REVIEW: The Australian Ballet School’s 60th Anniversary Showcase

Comments Comments
The 'Grand Defile'. Photo by Sergey Konstantinov.
The 'Grand Defile'. Photo by Sergey Konstantinov.

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Reviewed May 12

The Australian Ballet School is on the cusp of a new era, not just with its 60th anniversary but with the recent announcement of Megan Connelly as the incoming director.

In the Australian Ballet School’s 60th Anniversary year, a trip to the Sydney Opera House for a one night only gala-style showcase that coincided with Mother’s Day was a welcome event for ballet lovers in Sydney. Featuring close to 90 ABS students (Level 5, 6, 7 and 8 students – with a few Level 4’s) the dancers looked excited, motivated and determined to make the most of this rare opportunity to perform on this hallowed stage.

The program opened with a lively Grand Defile choreographed by Paul Knobloch. Often a Grand Defile is a stately parade that presents the entire cast on stage in neat rows according to their level within the group. While the neat rows were there, this particular rendition had much more speed, sparkle and movement than the more traditional version and effectively highlighted their youthful energy and exuberance. The white costumes (courtesy of BLOCH dancewear) were simple but effective and stood out well set against a darker stage background – one large stately chandelier hanging overhead. Set to music by Glazunov (excerpts from the Polonaise from Scenes de Ballet) this made a great opening introduction to the showcase.

The next item was a classical Grand Pas de Deux from Le Corsaire, danced by guest artists Ako Kondo and Chengwo Guo, former ABS students now principal dancers of the Australian Ballet. Both danced with the combination of virtuosity and artistry that gives their partnership the "wow" factor. It was not just the technical fireworks that made this duo special but the way Guo carefully adjusted his port-de bras to align with Kondo’s in each careful preparation that made them look so classically harmonious together.

Knobloch’s choreography returned with a short narrative ballet called Degas Dances which has been performed by the ABS previously in Melbourne but here received its Sydney premiere. There’s a lot to like about this work, which sees a school excursion to an art gallery take a turn towards the fantastic as one lovestruck student stays behind and the object of his affection (Degas’ iconic Little Dancer sculpture) comes to life alongside a crowd of dancers who pour onto the stage through a darkened portrait frame. As the sculpture Level 6 student Lilly Keith was tender and expressive and as the Lead School Boy Level 7 student Ruito Takabatake displayed beautiful elevation and controlled pirouettes alongside an earnest portrayal of the lovestruck student. Particularly memorable was one scene in which the gathered students came downstage, holding their individual sketches together to make one big portrait of the Little Dancer statue.

A scene from 'Four Seasons', with guest artist Simon Dow centre.
Photo by Sergey Konstantinov.
A scene from 'Four Seasons', with guest artist Simon Dow centre. Photo by Sergey Konstantinov.

Rounding off the first act was a beautifully costumed performance of Flamenco dance performed by 12 Level 8 students with three guest artists from the AB (Nathan Brook, Hugo Dumapit and Jake Mangakahia). Carmino Flamenco was choreographed by ABS teacher Areti Boyaci who joined the dancers onstage with accompanying musician Werner Neumann (who also composed the music for this piece). The red tasselled dresses, heeled shoes and hooped earrings worn by the ladies gave them an authentically Spanish look, and the entire cast displayed a mastery of Spanish dance that you might not expect from ballet students. Particularly pleasing was the individual expressiveness of their arms and hands.

After interval came Four Seasons, which was commissioned by outgoing Director Lisa Pavane. Set to Vivaldi’s well-known score, each season is choreographed by an ABS graduate who trained under one of the school’s four directors. "Spring" was choreographed by Kevin Jackson, who trained under Gailene Stock; "Summer", by Lucas Jervies, who trained under Marilyn Rowe); "Autumn", by Serena Graham, who trained under Lisa Pavane); and "Winter" (choreographed by Graeme Murphy, who trained under Dame Margaret Scott).

Four Seasons is an interesting way of revisiting Vivaldi’s iconic score, this time with the passage of time marked not only by the passing of seasons in a calendar year but also, it is implied, by the passage of generations of students and directors since 1964. Each choreographer has their own distinct movement language, with Lucas Jervies’ more contemporary than Serena Graham’s more classical interpretation of Vivaldi’s music. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the choreographic highlight was Graeme Murphy’s Winter, complete with silver spangled unitards, white quilts for the dancers to huddle underneath, a hooded figure (danced by guest artist Simon Dow – Old Man Winter himself perhaps?!) and a pair of fluffy red socks that allowed one cast member (Level 8 student Madeline Flood) to "skate" across the stage as if it were ice with the assistance of her partners.


The ABS will bring its 60th Anniversary Gala to Melbourne on October 6. 



comments powered by Disqus