Neoclassical ballet

REVIEW: Australian Ballet’s ‘Kunstkamer’ – Dance Australia

Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Review left on April 29

Kunstkamer is a large-scale work with more than 40 dancers which received its world premiere in October 2019, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Netherland Dance Theatre.and anniversary. A planned 2020 tour by NDT was canceled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, so it’s not just the first time Kunstkamer was made in Australia and the first time it was made by a company other than NDT, but only on the 13thand times it’s been run anywhere – period. (NDT’s first season being a 12-performance series.)

And what a richly varied, intriguing and captivating work the Australian Ballet has brought to the stage. The title itself refers to cabinets of curiosities – those private collections of rare and wondrous specimens that emerged across Europe in the 16and century and would eventually form the basis of newly created museums. This may seem like an oddly specific theme to work a dance on, but it only serves as a launching pad for celebrating the diversity of living organisms and the forces that bind them together. This in turn becomes a celebration of the unique qualities of the dancers themselves; but he also collects them into large ensemble sections. This unit is distinctly different from the well-honed symmetry of a corps de ballet in a traditional three-act ballet and more comparable to the way a large flock of birds might loosely hold the formation as they make a sharp turn in the air, or the way a drop of water falling into a larger body of still water creates a circular ricochet or wave that travels outward and away from the point of impact. It’s breathtaking to watch.

I was particularly impressed by the austere neoclassical architecture of the dark decor that surrounded the stage and by the magnificent lighting. The scenography was done by choreographers Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, while the original lighting design was credited to Tom Bevoort, Udo Haberland and Tom Visser. The wings and back of the stage were completely hidden from view by an architectural three-sided facade that featured a small central triangular pediment framed by classical columns and two levels of arches through which dancers could enter and exit. The space was sometimes altered by the two side pieces folding inwards to create sharper corners with deep shadows and to focus our attention on the scene.

Although it is made up of 18 different sections choreographed by four different choreographers and accompanied by music from composers and musicians as diverse as Beethoven, Arvo Part and Janis Joplin, Kunstkamer looks very much like a unified work. Granted, the bulk of the work was choreographed by longtime collaborators Lightfoot and Leon, but it’s unimaginable without sections choreographed by Marco Goecke and Crystal Pite. The choreography itself is very varied and can be physically intense, but springs from a deep internal psychological basis. It vaguely reminded me of Kylian’s ballets (whose Sinfonietta, Forgotten Land, Stepping Stones, Petite Mort and beautiful figure) who were a regular feature in the Australian Ballet’s repertoire over decades past.

Each of the Kunstkamer’Both acts are about an hour long, and although it’s primarily a dance piece, there are elements of film screening, spoken word, and song throughout, which makes it quite different. of most of the Australian ballet repertoire. The opening night cast rose to the challenge, and although artistic director (and ballet superstar) David Hallberg joined the dancers on stage, he didn’t dominate the work or distract from the rest of the cast. the distribution. From its opening slide into a delightfully controlled split – “Ouch” was the first word from its mouth – the quirky and unexpected nature of this work was on full display. Seven dancers were listed as soloists on the cast sheet, including four principal dancers, a coryphee, a corps de ballet dancer and Hallberg himself, but many other dancers were given spots to shine. The high level of engagement and focus on stage was palpable, meaning that if the audience (even the dance critics!) didn’t understand why something was happening or what it specifically meant, we were still engrossed and intrigued by the dancers. commitment to everything that was happening at that time.

Interestingly, the ensemble sections, even the smallest ones, were not rigidly divided into dances for men or women only – and given the mostly unisex costumes in black and neutral tones, it was not not always easy to identify the individual dancers on stage, so I will refrain from picking out all of the individuals for particular praise on this occasion, while applauding the success of the entire cast in bringing this work to life as well glad they did.


All photos are by Daniel Boud.