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What was the best in Melbourne dance in 2023? SUSAN BENDALL nominates her highlights.

Akira Akiyama and Yasuomi Akimoto of Tokyo Ballet in the leading roles in Giselle. Photo by Kate Longley.
'Flawless': Akira Akiyama and Yasuomi Akimoto of Tokyo Ballet in the leading roles in 'Giselle'. Photo by Kate Longley.

Although there has been quite a lot happening in the dance world – especially with comings and goings – I still can’t go past performance for my most significant dance moments for 2023. My equal two picks are both classical ballets and I’m feeling sheepishly worried that this will mark me as a dance conservative (not so!).

An unexpected delight was the visit by the Tokyo Ballet, which brought Giselle to Melbourne in July at the State Theatre. Why unexpected? I would have loved to have seen a production that is unique to this company and by a current choreographer, and thought the choice of Giselle a bit “ho hum” and safe. But wow! What a production. What exquisite dancing and artistry.

This Giselle was really flawless in its execution and casting. The corps de ballet were stunning – the Wilis a blur of intoxicatingly fleet footwork and ethereal big "R" Romantic bearing. Akiro Akiyama was the most fragile Giselle I think I have ever seen – a mere wisp whose movements almost dissolved. She was incredibly believable in her vulnerability and is a stunning technical dancer. Yasuomi Akimoto as Albrecht was such an attuned partner, with strength and well developed character development of Albrecht from a careless youth to a broken and desperate man.

Melbourne was indeed fortunate to benefit from this tour as part of the Australian Ballet’s season.

In equal first place, our own Australian Ballet’s revival of Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quixote was hard to top for its pure joy and virtuosity. Opening night brought the gift of Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo as Kitri and Basilio. They revelled in their roles as the querulous, flirtatious but adoring lovers. In their many, many solos and pas de deux, they each exhibited their star quality. Light, lithe and abandoned grand jetes, whipped turns and fleet footwork for her, and mighty tours en l’air, jetes en manege and pirouettes a la second for him. They also took on the hammy, larger-than-life characterisations with glee, modulating into the romantic and the sensual in the moments of pure classicism. The ballet contains so many cheeky, extravagant “dance battles” where each vies to outdo the other in the spectacle of their solos.

Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo as the lovers Kitri and Basilio. Photo by Rainee Lantry.
'Equal first place': Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo as Kitri and Basilio in 'Don Quixote'. Photo by Rainee Lantry.

Very fine dancing was evident everywhere. Amy Harris made a wonderfully spirited street dancer and Nathan Brook as Espada was slick and immaculate. Sharni Spenser as the Queen of the Dryads was beautiful and Yuumi Yumada as Cupid had the audience giggling delightedly at her “kawaii” – she was a delightful, tiny sprite. All the soloists danced with assurance and style. This ballet gives so many opportunities for showcasing the talents of a company at the height if its power.  

With its setting in Spain, the dance is flavoured with character motifs and dances. The Fandango (courtly and formal), and Romani (rowdy and abandoned), add to the Spanish stamping, leg kicking and clapping of the overall choreography.

Moments that will forever stay with me are those fabulously controlled fondue landings of Guo coming out of breath-taking tours. The collective breath was held when Guo held Kondo aloft with one hand in a suspended arabesque and the music stopped, waiting on the leisure of the danseur to deliver his ballerina back to terra firma. But honestly, there were dozens of high points in this production.

This is an extract from the complete, Australia-wide survey, published in the Jan/Feb/March print issue of Dance Australia. Buy it before it leaves the shelves! Available from your favourite dance shop or online here or here.


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