These are uncertain times. Even my decision to attend the opening of The Australian Ballet modern dance program “Volt” on Friday night seemed risky given that it was one of the few large events that were not cancelled in Melbourne that day. But what a beautiful, immersive experience it was. A profound meditation on the tensions in the human condition that seemed to have pushed us to a precipice.
While British choreographer Wayne McGregor, always consistent and first class, had two energetic and engaging pieces on the bill it was the company’s own resident choreographer Alice Topp, with the premiere of her new piece Logos, who was the unequivocal stand-out of the evening. Using nine dancers, she took the audience on a journey filled with such tension, empathy and sensuality that we could not help but burst into standing applause at the end. With Logos, Topp has reached new heights as a choreographer, her unique vision resonating with our deepest human instincts, its intimacy lingering well after the curtain closes.
Logos opens with an intimate duet between former principal ballerina Leanne Stojmenov, who retired from the company in 2019, and soloist Callum Linnane. The couple weave in and out of each other in a discourse that balances struggle, manipulation and sensitivity. The scene closes with Stojmenov walking off stage in an expression of defiance and relinquishment. Linnane continues through the piece with driving force and determined movement. He charges through the choreography, undulating his back towards the audience in a luring gesture of strength and vulnerability. As a dancer Linnane is completely committed to the character and devours the choreography with confidence and charisma.
Principal Artists Dimity Azoury and Kevin Jackson deepen the emotional intensity with their duet. Dressed in a satiny red dress Azoury radiates with her dancing displays of allure and affectivity. It is easy to see why she was promoted to Principal last year with her depiction of fervent ardor wrapped in womanly strength.
Topp partners with set and lighting designer Jon Buswell to help realize her vision. Buswell’s daring design on the most minimalist of platforms elevates Logos to heights unimaginable. The effect is extraordinary and unexpected in combination with Ludovico Einaudi’s minimalist score. The piece crescendos with a group section and a dramatic false ending that leads to Logos’ most enigmatic duet.
There is almost a voyeuristic pleasure in watching Principal Artist Adam Bull and Corps de Ballet Coco Mathieson dance in the rain. This sensual pas de deux closes the piece with a sexiness that peers into the couple’s perilously naked truth without handing us a simple conclusion to their story. The dancers merely continue as if we are not watching, oblivious to our urge to feed off their intimate world. My only complaint is that the duet was not long enough, but perhaps that was Topp’s intent.
Volt is an exciting program filled with force and drive. McGregor’s pieces Chroma (2006) and Dyad 1929 (2009) are efficient and detached, with their cool, chic and motor speed steps. Leg extensions run wild with flexibility pushed to the limits in Chroma with a sense of controlled chaos. Joby Talbot and Jack White’s brilliant score is cinematic and audacious although at times distracting. Principal Artist Benedicte Bemet entices with her flair to flirt and beautifully interprets Wayne’s intricate choreography. Principal Artist Brett Chynoweth continues to prove his prowess with dynamic moves, gorgeous lines and accurate speed. Principal Artists Amy Harris and Bull swim in a sea of blue light with a pas de deux of seamless beauty and breadth. A lot of the moves in Chroma feel incomplete but clean, as if the choreographer wants the audience to imagine the fragmentary beauty of imperfection. The overall effect is reminiscent of particles orbiting each other in space, separate yet utterly dependent on one another.
McGregor’s second sampling Dyad 1929 aptly makes up for what Chroma may lack in costume and design. A tribute to the celebrated Ballets Russes of the early 20th century Dyad 1929 further explores all things clean, crisp and linear, wrapped in the art-deco-inspired costumes by Moritz Junge and lighting by Lucy Carter. McGregor’s signature speed prevails, imbuing the dancers with style and grace. Although all of the dancers executed the choreography with precision and daring virtuosity Senior Artist Dana Stephensen in particular had a stellar performance last night in Dyad 1929. Stephensen was stunning in an all-white leotard most of us could never imagine wearing. She radiated confidence and cool with a joyfulness that reminds us all to smile more often.
The “Volt” program denotes “Logos explores the beast within us – our fears, fights, darkness and demons – the storms you can’t run-out.” Topp has her finger on the pulse of these volatile times depicting the fear and uncertainty that lie ahead. Her piece illuminates and reflects the competing forces of angst, anger, love, betrayal and forgiveness in human nature. Through these timeless themes, Topp provides us with a platform for the heightened anxieties of the moment. It could be argued that it is unlucky to premiere a ballet in the midst of a pandemic, however, the audience last night of well over 500 were on their feet applauding and supporting such thoughtful art, movingly captured by The Australian Ballet dancers. Yesterday’s ephemeral moment is gone. It will no doubt be treasured by audience members for a long time to come.
Paris Wages reviewed “Volt” performed by the Australian Ballets at Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre on March 13, 2020.
Photo: Danielle Rowe and Adam Bull. Dyad 1929. Photo credit Jim McFarlane.