Our contemporary Triple Bill is about to introduce you to the shock (and the pleasures) of the new. These three short works, each about half an hour in length, can be enjoyed together or singly, and in any order you like.
Stephen Page's Warumuk - in the dark night, a collaboration with Bangarra Dance Theatre, is inspired by Aboriginal astrology. Graeme Murphy's The Narrative of Nothing exults in pure movement and invites its viewers to let their imaginations run wild. Both were commissioned for our 50th anniversary season in 2012. Wayne McGregor's Dyad 1929 stamps on the accelerator pedal to deliver a hurtling work in striking monochrome. For those who missed out on our triple bill Volt when our venues closed their doors earlier this year, here's your chance to see one of the works it featured.
New to contemporary dance? Although inspired by specific concepts, some of them rich and complex, these works don't have 'stories' in the sense that a Romeo and Juliet or a Cinderella does. Don’t fret that you don’t know what an abstract ballet means or that you're not gettting it – just let the performance sweep you away with movement, music and design.
Ready to ride? Take a look at these quick guides to each ballet.
Our Triple Bill is proudly brought to you by our Official Piano Partner Kawai
WARUMUK - IN THE DARK NIGHT
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following text contains the name of a deceased person.
It starts with the Evening Star, and ends with the Morning Star. Through seven vignettes, it explores the Milky Way, shooting stars, the Seven Sisters, the pull of the moon and the drama of the lunar eclipse.
Stephen Page, the director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, has choreographed several times on The Australian Ballet, most notably making Rites, based on the Stravinsky score and bringing together dancers from both companies. Warumuk - in the dark night reunites the companies in a work inspired by the cultural stories of the Yolngu of North East Arnhem Land, a hypnotic journey through the night sky. The score, by David Page, weaves together orchestral instruments, traditional instruments, Yolgnu songs and stories, and recordings from the land. Jennifer Irwin's costumes gleam with sequins, metallic ropes and mesh, subtly catching the light.
The choreographer says: "I’ve always been fascinated with Aboriginal astronomy and the timeless mystery of the night sky. So the process has been to digest and pay homage to the integrity of these stories, and shape them into a contemporary form."
Watch out for: The Eclipse Duet, featuring the young Jake Mangakahia in a breakout role and Ella Havelka, who shortly after Warumuk became The Australian Ballet's first Indigenous dancer.
Fun fact: In the Moon section, the female dancer represents the Moon, and the men represent the tides.
Deep dive: In the wings with Jake and Ella as they prepare to dance Eclipse.Vivienne Wong. Photography Lynette Wills / Ella Havelka and Jake Mangakahia. Photography Jeff Busby / Deborah Brown. Photography Lynette Wills
THE NARRATIVE OF NOTHING
After pouring his energies into making Romeo & Juliet, with all the reverence due to the dramatic logic of Shakespeare's play and Prokofiev's score, Grame Murphy self-confessedly revelled in the freedom of exploring pure movement. At the same time, he acknowledged that the audience rarely experiences abstract dance as purely abstract: "People are incapable of looking at dance and seeing - nothing." (George Balanchine said much the same thing: “If you put two dancers on stage you have a relationship, if you put three dancers on stage you have drama!”)
The specially commissioned score, Brett Dean's Fire Music, was dedicated to the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires and composed after consultation with a CSIRO scientist about the dynamics and propulsion of fire. More then one audience member, watching the dancers devour the stage in Jennifer Irwin's irridescent second-skin costumes, glowing in the hot radiance of Damien Cooper's lighting, was reminded of the terrible beauty of that monumental blaze.
The choreographer says: "The Narrative of Nothing is about our ability, right from when we’re children, to find stories in everything. We find stories when we look up at clouds, when we look at people across a crowded room. As an adult in a theatre, no one is going to think, “I’m watching an abstract ballet.” They’re going to go off on their own tangents – and there are 1500 little stories being written every night in 30 minutes, as the ballet is created."
Watch out for: The way Murphy plays with levels in the ensemble section, so that the dancers surge into peaks or erupt in staccato bursts.
Fun fact: Fire Music contains a recording that Dean made himself of "a scraping, booming door" in Old Melbourne Gaol.
Deep dive: The percussionists of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra talk us through the weird and wonderful instruments used in Fire Music, including thundersheets and vibraslaps.Lana Jones and Amy Harris / Lana Jones and artists of The Australian Ballet / Lana Jones and Adam Bull. Photography Lynette Wills
In 2006, Wayne McGregor set the ballet world alight when he made the ultra-stark, ultra-stretched Chroma on The Royal Ballet. Shortly afterwards, the enfant terrible completed his conquest of the establishment by becoming the company's resident choreographer. In 2009, McGregor brought his radical vocabulary and omnivorous intellect to The Australian Ballet to make Dyad 1929, one of a pair of works that examine the period from 1909 to 1929, when Serge Diaghilev's company the Ballets Russes was remaking modern dance. It was also a period of full-tilt technological innovation, as is seen through two moments in Antarctic exploration: in 1909, Ernest Shackleton was the first to reach the South Pole; in 1929, Richard Evelyn Bird was the first to fly over it in a plane.
From these complex concepts, McGregor built the stripped-back speed machine that is Dyad 1929. Sharply lit and set in a crisp background of black dots on white, the dancers seem to race Steve Reich’s hurtling, Pulitzer-Prize-winning score Double Sextet to the finish line.
The choreographer says: "From a scientific, social, political and technological perspective, the period of 1909 – 1929 was rich with discovery and experimentation; the world was changing and fast ... Although Dyad 1929 is not a narrative ‘about’ Antarctica the dance, design and music contain traces of the Ballets Russes spirit, made visible for our time."
Watch out for: The staggering lift performed by Robyn Hendricks and Daniel Gaudiello where the ballerina jack-knifes her leg right over her head.
Fun fact: Double Sextet pits two identical ensembles (flute, clarinet, vibraphone, piano, violin and cello) against each other.
Deep dive: "The movement is the message": Wayne McGregor in the studio as he turns The Australian Ballet's dancers into rubber bands.Robyn Hendricks and Daniel Gaudiello. Photography Jim Macfarlane / Lana Jones and Brett Chynoweth / Amber Scott and Adam Bull. Photography Branco Gaica