An intimate celebration of the beauty of the human form in dance, Chroma is a thoughtfully curated presentation of the work of a wide range of contributing artists.
Above the considerable merits of the artistic input of the creative team, the chief attraction here is the opportunity to see so many of The Australian Ballet’s wonderful Principal Artists on stage together. Where a full-length ballet may present two or three stars, Chroma features no less than eight of the ten currently reigning Principal Artists. In pieces that involve stripped back costumes, rapid movement and frequent close physical contact, the comfort, familiarity and confidence of the dancers in each other is an unbeatable asset. The result is a thrilling evening of unique dances, which vary from jarringly confronting to hauntingly poetic to delightfully humorous.
Equal parts sharp and fluid, the Australian premiere of British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma” is an enthralling opening to the program. Deliberately bolstered by the rare use of amplification, Orchestra Victoria sound sensational while playing composer Joby Talbot’s score, which chiefly consists of instrumental covers of The White Stripes by Jack White III. While the compact size of John Pawson’s white box set design is not ideal for State Theatre sightlines, its smooth lines create a clean backdrop. Using five pairs of neutral nude tones, Moritz Junge creates an androgynous effect by dressing the male and female dancers in the same apparel.
With six of the ten dancers drawn from the ranks of the Principal Artists, “Chroma” is like watching a masterclass of modern dance. With brisk athleticism, the dancers work as one to bring the piece to life. Highlights include the exciting male trio by Andrew Killian, Brett Chynoweth and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson, who is sure to be promoted at any moment. Beloved stage couple Adam Bull and Amber Scott share a quiet moment for a meditative, highly romantic pas de deux.
“Art to Sky,” by resident choreographer Stephen Baynes, receives its world premiere this season. Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana, used previously by George Balanchine, remains a perfect piece of music for ballet. Following the excitement of “Chroma,” “Art to Sky” makes a bit of a slow start, but gradually wins the audience over with its playful appeal and romantic overtones. Hugh Colman’s costumes, the most colourful of the night, stand out against the full size black box stage in muted, smoky jewel tones.
With a small piece of a castle overhead, there is a sense of fairy tale fragments, giving the work shades of narrative thrust. Killian and Madeleine Eastoe perform a charged pas de deux that would be welcome in any full-length ballet. In a clever trick, as part of Rachel Burke’s lighting design, Eastoe disappears before our eyes in the corner of the stage after the pas de deux. Lana Jones, in tiara and silvery white slip, performs a lovely sequence with the men, in which she is tossed about like a princess doll whilst also treating the men as her own playthings. Chengwu Guo dances a mesmerizing, masculine solo. The act concludes with a lovely combined piece from the fourteen dancers.
In the first of a fascinating pair, Jiří Kylián’s “Petite Mort” makes a bold beginning by setting a slow but tightly timed dance to the breathless sound of silence. Five male dancers move gradually downstage, using fencing foils as dramatic props. The concentration and unified teamwork of the men is terrifically impressive.
The female dancers present the first touches of humour in Kylián’s works when they glide on in black Elizabethan gowns, which we soon see are just solid fronts on wheels. These “gowns” are used in both works to charming comic effect. “Petite Mort” is the more serious of the pair, presenting a series of hypnotically sensual pas de deux.
Both of Kylián’s pieces are set to the serenely lovely music of Mozart. Ever impressive music director Nicolette Fraillon handles the variety of styles of the evening with effortless aplomb, with Orchestra Victoria also rising to the challenge of giving a unified sound to the somewhere diverse aspects of the set of scores.
In “Sechs Tänze,” Kylián takes the Mozart angle a step further by dressing the dancers in powdered wigs and period make up, which not only allow for heightened expression but also contrast humorously with the light calico costuming.
Chroma is an accessible, nicely balanced evening of entertainment performed by dancers at the top of their game.