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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Based on Oscar Wilde’s classic tale, The Happy Prince is a colourful celebration of humanity with a unique Aussie flavour that will capture the imagination and attention of both children and adults with its message: a kind heart shines brighter than gold. With Graeme Murphy’s exquisite choreography, Christopher Gordon’s specially commissioned score and Kim Carpenter’s colourful design, The Happy Prince is sure to be an excellent start to the 2020 season. Here are three reasons why you need to catch it.
Photography by Kate Longley
Wilde’s visual story is ripe for transformation on the ballet stage with its unique characters and creative illustrations. The golden Prince, cheeky Swallow and seductive Reed will come to life, dancing off the page through Murphy’s transformative storytelling. A modern twist on classic literature, this ballet will be something to look forward to.
Graeme Murphy. Photography by Kate Longley
Graeme Murphy – dance legend who produced one of our most celebrated productions the Swan Lake returns to create yet another magical ballet. His humour, creativity, sensuality and boldness turn everything he makes into gold where he offers some charming and unique surprises in his interpretation of Wilde’s characters.
Design for The Happy Prince by Kim Carpenter
Kim Carpenter’s delightful design will add a lively and colourful flair to the ballet, bringing to life Wilde’s moving tale, capturing the attention of all.
The launch of the 2020 Season has formed a clear promise from The Australian Ballet; a promise from the company to transform and transcend any creative or artistic boundaries in next year’s season. The departure of much-loved Artistic Director David McAllister has resulted in the creation of an exciting season that pays homage to his dedication to continuously push and innovate The Australian Ballet over the past two decades. In a fitting manner, the theme of the 2020 Season has been named “Limitless Possibilities,” with the company promising to look within and push themselves to a realm “where the possibilities are endless.”
The Happy Prince
Photography Justin Ridler
Headlining our 2020 Season is Graeme Murphy and Kim Carpenter’s imaginative new ballet, The Happy Prince, inspired by the classic Oscar Wilde tale of the same name. This colourful celebration of humanity with a modernised Aussie flair sends a message of kindness to all ages, a message decorated within Murphy’s innovative choreography. This all-Australian world premiere debuts an original score from the renowned composer Christopher Gordon, who has had great successes on his past projects, such as his composing of the score to the film Mao’s Last Dancer. The debut of this ballet has placed our very own Australian Ballet at the world’s centre stage, and we can promise that all eyes will be on our Opera House next summer.
Photography Justin Ridler
The Company will be broadcasting their own innovative and artistic voice with Volt. This program features two works from the visionary Wayne McGregor and a new piece from The Australian Ballet’s Alice Topp. McGregor has built his reputation for experimentation and distinct artistry over the past decade, and continues to push all preconceived notions of how dance should be. Alice Topp, recent recipient of the Helpmann Award for her work in Aurum last year, will present her new work, Logos, a co-commission by Studio Wayne McGregor, The Australian Ballet and Dance@The Grange. Topp’s involvement will ensure Volt will embody her innovative and artistic voice, which combined with McGregor’s Chroma and DYAD, will see Volt light up a new style of expression. This dynamic duo is leaning over the edge to a new era of cunning change, promising us a performance for the books.
Photography Justin Ridler
An ambitious crossover of cinematic drama and the poise of ballet. The 2020 Season welcomes Anna Karenina, an epic tragedy of a woman who follows her heart and desires into her demise. The performance flaunts every asset of the current Australian Ballet, with exquisite costumes, dramatic staging, stellar technique but, the impact of the beautiful story cannot be underestimated.The strict, high society of Imperial Russia looks down upon a woman who follows love, thus, Anna is heartlessly excluded as she desperately tries to escape an empty marriage, with her only respite being in a fiery affair with a handsome young officer, Vronsky. Former principal dancer of Bolshoi Ballet and San Francisco Ballet Yuri Possokhov takes a seat in the choreographer’s chair to reinvent Tolstoy’s immortal novel. Adding to the drama of the spectacle, the performance will also feature a mezzo soprano singing live on stage. The performance combines elements that have not yet been related on our stage, perfectly forming a gripping story of agony and hope.
Photography Justin Ridler
The Australian Ballet sets the stage for a vividly light and dramatic story of Molto next season, focusing on the bright, passionate and chaotic elements of the art form. Molto offers three works, two by The Australian Ballet resident choreographers Stephen Baynes and Tim Harbour and one by Frederick Ashton. Ashton, a giant of 20th Century dance, creates a playful story of love in A Month in the Country, where Natalia seeks excitement outside of her boring marriage, encouraging the advances of an older admirer. Upon engaging, she realises her true desires are directed towards her son’s tutor, but this last pursuit is not void of competition. Chopin’s sounds and Julia Trevelyan Oman’s designs set the mood for the eloquent pas de deux, framed by all the show’s beautiful elements partnering in harmony. The two works that follow consequentially are created under the keen eye of our two resident choreographers, Baynes and Harbour. Harbour’s Squander in Glory is a fast and sharp movement piece for 14 dancers, with Kelvin Ho’s elusive mirrored set creating an eye-tricking backdrop for the piece. The final act, and the namesake of the ballet, Baynes’ Molto Vivace, is a light-hearted frolic of flirting and manners, before the performance morphs into a mayhem of colour. The flavourful performance of complex emotions has brought a transformed tradition into a modern era.
Photography Justin Ridler
The Season finishes with a bright stroke of colour in Harlequinade, a comedic peformance with commedia dell’arte characters who stylistically express themselves through steps of ballet. Harlequin and Columbine are in love, but as Columbine is set to marry an older and richer fellow, she is locked up by her father’s loyal servant, Pierrot. Pierrot’s wife, however, is sympathetic to the young couple, freeing Columbine as Harlequin is given a magical slap stick by the Good Fairy. In a extravagant spectacle of movement and colour, Harlequin aims to win Columbine’s hand through love and magic. In this Melbourne-exclusive season, Harlequinade will charm its viewers and is set to return to it’s former popularity from before the 1917 Russian Revolution.