Q+A with Alexander Phoon

If you were at the dress rehearsal for The Australian Ballet’s production of Sylvia you might have noticed a few guest artists on stage – and we’re not just talking about Misty Copeland. Alexander Phoon, a young dance student, was cast as one of the adorable, scene-stealing cherubs. Alexander, and his mum Catherine, are both members of the Friends and we are beyond thrilled that we got to see him on stage with The Australian Ballet for the first time.

We asked Alexander a few questions about ballet and how he got involved with Sylvia.

When did you start dancing and where do you currently learn?

I started dance at the age of eight and I currently dance at The McDonald College.

What made you want to start dancing? Why do you love it?

I started dancing because I have always been inspired by performing arts, although after watching The Australian Ballet I immediately knew that one day I would be a ballet dancer.

How did you get involved with Sylvia and The Australian Ballet?

Through The McDonald College – I was lucky enough to be able to apply for the show and the next day I was informed that I had successfully been accepted.

How long were you rehearsing for Sylvia?

I was rehearsing for Sylvia for around just a week.

What is your favourite part of Sylvia? Is there a particular dance or movement you love? And favourite character?

My favourite part of Sylvia is the feeling when get to go on stage and the experience of being able to work alongside the company. My favourite character would have to be Eros as he does an amazing solo and is a very energetic character.

Who’s your male principle dancer with The Australian Ballet?

My favourite male dancer in the company is definitely Chengwu Guo because of his outstanding athleticism, ability and determination.

 What’s your favourite ballet and why?

My all time favourite ballet is definitely Alices’ Adventures in Wonderland by Christopher Wheeldon as it has a lot of excitement and interesting characters. The choreography for the ballet is amazing too.

Season 2020

Season 2020

As 2019 draws to a close, we are looking to 2020 and are thrilled to be sharing The Australian Ballet’s Year of Limitless Possibilities with our Friends.

The launch of the 2020 Season has formed a clear promise from The Australian Ballet; a promise to transform and transcend any creative or artistic boundaries and we are happy to accompany you as we explore this transformative season. The season is an ode to the fantastic service of David McAllister, but also a confirmation that the company shows no sign of slowing down.

The Australian Ballet has grown immensely under David’s leadership, with the 2020 season featuring strong collaborations with international companies such as the Joffrey Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre in the performances of Anna Karenina and Harlequinade.

Anna Karenina pushes the traditional format for ballets, becoming an epic ballad of love, drama and loss. The company has pushed the envelope with modernized Hollywood-style costumes and mesmerizing choreography created by former Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer, Yuri Possokhov.

Anna Karenina, photo Justin Ridler

In an all-exclusive Melbourne run, Harlequinade will bring plenty of colour and fun to our Australian stages in the 2020 season. This cheeky, bubbly ballet is a classic story of forbidden love, with a twist of mischief and magic as Harlequin fights with an enchanted slap stick for Columbine’s hand in marriage.

Harlequinade, photo Justin Ridler

Volt will have The Company broadcasting their innovation and artistic voice. Alongside two works from the visionary Wayne McGregor, this program features a new work from The Australian Ballet’s Alice Topp, who delighted us this year with the Helpmann Award-winning Aurum. McGregor and Topp will see Volt light up a new style of expression and push all notions of how dance should be to the edge.

Volt, photo Justin Ridler

Molto revives a trio of the most bold and adventurous performances from the last 50 years, satisfying all your needs and desires from a quick trip to the ballet. In a crash-course performance of recent greats, Molto celebrates the successes of the modern ballet world, sparking excitement for the future of dance.

Molto, photo Justin Ridler

David’s tenure as Artistic Director began by commissioning Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake, and it seems fitting that The Happy Prince, Murphy’s new ballet, will open David’s final season in 2020. The international premiere of The Happy Prince has placed our Opera House at the center of global attention, proving that our company has once again, soared over our expectations in this year of Limitless Possibilities.

The Happy Prince, photo Justin Ridler

Like always, we will keep you updated with all details throughout the season. Join us in a pivotal year at The Australian Ballet, as we relish on our past successes and turn towards a bright future.

Brunch with the Ballet

Brunch with the Ballet

Brunch with the Ballet
Review by Deb Wright – FAB Member since 2018

One of the aspects I most value of being a member of the Friends of the Australian Ballet is the wonderful opportunity you have of an intimate glimpse behind the scenes. The recent Brunch with the Ballet, held at Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel, was just that. The room was elegant, food and beverage selection delicious and the Special Guests captivating.

