This year’s Ballet at the Quarry, In-Synch, lands heavily on the contemporary side of ‘contemporary ballet’. The quadruple bill by WA Ballet sounds promising on paper: a Finnish choreographer who combines film and live movement, a collaboration with a Perth-based contemporary dance company, and a dance piece that’s mostly improvised. But the product is underwhelming. The program lacks sophistication and subtlety, and does not always best serve the dancers’ technical capacity.

Carina Roberts and Matthew Edwardson in X-it, as part of In-Synch Ballet at the Quarry. Photo © Sergey Pevnev

Opening the evening is X-It by Finnish choreographer Johanna Nuutinen. It’s concerned with the emotions and paranoia of being under constant surveillance; how we behave when we know someone is always watching. On a large screen, we see dance sequences shot at ominous locations like Fremantle Prison. The performers on stage respond to the digital versions of themselves, moving in unison, rebelling against them, or disappearing ‘into’ the screen.

The movement is aggressive, frenetic and constant; physicalising the unsettling feeling of being watched by someone. It’s a slick affair, especially the film, and the six dancers handle the grounded and fluid choreography well. But a dated and uninspiring score and a few too many compositional ideas (which aren’t fully realised) hold the work back.

West Australian Ballet, Ballet at the QuarryDancers of West Austrailan Ballet and Co3 Australia in Reincarnation, as part of In-Synch Ballet at the Quarry. Photo © Sergey Pevnev

The evening’s highlight is a new work by ADT artistic director Garry Stewart with guest dancers from contemporary dance company Co3 Australia. Reincarnation is billed as an ironic take on death, rebirth and transformation, played out through a very loose narrative involving a queen, a Firebird-esque princess, medieval knights and a witch doctor. Jonathan Hindmarsh’s costume design is camp and eccentric – think gold glitter chain mail under-armour, and a hoop dress that unravels the width of the stage. The work doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is why is mostly succeeds.

Angularity and rhythm shape the choreography which sees trios and quartets emerge and dissolve into longer passages of crisp ensemble unison. There’s a controlled aggression in the movement that manifests through articulate fingers, curved spines and low-hanging pelvises. The guests from Co3 are in their comfort zone with Stewart’s signature high-octane movement, and the classically trained dancers integrate fairly seamlessly. The work, however, lacks colour and shade and, without much thematic or choreographic variation, it feels a little long.

West Australian Ballet, Ballet in the QuarryJuan Carlos Osma and Dayana Hardy in In-Synch, as part of In-Synch Ballet at the Quarry. Photo © Sergey Pevnev

In-Synch, from which the program’s title is derived, is billed as the company’s first improvised work. But it’s not entirely improvised – lighting and sound cues provide structure, and some phrases are set. When the score is ‘free’, the dancers use simple compositional tools like mirroring and canon to generate material, producing some interesting variations on the night. Improvisation can be very exposing and difficult to do well en masse. The company made a fair attempt but a more refined movement score may have helped focus the aesthetic.

Ballet at the Quarry, West Australian BalletChihiro Nomura and Matthew Lehmann in The Sofa, as part of In-Synch Ballet at the Quarry. Photo © Sergey Pevnev

Rounding out the program is a slapstick ballet, The Sofa, by Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili created in 1996. Although the crowd was entertained, the use of a queer body for cheap laughs seems outdated and problematic. It’s unclear why Aurélien Scannella continues to program this work (previously performed in 2014) when Perth audiences arguably deserve more rigorous art. This aside, In-Synch is a mixed program offering some interesting ideas and a look at the company’s talent in contemporary form.