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.”
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.
“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.
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.