State Theatre, Melbourne, September 27
The Australian Ballet School’s 50th Anniversary Gala was everything it should be – a celebration of the achievements of three remarkable women, a display of some very fine dancing, and a demonstration of continuity between the school and the company it was designed to be the feeder school for.
It was a tremendous privilege to see Dame Margaret Scott, the founder of the school, up on the stage of the State Theatre, being honoured for what her persistence and advocacy have achieved. Also honoured were Gailene Stock, sadly no longer with us, who went on to become Director of the Royal Ballet School, and Marilyn Rowe, retiring at the end of this year after 16 years of transformational leadership during which many of her visions for the school were realized.
Rowe, the first prima ballerina produced by the school, reappeared later in the flamenco number, Soléa por Bulería, dancing a powerful solo to the raw emotion of Lucía Leiva’s singing in what was one of the highlights of the evening.
After the speeches the program opened with Hommage, choreographed by Simon Dow, in which two recent ABS graduates, Emma McFarlane and Marcus Morelli, now members of the corps, danced a beautifully understated pas de deux, its fragments weaving in and out of the film and photographic images commemorating the three directors.
Fanfare, by Leigh Rowles, was a perfectly judged piece of choreography for the occasion, integrating the youngest students with company principals. The choice to dress everybody in white rather than in the colours of the different levels served to knit school and company members into one entity, and the effect at the end, with the lines of dancers all moving their arms in unison, was quite stunning. While the principals all had a chance to shine in cameo appearances there were also some remarkable grands pirouettes and sixes on show from one of the younger boys. But the main effect was to include all the students in a sense of achievement and celebration and in this Fanfare was completely successful. Quite appropriately Dame Margaret was left alone on the stage at the end for well-earned acknowledgement and applause.
Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations were a lovely choice for the graduating class. Difficult steps were cleanly executed with an impression of ease by all the soloists, not to forget a proliferation of secure hops on pointe! Callum Linnane as the solitary boy stood out both here and later in his Kylian solo in Dream Dances for the soft quality of his jumps, good turns, secure partnering and musical timing. All the girls exhibited secure technique and a very pleasing lightness, not least Atau Watanabe as the lead and Phebe Murison who brought a light delicacy to her jumps. The coda captured some of the risk taking, energy and speed of Balanchine’s style.
Valetta, by Paul Knobloch, was a nice counterpoise to Raymonda, featuring an all-male corps de ballet supporting principals Amber Scott and Adam Bull in an effective reversal of classical ballet conventions. In a nice touch all of the boys got a chance to partner Scott in addition to showing their prowess in Knobloch’s slightly quirky classical choreography.
Soléa por Bulería by Areti Boyaci brought a welcome touch of intensity with the raw passion of flamenco singing, and the red costumes and backdrop. After Marilyn Rowe’s opening solo the students danced up a storm in an engrossing performance.
Kylian’s Dream Dances and Evening Songs were another excellent repertoire choice. Kylian’s masterful choreography with its poetic inventiveness fuses seamlessly with the spirit and structures of the music. All the dancers rose to the occasion, giving beautifully judged performances from the lightness, humour and speed of Dream Dances to the lyrical folk style of Evening Songs.
Kylian’s Polonaise from Arcimboldo made a fitting and fun conclusion with a shower of sparks descending onto the stage at the end to round off a memorable evening.
Whether it was the inspiration of dancing in such close proximity to principal artists or the general spirit of the occasion which infused them, the senior students all danced with rare feeling, composure and professionalism, a credit both to their training and to the occasion.
Thus for the first half century –now we can look forward to the next.
- IRINA KUZMINSKY