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Australian Ballet: Symphony in C – review

by Paris Wages
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Friday night’s performance of the Symphony in C program glistened with an eclectic mix of classical and contemporary works.    George Balanchine’s 1947 masterpiece Symphony in C premiered in Paris under the title Le Palais de Cristal and is a splendid example of a classical piece holding its own in the modern age. The intricate geometric designs and extraordinary technique provide a showcase for the whole company. The dance is broken down into four teams each with its own principal couple, soloist couples and corps de ballet.

Georges Bizet’s glorious score culminates with 52 dancers on stage in unison; a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting patterns. The piece is further highlighted by designer Tom Lingwood’s 40 pristine white tutus. The overall effect is a trumpeting ode to the power and beauty of a timeless art form. The company danced magnificently delivering crisp, sharp and simultaneous steps with pitch-perfect musicality.

Principal Artist Chengwu Guo continues to stun audiences with his perfect execution, brilliant turns and powerful jumps. Balanchine’s neoclassical ballet stripped of story, props and elaborate s ets resonates beauty for beauty’s sake. Symphony in C imagines a glorious dance of heavenly creatures performing for the sheer enjoyment of movement and music.

The first half of the program was a collection of short works by five different choreographers, including company members Richard House and Alice Topp. House’s From Silence opens on a truly stunning scene of a single dancer in a flowing crimson skirt, designed by Kat Chan, engulfing more than half the stage. The dancer is lifted up by her hidden partner and pulled back while her skirt pulls away and magically exits the stage. Michael Nyman’s haunting score leads two couples through intricate lifts and fluid movements reminiscent of the peaks and valleys of true love. The piece closes with the return of the red skirt and a single dancer in a contorted back bend. House’s abstract work leaves the audience wanting more.

Fellow company member Alice Topp delivers a mesmerizing work entitled Little Atlas. The ballet opens with an illuminated ring, designed by Jon Buswell, encircling dancer, Dimity Azoury. She is gradually released from her confinement and dances with Brett Simon and Jake Mangakahia. The piece builds with dramatic tension as the dancers seek to control one another with fluid movement and a seemingly never-ending series of lifts. Topp’s choreography is imaginative and intricate while the dancers devour every move with skill and grace. Equally gorgeous is Italian minimalist composer Ludovico Einaudi’s pieces Fly and Experience which accompanies the choreography to perfection.

I can imagine the difficulty in the live performance of, ironically, a minimalist score, but conductor Simon Thew masterfully leads solo pianist Duncan Salton and Orchestra Victoria musicians through all the composition’s subtleties and nuances. The overall experience is an unequivocal partnership between choreography and music, leaving the audience in indescribable wonder. Little Atlas is rich with emotion and complete in its journey from intriguing opening to fitful climax and satisfying closure.

The Symphony in C program is rounded off by three other pieces: Resident Choreographer Stephen Baynes’ Pas de Trois from Imaginary Masque, Agrippina Vaganova and Joseph Mazilier’s 1935 Diana and Acteon Pas de Deux and Victor Gsovsky’s 1949 Grand Pas Classique. Gsovsky’s duet features classical virtuoso moves with Russian folkdance influences. White tutu clad ballerina, Jade Wood, is partnered by Senior Artist Brett Chynoweth. Known for his skill in footwork “entrechat”, Chynoweth achieved equally great height, “ballon”, in his suspended jumps. Pas de Trois from Imaginary Masque was a lovely atmospheric ballet between an imagined water nymph and her two admiring keepers. The exotic dance was beautifully executed by the ever-ethereal Principal Artist Robyn Hendricks with Jarryd Madden and Nathan Brook. Hendricks’ poetic arms effortlessly glided from one movement to the next, supporting her character’s detached and ethereal nature.

The Symphony in C program assembles a collage of works. Artistic Director David McAllister curated the show with great sensitivity, balancing historical pieces with modern dances. Opening with House’s From Silence draws the audience in followed by softer works in Grand Pas Classique and Pas de Trois from Imaginary Masque leading up to the dynamic Little Atlas followed by a more relaxedand finally closing with the delectable dessert of Balanchine’s iconic Symphony in C.

To say that there is something in this program for everyone is not an exaggeration. The company is showing true vision in embracing the choreographic endeavors of its dancers, nurturing them and giving them a formidable platform to showcase their talent. It is in the company’s best interest to foster the work of young, gifted choreographers and I greatly look forward to the promise of more exciting new work to come.


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