The Australian Ballet

2023 Unpacked

2500x1780 ABOUT US

Our 2023 season will celebrate three landmark works of The Australian Ballet’s repertoire, introduce our audiences to two masterpieces of the 20th century, and showcase two of the most exciting voices in Australian contemporary dance. You’ll see our dancers and musicians excel in repertoire that embodies our artistic ambitions: to breathe new life into the great heritage works and to expand the boundaries of what ballet can be.

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Swan Lake

Every classical company needs a version of Swan Lake that is instantly recognisable. In our 60th-anniversary year, David Hallberg will commission and direct his first full-length ballet for our company: a revival of Anne Woolliams’ beloved 1977 production, originally created to celebrate our 15th birthday.

Woolliams was The Australian Ballet’s third artistic director. Before that she had worked closely with the legendary choreographer John Cranko at Stuttgart Ballet, absorbing the clarity of his storytelling and the emotional depth of his characterisations. Her version of Swan Lake follows the original structure of the 1895 ballet by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov: she gives us the famous ‘white’ acts with the swans by the lake, the Black Swan Pas de deux, the Dance of the Cygnets, the sinister von Rothbart, and the four variations for the foreign princesses who compete for Prince Siegfried’s hand. She adds her own dramatically adroit touches, like the jesters who cavort through the stiffly formal court scenes.

Since the ballet was created, the company has almost doubled in size. Enlisting the help of Lucas Jervies, the choreographer who created our 2018 Spartacus, David Hallberg will expand the production to fit The Australian Ballet as it is today. Swan Lake will also be redesigned, with costumes by Mara Blumenfeld and sets by Daniel Ostling; the design team will freshen the look while keeping the court scenes historically apt and the swan scenes as timeless as the Tchaikovsky score.

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Marcus Morelli
Photo Simon Eeles

Don Quixote

Of all Marius Petipa’s seminal 19th-century ballets – which include The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and La Bayadère – none has more fire, more earth, more salt than Don Quixote. Nominally based on Cervantes’ novel, the ballet focuses less on the aged Don and more on two headstrong lovers, Kitri and her barber boyfriend Basilio, who are determined to wed despite her disapproving father. Spoiler: they do, in a wedding scene that last for an entire act of bravura dancing, culminating in an electric pas de deux. On the way, we have a dream-sequence ballet where the Don visits the court of his love Dulcinea: a return to the tutus, geometries and gracious ballerinas of Petipa at his most lyrical.

In 1964, we began our relationship with the Russian megastar Rudolf Nureyev, when he and his equally luminous partner Margot Fonteyn came to perform with us in Swan Lake and Giselle. Nureyev liked what he saw. He invited The Australian Ballet to tour with him, and in 1972, our dancers found themselves sweltering in a hangar at Essendon Airport, making a film of Don Quixote, directed by Nureyev and Robert Helpmann, that is still considered one of the most innovative dance films of all time. Nureyev, determined to capture the vibrancy of his forthright, sensual version of the ballet, shot from above and around the dancers on swooping cranes; he insisted on importing barrow-loads of fruits and vegetables for the market scenes, and ringing the stage with lit candles in the wedding scene. In tribute to this vital part of our history, our coming of age on the world stage, we’ll be recreating the costumes and sets from the film for our 2022 production.

Amy Harris, Benedicte Bemet and Dimity Azoury stands next to each other in red ruby, gold and emerald green costume.

Amy Harris, Benedicte Bemet and Dimity Azoury
Photo Simon Eeles

Jewels

George Balanchine changed ballet. His endless invention, his profound musicality, his eye for pattern and arrangement took it to another level, making it fresh and immediate, a living art. He is arguably the most important choreographer of the 20th century, and Jewels is a perfect, evening-length encapsulation of his genius.

His initial inspiration came from a visit to the Fifth Avenue store of Van Cleef & Arpels. Balanchine joked that he was Georgian, so, “Of course I like jewels.” Each of the three sections in his ballet is based on the colour and quality of a different precious stone (vividly evoked by the saturated colour and sparkle of Barbara Karinska’s costumes), but also on different aspects of Balanchine’s (and ballet’s) heritage.

Emeralds is languorous, poetic and mysterious, set to music by the French composer Fauré; its sweeping green skirts and soft port de bras gesture toward the French Romantic tradition with its woodland groves and supernatural visions. Rubies is a brash, bracing chaser, summoning all the energy of jazz-era New York with its flippy skirts, syncopated flicks and high kicks. The music is by Balanchine’s fellow Russian emigré Igor Stravinsky, who scored so many of Balanchine’s most enduring works.

