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A New York State of Mind

In early April, the Australian Ballet returned to the main stage of the Sydney Opera House for the first time in over a year. Like companies the world over, they were on hiatus while the pandemic raged. With Australia now essentially Covid-free, the company returns to a packed house, and a “new era.” In 2020, former American Ballet Theatre star David Hallberg took over from longtime artistic director David McAllister, and this is his Sydney debut. The programme throws back to Hallberg's roots, a triple bill called “New York Dialects.”

Performance

The Australian Ballet: “New York Dialects”

Place

Sydney Opera House, New South Wales, April 6, 2021

Words

Claudia Lawson

Dimity Azoury and artists of the Australian Ballet in “Serenade” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Daniel Boud

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The Australian Ballet perform “Serenade” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Daniel Boud

The night opens with George Balanchine's iconic ballet from 1934, “Serenade.” Featuring the women of the Australian Ballet, it is celestial in its simplicity, and beautifully delivered. Set to Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, Balanchine cleverly combines elegant port-de-bras, formal patterns, and sublime footwork. The women are dressed in ice-blue tulle, and radiate grace and power, energy and excitement. Senior artist Valerie Tereshchenko was a clear stand out on opening night. The new era is evident.

The Australian Ballet in “Watermark” by Pam Tanowitz. Photograph by Daniel Boud

“Watermark” is a brand new work by New York-based choreographer Pam Tanowitz. The choreography marries sporadic combinations of flexed toe jumps and wonderfully fluid passages, danced mostly danced by the company's men. The work is tantalising in its unexpectedness, further elevated by Caroline Shaw's score, played live by Opera Australia Orchestra, a rarity for a contemporary piece. New York design duo Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung's costumes—androgynous, baggy, partially see-through white jumpsuits—didn't enhance the work, obscuring the dancers' bodies. Sandwiched between two neoclassical works, “Watermark” stood in high contrast, and was a thought-provoking piece.

Jake Mangahkia and Sharni Spencer in “The Four Temperaments” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Daniel Boud

The evening closed with Balanchine's “The Four Temperaments.” The work is pure dance, requiring technical fortitude and meticulous execution. There is no room for error. The dancers, in simple leotards and tights, are reminiscent of the ballet class and years of training. The company is en forme, pas de deux work is impeccable, every arm is synchronised to perfection. Principals Ako Kondo, and the spellbinding Amy Harris were the superstars of the work with hyperextended legs and feet on full display.

New artistic directors can be destabilising for ballet companies. But on opening night at the Sydney Opera House, there was not a hint of dissatisfaction—quite the opposite. The dancers were elevated, wonderfully fit, and seemingly basking in this new era. Only time will reveal if Australian audiences are ready for this New York state of mind. “New York Dialects” is a fresh, sharp, technically brilliant programme, and a joy to watch. Not only is it thrilling to be back in the theatre, it’s an exciting time to be watching this deliciously intriguing art form.

Claudia Lawson


Claudia Lawson is a dance critic based in Sydney, Australia, writing regularly for ABC Radio National, ABC Arts, and Fjord Review. After graduating with degrees in Law and Forensic Science, Claudia worked as a media lawyer for the ABC, FOXTEL and the BBC in London, where she also co-founded Street Sessions dance company. Returning to Sydney, Claudia studied medicine and now works as a doctor. She is the host of the award-winning Talking Pointes Podcast.

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