Deoxyribonucleic acid, a hereditary, self-replicating material present in humans and nearly all living organisms is a near-to dictionary definition of DNA, and this year’s “Bodytorque” theme. When we think of DNA, we picture two threads coiled to form a double helix not unlike a spiral staircase. And just as this genetic blueprint of “who we are” exists in countless possible conformations, so too it does in the 2014 season of the Australian Ballet’s “Bodytorque.” “Mysterious and ubiquitous, secretive and powerful, the elegant molecule is the engine of life on this planet. Now, a new generation of choreographers have created works inspired by its enigmatic beauty.”[i]
Making its welcome Melbourne debut, “Bodytorque” is in its tenth year, and it serves as a brilliant opportunity for emerging choreographers, many from within the company’s ranks, to develop and show new works. From earlier themes—Technique (2013), Muses (2011), À la mode (2010), and 2.2 (2009)—to this year’s genetic blueprint as springboard from which to leap, it offers a pared back view of ballet as it takes form. This is how things look as they grow, push boundaries, and explore. This is how feet are found, teeth are cut, and other maxims pertaining to the body can be made to fit, and it involves the liberal application of elbow grease, and daring. This is in our DNA, an innate, compulsive desire to dance, and it sometimes wears a black star-encrusted body suit as it orbits the stage.
And so from this germ of an idea, and within the safety of an existing framework, comes five brave and bold works: “Corpus Callosum” choreographed by Richard Cilli, “I Cannot Know” by Joshua Consandine, “Same Vein” by Alice Topp, “Control” by Richard House, and Tim Harbour’s “Extro” to round things off as the harpsichord goes into overdrive. For Cilli, winner of the Australian Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Project (with composer James Wade and designer Monica Morales in 2012), it is an opportunity to work with dancers that “can do things that are far beyond my technical abilities.”[ii] For Harbour, a recently appointed resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet, coupled with “great dancers, a big theatre and high production levels … . It’s also a chance to see Australian Ballet dancers who may not yet have had featured roles put front and centre.”[iii] And, like Harbour, for former dancer, Consandine, and current dancers, House and Topp (who joined the company in 2011 and 2007, respectively), this is, amongst other things, a wonderful chance to create choreography tailor made for your former colleagues and peers. But as exciting as it must be for these invited choreographers to create original and experimental new work to fit like a second skin on the bodies of dancers from the company from corps de ballet to principal, it is just as thrilling for the audience to see the evolution of the next wave. And in seeing new work, albeit highly polished and refined new work, to me there is a palpable sense in the theatre that the audience feels in some small way a part of the process, and duly spoilt.
The grassroots element of the “Bodytorque” programme is impossible to ignore. Just as it is impossible during the breath-catch of interval to describe the flexing of up-and-coming choreographic muscle without calling upon words and phrases like ‘experimental’ and ‘cutting-edge.’ Overheard conversations peppered with adjectives for ‘new’ and ‘radical’ read like a collective thesaurus. Being at the forefront carries its very own buzz, and it is for this very reason that I hope that “Bodytorque” will continue to be given important wing space.
Throughout all five works, links are drawn that are in part a result of a theme explored, but not solely. From Cilli’s “ode to the human brain”[iv] and its workings, in particular the differences between the left and right side to Harbour’s abstract exploration of the dualities of extroversion and introversion within a performer specifically, we are taken on a fast and furious journey through the body. Or, to appropriate John Adams, a short 79-minute ride in a fast machine. We are shown that the body can be moulded, bent, spun, thrown, pulled, and stretched in an existing vocabulary. It can be still and controlled, even after moments of high brashness (“Control”). It can slither in its encasement of skin and vinyl as order is sought and possibly found. It can turn inward as it looks within, as movements are passed from one dancer to the next like a game of Broken Telephone, and the traditional front-of-the-stage outward projection is shifted to the centre as we view an intimate circle (“Corpus Callosum”). It can even appear to glide unbeknownst to its self, as celestial bodies momentarily take over the navigation (“I Cannot Know”). An arch here, a curve there, and lo! a double helix is indirectly referenced. Particularly pleasing for new work, we are reminded that pointe shoes can extend the range of possible movements, and hair can be released from a bun, and worn as fantastically wild, almost animalistic, extension of character, in the case of Vivienne Wong (“Same Vein”), or to amplify one’s rock star swagger credentials, in the case of Ingrid Gow (“Control”).
Topp, who has previously created three works for “Bodytorque”—“Tinted Windows” (2013), “Scope” (2011), and “Trace” (2010)—carves into the body in her work “Same Vein” and shows us its beating heart in a moving pas de deux for Brett Simon and Luke Marchant to Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane for String Orchestra, op. 50. A balanced meld of strength and grace, against the kaleidoscopic inkblot projections of Brendan Harwood, we are shown an inescapable, universal truth: all are equal. “In the end, we are ultimately the same being—breathing, bleeding, loving and dying. One living collective of individuals.”[v] The desires we hold, the patterns we form, the knowledge we possess, and our very means to survive: are we all more similar than not? Beginning with the magnified sound of a throbbing heart, our awareness is heightened. Having never seen any of Topp’s earlier work, to me, this work reads as visceral instinct made manifest. We are shown what binds us with a beautiful subtlety that belies its message.
Whilst Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Concerto for Harpsichord & Orchestra, op. 40, in Harbour’s “Extro,” seems a particularly brutal master that sees the dancers fall into an orchestrated heap as the curtain falls, it serves as a jubilant full stop to the night, its energy transferred to the audience. For as much as “Bodytorque.DNA” is about the interwoven mechanical threads of the human body, it is also about the link forged between audience and (their) company. Throughout our fast ride, we, as audience, have witnessed and in turn felt energy coursing through the body. Energy can appear deceptively frenetic one moment, a tender ripple the next, and it is this attempt to harness energy that binds these works together to show that dance really is in our genetic makeup.
[i] “Bodytorque.DNA,” Description on the Australian Ballet website, accessed June 2014.
[ii] Chloe Gordon,“Bodytorque choreographers: Richard Cilli,” on the Australian Ballet blog, “Behind Ballet,” June 11, 2014.
[iii] Heather Bloom, “Tim Harbour: Dance, Choreography and Entertainment,” Aussie Theatre website, March 9, 2014.
[iv] Richard Cilli, “Bodytorque.DNA” programme, (Melbourne: The Australian Ballet, 2014).
[v] Alice Topp, “Bodytorque.DNA” programme, 2014.