The Australian Ballet School – Showcase 2019 review by Nick Pilgrim

*****stars

The Australian Ballet was founded in 1962.

Two years later, The Australian Ballet School was established by Dame Margaret Scott (1922 – 2019) in direct need to this fledgling operation.

The educational organization quickly became a vital training base, both for sourcing and nurturing student talent. In essence, the school is to this day key in creating potential future stars for its parent company, and beyond.

Now in its fifty-fifth year of operation, the statistics speak for themselves. The Australian Ballet gleans close to one hundred percent of its dancers from the school. Past and present graduates have also gone onto successful careers as principals and soloists with other prestigious troupes around the globe.

Former students include Jason Gardiner, David McAllister, Graeme Murphy, Gideon Brazened, Marilyn Rowe, Hugh Sheridan, and Meryl Tankard. McAllister, it should also be noted, is the current artistic director for The Australian Ballet.

An opportunity to highlight and promote the school’s immense depth of talent and vast artistic scope, the gala evening was divided up into eight distinct and delightful parts. Dance is perhaps the most challenging of all the performing arts.  Free from dialogue, artists may only communicate an intent through movement alone.

There was a lot of love in the room, with bursts of eager applause heard at many moments throughout the show.

Both The Australian Ballet School and The Australian Ballet must be thrilled that from the night’s outset, this experience will be a legitimate launching pad for some major names to come.

Dance styles ranged from classical to contemporary, with a little bit of Broadway thrown in for good measure. Such specificity of choice meant there was always something of visual interest to observe, appreciate and soak up on the State Theatre’s gigantic stage.

In order of performance, these pieces were:

  • Defile – A tribute to the late Dame Margaret Scott, with choreography by Simon Dow
  • Divertissement, with choreography by Simon Dow
  • Journey, with choreography by Margaret Wilson
  • Con Brio, with choreography by Simon Dow
  • After Escher, with choreography by Margaret Wilson
  • Sketch Tone, with choreography by Richard House
  • La Tarantella Italian, with choreography by Leigh Rowels
  • Who Cares?, with choreography by George Balanchine, and restaged by Victoria Simon

In each instance, subtle and sensitive technical support allowed the dancers to be showcased at their absolute best. Never once overwhelmed by complex electronic and mechanical wizardry, this back to basics approach meant that the performers’ musical and athletic prowess were always positioned at the forefront. No creative detail was left to chance.

Lighting Design by Francis Crosse set mood and texture for all eight works.  For example, Crosse painted La Tarantella Italian and Who Cares? with a rich Technicolor palette. Conversely, Journey and After Escher were immersed or backlit in various shades of blue or grey.

Costumes played a significant role, either to establish character or to emphasize line. After Escher clad dancers in form – fitting body suits.  Designed and constructed by Peggy Jackson, Kato, Kate Glenn-Smith, Lara Berwick, and Maree Strachan, their collective work provided a terrific platform for the performers.  Harnessed by solid tones and geometric patterns, one could sense the precise power and strength the piece demanded.

Glenn-Smith, Berwick, and Strachan were also responsible for La Tarantella Italian. They brought a charming whimsy to the piece, with layered, period – inspired clothing designed to highlight the fast and complex movement.

Expert stage management by Michele Forbes allowed short set – up times and quick transitions between pieces.

This annual event provided opportunities to highlight dance in its many different shapes and forms. There was a lot to appreciate and take in.

What stood out to this reviewer most, was how both male and female artists were given equal time to highlight their individual skills, innovative control and shear physical power. In the traditional sense, men are often employed as support or a background to the women.  That was not the case here. At times, dancers were also featured solo or in gender – fluid pairs, trios, quartets and group – based partnerships.

By design or lucky happenstance, the placement of each piece meant that the evening built and progressed in technical difficulty to a thrilling and glorious conclusion.

Opening the show, Defile was a proud tribute to the late founder, Dame Margaret Scott, and her dedication to the school.

Acting mainly as a vehicle to introduce the company, its overall power was in witnessing the entire student body from Levels 2 – 8, all present and accounted for on stage at the same time.

It was immediately followed by Divertissement.  Set to the orchestral music of Giuseppe Verdi, the dancers performed to excerpts from “Aida”, “Don Carlos”, “Il Trovatore”, “Jerusalem”, “Le Quattro Stagioni”, and “Macbeth”.

This piece featured:

  • Opening (Full Cast)
  • Pas De Quartre (Lilly Maskery / Benjamin Garrett / Heidi Freeman / Alain Jueig)
  • Female Solo 1 (Karina Arimura)
  • Male Solo 1 (Shu Igarashi)
  • Female Trio (Amelia Dawe / Alexandra Cramer / Grace Heinnen)
  • Male Duo (Thomas Gannon / Lachlan Mair)
  • Female Solo 2 (Belle Urwin)
  • Female Quartet (Heidi Freeman / Ines Hargreaves / Brianna McAllen / Leisel Rose)
  • Male Solo 2 (Adam Elmes)
  • Female Solo 3 (Larissa Kiyoto – Ward)
  • Male Quartet (Ziggy Debrincat / Benjamin Garrett / Alain Jueig / Louis Ramsay)
  • Female Solo 4 (Mao Fujita)
  • Male Solo 3 (Jett Ramsay)
  • Female Solo 5 (Lilly Maskery)
  • Finale (Full Cast)

Journey provided startling choreographic contrast. Backed by Max Richter’s excerpts from Memoryhouse (“November” and “Fragment”), this contemporary piece arranged dancers in solo and group formation.  One minute, they were interlocking oceanic waves. The next, a flock of birds in flight.

