It must be flattering and a little bit terrifying to share a billing with the biggest names in dance, choreography and rock. But Australian choreographer Stephen Baynes is approaching his part in Chroma with pragmatism and few nerves. Chroma is a three-part performance that includes works by the two of the world’s most in-demand choreographers; Wayne McGregor and Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián, with music by Jack White of The White Stripes. Baynes is presenting Art to Sky, the third act in this exhibition of the best of music and movement.
It would be impossible to list all the companies and art forms McGregor has been involved with. The multi-award winning choreographer and director works across dance, theatre, film, the visual arts, music, science and technology. He is artistic director of UK company Random Dance, resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet in London, has created new works for more than eight international dance companies, worked as movement director on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and directed the Grammy-nominated Radiohead music video Lotus Flower. Diverse? Yes.
The cerebral chorographer’s Chroma (2006) takes its title from the word’s dictionary definition: ‘freedom from white’. It’s performed by The Australian Ballet on a set designed by minimalist architect John Pawson to an explosive score by The White Stripes’ Jack White and composer Joby Talbot. Previous productions of Chroma by international dance companies have earned such praise as ‘mind-blowing, complex and daring’ while one British critic created a new adjective in his honour: ‘McGregorian’.
In a sign of the esteem in which McGregor holds The Australian Ballet, for which he previously created Dyad 1929, he flew to Sydney a few days early to cast a final eye over the production and sit among the opening night audience at the Sydney Opera House.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, but no less revered, is Kylian. The artistic director of Netherlands Dance Theatre for more than 20 years, Kylian has choreographed almost 100 works, a number of which he’s staged with The Australian Ballet. The perfect foil for McGregor’s high octane Chroma, Kylian’s so-called ‘Mozart double’ of Sechs Tänze (Six Dances) and Petite Mort (a French euphemism for ‘orgasm’) are contemporary, light-hearted and witty.
And in a total change of pace is the only new production on the bill, by The Australian Ballet’s resident choreographer Baynes, choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana. The only truly classical ballet of the evening, Art to Sky is performed en pointe on a spare, pared-back set with simple costuming which Baynes describes as a “blank slate” on which he writes his evocative, romantic movement language.
Baynes has choreographed more than 20 works for The Australian Ballet and Art to Sky is his first since his sell-out 50th anniversary production Swan Lake in 2012. He welcomed the opportunity to create something more intimate. Sitting alongside the fast-paced McGregor and playful Kylian works, Art to Sky completes what Baynes believes is the perfect introduction to contemporary and classical ballet. “It shows three completely different aesthetics, theatrically, physically and musically,” he says.
This year The Australian Ballet will perform Chroma in repertory with Imperial Suite, a tutu spectacular of pure classicism that includes George Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial and Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc.
As to the future of classical ballet, Baynes believes there is a worrying tendency towards uniformity and conformity among today’s dancers. This conformity is “making it harder for people in an art form like ours to stand out from the crowd, which is what you have to do,” he says. “We have to encourage them to go out on a limb and not bury themselves in the crowd.”
Chroma is being performed at the Sydney Opera House from April 29–May 17. Imperial Suite runs from May 2–17.