Icons: a triple bill of works that shaped The Australian Ballet
Seminal moments from the 60s, 70s and 80s
The Australian Ballet celebrates its origins with a season of pivotal ballets from its formative years. Icons will showcase a triple bill of works commissioned over three decades: The Display, Gemini and Beyond Twelve.
Icons opens in Melbourne on 30 August at Arts Centre Melbourne, before travelling to Sydney from 8 November at the Sydney Opera House.
Distinctively Australian, Robert Helpmann’s The Display was a smash hit when it debuted at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1964. Nine years later in 1973, Glen Tetley’s Gemini was confronting in its originality and shocked audiences. By the time Graeme Murphy’s Beyond Twelve opened in 1980, the company had established its uniquely Australian style and cemented its place on the world stage.
Each of these works marked a turning point in The Australian Ballet’s history and will be rediscovered by new audiences in the company’s 50th anniversary season.
The Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, David McAllister, says Icons is an opportunity to experience the works that made the company what it is today.
“Our first three decades were a period of establishing our own identity as an artistic company, of creating new works that spoke to our way of life. This bill reveals the immense growth that took place in the early years, and they remain vibrant and relevant,” says McAllister.
At the dawn of The Australian Ballet, founding Artistic Director Peggy van Praagh commissioned Robert Helpmann to create The Display. Having visited Victoria’s Sherbrooke Forest with his friend Katharine Hepburn years earlier, Helpmann was inspired by a dream in which he saw a naked Hepburn on a dais surrounded by lyrebirds. Combining depictions of national character traits with beautiful, lush native landscapes, The Display slyly relates the native bird’s mating rituals to the behaviour of men fighting over a woman at an Aussie picnic.
Helpmann went to great lengths to ensure The Display was a wholly Australian work, enlisting painter Sidney Nolan for costume and set design, composer Malcolm Williamson for an original score and William Akers for lighting, and even recruiting football great Ron Barassi to coach the dancers in creating an authentic football scene.
Pushing the boundaries of both dancers and audiences, Glen Tetley’s Gemini was a blazingly original work that has retained its contemporary feel today. With a style that drew on both classical and contemporary dance, Tetley’s work challenged perceptions of what modern ballet could be. The Australian Ballet presented Gemini at Fall for Dance in New York in 2011; it was labelled “fiendishly demanding” by The Huffington Post.
Through a smoky haze in a minimalist set, four dancers command the space. Bathed in blue light and wearing shimmering gold leotards, the dancers pair like Gemini twins for reptilian pas de deux. When the work premiered, the dancer’s expansive use of space was a talking point, and has since become a signature trait of Australian dancers. Adding to the excitement surrounding Gemini’s inventiveness were the risqué costumes. Dressed in skin-tight lycra, the dancers’ movements were revealed in full to the audience, bringing a heightened appreciation of the choreography.
Completing this triple bill is Graeme Murphy’s Beyond Twelve, a moving look at a dancer’s life from larky, football-mad boyhood to young love and early success through to a hard-earnt, lonely maturity.
For this work, Murphy took inspiration from his own life, cataloguing the existence of a man and his all-encompassing dedication to his art. Although linear in narrative, the work uses three leads to allow for reflection and interaction between the younger and older selves. This clever motif climaxes with a particularly memorable pas de trois between the character’s three selves.
Now one of Australia’s most well-known choreographers, Murphy created Beyond Twelve early in his career. He relished the opportunity to embellish the Australian aspects of his autobiographical piece. From the symbolism of football goal posts turning into ballet barres to the pantomime of family characters, this dose of Australian self-parody keeps the pace moving and the mood light.
The 2012 season of Beyond Twelve is dedicated to the memory of former Principal Artist Kelvin Coe. Murphy created the central character in this ballet on Coe, one of the company’s biggest stars in his day. 2012 marks 20 years since his passing.
The Display, Gemini and Beyond Twelve are works that embody the adventurous Australian spirit for which our dancers are famous. Ballet fans who have shared the journey with the company can enjoy these iconic works brought to life by a new league of artists, while newer ballet converts can experience works that paved the way for the company we are today.
THE DISPLAY (1964)
Choreography Robert Helpmann
Guest repetiteur Wendy Walker
Music Malcolm Williamson
Décor Sidney Nolan
Original backcloth design reinterpreted by Paul Kathner
Original lighting design William Akers reproduced by Francis Croese
Recreation and restaging of The Display made possible with the support of The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation’s Eldon & Anne Foote Trust
These performances of The Display by Malcolm Williamson are given by permission of Hal Leonard Australia Pty Ltd, exclusive agents for Josef Weinberger Ltd of London
Choreography Glen Tetley
Guest repetiteur Bronwen Curry
Music Hans Werner Henze Symphony No. 3
Set and costume design Nadine Baylis
Lighting design Francis Croese
These performances of Symphony No. 3 by Hans Werner Henze are given by permission of Hal Leonard Australia Pty Ltd, exclusive agents for Schott Music Ltd of Mainz
BEYOND TWELVE (1980)
Choreography Graeme Murphy
Guest repetiteur Mark Kay
Music Maurice Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major
Costume and set design Alan Oldfield
Original lighting design Christopher Maver
reproduced by Francis Croese
The Melbourne season of Icons is generously supported by The Australian Ballet Society
30 August – 8 September (11 performances)
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
with Orchestra Victoria
8 – 26 November (19 performances)
Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House
with Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra
The Australian Ballet’s website or 1300 369 741