Love and beauty will be in the air as AB kicks up its heels with a program of old and new.
The Australian Ballet has unveiled its 2015 season line-up, with a heady mix of the old, the new and the refreshingly unusual. “The Year of Beauty” brings together classic and contemporary pieces, and is headlined with a new production of Tchaikovsky’s classic The Sleeping Beauty.
Billed as a “19th-century classic for a 21st-century audience,” the crowd-pleaser will be newly envisioned by the company’s Artistic Director David McAllister whose interest in the piece started when he was cast as a child extra in Rudolf Nureyev’s production in Perth in the 1970s. “I feel like Sleeping Beauty has been in my DNA since then,” McAllister told Limelight. “It made a big impression, although in the end all of us boys were too small, so we ended up getting sacked. I stood on stage for about five minutes with Rudolf and then he said ‘no, too short’ and we all got scrapped!”
That didn’t dampen the budding artist’s spirit though, and he went to see the Nureyev production twice. “It was amazing to watch at that age, because it was all so magical. I didn’t see all the reality of it. I just got swept up into the fairyland of Sleeping Beauty.”
Although still in the workshopping stages, McAllister says he has always had a vision of his finished production. The first obstacle was the length. “One of the big things I’ve really wanted to do is make it a length that is friendly for an audience, and for children. It’s a magical work, but it can just go on a little too long. I’ve been working with Nicolette Fraillon on the score, and we’ve found a way of getting it all together without losing the majesty.”
Set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova has helped McAllister bring his vision to life, with a Baroque inspired ambiance. “We’re being very traditional,” McAllister explains. “We’re setting the first part in the 1700’s, and the second in the 1800’s, so we’re being quite true to the idea of the story, even though it’s normally set a little bit earlier than that.”
Above all McAllister hopes to make it relatable to ballet first-timers. “I’m really putting in a lot of work into making sense of the story, so that if you’re a child who’s never seen the ballet, there’s not all of that implied knowledge. We’re trying to make it all very clear. There’s no ‘it’s like that because it’s always been like that’. It’s very exciting.”
The world premiere of McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty will be the jewel in the crown of the 2015 programme, a moment that the artist himself eagerly anticipates. “It’s been fantastic – I feel like I’ve been doing my thesis on Sleeping Beauty, and it’ll be presented on September 15 next year!”
Also on the cards is an exploration of the progress of modern choreography in the intriguing triple bill 20:21. Each revolutionary in their time, the works of George Balanchine, Twyla Tharpe and Australian Ballet’s newest resident choreographer Tim Harper come together for a night of ‘modern’ ballet.
“I think Balanchine defined the early 20th century with his choreographic input,” says McAllister. “Then Twyla in the second half created such synergy between contemporary and classical ballet, and really shaped that American aesthetic for the late 20th century. It’s the 50th anniversary of Twyla Tharpe’s choreographic career next year, and that’s part of the reason for including the piece. And Tim Harper has a real passion for taking ballet into the 21st century; he’s using an electronic score and working with Kelvin Ho, who’s a fantastic architect on the design element. The idea is looking at works from the 20th and the 21st century, and seeing the progression.”
Alive with playful wonderment, and appropriately titled The Dream, a triple bill of three Frederick Ashton ballets is another exciting new piece promised in the line-up. “I’ve really wanted the company to do Symphonic Variations for a long time,” says McAllister. “I’ve actually wanted us to do an evening of Ashton Ballets, because we haven’t done one since 2004, which is too long for the works of such a great master. I was really pushing to get this program, with Symphonic Variations and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the double bill was just a little too short. And then Monotones was a piece that I saw when I was a dancer at the school, and I thought, that would be a perfect combination of works.”
Chengwu Guo and Madeleine Eastoe in The Dream
The focal piece, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is Ashton’s 1960s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play of the same name, and choreographed to Mendelssohn’s famous music. Symphonic Variations and Monotones II share a whimsical quality, but “they’re very different styles of works,” says McAllister. “Symphonic is a very pared-back, classical divertissement type piece. Dream is a wonderful narrative piece. And Monotones is probably on the more contemporary edge of what Ashton did; he wasn’t known to be a contemporary choreographer, but it was his most abstract and contemporary work. So this triple bill shows a whole vista of his ballets.”
Returning favourites include, for Sydney, Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, Australian Ballet’s most performed work and a piece that has taken the company around the world. Also Maina Gielgud’s Giselle, the hauntingly beautiful story of undying love, and the always welcome Cinderella, the fairy-tale classic which in Alexei Ratmansky’s witty new staging has proved a sell-out success in the Australian Ballet’s recent seasons.
The Australian Ballet performing Swan Lake
As for dancers, the guest artists have yet to be locked in, but McAllister promises that an exchange with the American Ballet Company should bring some international talent to match the home-grown stars across the season.
For more information on Australian Ballet’s 2015 season, visit the company’s website.