Review: Australian Ballet, Identity

Cool Sh*t, Play, Sydney / 9 May 2023
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Review: Australian Ballet, Identity

Cool Sh*t, Play, Sydney / 9 May 2023

A double-bill ballet reflecting on identity

Identity – a double-bill ballet with two completely different dance styles, has been created by two leading voices in the Australian dance community – Daniel Riley and Alice Topp.

Identity was commissioned by Artistic Director David Hallberg, who for the company’s 60-year anniversary, asked the artists to respond to the concept of ‘Identity’. 

Leading the show is The Hum, a primal performance choreographed by Wiradjuri man and Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre Daniel Riley. Riley was previously a Senior Artist with Bangarra Dance Theatre. Through dance, Riley delves into cultural perpetuity connecting ‘community’ and Country onstage. 

The Hum is a collaborative performance, joining dancers of The Australian Ballet and Australian Dance Theatre. The work was devised when the dancers meet on Kaurna Yerta/Adelaide. Together they walked on Country, shared meals, discussed and demonstrated their versions of dance and movement, seeding the idea of The Hum.

The work takes inspiration from Wiradjuri word ’murun’ meaning ‘of life breath’. In The Hum, breathe and movement are connected. Breathe can be heard. Movement is repeated. An act of drumming the elusive story into the audience.

Stage design is simple but dramatic. The stage is black, except for a giant disc, projecting internal organs and later turning dark red to represent the hot sun. The disc imagery breathes, pulsating to the music. And the only prop, large black rocks which are shifted across the stage by the dancers, evoking a feeling of heaviness.

The tribe of 19 dancers wear earth tones crafted by Taungurung woman and costume designer Annette Sax, who uses natural fibre pigments sourced from traditional lands of Taungurung Badjur (women) to dress the dancers.

The powerful performance is intensified by the musical score composed by Yorta Yorta, First Nations soprano, Deborah Cheetham Fraillon.

Second act, Paragon is a tribute to 60 years of Australian Ballet. Resident choreographer Alice Topp, captures the company’s character on stage, building a series of vignettes, paying homage to the company’s history and exploring what makes the Australian Ballet unique.

Again we see simple but effective stage design, this time through imagery used as a backdrop to the dancers. Set and Lighting Designer Jon Buswell shares the Australian Ballet story through 285 projections from the company’s archives, including artwork, posters, production and rehearsal photos. In contrast to the dark, earthy colour palate at the start of the show, Paragon dancers appear in different costumes for each vignette, treating the audience to an array of attire from Grecian white flowing dresses to long gold ball gowns.

The past and present come together for this production. Paragon uses all the Australian Ballet dancers that were not in The Hum, in addition to 13 “ballet legends” (including a number of retired dancers). It’s incredible to see ballet royalty (as Topp calls them) return to the stage and dance alongside the current troupe.

Paragon is a showcase of the best of the best, reflecting on the history of the Australian Ballet, while also proving the future is bright for the company.

Identity will show at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until 20 May.

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