The Melbourne City Ballet has just opened its 2017 Contemporary Season, ECHO, at Chapel off Chapel in Prahran. Running through this weekend company artists and the MCB training program’s pre-professional dancers join together to deliver the works of five resident and emerging choreographers. Artistic Director Michael Pappalardo makes note in the program that many classical ballet dancers (as MCB is a touring classically focused company) often find it challenging to “cast off their pointe shoes” and take on movement that doesn’t fit within the classical technique. I’m taking the opportunity to join Pappalardo in assuring audiences that the company has tackled this challenge with a fair deal of success.
The first act offers two interpretations of energy and motion. In Catalyst, the inspiration from chemical reactions was vivid and engaging. It was particularly impressive how Pappalardo (choreographer) played with repeating and building on reacting movements – the extension and curving of legs, arms and torsos, once joined together, still being impacted by that connection from across the stage. Dark lighting and wet hair give the effect of sitting at the side of a petri dish, watching a dance happen at the cellular level.
Inertia also offers perfectly presented dancers, however they seemed to lack a bit of the title force. As this was the opening piece on opening night, I believe that the dancers should and would be gaining some momentum from the continued success of this beautiful showcase. The piece would benefit from tossing aside a bit of precision for the sake of passion, so that the driving, continuous force behind it can be seen more clearly.
In the second act the themes are far more poetic. We begin in a dream… Is it the first dancer’s dream? Are the others characters present only in her own mind, or are we witnessing the dancers dream together? Does it matter? The laws of reality (the science examined before intermission) are challenged here, much as in the realm of dreams, boldly and beautifully. The designers of this piece thankfully chose not to rely on a fog machine to create a dream-like look to the stage. The dancers do so perfectly well through their movement and hypnotic expressions (as well as very tastefully dark lighting that leaves the viewer sometimes wondering what is being seen and what might be there just beyond the line of sight).
Seen before at Sydney Fringe Festival (and hopefully to be seen by audiences again and again), Yuiko Masukawa‘s Signal explores her Japanese heritage and how her ancestors have seen change as a welcome and expected constant in life. The music and movement fit each other beautifully and even in moments of near stillness this is a truly engaging creation. Perhaps most notable is how well this piece can be described by the term “contemporary ballet.” I’m sure even Balanchine himself would be pleased to see how Masukawa’s dance seamlessly blends classical movement into the contemporary (read: “the way it is today”) style and aesthetic.
Cursive, the closing piece, certainly conjures the imagery of cascading handwriting. As noted in the program, the loops and swirls, even the occasional sharp edge, were explored to excellent effect by the movements and the dancers’ execution of the choreography. The audience was also gifted a visual of the fluidity and precision in the muscles of the dancers’ bodies – the finely tuned instruments used to present this art form. This piece was extremely visual, not offering any real stimulus for questions of “Why?” and “What does it mean?”, but perhaps these things need not always be present. It is still enjoyable to watch a very pretty thing be a very pretty thing.
If you are the sort of person who enjoys dance (or think you might enjoy it), you should take the opportunity to wander off of Chapel St this weekend and see what MCB has brought to this intimate stage space. It really is quite a lovely show. Watch these dancers manipulate their own bodies and your imagination. Support the arts. By filling these few small seats we encourage and empower these dancers to find their voice, to let that voice grow to produce a beautiful ECHO.
Melbourne City Ballet presents
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel 4-6 Little Chapel Street Prahran, VIC
Dates: 4 – 8 May 2017