Posted on 18 May 2021 By Rose Mulready

Watermark is a brand-new work made for our New York Dialects program. Read up before you see it. 

How did it come about?

Our new Artistic Director David Hallberg and choreographer Pam Tanowitz met in New York over a decade ago; Hallberg has been admiring and championing her work ever since. Before they were friends, Tanowitz had noted that Hallberg was one of only a few dancers that ventured downtown to see new contemporary work. "That got immediate respect from me, because there are so many ballet dancers who are in their own world, their own bubble." When choosing his first commission for The Australian Ballet, Hallberg turned immediately to Tanowitz. Her work fitted closely with his mission to bring new movement and fresh ideas to both audiences and his dancers. 

Hallberg and Tanowitz in conversation 

Luke Marchant and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Daniel Boud

Why so many male dancers?

Hallberg's brief to Tanowitz was open. He made only one suggestion: that she should reverse the gender ratio of George Balanchine's Serenade, which opens New York Dialects. Instead of having three men and an ensemble of women as there are in Serenade, there would be three women and an ensemble of men. Balanchine famously declared, "Ballet is woman". In Watermark, this notion is interrogated. Tanowitz (who loves Serenade) decided to put her entire ensemble in jazz shoes, to avoid differentiating the women through their use of pointe shoes. 'I want everything to be equal," she said. 

Watch Tanowitz working with our dancers 

Mason Lovegrove and artists of The Australian Ballet. Photography Daniel Boud

Who composed the music?

Caroline Shaw (who at the age of 30 became the youngest-ever recipient of the Pulitzer Prize) composed Watermark, from which Tanowitz's work takes its name. Just as Tanowitz's work is in conversation with Balanchine, Shaw's work is a dialogue with Beethoven, specifically his third piano concerto. It was commissioned as part of a project called Beethoven/5, which asked contemporary composers to respond to one of the Beethoven piano concertos. Listen out for the way the piece begins: that low drone is the orchestral players humming a C note. Feel free to join in. Shaw says, "It would be a dream for the audience to hum along." 

Callum Linnane. Photography Daniel Boud

How about the design?

The set and costumes were designed by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, who work together as Reid & Harriet. Riffing on Tanowitz's reference to Serenade, they studied old photographs of the ballet's costumes, zeroing in on details that they then used to embellish the white, unisex jumpsuits requested by Tanowitz. The gauze backcloth is printed with a vintage photo of the Royal Danish Ballet dancing Serenade

Reid Bartelme discusses his designs

Thomas Gannon. Photography Daniel Boud