Above – Everywhere We Go. Cover – Annealing (Elijah Trevitt). Photos – Jeff Busby

Instruments of Dance, the triple bill by The Australian Ballet, has a top pedigree. The three choreographers are all resident artists – of the Royal Ballet, the Australian Ballet and New York City Ballet, respectively. 

It's an ambitious and dense evening, well-worth seeing for its variety and strong commitment to music, which seems to propel much of the action, although none more so than in the highlight and finale of the program, Everywhere We Go

Choreographer Justin Peck made Everywhere We Go for the New York City Ballet. This is the first time another company performs it. It’s brassy and loud, in no small part due to indie-songwriter Sufjan Stevens boisterous, cinematic score. It drives the buoyant ebbs and flows of the geometric patterns featuring highly balletic vocabulary that's tightly formed and executed but often in asymmetrical shapes with hips jutting and bodyweight off centre. 

Cheeky duets and flirty vignettes appear and recede in the mass of 25 dancers who joyously jostle and preen through the movement. Everywhere We Go is complex and simple all at once, swelling with exuberant group motion and contrasting crisp duets (with Brett Chynoweth and Benedicte Bemet a highlight.) 

Hints of George Balanchine (founder of the New York City Ballet) pepper not only in the jazzy balletic form but also in the snappy costumes (women in blue and white stripped tops, white tights and white leotard bottoms and men in form fitting tights and shirts, all by Janie Taylor.)

Annealing by Alice Topp has a different energy and plays with metallic textures, most notably in Kat Chan’s costumes, which embrace the shines, ripples and substances of gold, silver, bronze metals. 

Annealing is the process of melting down metals and then re-hardening them, making them stronger than before. In the program notes, Topp relates this to human adaptability, but what comes across loudest is the surfaces and patterns created by costumes such as foil astronaut-like suits in a playful duet and heavy rustling dresses, that, flung and swung in large-scale unison patterns, create steely light and reflective patterns that make their own unique dance. 

Rectangular frames hanging around three sides of the stark stage (set by Jon Buswell) also sustain the textural intention while Briony Marks score accompanies, more than propels the activity. 

Wayne McGregor is no stranger to the Australian Ballet. His stark, extended limbs and hyper-long body lines are already in the company’s established repertoire.

Obsidian Tear (made in 2016 for the Royal Ballet and Boston Ballet) is a foray into a more narrative approach to dance. The all-male work for nine dancers suggests a rivalry/bullying/toxic masculinity amongst the group, who interact as duets (both menacingly and lovingly) and precarious mini ensembles.  

With their sinewy and (mostly) bare-chested bodies kitted out in various forms of kilt/tunic/baggy pant variations (costumes by various designers and curated by Katie Shillingford), the men are not particularly masculine, in a stereotypical sense. There’s a gender fluidity within the posturing and unsettling bravado. It’s forever shifting between foreboding and intimate.  

McGregor was inspired by the Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lachlen Verlernt (excellent violin solo by Sulki Yu) and Nyx. It’s complex music that looms large in the work and contributes to the skittish mood.  

The minimal set (a black abyss surrounds a white floor that slopes upwards as it goes up stage) is ambiguous – both mythic and non-particular in location and sweeping as a setting. More than the restrained design, it’s the shifting energies and tensions between the humans that is Obsidian Tear's focus. As it’s a very mannered piece, the cast play it formal and cool, even in more emotive sections. And despite a multi-layered scenario, it’s aesthetic is overall restrained and sometimes aloof.  

Through music, textures, moods – the different instruments available to choreographers – each of the three pieces is enhanced by its various components.

Ultimately though, dance is nothing without actual bodies. Here, as usual, the entire company of Australian Ballet dancers has risen to the occasion to embody all the styles and nuances that the choreographers offer up. 

Event details

The Australian Ballet presents
Instruments of Dance

Venue: State Theatre | Art Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 23 September – 01 October 2022
Bookings: australianballet.com.au



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