For the culminating section, Diamonds, Balanchine summons the full corps on stage in a loving return to his roots: imperial spectacle, glittering silver-white tutus, Tchaikovsky music and all the amplitude and grandeur of the Mariinsky Theatre in the golden era of ballet.

Jewels is a feast of mood and colour and style and atmosphere, and we’ll be dancing it for the first time in 2022.

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Evie Ferris, Jill Ogai and Darci O'Rourke
Photo Simon Eeles

Identity

Commissioning Australian choreographers to make new works on the company has been a vital part of The Australian Ballet’s ethos from its inception. In our 60th-anniversary year, we’re looking towards the future with world premieres from our Resident Choreographer Alice Topp and Wiradjuri man Daniel Riley, the Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre.

Daniel worked with us during the 2021 lockdowns on a video piece called Act V, a solo for Principal Artist Dimity Azoury. That year, he was appointed to the directorship of Australian Dance Theatre, the country’s oldest contemporary company. His new work, THE HUM, will be made with his own dancers and ours. Daniel is a highly collaborative choreographer, and THE HUM will centre on connection: the bonds that flow between dancers, musicians, the audience and the land. Taungurung fashion designer Annette Sax will design costumes for both dancers and musicians. The score, commissioned by The Australian Ballet, is by Yorta Yorta composer and soprano Deborah Cheetham, who recently collaborated with our Orchestra Victoria on a new composition, Woven Song – Pukumani.

Over the course of her last four works, Alice Topp, our Resident Choreographer since 2018, has been delving ever more deeply into emotional hurt and healing. What we do to each other, how we bear our wounds, the beauty and wisdom in acknowledging our imperfections, the strength it takes to be vulnerable. With Paragon, her anniversary gift to the company, she strikes out into new territory. Her work will pay tribute to The Australian Ballet’s history by inviting stars from decades past to join our current dancers on stage. Paragon’s all-Australian creative team will include the composer Christopher Gordon, costume designer Aleisa Jelbart and Jon Buswell, who has created the striking sets and lighting for all of Alice’s mainstage works, and is one of her closest collaborators.

These two works, in conversation with each other, will make a statement about The Australian Ballet’s identity today.

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Amy Harris and Callum Linnane
Photo Simon Eeles

The Dream / Marguerite and Armand

Our founding Artistic Director, Peggy van Praagh, brought to the brand-new Australian Ballet the rigour and decorum of the British ballet tradition – and the repertoire of Frederick Ashton, the founding choreographer of The Royal Ballet. While Balanchine was making waves in New York, Ashton was making an equally profound contribution in London, characterised by a very English charm and elegance. His muse was Margot Fonteyn, and in 1963 he made a ballet on her and Rudolf Nureyev that crystallised the sensual energy and star wattage of their partnership. Marguerite and Armand, set to the music of Franz Liszt (who in the 19th century inspired his own cult of celebrity, dubbed Lisztomania), is based on the Verdi opera La Traviata. A dying courtesan recollects her passionate affair with a younger lover in a series of flashbacks. It was the perfect vehicle for Fonteyn and Nureyev’s ‘Princess and the Panther’ pairing. For many years, Ashton kept the piece sacrosanct. No one else was to dance it. In recent years, it has been given to ballet’s brightest stars: Sylvie Guillem, Sergei Polunin, Tamara Rojo. Now, for the first time, The Australian Ballet’s dancers will be gifted with this fabled piece.

Margeurite and Armand will be paired with The Dream, Ashton’s witty rendering of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which trips lightly through enchanted glades to Mendelssohn’s magical music.

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Akira Akiyama and Yasuomi Akimoto
Photo Kiyonori Hasegawa

The Tokyo Ballet's Giselle

As our relationship with Nureyev shows, dialogues with overseas artists and companies have been a key part of The Australian Ballet’s cultural growth. We travel to the world’s best stages, and we bring the world’s best to you. In 2023, Melbourne will be treated to a performance of Giselle by The Tokyo Ballet. This internationally celebrated company was founded only two years after The Australian Ballet, and shares our philosophy of honouring the classics while striving towards the newest frontiers of dance. Its version of Giselle is by Leonid Lavrovsky, the Soviet choreographer who was the first to create a full-length version of Romeo and Juliet to Prokofiev’s score. While the basic structure of this all-time Romantic favourite is the same – the flowering of love between Albrecht and Giselle in Act I, the mad scene, the woodlands and Wilis of Act II, the poignant Adolphe Adam music – audiences will be able to enjoy the subtle differences between versions, and the interpretations of a company acclaimed for its classical purity and the precision of its corps.