Two new and very different works, each lasting just under an hour, constitute the opening of the 2023 ballet season in Melbourne for The Australian Ballet. Named Identity, in a nutshell it is contemporary dance versus traditional ballet. While there were elements of both that I admired, I felt there was too much repetition in the first, while I have enormous reverence for the second. I will deal with them in reverse order.
Paragon re-introduces the heavyweights of Australian ballet to a delighted audience. It has power, passion and emotional resonance. It marks The Australian Ballet’s 60th anniversary with grace and style. It is the work of resident choreographer Alice Topp and composer Christopher Gordon. Paragon celebrates the rich history of creativity inherent in the company over the decades. The piece combines youthful enthusiasm and energy with the revered older guard.
I applaud the staging. Eight vertical panels provide the backdrop upon which a series of evocative images are projected throughout the ballet. The photographs are of The Australian Ballet dancers in their prime and those behind the scenes, stretching back in time. The device works a treat. I, for one, couldn’t get enough of the vignettes, which provide a powerful backdrop to the glories of the dancers we see on stage.
The panels also are frequently shifted to form new shapes and enable the performers to enter and exit. The piece de resistance is the final act, when the backdrop is reversed to reveal the barre (the long handrail) in a ballet warm up studio, where the cast interacts casually. I call that a stroke a genius, which all but brought tears to my eyes. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo. I adored Paragon.
A shape shifting, white, rock-like formation against a stark black background is the backdrop for The Hum as patrons enter the State Theatre. That visual image metamorphosises into a large global vortex once the curtain goes up, often with a tail, giving it the appearance of a balloon of various hues. Orchestra Victoria intones a dramatic musical score with flourishes from Deborah Cheetham Fraillon AO to the work created by Daniel Riley. He is the artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre and The Hum is a collaboration between Australian Dance Theatre and The Australian Ballet.
Most noteworthy is the fluidity of motion inherent in the production. For all the dancers undoubted ability though, I found it hard to pick up the threads of any narrative. From what I gather, it is meant to illustrate our connection to the land, but I can’t say the work really spoke to me. I think the piece struggled to sustain its running time. I say that because I didn’t see enough variation to keep me absorbed. A half hour would have been enough.
Still, overall, the divergent pieces of theatricality and endeavour that are The Hum and Paragon showcase the breadth of The Australian Ballet. This, in and of itself, augers well for the next 60 years and beyond. Identity is playing at the State Theatre at Arts Centre Melbourne until 24th June, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Instruments of Dance (The Australian Ballet) – theatre review
- DanceX (Arts Centre Melbourne) – dance review
- DanceX Part II (Arts Centre Melbourne) – dance review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.