Now in its third year, the Bespoke contemporary season continues to challenge boundaries – for Queensland Ballet’s developing and established artists, and audiences alike. 2019’s triple bill extends this further than previously, not only choreographically through its award-winning trio of guests, but also in design: staging, costuming, lighting, sound and multimedia, including cutting edge virtual reality. It provides opportunities for technical and creative expression outside the classical canon, in ways that also ask viewers to reframe the role and range of classical dancers. Odds are you will never have seen QB’s artists work in the way Lucy Guerin, one of Australia’s most lauded choreographers, challenges them to. As is usually the case with mixed bills, people will have favourites, and the bookends by classically-trained choreographers Loughlan Prior and Amy Hollingsworth are more readily accessible and familiar in their core vocabulary.

Loughlan Prior’s The Appearance of Colour. Photograph © David Kelly

Taking its title and score from composer John Metcalfe’s The Appearance of Colour, Prior’s program-opener charts a sharp ascendancy for this emerging talent claimed by both New Zealand and Australia. Made primarily on the eleven Jette Parker Young Artists (augmented by company artist Talia Fidra), the work is sophisticated in its composition and execution of its intent, creating a lasting impression.

Inspired by the transition from black-and-white to colour television in the 1970s, it’s an exploration of how humans respond to the emergence of colour from darkness. Prior’s tandem skill as a filmmaker influences an interdisciplinary approach incorporating digital animation and puppetry using light boxes to generate striking visual effects. The balanced integration of all its facets generated a wondrous ever-evolving sensory carnival that I found the evening’s most holistically satisfying.

Utilising the women on pointe, the group movement features repeated sequences showcasing strong extensions, angular arm lines and precise footwork skewed by quick changes of weight and balance. The dancers interact with each other and light props resembling pixels to form patterns and images echoing the music. When monochrome bands and dapples transition to kaleidoscopic colour, waves of vivid intensity create a feeling of being inside a lava lamp. It’s pretty groovy, and a clever juxtaposition of nostalgia with modern technology. Although the challenges of the featured pas de deux and trios at times betray the artists’ youthfulness, this is a minor aspect of an accomplished performance that confirms why eight of the JPYA will join the QB ranks next year.

Lucy Guerin’s pointNONpoint. Photograph © David Kelly

Although Guerin has won three Helpmann and three Australian Dance Awards, unfortunately we rarely see her work in Queensland. Despite – or perhaps because of – her distinctive idiosyncratic sensibility being at the opposite end of the contemporary spectrum from what QB typically presents, the dancers have wholeheartedly committed to its challenges, aspects of which require them to go physically and intellectually into alien and unguarded territory in her work pointNONpoint.

There is much inverting the classical model: the oversized structured shirts act as a reverse tutu accentuating the legs, and pointe work, performed by men as well as women, is raw and percussive. The closest ballet usually comes to robotic stop-start motion is Coppelia; here it’s driven by a soundscape featuring mechanical and industrial sounds. Atonal vocalising counterpoints chorale voices, and structured movement gives way to chaotic anything-goes expressionism. It’s risky all-round, because the unconventional aesthetic takes the traditional ballet audience outside their comfort zone as well. While one can identify Guerin’s intention of expanding from a single focal point to a pulsating montage of 23 dancers that fragments our gaze, necessitating forming an individual impression, some of the symbolism and methodology remains obscure. The movement that I enjoyed most, for its inherent quality alongside an opportunity to see a different side of the artists, was that which concentrated on individual performers, especially Sophie Zoricic then Vanessa Morelli in the first two scenes, which were intricate and nuanced.

Amy Hollingsworth’s From Within. Photograph © David Kelly

Creating From Within for Bespoke while overseeing this Wednesday’s premiere of Matrix for Expressions Dance Company is quite an achievement for EDC Artistic Director Amy Hollingsworth. She thrives on finding the nexus between her art form’s humanity and the potential for technology to enhance its immediacy. In this instance that includes the retinue of design ingredients for From Within’s live stage performance and a complementary second part: a five-minute virtual reality trip inside it created by Breeder and Josephmark that’s a beautiful journey of abstract evanescence (available pre- and post-performance and during the two intervals).

The live work can stand alone though, serving as a showcase for a dozen of the company’s most versatile artists, well-known and up-and-coming. Made in collaboration with the dancers, responding to the composition and sound design by Wil Hughes, From Within spotlights their personalities, range and flair, interspersing playful anecdotal voiceovers with movement spanning ambling and gestural, dynamic athleticism, exciting partnering and lifts. It means we get to see (and hear) some performers in new ways: company artist Isabella Swietlicki’s poised pas de deux ensured we learnt her name afterward, and in addition to performing an evocative and reflective solo to the poignant Blackbird, Vanessa Morelli contributed backing vocals to the soundtrack. Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet makes for an exuberant feel-good finale, the obvious warmth Hollingsworth has for these twelve talents creating the tribute she wanted to their artistry and spirit. Technical director Cameron Goerg’s lighting design is an important element in the mood of each piece, and Bespoke’s overall impression.

Queensland Ballet’s Bespoke is at Brisbane Powerhouse until November 16