We were treated to a charming performance by the Sydney City Ballet under the direction of Lucinda Dunn OAM, who was The Australian Ballet’s longest-serving ballerina.

Dancer from the Sydney City Ballet

David McAllister AM, the Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet headed up the special guests on this occasion. He has announced that he will be stepping down from this role at the end of 2020 and spoke very openly with us about his decision to do this. He has been Artistic Director for two decades, after beginning his career with The Australian Ballet in 1983. He touched on many of the highlights of his career and spoke about some of the great opportunities he has had with the company, both as a dancer and as Artistic Director.

David McAllister, Greg Khoury and emcee Susie Smither

After the main course was served, David and Musette Molyneaux, the Head of Costume Wardrobe for The Australian Ballet gave us some insight into how ballet costumes are designed. The choreography of the ballet often dictates how the costume will work best and the design process is done in close collaboration with the dancers . Once the design has been finalised Musette and her team of skilled artisans then set to work to produce these incredible tutus that are strong enough to endure for several seasons but look fragile and magical to the audience. Each tutu has many different fastenings to accommodate the different sizes of the dancers who will wear the costume.

Dancers from Sydney City Ballet modelling tutus

While David and Musette reminisced about some of their favourite costumes, the dancers from Sydney City Ballet modelled tutus from The Australian Ballet’s archives including some from The Sleeping Beauty. The dancers moved around the room, so that everyone had a chance to see the tutus and headpieces up close, to study the fine beading and embroidery. Each one is exquisite and to see them worn by the dancers made them come alive. Being so close to these beautiful creations was a very unexpected and memorable delight.

David McAllister and Musette Molyneaux in conversation

The Friends of the Australian Ballet is the principle support group in NSW for The Australian Ballet and ach year they raise funds for a scholarship for an aspiring dancer from The Australian Ballet School. This year’s recipient was Belle Urwin and although she could not be there to receive it in person due to being on tour, her mother and father Rob and Alison Urwin attended the Brunch to accept the award on her behalf.  Rob gave us a wonderful insight into what it takes to support a child who has his or her sights set on a career in Dance and the sacrifices that are made by all members of the family not just the dancer herself.

Tanya Barrington presenting scholarship cheque to Rob and Alison Urwin

The Brunch with the Ballet is a fundraising event and there were some wonderful items to be won in the draw and the silent auction including a beautiful print of a dancer by Robert Dickerson.

A very enjoyable afternoon was had by all. I left the room having been treated to something very special and in the knowledge that I had been able to share the experience with a group of like-minded people. Friends of the Australian Ballet indeed.

Photography by Lexy Potts

How does a moment last forever? Our Pre-Performance Sylvia Talk with Sculptor Linda Klarfeld.

How does a moment last forever? Our Pre-Performance Sylvia Talk with Sculptor Linda Klarfeld.

As audience members, we usually gawk at a dancer’s consecutive turns and flying leaps, but from the perspective of sculptor Linda Klarfeld, it is the intricate and fast-moving positions of a dancer that she wishes to immortalise in bronze. Before our Sylvia Dress Rehearsal performance, we were honoured to have Linda Klarfield, a celebrated Australian sculptor to talk about how she intertwined her artistic gifts and her admiration of ballet in her 6 dance-inspired bronze sculptures. In this talk, her sculptures were brought to life by two talented young students from Allegria Dance Studio.

Her talk detailed her tedious process of sculpting and modelling, of her obsessive observation with the placing of an index finger, or the positioning of a hip bone. Her artworks capture positions that are impossible to hold, as Linda described that her bronze sculptures will stay ‘en pointe’ for 2000 years. As she was never a professional dancer, she leaned on the technical eye of David McAllister and Robert Albert to critique and examine her plasticine sculptures before casting them in rubber/plaster moulds. Using these moulds, she would cast the sculptures in wax and detail any imperfections. At one point, she recalled she had been so obsessive in perfecting the detailing of the hands and materials, she had overlooked that she had cast a dancer with (literally) two left feet. After creating a ceramic mould with the wax sculptures, she would melt out the wax and pour in the bronze.

Bronze is characterized by permanence and strength; hence, Linda relies on it to hold impossible poses with impeccable balance. In her statue of the pas de deux from Giselle, she highlights how her greatest challenge was locating the position’s centre of gravity. In this statue, the ballerina is not yet at the top of her lift, and Linda explains that she located the centre of gravity as being slightly off-centre, as the two dancers pull up and away from each other to maintain balance. We have all seen these lifts in arabesque, with the risen leg stretching through a 90-degree angle, however, the eye always misses the moments before the picture. Linda’s sculptures make that moment tangible to help incite a feeling of excitement about what is about to happen, to bring the sculptures to life in what feels like a real-life pas de deux.