Featured here were Mio Bayly, Abbey Hansen, Layla Kluss, My Le, Emily Masters, Samara Merrick, Ion Ohta, Ella Pukallus, Anna Stewart, Charlotte Stratton – Smith, Jessica Stratton – Smith, Rhiannon Tringas, Georgia Waite, Helena Williams, Oliver Evans, Oliver Hoddinott, Nicholas Johnson, Rikuto Kubota, Bryce Latham, Flynn Stelfox, Hibiki Tsukamoto, and Hirotaka Yamada.

Con Brio tipped the scales back towards more traditional fare. Back by “Symphony No 6 in D Major (Le Matin): 4th Movement: Finale – Allegro”, all thirteen dancers showed their prowess as a collective group.

The cast included Jasmine Cameron, Grace Campbell, Tiombe Davey, Jessica Edwards, Laura Hockenhull, Calista Lewis, Nicole Moshidis, Aimee Phan, Nateeqa Tatiyana Sazali, Corey Gavan, Jeremy Hargreaves, Seth Marshall, and Charlie Tough.

Taking its name from the graphic artist known for his geometric drawing, After Escher locked its performers together like pieces from a human puzzle. Together, they formed a living mechanism in action.

Featured were Amelia Dawe, Heidi Freeman, Mao Fujita, Ines Hargreaves, Larissa Kiyoto – Ward, Lilly Maskery, Brianna McAllen, Leisel Rose, Belle Urwin, Ziggy Debrincat, Adam Elmes, Thomas Gannon, Benjamin Garrett, She Igarashi, Alain Jueig, Lachlan Mair, Jett Ramsay, and Louis Ramsay.

Sketch Tone used the “Pas de Deux” from The Two Pigeons by Andre Messager as its foundation. This piece is based around a famous fable featuring two birds.  One flies away, and the other waits for it to come back.  This work had a particularly light touch, similar in flavour and style to Coppelia and Giselle.

Dancers for this piece included Amber Alston, Sophie Burke, Bella Collishaw, Emmanuelle Fairweather, Lucia Field, Allegra Keneally, Agnes Mayrani, Annabelle McCoy, Scarlett O’Rielley, Amy Ronnfeldt, Indiana Scott, Sophie Wormald, Tadgh Robinson, Matthew Soloviev, Hibiki Tsukamoto, and Nicholas Johnson.

La Tarantella Italiana showcased its dancers prop and acting skills to excellent effect. Set to the “Grande Tarantella, Opus 67” by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, this non – stop piece made full use of the State Theatre stage.  It will be remembered as a frenetic blend of movement and colour.

The cast featured Pamela Barnes, Sophie Beaty, Stephanie Blann, Lily Boston, Jemma Braun, Emma Dowling, Hannah Goetze, Bonnie Grice, Lilla Harvey, Izabella Kriek, Emily McCracken, Hannah Sergi, Ella Vivian – Kay, Annabelle Watt, Maidie Widmer, Luca Armstrong, Hugo Dumapit, Rab Flanigan, Matthew Maxwell, Eoghan Somers, George Thomson, and Isaac Westhead.

Closing out the evening, Who Cares? blended the best of Broadway and Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Golden Age of movie musicals head – on. George Balanchine’s choreography combined with George Gershwin’s American songbook to brilliant advantage.

All twenty-seven performers danced to instrumental versions of Gershwin’s famous music.  Pieces danced in order of performance were:

  • “Strike Up The Band” (Ladies and Gentlemen),
  • “Sweet and Low Down” (Ensemble),
  • “Somebody Loves Me” (Amelia Dawe / Mao Fujita / Brianna McAllen / Leisel Rose / Ines Hargreaves)
  • “Bidin’ My Time” (Adam Elmes / Thomas Gannon / Alain Jueig / Lachlan Mair / Louis Ramsay)
  • “S Wonderful” (Mao Fujita / Lachlan Mair)
  • “That Certain Feeling” (Leisel Rose / Thomas Gannon / Ines Hargreaves / Louis Ramsay)
  • “Do Do Do” (Brianna McAllen / Adam Elmes)
  • “Oh, Lady Be Good” (Amelia Dawe / Alain Jueig)
  • “The Man I Love” (Lilly Maskery / Jett Ramsay)
  • “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (Heidi Freeman)
  • “Embraceable You” (Larissa Kiyoto – Ward / Benjamin Garrett)
  • “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” (Lilly Maskery)
  • “Who Cares?” (Heidi Freeman / Ziggy Debrincat)
  • “My One and Only” (Larissa Kiyoto – Ward)
  • “Liza” (Jett Ramsay)
  • “I Got Rhythm” (Entire Cast)

If I had to choose a standout moment, and there were many, it would be the pairing of Lilly Maskery and Jett Ramsay for “The Man I Love”.  Together, they shared palpable chemistry, balanced physical prowess, trust, and maturity beyond their years.  That the entire evening produced magic at this level, was not only a privilege to see in person, but a testament to the school and what it has achieved over the last half century.

Overseen by director, Lisa Pavane, this annual celebration more than reinforces that Generation Next is in capable hands.

It should be noted that two further performances will be held at The Concourse, Chatswood (NSW) on September 27 and 28.

Performances: 5 Stars

Direction: 5 Stars

Choreography: 5 Stars

Costumes: 5 Stars

Lighting: 5 Stars

Sound: 5 Stars

Stage Management: 5 Stars

 

 

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