Last Friday night’s premiere of the Australian Ballet’s contemporary program, entitled “Faster” featured three quick-pulse dances.
The opening number was choreographed by British dance maker David Bently. Faster was originally set in 2012 as a tribute to the London Olympics and is set to a composition by Matthew Hindson. The urgent, at times dissonant, score is a collage of melodies and moods that attempt to match the sporty adventures of a team of athletes. Faster is at its best when light and literal, an easy read of the trials of sport. The piece opens with a collection of athletes representing basketball, gymnastics, fencing, synchronized swimming and fighters. Bently creatively re-envisions these sports reminding the audience of the remarkable athleticism and versatility of ballet. The piece looses focus slightly when it explores the darker elements of competition in a midway pas de deux.
Faster picks up speed again with a final section dedicated to a marathon. The running event seems to best suit the choreography, weaving ballet steps and familiar running gestures along with an incredible musicality of pace and percussion. Soloist Brooke Lockett leads the marathon dancing with fierce determination, stamina and admirable timing. Becs Andrews’ costumes are fun and cleverly highlight the dancers’ athletic bodies.
Tim Harbor is a resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet and the premiere of his piece Squander and Glory is not to be missed. All the technical elements of this piece enhance one another in exploring the elusive nature of power and control. The ballet opens with a thunderstorm as composer Michael Gordon’s Weather One pulses. The upstage scrim is an exposed mirror centered with a sculpture reminiscent of geometric architecture found in Federation Square. Whether intentional or not, Kelvin Ho’s set design felt very Melbourne which seems appropriate for the work of a local choreographer.
Benjamin Cisterne’s lighting complments the stage and sculpture, giving, Squander and Glory a sleek and sexy design. Peggy Jackson’s costumes are imaginative and work effectively in contrast to some of the more stark elements on the stage. Harbor has created a successful piece that brings together all elements of theatre making Squander and Glory a sumptuous dance experience.
Harbor’s highly stylized movement teeters between off-balance asymmetry and complete symmetry. The ballet has several unexpected moments and is very attuned to its audience. At times Squander and Glory is confronting but always inclusive and accessible to the viewer. Soloist Vivienne Wong is captivating and mesmerizing with her fluidity of movement. Wong is a master of transitions offering a seamlessness of movement from one step to another. It is her ability to finish a line rather than simply “get the leg up higher” that marks her as a truly gifted artist.
As expected, world-renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor delivered the gem of the evening with his piece Infra. Coupled beautifully with Max Richter’s hypnotic score, McGregor creates an intoxicating blend of undulating bodies and hyper-extended limbs with subtle emotion. The genius of his choreography is his ability to compile a unique language of movement that distantly echoes a classical lineage. Infra feels like a mature piece of art authored by a confident choreographer at the top of his field. McGregor knows when to linger on a movement phrase, build to a climax and finish a thought before tiring an audience. Like a rich cabernet, Infra is dark, ripe and full-bodied, exhibiting subtle textures and tones that reveal themselves slowly with each step. As it is important to pair a good wine with the proper food, McGregor has matched his choreography with the perfect music. Richter’s post-minimalist score is hypnotic and uniquely supportive of the choreography without being overbearing or monotonous.
Infra opens with a LED screen above the upstage scrim with computerized pedestrians on a continuous loop. The general atmosphere is initially cold, unornamented, and possibly post-apocalyptic. As the dancers commence, an emotional pitch sets in with an enthralling and sinuous manipulation of lines. The entire cast masters Infra’s choreography. Principal Artist Chengwu Guo, usually known for his explosive energy and bravado jumps, was particularly riveting with his controlled, serpentine torso flowing with the smoothness of an unending river. Dancers Alice Topp and Imogen Chapman were equally otherworldly with infinite lines and malleable leg extensions. With Guo at the bow and Chapman and Topp at the stern, the Australian Ballet is a captivating vessel of dancer talent.
Overall the Australian Ballet’s “Faster” program ignites with Bently’s high energy tribute to sport, goes to an elevated height of urgency and design with Harbor’s sophisticated Squander and Glory and concludes with an immensely satisfying portrait of depth and beauty found in McGregor’s Infra. Don’t let Faster slip away!
Performances continue through to Monday March 27.