Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Divenire - Melbourne Ballet Company

Review by John Lombard

The Melbourne Ballet Company is the light infantry of dance, a lean strategic force that is nimble enough to scale mountains that would baffle a more cumbersome troupe, but one that lacks the raw power of a better-resourced company.

Their recent performance at The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre of the compilation "Divenire" demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of this company, delivering a night of top-notch ballet that could be considered either sparse or intimate.

"Divenire" was composed of three works, the titular Divenire (which translates as "becoming") followed by Illuminate and Lucidity.  Although the segments were the work of different composers and choreographers, these mostly abstract pieces were linked by their exploration of different forms of intimacy, from the personal to the social to the sexual.

Divenire, the creation of company artistic director Simon Hoy, was a gentle, dream-like piece set to the composer Ludovico.  Minimal set-dressing and simple, non-demonstrative costumes created an ad hoc feeling reinforced by the confident simplicity of the piece.  Here a dancer would offer an action that would be developed by a follower with their own variation, like a shadow snipped from its body taking on life.  I found this piece very introspective and was reminded of someone staring into a pond watching the ripples distort their face. 

This was followed after a short set change by Rani Luther's piece Illuminate.  After the soothing Divenire the lights came up on a bright white set and glaring yellow costumes, a vision of the future imagined by Stanley Kubrick.  The shock of this abrupt change prepared the audience of both the piece's uncomfortable, sudden movements and its brittle but involving score by Phillip Glass.  In this piece the dancers felt like cogs in a rusty machine, with individual performers breaking away from their painful social dance for brief spurts of individuality before being drawn back into the collective.  I was reminded strongly of the demands working life makes on the individual, and when at the end of the piece the dancers contorted into a single unit it felt as though they had been crushed into shape by social forces.

The night concluded with the lyrical, sexual Lucidity, a seductive piece accompanied by projected cosmic imagery.  This was a strong finish to the night with passionate music by Olafur Arnalds well-realised by Hoy's choreography.  This piece was for me dominated by the seduction interlude by choreographer Tim Podesta, a literal love scene that reinforced the overall sexual feeling of an otherwise abstract piece.  After the disquieting Illuminate this piece was a reminder that relationships are not only painful but also intense and joyful.

The performance was relatively brief at about an hour (excluding the interlude), but was met with an enthusiastic response from the audience.  I heard one declaration of "thank you" during the sustained applause.  Hoy has described his intention with Divenire to depict the "scroll of reality", and there is certainly a sense that the ceaseless movements of the dancers reveal the underlying order in endless change, like the infinite detail of a fractal pattern.  The show sometimes felt small in scale, but I was impressed by the potential of this talented company to take modern ballet into unconventional places, shedding the elaborate and fussy presentation of classical ballet for a direct relationship with the audience.  In many ways Divenire was an appetiser, but one shows great promise for a talented and creatively ambitious company determined to take ballet to audiences the bigger companies are too unwieldy to reach.