Hallberg objects to 'body shaming' review

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Cameron Holmes & Maxim Zenin in Circle Electric. Credit Daniel Boud
Cameron Holmes & Maxim Zenin in 'Circle Electric'. Photo by Daniel Boud.

The Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet, David Hallberg, has issued a public statement objecting to a comment in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 5.

The review was by Chantal Nguyen of the double bill of Circle Electric and Etudes. It was scathing.

"It feels like a banal hour of channel surfing," she writes. "You watch a series of dissatisfying, self-indulgent scenes unrelated to those you’ve just watched and will watch after. There is little cohesive meaning or comprehensible structure between them. The only difference is that when channel surfing, you can leave the room.

"The score (Robin Fox) sounds like a combination of dental tools, a flight path, a poor Philip Glass imitation, and my neighbour’s techno music leaking through our shared apartment wall. After an hour, I remember that novelist C. S. Lewis wrote that in heaven there are only melodies and silence, whereas hell is all noise.

"As for the choreography, it seems to fall in that category of modern art that is unrelatable and confuses shock-jock tactics for actual meaning. You sit there trying your best to like it, remembering you paid a lot of money for tickets, and artistic types say this ballet is bold and cutting-edge. You decide you’re probably just not artistic enough to understand it. . . 

"I like to watch premieres with a generous, positive outlook. Young choreographers deserve our support for persevering with their talent and gifting us their art. The set, costumes, and lighting (Paula Levis, Charles Davis, and Bosco Shaw) are gorgeous. The dancers are fabulous, although – and perhaps this was the lighting – seem unusually thin this season."

It was the last line that outraged Hallberg. In response, he wrote: "Commentary regarding body image is not acceptable and I am compelled to address this. Comments about weight, shape and body comparisons can have a serious negative impact on a person’s selfesteem and body image and can be detrimental to individuals’ mental and physical health.”

“Professional ballet dancers, like other aesthetic athletes, are identified as a high-risk group for the development of body image concerns, disordered eating and eating disorders.

“At The Australian Ballet, we are committed to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that encourages healthy minds and healthy bodies, which is vital for us to be a successful and dynamic artform. This is why over the last couple of years, our Artistic Health team have been working with the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) to develop our ‘Body Image and Disordered Eating Guidelines’.

“We believe that by taking the steps outlined in this plan, we can create a safe and supportive environment for our dancers to thrive both on and off the stage, build long and fulfilling careers, and excel in their post-dance lives.

“As these guidelines are the first of their kind in professional ballet, our commitment extends to continued evaluation and improvements of our efforts to prevent and manage eating disorders, so that we may provide the best possible care for both the artists of today and years to come.

“The Australian Ballet stands firm in our commitment to prioritising the welfare and health of our performers, and hope that by shining a light on this topic that body image comments, like the one reported last week, will be eradicated in our artform, in sporting codes and in society.” 

His comments have since been endorsed by the Queensland Ballet.

The Sydney Morning Herald initially refused to take down the review, but later did delete the offending words.

Nguyen was not the only reviewer to have reservations about the program, but others were more circumspect. Read our review (by Geraldine Higginson) here. 

See Editor's comment here.

Look out for a further discussion about this topic in 'Dance Australia'.


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