for the six couples, yet many of the movements involve the intricate entwining, and precise navigation of each other’s bodies. Weir has also created costumes of flowing pants that complement the dancers’ forms whilst displaying their natural strength in their torsos. Under the tasteful warmth and shadows of David Whitworth’s lighting, the dancers take on various ochre shades that match the earth and sky against which they dance.

Calvin Hannaford is brilliant in his solo but this is a piece that requires from its dancers soul and raw physicality as well as technique, and for an embodiment of this, whether dancing the pas de deux with Jessica Fyfe or leading the rest of the dancers, one can’t go past Dimitri Kleioris.

Comparatively traditional is the Australian premiere of Divertimento No. 15, a work by notable Russian choreographer George Balanchine. Visually it is beautiful: the tutus (pale blue, yellow and silver) have been painstakingly made by Holly Hynes and The Australian Ballet to re-construct the original costumes designed by Karinska for this piece some fifty years ago. The movements are rather repetitive but Ako Kondo and Lori Araya are delightful and inject in this piece great personality.

The third act as it were, is the Kylian Study, a collection of four works by the Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian. The first, Symphony in D – 1st Movement is a work reflective of Kylian’s circus and acrobatic beginnings. With the boys in blue and the girls in pink comes a lovely piece that is comical and original. It is a much needed change of pace and mood, with a couple of particularly clever moves in which the male dancers carry the female dancer on their swinging feet.

The final work by Kylian, staged by Arlette van Boven, is the finale, Piece d’occasion – Polonaise. If the dancers had a carnivale, an after-party, or a New Years celebration, this would be it. The stage and the dancers have been stripped of most of their adornments, the backdrop has been removed and the stage is black. Fifty or so dancers flood the stage, running in from every direction. They are in a dishevelled state of undress, and dress-ups, with their hair teased high and both the male and female dancers wearing bright red, bunched skirts, designed by Joke Visser. Perhaps it’s the sudden bright lights or the mass of dancers, but there are moments where it shares some traits recognisable in a less professional production like that of Rock Eisteddfod. Despite this, it is a remarkably energetic and refreshing experience, for its audience and evidently for its dancers.

Amidst the music of Tchaikovsky there are the distant sounds of fireworks. Finally the dancers fall in an exhausted and deliriously happy heap, a waterfall of golden sparklers falling behind them. In a sense this party style dance is a very fitting conclusion to show. It is indeed a celebration of what has been for the last forty-five years but even more so, a celebration of what is to come.


The Australian Ballet School presents
45th Anniversary Season

Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates/Times: Friday 20 November @ 7.30pm; Saturday 21 November @ 1.30pm & 7.30pm
Tickets: Adults $55, Concession $50
Bookings: 1300 182 183 | www.theartscentre.com.au