Butterfly was the highly anticipated return to the stage of the Australian Ballet School and a delight for the senses.
In the main room, Hannah Sergi danced as the protagonist, a new-to-school girl struggling with a hilarious pantomime of “mean girl” cliques and macho groups vying for her attention. The opening scene described a classroom with a dedicated teacher and wild students. the Corps de ballet did a magical job of encapsulating the liveliness they undoubtedly have as a teenager. The choreography by former Australian Ballet School graduate Lucas Jervies was beautifully oozing and playful, as the students stood to attention whenever their teacher passed and collapsed in a lanky-legged release when ‘She had her back to him, their school uniforms comically collapsing. The popular girls’ parade and the bitter fighting of the boys was a humorous spectacle. The slight burlesque relief of those moments was welcome after the gravity and disappointments of the past 18 months in Melbourne, with all the immense challenges facing education and performance.
It’s worth noting here that Jervies chose a gender shift for the protagonists as well as updating the setting and body antics to make it a relatable class scene. The traditional ballet, The butterfly (Le Papillon) was a fantastic tale of cunning princes and fairies, presented by the Paris Opera Ballet in 1860 and choreographed by one of the most famous ballerinas of the time, Marie Taglion.
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Instead, Jervies chose to present the butterfly that emerges from a cocoon on the school excursion to a butterfly house as a new boy in school. He is the only student who shows the warmth and kindness of the new girl. Her metamorphosis into something bright and beautiful shows the power and importance of kindness, which is rewarded in history in a karmic way. It’s wonderful to see this critical work of bullying, gender discrimination and meanness developing so well with these talented young dancers, especially after all the lockdowns and isolation.
The movements were a well-executed classical ballet technique with a comedic character and a contemporary twist. This is to be expected given the considerable time Jervies has spent in the world of contemporary dance. The young dancers looked like they were having so much fun with it, shimmy, using body percussion to punctuate the drama. There was even a bee walking on the moon in its spikes, with juniors (baby bees) escaping beautifully in tow.
The costumes were exquisite. Brightly colored unitards with hand painted butterfly wings for the male body and glittering tutus with shiny headdresses for the female body. The set – the vision of designer Hugh Coleman – was painted beautifully like a butterfly greenhouse with tropical flowers and filigree doors; imaginative and colorful.
Butterfly was a triumphant and joyful success; a wonderful return on stage for these wonderful young dancers. The only disappointment was during the traditional Flower waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker in the opening act. The costumes were drab in a pale blue and gray palette contrasting less favorably with the liveliness of the main event, Butterfly. But again, it was danced very skillfully.
Jervies’ words on his choreographic vision shine as a message of hope for this new generation of dancers: “This production is a story come full circle. Reflection and travel are at the heart of Butterfly. For me, the butterfly metaphor – transform – is endless. It doesn’t happen once or twice. It is a constantly evolving process, which we must always strive for. To be better, nicer, smarter.
The dancers really rose to the challenge and were inspiring to watch.
Butterfly by the australian ballet school
Arts Center, Melbourne
Butterfly was carried out from December 10 to 12, 2021.