Moving slowly but purposefully towards a dramatically depicted seascape to the sound of howling wind and menacing drumbeats, the opening scene of the Australian Ballet’s latest contemporary triple bill, Vitesse, is mesmerising.
The piece, Jiři Kylián’s Forgotten Land from 1981, explores human life and the power of nature and the battles and breakthroughs we experience surviving it.
Dressed in autumnal tones with dramatic splashes of red, principal dancers Adam Bull, Amber Scott and Lana Jones excel, dancing to the accompaniment of Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. They perform a number of captivating pas de deux and intertwining sequences with maturity and emotion.
With a sound as loud as a thunderclap and stark lighting illuminating the stage, William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987), opens in visual and energetic contrast, demanding attention and promising dynamite.
The piece, groundbreaking in its time, is set to a bold electronic track by Thom Willems. Forsythe pushes every part of his dancers’ bodies into unexpected directions. Dressed in simple green leotards and black tights, it’s if the dancers are in a ballet studio. They saunter between sequences, casually launching into high impact moves, then dropping out of them, as if in practice.
The challenge with a piece this powerful is having dancers who can rise above the sensory impact of the sound and lights. While the cast is technically precise — with principals Kevin Jackson and Ako Kondo striking every execution — more heart and attitude was needed to take command of the piece.
Another mood change, another striking scene. With a curved steel frame, akin to a plane, as its backdrop, Christopher Wheeldon’s DGVc: Danse à Grande Vitesse, is intricate and surprising. It was developed in 1993 to commemorate the inauguration of the TGV high-speed train line. The composer Michael Nyman was also commissioned at the the time to create his Musique à grande vitesse. The work captures the sense of continual movement and mixes industrial activity with human sentiment. As soon as the pace, combination of dancers or music becomes familiar, Wheeldon shakes it up.
Principal Amy Harris is a stand out with her poise and assurance, while the the cast has the speed, fluidity and rapport to bring his vision hurtling to life. The costumes by Jean-Marc Puissan are arresting with the women’s leotards in a beautiful array of plums, jade green and browns colours and cut in corset-like shapes.
The final scene features three couples twirling continuously; the women are raised in the air creating organic shapes. It’s an end as captivating as the opening, reflecting the highs and the ‘almost-there’ of a solid evening of dance that falls short of being truly memorable.