 

This whole process would take around 6 months for every sculpture, however, in every finished result, you can clearly see the admiration and dedication Linda has for her dancers and her art. We thank her for sharing her unique insight into the world of sculpting and ballet with our members, and commend her on her beautiful artworks.

 

Sculptor Linda Klarfeld

 

All photos were taken by Lexy Potts.

Still, Slow and Satisfying… ‘Missed Nuance’ by Niv Novak

Still, Slow and Satisfying… ‘Missed Nuance’ by Niv Novak

A dancer spends years training to conceal any pain or difficulty during performances.  Thus, small moments of strength and beauty can be overlooked, ‘lost to speed’ according to Niv Novak in an interview with MyModernNet. In Novak’s latest work, ‘Missed Nuance – A Ballet Art Film,’ audiences are forced to slow down and glorify every shift and change in the dancer’s body.

The film partners artists from our own Australian Ballet with the Bolshoi Theatre, The Royal Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Queensland Ballet. Excerpts of the film have been scattered around social media under #missednuance, creating an endless time-loop of mesmerizing and satisfying clips. The full film can now be found on iTunes in 4k.

The trailer alone is hard evidence against the claim that ‘ballet is not a sport.’ It is an ode to the beauty and athleticism of these professionals. One costume appears like molten gold, spinning and rippling as it hardens around the dancer. In another shot, green silk soars through the air, like a blooming flower stretching it’s petals. And in a closeup of a shoe, mustard yellow fabric tangles around the leg of the dancer as the pointe shoe clicks forward into an extended pointe.

Like the dance form, Novak’s work faced many difficulties in production, yet the end product persevered, clearly conveying Novak’s genuine admiration for his dancers.

 

“What a thrill it is to see these amazing dancers captured in such exquisite detail and at a speed that we can see the sheer grit and power that goes into making dance that inspires with its beauty. It is a glimpse at the sublime captured by one who is also an artist and a great supporter of our art,” said David McAllister, Artistic Director, The Australian Ballet.

Missed Naunce with Zoe Cavedon, Projection Dance

Dancer: Zoe Cavedon

Please hold… Technical Difficulties…

It took him 18 months to perfect the lighting in each shot, as he experimented with light numerous times as he attempted to replicate the lighting structure of portraiture in a video medium.

With 700kg of lighting equipment located in his Melbourne studio, it was paramount that dancers could travel to Melbourne. With companies like The Australian Ballet, there was no shortage of talent, however, international companies like the Bolshoi Theatre and The Royal Ballet have taken a deep interest in this project, hence numerous high calibre international dancers appearing in ‘Missed Nuance.’

A main source of anxiety for Novak centred on the idea that shooting 1000 frames per second would make any small imperfection very prominent. Novak describes in his interview with FilmDaily his lighting equipment had to be 5x stronger than the average studio equipment to ensure the picture remained smooth and fluid. Moreover, as every real-time second would equate to a 40-second film on camera, Novak estimated his camera recorded 11GB per second, meaning that each day of shooting would end with approximately 4-6TB of data.

 

Lights, Camera, Fashion!

Novak’s work not only showcased the finest talent in dance, but also places Australian couture in an international spotlight. All costumes were designed by leading Australian designers, the team lead by the likes of Belinda Pieris. The team delved into a deep study of fabric dynamics to ensure that the fabrics flowed through every movement and shot, ensuring nothing less than perfection in this collaboration between dance and fashion.

“I’ve been in the fashion industry for over two decades and I have never seen fabric move and come alive the way that Niv’s work demonstrated, absolutely breathtaking!” Jason Grech, Designer

Dancer: Yuumi Yamada

 

The Tunes

Although sounds are often underestimated in the business of photography, Novak spared no expense in ensuring that the score maintained the same high standards as his images. Melbourne-based composer Troy Rogan was commissioned to create an original score that reflects the beauty and grace of the film. The score aims to create a tranquil atmosphere, creating a trance-like effect on the audience. Maybe that’s why we got stuck in that endless time loop, watching these satisfying videos back-to-back?

 

Novak hopes audiences return to their daily life being more appreciative of dancers and beauty. He describes that ‘beauty is in every other instant,’ which completely sums up the purpose of the film. In a greater sense, the piece is an ode to the brilliant capabilities of humans, of the results of perseverance and spirit.

Stream Missed Nuance now on iTunes in 4k.