The Australian Ballet 60th Anniversary Celebration Gala

Royal Opera House, London
August 6, 2023

It’s an incredible thirty-five years since The Australian Ballet last performed at Covent Garden, and by startling coincidence that season also concluded on 6 August. This is a company celebrating its 60th anniversary in style; confident in its position on the world stage. The energy and courage of the dancers is a joy to watch and director David Halberg has a company to be proud of.

The Celebration Gala was an unusual mix of works and, of course, there had to be the fireworks. These came at the end of each act. The Grand pas from Don Quixote is a perennial favourite and Joseph Caley returning to his homeland used it to prove that the southern sun can multiply your pirouettes and set your jumps on a different axis.

Benedicte Bemet and Joseph Caley
in the Grand pas de deux from Petipa-Nureyev’s Don Quixote
Photo Tristram Kenton

Caley’s solo was sensational including something that looked like a double assemblé en tournant executed horizontally. I don’t think this one has been named yet. Maybe Caley’s twirly? His pirouettes start in a well-placed high retiré, then playing with the dynamics, he draws down to a faster pencil turn to finish precisely on Jonathan Lo’s beat. It was breathtaking. Benedicte Bemet displayed great authority, secure balance and beautiful line in the grand pas then whizzed into a perfect series of fouettés before a wobbly moment, but she was back in seconds to complete a fiery coda.

Aka Kondo and Chengwu Guo danced an effervescent Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux that was pure joy. Kondo played with the music like a jazz artist; holding a pause before racing after the music to hit the right note. Her relevés, were so fast and light they seemed to walk on air. Guo’s solo was Australian gold and his partnering rock-solid, saving that last catch by a whisker.

Adam Elmes in Johan Inger’s I New Then
Photo Tristram Kenton

The contemporary works gave the audience time to get their breath back. There were extracts from Johan Inger’s I New Then and Pan Tanowitz’s Watermark both featuring an interesting corps de ballet dancer, Adam Elmes. Inger’s work encapsulates what it is to be human, expressed in movement sometimes minimal and sometimes full-on and explosive. Elmes placed quietly centre stage churns his emotions internally before finally joining the group. Tanowitz’s gives Elmes the closing solo in her extract. It has her trademark abstract disjunction where things don’t happen. Elmes extends an arm in an invitation that no one accepts and has a relaxed stretch on the pros arch before running off stage.

Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go sees the women nattily dressed in stripy tops and white tight with a more subdued elegant mix of grey and black for the men. It has a slick structure, fascinating graphics and interesting lively choreography and showed the company in fine form for contemporary ballet.

The Australian Ballet in Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go
Photo Tristram Kenton

The second movement pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto was a superb vehicle for Amy Harris’ pure classical line and together with Nathan Brook they did it proud.

Another gem was Alice Topps’ Little Atlas. A trio for Dimity Azoury, Jarryd Madden and Jake Mangakahia it had an appealing freshness that subtly catches the imagination. It is intricate and, at times, acrobatic but without brashness and accompanied by Ludovico Einaudi’s memorable music.

The high drama of Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina is a difficult one to slot into a gala, but it gave Harris and Brook the opportunity to display their acting talents.

Marcus Morelli in Alexei Ratmansky’s production of Harlequinade
Photo Tristram Kenton

A surprise was Alexei Ratmansky’s production of Harlequinade, that opened the evening. The corps in deliciously fussy period ballet dress danced Petipa’s neat variations and the choreography for the soloist was a revelation. Marcus Morelli as Harlequin nailed his ballet technique with textbook precision while giving an engaging comic performance. Sharni Spencer’s Columbine solo contrasted with elegant lyricism. It is fearfully difficult but was delivered with warmth and confidence. Thankfully, this was not the solo so often seen at competitions, generally accompanied by a dreadful recording of a scratchy violin solo but one that balanced the acrobatic brilliance of Morelli’s solo so well. It made an interesting outing for a little-known ballet and a strong contribution to a gala of difference.