The Australian Ballet: Symmetries -
Canberra Theatre, 23 May -
The highlight of “Symmetries”, a Canberra-only triple bill from the Australian Ballet, was the world premiere of Monument choreographed by Garry Stewart as a Centenary of Canberra commission.
With a brief to make a ballet about Parliament House, Stewart has structured Monument in three distinct sections. Using movement, and 3D computer animated graphics as background, the first section is an investigation of general architectural principles and the act of building. The second examines the specific design of Parliament House and the political structure of the Parliament. The third is a “fly-through” of the building itself. Despite a brief that sounds quite impossible, Stewart, his creative team, and a cast of nineteen dancers have produced a powerful and highly theatrical work.
The choreography contains a number of recurring motifs—fast supported turns, stretched arms extending directly to the side or above the head, undulating torsos, and “tutting” movements borrowed from hip-hop. Stillness reigns at times, but mostly the choreography is full of precise and quickly changing movements. Groupings are complex. At one stage the idea of conflict emerges in the choreography. Legs become very stretched, gestures are made with speed, arms are crossed defiantly, heads nod sharply, and the palms of the hand turn up from the wrist and become powerful symbols of political forces at work.
The Australian Ballet dancers seemed invigorated by Stewart’s choreography, which demands a different kind of physicality from the usual. Lana Jones and Andrew Killian took major roles and their duets were extreme and technically challenging. Also making a mark was Ingrid Gow whose strong stage presence was always noticeable whether she was dancing alone or in duets with Rudy Hawkes. Gow and Hawkes often appeared on stage alongside Jones and Killian and certainly gave them a run for their money.
Supporting and complementing the choreography is the constantly changing computer animated background by Paul Lawrence-Jennings. It adds an extra layer of movement that is beautifully integrated into the work. Body-hugging lycra costumes by Mary Moore, an electronic score by Huey Benjamin, and a stark and streamlined lighting design by Jon Buswell combine to bring to the stage a highly sophisticated, carefully conceived, beautifully unified work.
"Symmetries" included performances of George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. The Four Temperaments looked crisp and clean after its workout in Sydney as part of the “Vanguard” triple bill.
Of the three casts I saw dance the Wheeldon pas de deux, I was most impressed by Robyn Hendricks and Rudy Hawkes. Going beyond the mere technical execution of the choreography, they conveyed a range of emotions through beautifully nuanced dancing.
I am curious to know if the Australian Ballet will give Monument a longer life and show it beyond Canberra. Do audiences have to be familiar with Parliament House or live in Canberra to make something of the work? I like to think the answer is no and that Monument can and will stand the test of time and become known more widely as an act of collaborative brilliance.
- Michelle Potter
Michelle Potter attended the evening performances of "Symmetries" 23 and 24 May, and the matinee 25 May.