Bodycouple, an annual program of emerging choreography performed by Australian Ballet dancers, has been a highlight of the Australian dance scene for several years. Last year it was put on an online platform Digital Bodytorque due to pandemic restrictions on live shows. This year, the opening night celebrated the return of the program on stage, under the glare of a supermoon.
“Tonight we see the seed of an idea being planted,” artistic director David Hallberg told the audience before the first play. “There is a feeling of vulnerability in creating choreography that I personally never had the courage to pursue,” he added with humility. And Bodycouple certainly served as a compelling demonstration of the richness of the human experience, expressed through some of the finest and most skilled dance corps on Australian stages at the moment.
Lots of beautiful bodies and resplendent ideas gathered in Transit Dance’s Brunswick black box space. The program, although detailed in a beautiful matte flyer displaying photographs of Australian Ballet dancers Callum Linnane and Dimity Azoury, was not easy to follow and I had to check the running order after the event.
Maybe not announcing the plays before the performance was meant to create a sense of mystery? It certainly worked, as I did some detective work, looking at the assemblage of musicians according to the program and matching those who come on stage at the start of each act. Some of the blurbs were a giveaway, but others were cryptic. Either way, an air of mystery and serendipity was cast over the night that was unexpected, but in a way that is a hallmark of Hallberg’s artistic direction at Australian Ballet.
As for the pieces, each had individual merit, and collectively they were a wonderful display of up-and-coming choreographers “showing off their best feet and their best ideas,” as Hallberg joked.
The first part of Jill Ogai, On time, was a simply magnificent spectacle. Separated into two sections, the first section saw the dancers move jarringly to Rosa Clifford’s contemporary piece Line of a consistent shaderushing at each other, their arms reaching away from their bodies like signalmen, sometimes barely touching, then coming into contact with different parts of the body, then falling instantly.
The glockenspiel combined with the viola and cello added to the volatility of this part. Remarkable in this performance was the craftsmanship of Bendicte Bemet, in flowing blue culottes, whose wrapped and arabesques, showed its flexibility and magnificence of its lines. Towards the climax of the piece, the bands of light at the base of the dry misty scene shone like a train through the fog and Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major kicked in.
The dancers were swaying pas de deux with lush great allegro, punctuated with fiery accents such as kisses on the cheek, bobbing heads and leveling hands, perhaps reminiscent of a train scene and ending with the most elegant stage tumble all in opposite directions I have ever seen, after delicate balances and the suspension of the dance partners. Ogai made the portrayal of the “dystopian and expansive lines” mentioned in his artist statement to a jaw-dropping closure.
ANGEL // ALIENchoreographed by Mason Lovegrove, also highlighted the acrobatic perfection of the dancers with striking leaps and turns in pas de deux. There was a section where a dancer was thrown backwards over the shoulders of two of the male dancers and grabbed by another behind. The flimsy, butterfly accents of the hands at the start and end and the cocoon-like silk costumes belied the strength and athleticism of the dancers. The conclusion of this piece, with the ensemble holding their hands floating towards the light, expressed wonder, beautifully distilled in the moment.
Pura Vida by Xanthe Geeves, winner of the 2020 Emerging Female Choreographer award from Dance Australia, created an exuberant and luminous work on the music of Luigi Boccherini. The progression of the piece followed the stages of life, its joys and unexpected obstacles, as the dancers leaped onto the stage and rolled on the floor with finesse. The flying allure of the arms and the casualness of the hips and legs reminded me a little of Roland Petit’s. Carmenas dancers in gold leotards shimmered under the lights.
A person watching, a mix of spoken word and dance by Timothy Coleman, explored the times when we feel alone or connected and the friction between the two. There was a large projection from glass on the floor, as lead dancer Callum Linnane got angry and paced around the stage, watched by a crowd of neighbors who approached, watching him through the window. Snippets of the repeated chorus “For the first time, always” were heard as the dancers swayed in and out of the light to the rhythm of Linnane’s unsettling movements. With a poem on the program as an artist’s statement, I think this piece had more to say in further iterations and developments, but it was striking in its originality using dialogue and dance to dramatic effect.
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In Ex Celsius, by Serena Graham, cited Einstein’s theory of energy; that it can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another. The costumes were elegant in monochrome: white corsets and black leotard stockings, with volcanic red hair clips for the woman Corps de ballet and white singlets and black leggings for men. What ensued was a tussle between the forces, meticulously articulated in footwork and balance as the dancers held themselves in a tight fifth position and fell outward, like a domino in a brave fast Mazurkaesque dance with applause.
The last performance, and perhaps the sharpest (or sharpest) of the six, was CHILDREN TODAY choreographed by Benjamin Garrett. The piece focused on “the frustrations, rage, and despair” felt by Garrett’s generation and certainly exuded those things through clever dance vocabulary and performance art. The music and lighting were extreme, with “intense club vibes” and the dancers showed their virtuosity far beyond classical ballet, with waacking and breakdancing involving expert body splits and rolls. At one point, I felt like shouting “Ballerinas in a dance club, yeah!”, but of course I didn’t. The freedom and confidence of this piece was intoxicating and a high note to end with.
The variety of the line-up, the freshness of the ideas and the physical prowess of the dancers once again placed the Australian Ballet at the epicenter of experimental, exciting and dynamic dance. A triumph of showcase and tantalizing reminder of where commitment to new ideas can lead ballet companies.
Transit Dance Theatre, Brunswick, Melbourne
Bodycouple took place from August 11 to 13, 2022.