LET'S DANCE The Australian Ballet with West Australian Ballet, Expressions Dance Company, Australian Dance Theatre, Dancenorth, Tasdance, Queensland Ballet and Sydney Dance Company. Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre until June 16 Jordan Beth Vincent Reviewer
THE Australian Ballet is certainly making a splash in its 50th-anniversary season. Let's Dance commemorates the company's place on the national dance scene, while celebrating the longevity, innovation, and success of Australian dance. Seven companies have brought work to Melbourne to take part in this special season, flying in from Perth, Adelaide, Townsville, Launceston, Sydney and Brisbane.
The West Australian Ballet kicks off the night with Ombra Leggera, a comedic duet choreographed by artistic director Ivan Cavallari. Pumping fists, wiggling hips and bumping bums match Maria Callas' operatic acrobatics.
Expression Dance Company's Don't, choreographed by artistic director Natalie Weir, begins with a lone male dancer arching his back as though bathing in streams of light. Six dancers move in and out of duets, with each variation capturing moments of a crumbling relationship. A female dancer hands large cutouts of the word "don't" to her partner, gently pushing him further away each time.
Tasdance is represented with a short film, Momentary, featuring choreography by Anna Smith. The film is set in the bush with images of dancers and an elderly woman interspersed like fragments of a memory.
In Australian Dance Theatre's Be Your Self, choreographed by Garry Stewart, a woman describes the functions involved in a simple shift of weight. She seems as delighted by her ability to deliver the anatomical jargon as by the cellular miracle of human movement. The dancers pop their ribcages like visual echoes of a thumping heart, and fly fearlessly across the floor human metaphors for chemicals surging from the brain.
Dancenorth's Fugue draws inspiration from the dancing mania of 16th-century Europe. Choreographed by artistic director Raewyn Hill, the work features the company moving in unison like an army of glittery beetles slowly working themselves into a mass frenzy.
Dance halls seem to preserve the ghosts of happy couples of yesteryear. Outgoing Queensland Ballet artistic director and choreographer Francois Klaus taps into this cultural nostalgia with Cloudland, an elegant pas de deux performed by Rachael Walsh and Keian Langdon. Walsh, in a white silk gown, floats through the sequences as though dancing on air.
Sydney Dance Company's 2 One Another will be performed in Melbourne in its entirety later this year. Choreographer and artistic director Rafael Bonachela sets the dancers against a projected screen, rendering them as majestic celestial bodies in a galaxy of stars.
The omission of a performance by the dancers of the Australian Ballet is unfortunate, but the company is currently preparing to tour New York. Choreographer Tim Harbour has instead coaxed the celebrated Steven Heathcote and Justine Summers out of retirement for the premiere of Sweedeedee, joined onstage by Heathcote's daughter, Mia, and Lennox Niven both students at the Australian Ballet School.
The purity of line in Harbour's movement vocabulary adeptly communicates this poignant story of family love and loss. Mia Heathcote has clearly inherited her father's flair for performance. However, this is a case where emotional maturity and experience lend gravitas to a work, and Summers and Steven Heathcote shine as they rekindle their luminous on-stage partnership.
National touring is usually prohibitively expensive for dance companies. Let's Dance demonstrates Australian dance is very much alive. The fact that these eight companies present work of such high calibre, and are thriving in a world of uncertain funding, is a triumph for the dance community as a whole.