State Theatre, Arts Centre
There is always a sense of enormous excitement around the Australian Ballet School’s annual showcase. It provides an opportunity for young dancers to exhibit their skills and artistry in a highly professional environment, working with complex and varied choreography.
This year's Showcase was as pleasing and delightful as one could expect. The students were faced with challenging choreography and showed themselves equal to the task. They presented their fine technique and developing artistry with confidence and commitment. The program was excellent, not only benefitting student development, but well balanced from an audience point of view.
The evening started with a bang as the entire student body of 116 took to the stage in a sparkling display of classical precision and discipline. Paul Knobloch’s newly created Grand Défilé burst through the confines of the usual parade format to create a dazzling mini-ballet. This was a terrific appetite-whetter and generated great excitement and anticipation for what was to come. Grand Défilé gave a sense that even the very young students were secure and confident in their presentation and technique.
What a joy it was to then see the first ballet, Balanchine’s Serenade, danced by level 7 and 8 students. This was executed with great elegance and strength. The featured dancers were all impressive and displayed nicely differentiated characteristics in their presentation, from light crispness to languid elegance. Although now a staple in the repertoire of many professional companies, it is a nice touch to remember that Serenade was choreographed originally for students.
After this substantial work, we saw Allegro Vivo, featuring level 8 students. Mark Annear’s choreography is a meaty chunk of classicism for the senior students to showcase their strength and finesse. It was here that the strength of the male cohort was really cemented as one after another they displayed controlled jumps and turns. The entire group showed performance readiness and assuredness.
Levels 4 through 6 each presented pieces to highlight their talents. Level 4s were delightful in Paul Knobloch’s Haydn Symphony and left us in no doubt of their discipline and talent. Even at this stage of training, technical detail was evident and, again, the boys were very strong and secure in their allegro. Garland Waltz, by Simon Dow, in contrast, did no favours to the level 5 boys. Although the girls showed clean technique and conveyed the sweetness of the piece well, the boys struggled with the old-fashioned choreography. Level 6 brought us back on track with Mark Annear’s Jubilation, a very lovely piece that was danced with delicate aplomb and lyrical ease together with beautiful jumps and a great sense of musicality. It was a terrific vehicle for this group to show their technical skills and interpretive abilities.
The last third of the program was devoted to more contemporary pieces which the students seemed to relish. Lucas Jervies’ Gorilla featured wonderfully articulated arm and hand movements that dramatically described the space. The Philip Glass score drove the movement into dynamic phrases punctuated by frantic sets of running between sections. The dancers were athletic and energised. This was a fantastic piece for level 7 students to display their very evident versatility.
The next work by Margaret Wilson, Vitae, was possibly even better. In it, Level 8 students revealed their accomplished melding of classical technique within a contemporary idiom. It consisted of many opportunities for dancers to be featured in pairs, groups and individually and made great use of contrasting physiques, creating texture and variety. Solos and duets were beautifully handled. There are many dancers to watch out for among this group.
As a finale, The Call by Simon Dow to Ravel's Bolero, showcased the graduating students with support from their level 6 and 7 colleagues. Together they looked like a cast of thousands. Some formed a mesmerising back-drop of bodies walking in lines at the back, while a tangle of choreographic activity unfolded in the foreground. The work is a flurry of activity and intensity. The design is terrific, with the smoke and lighting reminiscent of a Turner paining. This was another ambitious and interesting work highlighting some fine command of the space, though at times it became a little disorderly in the unison sections.
As ever, the students of the Australian Ballet School have shown themselves to be deserving of our respect and appreciation and we feel privileged to see them at this early stage of their journey in dance.
- SUSAN BENDALL