October 2012

Arts & Letters

The Best of Australian Dance 2012

By Deborah Jones
'Gemini', The Australian Ballet, 2012. © Jeff Busby

Glen Tetley’s Gemini was made for the Australian Ballet nearly 40 years ago. It looked like the future then, and still does. Revived in August to celebrate the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary, Gemini was inspired by the vastness of the Australian continent, astutely represented by Nadine Baylis’ set design. Rows of slender slats in shimmering colours evoked a mirage-like landscape that stretched to vanishing point.

Within this lustrous space two women and two men embarked on a series of solos, duos and quartets to the bracing sounds of Hans Werner Henze’s Third Symphony. Tetley requires fiendishly difficult feats of the dancers, who must appear radiantly unaware of those challenges while exuding a deep sensuality that makes Gemini rather less abstract than it seems at first glance.

Indeed it was hard to keep a cool intellectual distance from a work in which, wearing second-skin garments of the palest gold, dancers wrapped themselves around each other so there was scarcely a cigarette paper between them – as close to protected sex as you’re likely to see on stage. Gemini’s first cast – Lana Jones, Adam Bull, Amber Scott and Rudy Hawkes – was exemplary. The women in particular were astonishing: Jones with unflagging, steel-willed command and Scott offering luscious creaminess.

Gemini was the centrepiece of a program tagged ‘Icons’, featuring two short narrative ballets that have been important to the Australian Ballet: Robert Helpmann’s The Display and Graeme Murphy’s Beyond Twelve. The Display was more historically interesting than persuasively performed and Beyond Twelve was touching and engaging but is a minor work. Nevertheless, together they asked the audience to see a company in context and in forward motion – a valuable task.

Also worthy of note in the past 12 months was Gideon Obarzanek’s Assembly, which potently combined the forces of a large choir with dancers from Melbourne’s Chunky Move. Independent choreographer Martin del Amo (who should be much more widely known) gave dancer Paul White yet another platform to display his prodigious gifts with the difficult but rewarding Anatomy of an Afternoon.

One of the most entertaining new works seen in an age was Fanatic, made by Larissa McGowan for the Sydney Opera House’s Spring Dance festival. It was witty, smart and danced with kick-arse joy by a trio from Sydney Dance Company.

Finally, a nod to West Australian Ballet and Queensland Ballet, both of which have new artistic directors next year. The directors inherit sharp, versatile ensembles who this year looked splendid in, respectively, John Cranko’s Jeu de Cartes and Nils Christe’s Diner Dansant.

Deborah Jones
Deborah Jones is the former arts critic for the Australian.

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