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Ballet Without Borders

… for the only human race to which it is forbidden to sever the bonds of time is the race of those who create art.” 

–Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps


The Australian Ballet: “Vitesse – Ballet Without Borders”


State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, March 14 & 15, 2016


Gracia Haby

Amber Scott, Lana Jones and Karen Nanasca in “Forgotten Land.” Photograph by Jeff Busby

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In “Vitesse,” Jiří Kylián is our trusted guide and cartographer, joined by William Forsythe and Christopher Wheeldon. Together they map our course and broaden our understanding of what dance is and can be. In their hands, “Vitesse” is shown to be a heart, furiously beating, of that there can be no mistake. This is ‘ballet without borders’ where cause and effect relationships are explored and fleeting moments glorified.

A squally wind blows into the theatre, pursued by beat after beat on the timpani. Kylián’s “Forgotten Land” is set to Benjamin Britten’s symphonic memorial for his parents and dramatic statement on the horrors of war, Sinfonia da Requiem. Beginning with a funeral march, “Lacrymosa” (Weeping); there is still a sense of hope in this work, namely in the final movement, “Requiem aeternum” (Eternal rest), and in Kylián’s known fluid movement, which affirms “in a wartime context … that one day there will be peace… And Kylián’s choreography gets inside the essence of the music, even when it’s not interpreting it literally, and he perfectly reflects the moods and implications of the Sinfonia in ’Forgotten Land.’”[note]Nicolette Fraillon, “Music Note,” The Australian Ballet’s Vitesse programme, State Theatre, Melbourne, Victoria, March 2016, 25[/note]

Just as humans are altering the landscape to devastating effect, causing Antarctic ice shelves to melt, in Kylián’s hands, we’re not just looking at the landscape but at how we (through the dancers) can carve out and alter a space. And just like weathering a storm, it is never easy to find new ways of being. So whilst the dancers appear battered by wind and try to keep themselves anchored in the face of wild terrain, they, themselves, are actually the forceful energy.

Recalling Edvard Munch’s painting The Dance of Life, there are three distinct periods: youth, in white, full of hope and serenity; red for passion and intensity; black, wise, strong, and determined. Lana Jones beautifully symbolises black’s ‘what will come’ awareness. Heads whip round and recall sea birds buffeted but steadfast in their promenade. With their backs to the audience, the dancers are individual and community, constancy and change, hand in glove. As Amber Scott and Adam Bull make footprints in the eroding coastline, “each footstep is a form of measurement that mediates between [the] body and the landscape”[note]Michael Auping, “A Nomad Among Builders,” Places, 3, 4 (1987), 4-7[/note]

: Humans have created the world around them and as such have the power to reshape it. With a melancholy undertow that echo’s Munch’s own lament: “my art is rooted in a single reflection: why am I not as others are?”

From seascape to the electronic score by Thom Willems in collaboration with Lesley Stuck, William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” at first appears to disturb nature’s order. Is there no limitation to the range of actions the human body can perform? Energy unleashed gives the impression of being beyond rule, where in fact the very opposite is true. Discipline and courage, this power is controlled, but the dance, from the audiences’ vantage reads as fantastically chaotic; it is triumphant and in parts downright destructive. Movement appears like hot glass before it sets, and it is the colour of malachite. Hard and brittle, it expands before it shrinks and cools. Glass (like the dancers) has enormous tensile strength.

The beauty of this work is that movements are rooted in the classical. The same building blocks but spun anew! Achieve equilibrium, an interactive balance, or be doomed. Slippage! The potential for danger in the choreography is never far away. And so we have the heel weighted walk as reprieve in the sidelines. To read this as diverging from the formal is to misread turbulence, this is showing us the way things are as organisms collide and evolve. This is physics as materials morph, reshaping dance's evolution through choreography that lets the audience feel the play, release, and hyperextension of muscles and joints. Fleeting moments, suspended, offering an abundance of shapes both in the positive (dancer) and negative (background) space, and for me it was symbolised by Nicola Curry, Jill Ogai, Valerie Tereschenko, and Alice Topp (on Monday) and Ako Kondo, Kevin Jackson, Robyn Hendricks, and Benedicte Bemet (on Tuesday).*

From here we spin, or rather hurtle, punching holes into the burnished steel of industry as we go, into Christopher Wheeldon’s “DGV ” (“Danse à Grande Vitesse”). As with “Forgotten Land,” where the score becomes entwined with movement, the perpetual motion of Michael Nyman’s MGV: (Musique a Grande Vitesse) ensures unity. As the world flies by, the suggestion of changing scenery and train are not separated, but one. Time, whether recalled in Kylián’s poetic dream or shown by Forsythe as a dancer (never just) travelling from A to B, to the linear steam engine of cause and effect is given shape. This symbolic train is moving forward to the present and in turn it refers back to Munch’s cycle of life where we began.

Suspended and swift! In the manmade steel railway of “DGV,” rapid elevations are forged by human might. The dancers appear directed by their own movement, orientating themselves according to their own senses. A steam of dancers! A mutable image! Just like the capricious coastline of East Anglia. Amy Harris and Andrew Killian, Bemet and Rudy Hawkes, Hendricks and Jackson, and Kondo and Chengwu Guo make themselves chimeras, in the sense of being hybrids capable of mutating shape through movement. Part love letter to the romance of travel and its peculiar intimacy, part high speed blurred landscape, this requires couples and corps de ballet to become greased pistols and cogs. And with two beautiful moments of complete silence to replicate the hush of a tunnel or evoke wifi disconnection, it’s not the destination that’s of importance but the new way of seeing things which travel affords, even in the theatre.

The “Vitesse” triple bill: an indivisible whole. All three works shown in this manner become interconnected. Dance as “élan, a ‘current’, absolutely distinct from inanimate matter but contending with it, ‘traversing’ it so as to force it into organized form ... it refuses to put life’s essential spontaneity in bondage to any kind of predetermination.”[note]Jacques Monod, Le hazard et la nécessité. Essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie modern (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1970); trans. Austryn Wainhouse, Chance and Necessity, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), 25-33[/note] Disquieting and real, enlightened and inexhaustible, “the world we live in is a revelation that can be ‘read’, experienced. Everything we experience or are able to experience is significant for itself and for everything.” Yes, “the world is my chance/ it changes me every day/ my chance is my poetry.”[note]Herman de Vries, “the world we live in is a revelation,” in Vittorio Fagone (ed.), Ars in natura (Mazzotta Edizioni: Milano, 1992) as on website:[/note]

* Inescapable vim, it is infectious! As with all contemporary triple bills, I especially enjoy the egalitarian casting of principals, senior artists, and soloists alongside coryphées and members of corps de ballet.

Gracia Haby

Using an armoury of play and poetry as a lure, Gracia Haby is an artist besotted with paper. Her limited edition artists’ books, and other works hard to pin down, are often made collaboratively with fellow artist, Louise Jennison. Their work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and state libraries throughout Australia to the Tate (UK). Gracia Haby is known to collage with words as well as paper.



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