Presented by the Tanya Pearson Academy
Sydney Coliseum Theatre
The Sydney International Ballet Gala offered audiences the opportunity to see a diverse range of classical and contemporary guest artists at the Coliseum Theatre in western Sydney. Produced by the Tanya Pearson Academy (TPA) to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the program was fleshed out with three especially choreographed ensemble works that primarily featured students from TPA; however, with the calibre of international guest artists on offer the focus was undoubtedly more on the professional guest artists. Some of the best-known pas de deux from the ballet repertoire were on the program.
Despite being the biggest "name" of the lineup, Royal Ballet principal Natalia Osipova wasn’t well served by the repertory choice of the Act 3 Sleeping Beauty pas de deux. Partnered by Jarryd Madden (Australian Ballet senior artist), both performed competentlybut I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that Australian audiences weren’t seeing a star of such magnitude in something that better showcased her unique qualities. Osipova shone more brightly in a moody contemporary solo called Ashes (choreographed by Jason Kittelberger) in which her seamless floor work and dramatic flair were perfectly apt.
Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) principals Mayu Tanigaito and Laurynas Vejalis danced the Flames of Paris pas de deux with great confidence and flair. Laurynas Vejalis, in particular, has beautiful lines and a magnificent jump. They seemed very comfortable dancing together, and appeared later in the program in a more lyrical contemporary duet called Berceuse (meaning "lullaby" in French). Together they are fabulous representatives for RNZB, proving that there are just as many talented professional dancers at the top level of the smaller companies as there are in the larger, more prestigious ones.
San Francisco Ballet principals Julian Mackay and Misa Kuranaga showcased their stylistic range with pas de deux from Giselle and Don Quixote. I particularly admired Kuranaga’s mastery of the romantic port de bras in her rendition of Giselle, while both dancers brought palpable spirit and enthusiasm to Don Quixote. Mackay also danced a light hearted contemporary solo called The Cuban Nutcracker (choreographed by Alisher Khasanov) which is fun, but looks like it belongs in an eisteddfod/competition setting rather than a gala.
At only 19 years of age, Australian Ballet dancers Grace Carroll (also TPA alumnus) and Bryce Latham danced the White Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake Act 2 with sophistication and style that belied their youth. Adagio seems to be Grace Carroll’s calling and she moves with a reverence and a sensibility that is both exceptionally refined and grounded.
Other highlights included performances from Sydney Dance Company alumni Davide di Giovanni and Victor Zarallo. I particularly admired Zarallo’s sensitive execution of L’Effleure (a solo choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa). Laura Fernandez (State Ballet of Georgia principal) danced The Dying Swan with a finely etched delicacy, while Jake Burden’s ensemble work Forest of Mind (danced by students) was well conceived and executed. It was accompanied by four musicians from the Sydney Youth Orchestra who played live onstage. Channel 9 TV presenter Belinda Russell made a friendly host/compere, both introducing the works being performed, and even introducing and interviewing a couple of guest dancers in front of the curtain as the evening progressed.
I don’t think the use of students in ensemble introductions to the Swan Lake and Don Quixote pas de deux worked particularly well. Possibly these were a valuable learning experience for the students involved, but to my mind their juxtaposition only served to highlight the gap between students and professionals.
If at times the show sat awkwardly on the fence between a student showcase and a professional ballet gala, it was also of a scale and ambition rarely staged by a privately run dance school.
The Coliseum Theatre is certainly an excellent venue for ballet and dance with a large stage and excellent sight lines.
– GERALDINE HIGGINSON
All photos are by Nicholas Mackay.