Left – Andrew Killian, Ako Kondo, Brett Simon. Cover – Callum Linnane, Coco Mathieson. Photos – Jeff Busby
Ballet audiences are normally a comparatively reserved crew, but there is a boisterous energy in the auditorium during Verve. The audience has good reason to be excitable: this showcase of contemporary ballets by The Australian Ballet’s homegrown choreographers is a blast of energy and talent.
The first piece, Constant Variations, is from Stephen Baynes, a longtime choreographer with the company. A neo-classical piece, set to a remarkably baroque Tchaikovsky score (Variations on a Rococo Theme), it evokes the ambience of a monumental art gallery. The set is made of giant fractured portrait frames, before which dancers stride with measured steps. Flights in the music bring on flurries of passion in the dance, reaching crescendo points which then freeze in still tableaux, so that each movement seems to represent the captured emotion in a painting. The air is dreamlike and the music exquisite. Cello soloist Teije Hylkema gets particularly enthusiastic applause.
Next is Aurum from Alice Topp. Comparatively new to choreography, and still working as a dancer with the company, Topp created the astounding Little Atlas last year and with Aurum proves again she is a fierce talent. The piece draws its inspiration from the Japanese art of Kintsugi, in which broken pottery is repaired with gold lacquer so that crack-lines become beautiful features rather than blemishes. On a backdrop patterned like cracked porcelain, with an entrancing score by contemporary classical performer Ludovico Einaudi, Aurum explores the concept of transformation through breakage on a human level, with scenes of intimacy, heartache, emotional torment and, ultimately healing. It is an impeccable confluence of movement, sound and visual design, and delivers a perfect plate of emotion, the kind that makes you cry but leaves you feeling hopeful. It is my favourite piece of the night, not least because its story clearly centres the female perspective, something which is gratifying to see in a ballet.
The night comes to a thrilling conclusion with Filigree and Shadow. First performed in 2015 and having recently had its first international production in Houston earlier this year, this piece by Tim Harbour is really something else. The music from German electronic duo 48nord is like the driving soundtrack of a future noir thriller and both the dancers’ black costumes and the foreboding set would also be at home in such a setting. The dancing is muscular and energetic, tightly controlled but seeming always on the edge of chaos. Groups of dancers take the stage like they are entering a battle and dance as if for their lives. The inspiration for the piece is actually birds in flight: the set’s smooth curves were designed to mimic the silhouette of wings and the dance represents the struggle of birds in a storm. The relentlessness of a storm is certainly mirrored in the energy of the piece, which never lets up. It is impressive work and some of the dancers – like soloist Jill Ogai whose embodiment of the wild spirit of the piece is utterly hypnotic – seem more like the tempest than the hapless birds.
From its dreamy beginnings through its emotional heart to its ecstatic conclusion, Verve is a captivating journey. It is a potent reminder of how exceptional Australian ballet can be and a wonderful showcase of artists, both established and on the rise, who are worth getting excited about.
The Australian Ballet presents
with Orchestra Victoria
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre VIC
Dates: 21 – 30 June 2018