In 2022 The Australian Ballet returns to the stage with a program that offers a glimpse into the ways the form is innovating.
“We are a classical company, but I think we do have to move ahead with the changing landscape of dance,” says artistic director David Hallberg. “And this art form is still so alive – work is being created that really continues to redefine what a dancer is, what a dancer can do.”
In his new program Hallberg brings together the past and the present, staging both classic and contemporary works. There’s Romeo and Juliet and Anna Karenina, brought over from the shelved 2021 program, as well as lesser-known 1900 comedic ballet Harlequinade.
Then there is a new work, Instruments of Dance, a triple bill created by three different choreographers, each the resident choreographer with their respective company – Wayne McGregor at the Royal Ballet, Justin Peck at the New York City Ballet, and Alice Topp at The Australian Ballet. The show is centred on the connection of music to dance. “It’s vital to the success of any piece that’s created,” Hallberg reflects. “And each one of these choreographers, Alice, Wayne and Justin, see this partnership with music and movement in different ways.” Instruments of Dance is Topp’s first piece of work – accompanied by brand new music - for The Australian Ballet. Formerly a dancer with the company, “she’s a really strong voice in the Australian dance landscape”, says Hallberg. “I really see promise in her choreographic voice.”
While he is enthusiastic about every work on the program, one of the highlights for Hallberg is Kunstkamer – a Dutch work which until now has never been performed outside of the company that developed it. “It’s a coup that we have this work,” says Hallberg. “It’s probably the most ambitious, contemporary work the company has ever done.”
Kunstkamer will involve almost all of the company’s dancers and feature music ranging from Janis Joplin to Beethoven. “It’s such a colossal work,” Hallberg says. “I know the dancers are really, really excited to tackle this kind of work, this kind of choreography, and I know the audiences will come in and just be blown away because it’s something that they’ve never seen The Australian Ballet dance.”
Hallberg’s key focuses as artistic director are the dancers and the audience. “In the dancers, I want to find repertoire that challenges them, that allows them to grow and fulfils them,” he says. For audiences, he wants not only to present a varied program but to show what is possible in the world of ballet. “I want to set the example that we are the major ballet company in the country, that we are setting the standard of what dance is not only in Australia but around the world.”
This drive comes through not only in new commissions and contemporary works, but in older works which have, up until now, flown more under the radar. One example is Harlequinade, a comedic ballet from 1900 by choreographer Marius Petipa, whose most famous works include Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty.
Hallberg’s passion for classic works is clear, but he wants to show that they are a piece of a bigger, more vibrant picture. “It just goes to show you that ballet goes beyond Romeo and Juliet, it goes beyond Swan Lake, it goes beyond The Nutcracker. And Harlequinade shows that – so do other amazing classical works that we will present in the coming years. But it also shows that even lesser-known works, like newer works, are really important for audiences here in Australia to see.”
The 2022 season will also see the return of the company’s regional tour, which in 2021 had to be cancelled. “The regional tour is so important for the vision of this company,” says Hallberg. “We’re going to Alice Springs, we’re going to Broken Hill, we’re going to Launceston, so we’re seeing some really beautiful parts of the country.”
Hallberg is, naturally, excited for the company to return to stage, and points to the joy that comes with audiences getting back into theatres, about the vitality of live art. “I think that’s just so important. It’s something that we’ve been missing so much.”
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