While ballet often puts females up front and centre stage, choreography in Australia (and more broadly for that matter) has mostly been a male domain.
But the Australian Ballet’s Alice Topp appears to be one of the women breaking that mould. Her first full-act work Aurum (pictured above) received rapturous applause at its world premiere in Melbourne on June 21.
It was second in the company’s triple bill Verve, a celebration of Australian choreographic talent. Topp’s piece stands out for forging a deep emotional connection with the audience, and for being completely relevant to 2018.
Wearing simple white costumes designed by Topp, the 20-minute piece is based on the idea of Japanese kintsugi, the art of repairing broken ceramics with gold or metallic lacquer. Topp relates this concept to human frailty and strength, and the cast expertly captured this through their physical expression, as well as their intuitive connection to Ludovico Einaudis beautiful music.
Topp has been crafting her unique style over the past few years through the company’s Body torque programs. She is creating dance that astutely reflects contemporary ways of thinking, feeling, communicating, artistic style, and even dressing. If she can maintain her keen observation of the human condition and reflecting that in her work her career should flourish.
Further along the road as a dance maker is Stephen Baynes, whose signature style is long-limbed, fluid and elegant. His piece, Constant Variants, opened the same night. Set to Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, it offers the perfect showcase for the dancers’ flawless technique and regal upper body carriage.
Michael Pearce’s set design symbolises the Renaissance hall of an art gallery, with large picture frames behind the dancers that position them as the ‘art work’. Principal Ako Kondo expertly leads the cast, culminating in gravity-defying lifts to punctuate the end of each variation.
Wrapping up the program is Filigree and Shadow, a piece inspired by the idea of birds flying into the heart of a hurricane, only to be swirled high up to the relative peace above. Its choreographer, Tim Harbour calls it a “catharsis for aggression”, and he has brings this mood to life with the fast paced, dynamic moves set to the pumping 48 nord by Ulrich Müller and Siegfried Rössert.
Wearing sleek navy tops and black tights, the cast throw themselves into the sequences with full might, relentlessly changing directions, leaping and lifting, to the point of near exhaustion.
Baynes, Topp and Harbour show the diversity of choreographic talent in Australia, and the vast capability of the company’s dancers to adapt so fearlessly to each choreographer’s vision.
Verve is at the Arts Centre, Melbourne until June 30. Photos by Jeff Busby