Review: Australian Ballet, Instruments of Dance

Play, Sydney / 14 November 2022

The perfect taster to the world of ballet

If you’ve been thinking about going to the ballet or have never been and are curious about what it’s like then Instruments of Dance, the latest’s show from the Australian Ballet is the one for you. The triple bill means you will see the works of three different choreographers from the world’s top ballet companies, each with their own artistic style of contemporary ballet. It’s the perfect taster to the beautiful world of ballet.

Instruments of Dance features work from: Wayne McGregor of The Royal Ballet;  Alice Topp, resident choreographer of the Australian Ballet; and Justin Peck of New York City Ballet. All three works are accompanied by music scores performed by Orchestra Australia’s full orchestra. 

Each piece is entirely different and takes the audience through waves of emotion from dramatic to joyful. 

The show beings with the intense Obsidian Tear, created by multi-award-winning British choreographer and director Wayne McGregor from The Royal Ballet in London. This thought-provoking piece is performed to Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen’s work Lachen Verlernt and the symphony Nyx, named after the Greek goddess of night.

It’s a slow silent start broken by a moving violin solo. In an intimate duet, two male dancers glide across the stage, tenderly reaching to one another. But this piece is no romantic love story; it’s a tribal dance of brutality and dominance. Movement is fast and frenzied. There’s anger and aggression between the men that builds to a violent crescendo. Obsidian is a cut-throat world where only the strong survive. There are themes of bullying and the narrative is reminiscent of William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. 

In the program notes, Annealing is explained as the process of heating metal or glass to a temperature below its melting point in order to make it softer. The hard material becomes soft, malleable and as it’s formed into a new material it becomes stronger than it originally was. This word is the premise of Alice Topp’s Annealing. It’s a beautiful contrast to the harshness of Obsidian Tear and a lesson to all that ‘hardening’ isn’t the only way forward in life. Topp likes to craft work that reflects the human condition. She describes Annealing as a reflection of the way we’ve all been forced to adapt to new and uncomfortable circumstances over the past few years. 

Prior to her choreographic career, Topp danced with The Australian Ballet for 14 years. Her choreographic style is collaborative, dancers are encouraged to co-create with her and so Annealing is custom-made to fit the cast. This is a harmonious piece. The dancer’s movements are fluid and as they blend their bodies into one another, they are connected. Through Annealing, Topp redefines the stereotypical roles of male and female dancers. Women are strong, lifting and supporting their male counterparts. Dancers are adorned in gold and silver garments (a nod towards melting metals) but this isn’t a ballet with tutu’s and fairies, Costume Designer Kate Chan continues the gender malleability, as men and women wear long dresses and slinky costumes. 

The show concludes with Everywhere We Go. If the intention was for the audience to leave feeling happy and joyful, it’s the perfect finisher. Choreographed by Justin Peck of New York City Ballet, it’s a buoyant ensemble showpiece with 25 dancers. The show has the feel of Hollywood glamour. Peck choreographed the film West Side Story, Red Sparrow and Maestro (starring Bradley Cooper, to be released in 2023). The 35-year-old is a Tony Award-winning choreographer, director, filmmaker, and dancer based in New York City. He commissioned, Indie singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens to create the score, his first for a ballet. Matching the uplifting tempo music, dancing is quick and there’s a lot packed into each act, with little pause.  It’s a Hollywood happy ending to an incredible performance.

This year, the Australian Ballet celebrates 60 years of performance. One of the world’s leading ballet companies, Australian Ballet dancers have a worldwide reputation of being talented athletes and strong dancers. They are not a troupe that plays it safe, they consistently push themselves to their limits and then some, which is what they have done beautifully with this collection. 

Instruments of Dance will enthrall audiences at Sydney Opera House until it finishes 26 November.

Adult ticket prices range from $59 to $293. To purchase tickets visit: https://australianballet.com.au/performances/instruments-of-dance

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