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The Australian Ballet has launched its season for 2018, which it has themed as “The Power of the Imagination”, featuring nine ballets, all of them created for the Company, including two world premieres.
The centrepiece – or “the tentpole” as Artistic Director David McAllister described it today at a launch in Sydney – is a new production of Spartacus choregraphed by Lucas Jervies to Aram Khachaturian’s dramatic score. Theatre director Imara Savage is working with Jervies on the production as dramaturg.
The ballet tells the story of a gladiator who led a slaves’ rebellion against the Roman empire. Jervies says of his version: “The production is about a dehumanised slave becoming a human being. Embedded within that story is a love story.”
Kevin Jackson will dance in Spartacus. Photograph © Georges Antoni
Jervies, who is a former dancer of the AB, a choreographer and a NIDA-trained director, has long been interested in creating a new version of Spartacus and mentioned the idea while assisting McAllister on his production of The Sleeping Beauty. As it happened, McAllister and AB Music Director Nicolette Fraillon had been talking about wanting to stage a new version of the ballet and Jervies’ vision for it struck a chord.
The AB premiered its original production of Spartacus with choreography by Lázló Seregi in 1978. The production toured to New York and Washington, and was last performed in Australia in full in 2002. The ballet needs to have a strong complement of powerful male dancers – and McAllister felt that the time is now right.
“It was an important work to come back into the repertoire but we needed to find a new way to bring it into the 21st century,” said McAllister today. “The story has resonances with where we are in the world today. There are totalitarian regimes and so many people still enslaved. People are fighting for freedom and social change – even to get the ‘Yes’ vote up – so it was an amazing synergy when Lucas pitched it.”
French designer Jérôme Kaplan, who created the stunning, witty sets and costumes for Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella for the AB, will design Spartacus. The production has its world premiere in Melbourne in September then plays in Sydney in November.
The 2018 season begins with Murphy, a tribute to master choregrapher Graeme Murphy to celebrate his 50-year association with the Company. Murphy joined the AB as a dancer in 1968 and began choreographing a couple of years later, before going on to a stellar career as the founding Artistic Director of Sydney Dance Company, and a busy choreographer/director of opera and ballet. His ballets for the AB include his stunning Swan Lake, inspired by the love triangle between Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles, and his distinctly Australian Nutcracker – The Story of Clara.
Murphy. Photograph © Georges Antoni
Murphy brings together a revival of Murphy’s acclaimed retelling of the Firebird story, based on a traditional Russian folktale about a magical bird. Murphy’s Firedbird, which he created for the Company in 2009, drawing on Michel Fokine’s original scenario for the Ballets Russes in 1910, will be paired with highlights from a selection of his works created during his 31-year tenure leading SDC. Murphy plays in Melbourne in March and in Sydney in April.
Next comes the return of The Merry Widow – the first original full-length ballet created for the Company in 1975. Choreographed by Ronald Hynd and directed by Sir Robert Helpmann, the production has gone on to become a modern classic, entering the repertoire of ballet companies around the world.
Based on Franz Lehár’s operetta, The Merry Widow tells the farcical, effervescent tale of the dashing Count Danilo who must try to rescue the tiny principality of Pontevedro from bankruptcy by marrying the newly widowed, exceptionally wealthy widow Hanna Glawari. Set in the ballrooms and salons of Bell Époque Paris, the sumptuous production has long been a crowd favourite. McAllister himself first danced in the ballet in 1985 for its 10th anniversary season with Marilyn Rowe and John Meehan. It was last staged in 2011. “I know the Company are really looking forward to it. It has this mystique around it,” said McAllister. The Merry Widow plays in Sydney in April/May, then Canberra at the end of May, and Melbourne in June.
Verve. Photograph © Georges Antoni
In June, comes Verve, a contemporary triple bill exclusive to Melbourne, featuring the return of Tim Harbour’s Filigree and Shadow, which debuted in 2015, and Stephen Baynes’ award-winning neoclassical work Constant Variants from 2007. The third piece will be a brand new work by Alice Topp, a coryphée with the AB, who made her mainstage choreographic debut in 2016 with Little Atlas.
David McAllister’s beautiful production of The Sleeping Beauty, with gorgeous, opulent sets and cosutmes design by Gabriela Tylesova, will have a season in Adelaide in July, following sell-out seasons in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane. (The production returns to Sydney this November for a season at the Capitol Theatre).
The Sleeping Beauty. Photograph © Georges Antoni
Then in August, Maina Gielgud’s celebrated production of Giselle, created in 1986, has an exclusive Melbourne season. When the AB revived it most recently in 2015, it had a sell-out season. “There were a number of dancers at that time that Maina felt [should] do Giselle so we decided to bring it back to highlight some of those dancers who will be making their debuts in roles,” said McAllister.
The 2018 season concludes in Sydney in November/December with the return of Cinderella created for the AB in 2013 by in-demand choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who is currently Artist in Resdience at American Ballet Theatre. “We took it to London last year and got a wonderful reception,” said McAllister. “It sold out last time we performed it in Sydney so it is the perfect way to finish the year on a Christmassy high.”