Instruments of Dance (a triple header, seemingly a popular format with dance companies in 2022), demonstrates the remarkable scope, range and ability of The Australian Ballet to bite off more than a mouthful and chew like crazy, albeit elegantly.
Opening as expected with a casual but sincere welcome and introduction by the company's artistic director David Hallberg, who reminds us tonight's choreographers represent three of "the most vital voices in the dance world today". And the performance certainly reflects that.
The music too is provided by incredible living composers, with enormous credit given to the gifted musicians of the Opera Australia Orchestra who never let the team down.
Beginning with Obsidian Tear, choreographed by Wayne McGregor during his tenure as resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet, the opening phrases augmented by Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonon are performed on the violin within the safe hands of Huy-Hguyen Bui, who never disappoints and receives his own audience ovation at the conclusion of the piece.
But our attention is quickly drawn to an opening pas de deux that ranges from tender emotives to downright aggression. And this is where Obsidian Tear stands apart from many other works. The entire cast is male, nine in total. It's a high-stakes ruthless adventure of devotion, jealousy, one-upmanship, revenge, and conflict. Great drama. Subsequently, there's plenty of masculine pulling and tugging, which would otherwise be torturous on the body for an entire season if it were not for the impeccable timing of action/reaction between the dancers.
You may wince at times.
The dance rises and falls throughout the piece, many times reaching what appears to be a climax, but then merely climbing further, with a resolution move that is a little shocking but also satisfying. It's powerful stuff.
After a short interval, the stage is redressed and Alice Topp's Annealing confronts the audience with a claustrophobic performance space. A little less literal than the previous piece, but as you would expect from the name, there's plenty of elaborate metallic-like costuming, richly gold and silver in colour, but with the flow of molten metal. One might consider the flowing outfitting would constrain the appreciation of movement by the cast, but by the sheer brilliance of textile designer Kat Chan, this is definitely not the case.
Again in this piece, there is drama, conflict and anger. The low-hanging set pieces (which pair brilliantly with the lighting design) do require the cast to attempt an elegant (but somewhat awkward-looking) entry and exit to the stage via a 'sausage roll' (a legitimate ballet term, right?), which seems a little out of context with the nature of the dance, but the central choreography combined with the shimmer of the costumes is a truly remarkable sight.
While not small, the auditorium is intimate enough to allow the audience to hear the hustlings of the costumes during the movements, which incredibly add to the rhythm of the soundtrack composed by Bryony Marks. And the manner by which that group of dancers exeunt the scene cements Topp's advanced understanding of stagecraft.
We should not be surprised, but it's a marvellous piece by this Australian choreographer.
Finally, despite some less than favourable commentary by others, there's much to adore in Everywhere We Go by Justin Peck. Set to a lively score by Sufjan Stevens (not known for ballet scores), this is the definite crowd pleaser, although lacking the drama and tension of the previous two.
It's brimming with energy, with strong elements of classical ballet to satisfy the purists, but at lightning speed. You will easily find glimpses of jazz, a touch of tap, free street-style, and during a few remarkable moves, a number of music pauses and cues for the orchestra, triggered by leaps and actions of the dancers, keeping guest conductor Daniel Capps on his toes.
A balanced piece, physically challenging for the performers given its frenetic pace, but entirely uplifting in its glee, hope, and magic. Finishing the program with this work closed the arc on an expressive journey for the audience, leaving nothing in the tank for the performers, and nothing but smiles on the audience.
Reviewed from rear stalls, Row W, Seat 27. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House.
Tickets (until 26 Nov 2022): https://australianballet.com.au/performances/instruments-of-dance
Images: Jeff Busby/supplied