In Advanced againstAustralian Ballet Artistic Director David Hallberg aims to take audiences on a historic journey, from the performance of the 19e classical ballet of the century to the innovations of contemporary dance. This project challenges both the dancers – showcasing their range, endurance and technical skills – and the audience, who are given the opportunity to re-examine their ideas about the purpose and potential of ballet as an art form.
Advanced against opens with Act III of the 1898 ballet Raymonde. This is classical ballet with all the traditional accompaniments: ornate drapery and lighting, stiffened tutus in sumptuous cream and gold, and full orchestral accompaniment. Choreographed by Marius Petipa (renowned for his collaborations with Tschaikovsky for productions such as Nutcracker), the final act of Raymonde is a jubilant wedding celebration for the titular heroine and her crusader husband. Eight couples perform lively Hungarian-inspired dances, before Sharni Spencer captivates the audience with a poised and precise rendition of Raymonds iconic applause solo.
The cut in half of the two longer works is a 1960 performance by George Balanchine Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux: a short routine on a forgotten piece by Tschaikovsky originally composed for Swan Lake. Stripped of decor and script, the dance is a moment of playful joy between a girl and a boy.
Yuumi Yamada and Brett Chynoweth, diaphanously dressed, are nimble and light as they spin around a simple background that is the deep blue of a summer sky. This feeling of floating effortlessly through the air is all the more remarkable considering the strenuous leaps and dives that are required in this fleeting yet memorable piece.
To close the evening, 35 dancers return to the stage for William Forsythe’s Suite of artifacts. Adapted from Forsythe’s 1984 ballet, Artifact, it is an exciting and ambitious contemporary work. Watching the entire corps de ballet move together is fascinating. In their elegant green costumes, the dancers could be a company of toy soldiers as they rearrange themselves into new formations with clockwork precision.
But Forsythe, an admirer of Balanchine, also imbues dance with a freshness, speed and organic vitality: freeing himself from the rigidity of classical ballet to adopt exaggerated forms and off-center positioning. In a satisfying echo of the Raymonde in solo, the choreography includes frequent sounds of applause, which underlines here the body power of the group.
The theme of “counterpoint” is evident on several levels: the counterpoint melodies in the music, what Forsythe calls the “visual counterpoint” of moments such as his double pas de deux, and, of course, the overall juxtaposition of classical styles. and contemporary. .
A show like this reminds us that ballet is an ever-evolving art with a history of creative innovators. It is fascinating to get a sense of the historical context of each piece, and a joy to discover that all three still have the power to surprise and move us today.
With the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide
Advanced against will be played until July 13, 2022