The Australian Ballet

Bodytorque Up Late: Clarifying Carbon

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Serena Graham
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

The Australian Ballet is delighted to be supporting the future leading choreographers with the latest in our Bodytorque program, Bodytorque Up Late.

For the one-off special event on the 7th of July, Serena Graham has created a contemporary piece inspired by The Australian Ballet's 60th diamond anniversary season. Behind Ballet chats to Serena about what goes into the creation of choreography and her work, Clarifying Carbon.

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Jake Mangakahia and Adam Elmes
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

Can you tell me a little bit about your work for the 2023 Bodytorque Up Late program?

It’s been such an exciting opportunity to create a new work for the 2023 up late program. I used the 60th diamond anniversary of The Australian Ballet as a springboard for ideas when I started to create. I’ve entitled the piece Clarifying Carbon. Over the seven-minute work, two different compositions, the first by Steve Reich and the second by David Diamond underpin the choreography performed by six wonderful artists, my fellow dancers and friends who bring the creation to life.

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Jasmin Durham
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

Is there a particular story you’re telling with this work?

There is an alluring quote by José Martí; “All is beautiful and unceasing, all is music and reason, and all, like diamond, is carbon first, then light”.

Deep beneath the Earth’s crust, high pressure and temperature push carbon atoms together, arranging them in a latticework that forms the diamond crystal structure. I think of this in parallel with the birth and growth of The Australian Ballet over the past 60 years. Through dynamic evolution and under immense pressure, the company has continued to refine and polish, bringing multi-faceted performances and sparkle to audiences here and abroad.

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Serena Graham, Jake Mangakahia, Bryce Latham, Adam Elmes and Henry Berlin
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

What are some of the things that inspire you when you’re choreographing?

The dancers and their individual qualities in movement and of course the music. For this work, it’s the way gems throw and reflect different light. Often when I have a motif for a work, I’ll delve into the dancing of light from gems. For this piece, it’s the forming of a diamond. The visual representation of a diamonds carbon structure and the shapes that are presented through the covalent chemical bond of atoms. This gave me many formations and ideas for movement and spacing.

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Joel Bass with musicians from Orchestra Victoria
Photo Serena Graham

How does the music fit into your work? Do you decide on a composition first or is it something that happens as you develop the piece?

It’s something that has always given me joy and I am often inspired to create when I hear brilliant music. I have memories from around the age of 11, making up dances with my younger brother to mums CDs, sitting the family down to watch us perform them. Then, when I was at The Australian Ballet School we studied a subject called Dance Perspective where we had to create a solo piece for our end of year exam. I enjoyed this very much at the time and it sparked an interest in choreography.

“All is beautiful and unceasing, all is music and reason, and all, like diamond, is carbon first, then light.” — José Martí
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Bryce Latham, Adam Elmes, Jasmin Durham, Jake Mangakahia, Thomas Gannon and Henry Berlin
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

You created a piece for the 2022 Bodytorque program, was that the first piece you’d created for the stage?

Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to be involved with the 2022 Bodytorque season. I created In Ex Celsius with ten other dancers and it was wonderful. In 2020, during the COVID lockdowns I was fortunate to co-choreograph a piece for a short film Murmuring with Mason Lovegrove. This included 30 dancers, 10 from the company, plus the graduating students from The Australian Ballet School. It was a unique experience as we taught the choreography over zoom and did not perform the piece in person with all dancers until the shoot days due to lockdown restricting group gatherings. It was very exciting in a nerve-wracking way!

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Bryce Latham
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

How do you think the styles of contemporary and classical ballet relate to each other?

Classical ballet has such a clear foundation and place to start before any other form of dance. It’s about technique, line and quality. Contemporary dance explores those challenges and pushes beyond that.

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Adam Elmes
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

Do you use elements of classical dance in your work?

Absolutely. Classical ballet is my foundation, what I have grown up learning and training. I think subconsciously, movement does originate from there. I love to play and experiment with the traditional lines and shapes I've learnt and find new ways of moving through, around and with them.

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Jake Mangakahia
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

What are you most looking forward to in presenting the new piece to audiences?

I am looking forward to sitting back and watching the artists make it their own. It’s a surreal feeling when all elements of a creation; my ideas, the dancer’s artistry and skill, the amazing music, costume and lighting comes together. It makes me proud of everyone involved, and hungry to keep creating.

Serena Graham’s Clarifying Carbon premieres on July 7 in a special one-off performance after Jewels. To book tickets and for more information.

Bodytorque Up Late