Three ballet companies, three distinctive looks in 2023

Australia’s three leading classical companies have released their 2023 programs, each with a distinctive flavour. The Australian Ballet has a deeply glamorous 60thanniversary season, West Australian Ballet’s line-up gratifyingly features a strong list of female choreographers and at Queensland Ballet the premiere of Cathy Marston’s My Brilliant Career will make Brisbane a must in June. Another must is a visit to QB’s new 350-seat Talbot Theatre at the spectacularly extended and newly reopened Thomas Dixon Centre, a destination in itself.

Yanela Piñera in Queensland Ballet’s promotional image for My Brilliant Career. Photo: David Kelly

First to Perth, where Aurélien Scannella celebrates his 10th year as WAB’s artistic director with a line-up of choreographers that includes Helen Pickett, Wubjke Kuindersma, Melanie Lane and Alice Topp.

Pickett’s IN Cognito gives its name to WAB’s annual Ballet at the Quarry season (February 10-March 11), which in 2023 will be its 30th year in the stunning outdoor venue. IN Cognito is described as a dance in which “people battle time, furniture and identities” and was made for US company Charlotte Ballet in 2019. Also on the 2023 Quarry program is a new work by Topp, one of the busiest dance-makers in the country (see The Australian Ballet below).

Pickett danced with William Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet and with Royal Ballet of Flanders and has choreographed for a wide range of companies in Europe and the US. The Crucible, made for Scottish Ballet in 2019, was a huge popular and critical success. 

WAB’s big new ballet for 2023 is Van Gogh (September 8-23), a world premiere work by Kuindersma, a Young Creative Associate at Dutch National Ballet since 2021. She started choreographing in 2009 and her work includes a co-production between Dutch National Ballet and WAB, Architecture of Hope, which had its premiere at WAB’s Ballet at the Quarry in 2020. Van Gogh will be performed to a score by Anthony Fiumara played by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

Ludovico Di Ubaldo in West Australian Ballet’s promotional image for Van Gogh. Photo by Finlay Mackay

A thoughtful decision was taken to ask exciting contemporary choreographer Melanie Lane to expand her work Slow Haunt, originally made for WAB’s contemporary season STATE in 2021 and seen only briefly as the season was cut short by COVID-19. The same fate befell WAB dancer Adam Alzaim, who will also extend his well-received GAINSBOURG into two parts. The two will share the 2023 STATE program (June 23-July 1).

WAB artistic associate Sandy Delasalle’s choreography will also be seen in 2023. She will make a Sylvia pas de deux to the music of Delibes in collaboration with Scannella. That will premiere in the Ballet to Broadway mixed bill (May 5-13). Delasalle is also part of the triumvirate (Scannella and former WAB star Jayne Smeulders are the other two) that created WAB’s Nutcracker, which returns at the end of 2023 (November 17-December 10).

QB artistic director Li Cunxin’s decision to bring Marston onboard for My Brilliant Career is sound. Marston has had a brilliant career herself over the past quarter century, with works in the repertoires of some of the world’s most prestigious companies. She is particularly noted for works based on works of literature, including Jane EyreDangerous Liaisons and Of Mice and Men, so My Brilliant Career, written by Miles Franklin in 1901, is very much in her wheelhouse. The rebellious heroine of My Brilliant Career, Sybylla Melvyn, is not unlike her creator as she challenges the strictures of late 19th-century rural life.

My Brilliant Career will be a one-act work and appear on an extremely promising triple bill. The diverse bill is completed by Christopher Bruce’s paean to the 1960s and the Rolling Stones, Rooster, and Jack Lister’s A Brief Nostalgia, originally commissioned by Birmingham Royal Ballet. Lister, a former QB dancer, is now the company’s associate choreographer and also a dancer and choreographer with Brisbane contemporary company Australasian Dance Collective. 

Trilogy will be staged at the Playhouse in QPAC (June 16-25). Meanwhile, over at the Talbot Theatre, QB will premiere Paul Boyd’s new The Little Mermaid (June 22-July 1), a My First Ballet production.

The Talbot is also the venue for the contemporary Bespoke program (July 27-August 5) in which QB resident choreographer Natalie Weir will have a new work alongside Boyd and Remi Wörtmeyer, who after leaving The Australian Ballet as a dancer forged a – yes – brilliant career as a dancer and choreographer in Europe. 

Giselle (April 14-29) and Derek Deane’s Simply Gershwin (September 28-October 7) are the year’s big crowd-pleasers along with the annual Nutcracker (December 1-20). QB will also have a regional tour of the enchanting Liam Scarlett A Midsummer Night’s Dream (February 24-April 1). Giselle is the only work apart from Nutcracker to appear in more than one company’s 2023 program, with The Australian Ballet presenting Tokyo Ballet’s production in July.

How time flies. In 2023 David Hallberg oversees his third season at The Australian Ballet and it’s a big one. The company opened its first season on November 2, 1962, so the diamond jubilee could legitimately have been marked this year but the many COVID disruptions and Hallberg’s recent appointment as artistic director would not have made that sensible. Much better this way.

Robyn Hendricks in The Australian Ballet’s promotional image for Swan Lake. Photo by Simon Eeles.

Not surprisingly TAB’s first ballet was Swan Lake and, also not surprisingly, it’s one of the biggies next year. Well, it’s the big one. Hallberg will stage a “reinvention” of Anne Woolliams’s 1977 production with new set and costume designs and present it in Melbourne (September 19-30), Adelaide (October 7-14), Brisbane (October 24-28) and Sydney (December 1-20). Those many dates should enable Hallberg to give opportunities to a larger number of aspirants to the roles of Odette and Odile than usual, which is an enticing prospect. Given there will be dramaturgy and additional choreography by Lucas Jervies it remains to be seen how much of Woolliams’s production remains but it’s clear this will be a traditional classical staging given contemporary shine. Stephen Baynes’s 2012 version was last seen in 2016. It replaced Graeme Murphy’s supernova, staged almost every year somewhere in Australia or the world from its premiere in 2002 until 2016 (that was in London). It was time to get the ballet back on stage.

TAB’s year gets underway with a staging of Don Quixote (Melbourne, March 15-29; Sydney, April 18-25) based on the hyper-energetic 1977 Rudolf Nureyev-Robert Helpmann film. Don Q has long been part of the TAB story. A new and important chapter opens with the company premiere of George Balanchine’s Jewels (Sydney, May 4-20; Melbourne, June 29-July 8), an apt ballet for the diamond jubilee given the third part of this triptych. 

Amy Harris, Benedicte Bemet and Dimity Azoury in The Australian Ballet’s promotional image for Jewels. Photo by Simon Eeles

The year’s contemporary work is the double-bill Identity (Sydney, May 2-20; Melbourne June 16-24), featuring TAB resident choreographer Alice Topp and Australian Dance Theatre artistic director Daniel Riley. Topp’s Paragon will look to the company’s history and the art of ballet while Riley’s THE HUM will explore “the tangible yet invisible creative connection between performers, orchestra and audience” and include the ADT dancers.

Music is by Christopher Gordon (Paragon) and Yorta Yorta composer Deborah Cheetham (THE HUM).

Melbourne alone will see Giselle when TAB presents Tokyo Ballet’s Giselle (July 14-22) while in 2023 the double Ashton bill of The Dream/Marguerite and Armand will be exclusive to Sydney (November 10-25).

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