The Australian Ballet’s Instruments of Dance program presents three wonderfully diverse interpretations of music and movement through the work of three unique choreographers: Wayne McGregor, Justin Peck and Alice Topp.
Many will no doubt be aware of Justin Peck’s extraordinary body of work. While maintaining his position as Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet, Peck has choreographed both the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of Carousel and most recently, Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of West Side Story. Peck makes his Australian debut with his ballet Everywhere We Go, where his musical theatre style is on full display. Peck brings a lightness and musical fluidity that draws comparisons with his predecessor, and New York City Ballet founder, George Balanchine. Everywhere We Go is in nine movements that seamlessly bring together playfulness and acute musicality. The dancers’ lines and patterns are clean and symmetric. The aesthetic is modern but most of the steps are classical, with intricate partnering and effervescent pointe work. The ballet is elegant, crisp and fresh with a feeling of spring. Senior Artist Jill Ogai leads the ballet with her precision and dramatic presence. Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens’ score is bold and melodic and the dancers partner well with the fast tempo. Everywhere We Go demonstrates a compelling combination of music, costume, design and choreography.
Wayne McGregor has long held a highly respected place in the dance world, both as Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet and as an in-demand guest choreographer for nearly every nameable ballet company in the world. His all-male piece Obsidian Tear explores the male group dynamic displaying strength and solidity while fragmenting at the seams. The audience is witness to a dark narrative revolving around a group of males initiating a neophyte to their group who is, ultimately, not accepted. Principal Artist Callum Linnane and Corps de Ballet dancer Adam Elmes open the ballet with a duet of hypnotic undulating moves to a solo violin by Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. Violinist Sulki Yu plays the fiendishly difficult score to perfection, weaving the landscape around the intricate choreography. The next scene is led by Principal Dancer Adam Bull with nine male dancers erupting to Salonen’s chaotic orchestral score. Obsidian Tear is a cerebral ballet with a masculine perspective, visually captivating but keeping me emotionally at a distance.
Topp’s piece Annealing has 50 dancers mastering some of the most diverse steps yet seen from The Australian Ballet’s Resident Choreographer. Annealing is a brilliant melding of collective order and individual creativity. Three duets are featured in the ballet opening with a striking duet between Principal Dancers Amy Harris and Adam Bull. Harris offers her never-ending leg extensions between Bull’s deftly executed partnering. The pairing is cool and crisp, much like Harris’ silver dress, designed by costumer Kat Chan. The second duet is more playful with Corps de Ballet dancers Grace Carroll and Elijah Trevitt wearing shiny gold jumpsuits. Carroll shines with a bright energy, accentuating the upbeat score by Bryony Marks. The largest group section in the ballet brings together the ensemble in fantastic gold dresses dancing to flamenco-inspired steps. The scene has a brilliant overall effect that memorably illuminates the stage. The last duet is danced by Coryphées Coco Mathieson and Corps de Ballet artist Hugo Dumapit. As always, Mathieson exudes an emotional generosity that is natural and unforced. She and Dumapit effortlessly move in a continuous flow, connecting in an intimate way while remaining open to the audience. The collection of dances in Annealing are thoughtful and bold but still sensitive, leaving the audience wanting more.
Instruments of Dance is an enjoyable program curated to account for different tastes in music, theme and style. The contemporary collection of dances boasts two world-famous choreographers and our own local talent. It is a pleasure to watch Topp mature in her work and stand alongside such luminaries as Peck and McGregor. As her work continues to grow in all the right ways I look forward to seeing her next piece of artistry.
Instruments of Dance runs through Saturday 1 October at the State Theatre.
Paris Wages reviewed “Instruments of Dance”, presented by The Australian Ballet at Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre on September 27, 2022.