Alice Topp joined the Australian Ballet as a dancer in 2007 and is a coryphée with the company. She is also keen at developing her skills as a choreographer and has created four pieces for the company’s Bodytorque series, established to showcase new works by emerging dancemakers. In 2016, she created her first mainstage work for TAB, Little Atlas, which was met with much acclaim. She is now creating a new work called Aurum for the contemporary triple bill Verve. Created with the support of a Rudolf Nureyev Prize for New Dance, awarded by The Joyce Theatre in New York, with major funding from the Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation, Aurum will play alongside Tim Harbour’s Filigree and Shadow, created for TAB in 2015, and Stephen Baynes’ Constant Variants, created for the company in 2007. She tells us about her new work.
Alice Topp dancing in Chroma for The Australian Ballet. Photograph © Lynette Will
How did Aurum come about?
I guess after the momentum of Little Atlas, which was a piece I did in 2016, and which was performed last year in Melbourne, I wanted to continue developing my choreographic voice and movement vocabulary. In our annual interviews with David [McAllister, TAB Artistic Director] I brought that up with him and he had already thought about it and proposed this particular program. So I’ve had a good year-and-a-half to mull over this so it’s been really nice to really develop my ideas.
How many dancers are you working with?
I’m actually working with the largest cast I’ve had. I’m working with 12 – six female and six male – which is new for me because usually I’ve had quite a small cast. So this is a really good challenge for me.
Did you have ideas early on about what you wanted to explore?
I’ve gone through the wave of having different concepts because it has been 18 months since I found out. So I had a few chats with Nicolette [Fraillon] who is the Musical Director about a few ideas. This concept came to me about 12 months ago, and it just really sits well with me. In terms of concept and narrative, this just resonated with me. The piece is called Aurum and it means ‘gold’ in Latin. The inspiration was that I saw some Kintsugi – which is the Japanese art of repairing broken or damaged ceramics with gold and metallic lacquer. And the idea behind it is by repairing it with gold, it actually illuminates the fractures rather than disguises them, so they believe in honouring the history of the object. Usually in doing so, the pottery usually becomes more beautiful than its original form for having had this repair.
I stumbled across that and thought it was the most beautiful philosophy and I really wanted to translate that into human form, because we’re just as vulnerable to the knocks and fractures and pressures of life. It made me think that it would be nice if we could look at ourselves with the same kind of transformation. Often we think of these damages or history as some sort of blemish on our character that isn’t our strength, rather than realising that those are the things that make us who we are, and looking at them in a way that we too are illuminated.
What music did you end up using?
I’m using the same composer I worked with on Little Atlas, Ludovico Einaudi. [His music] takes me on such an emotional journey. It’s so important having that fuel for your movement, and it just really resonated with the piece for me.
How much do you do in terms of the actual movement before you get into the rehearsal room?
Usually I come in with a heap of ideas, and quite often it’s actually just having the trust to develop it with the dancers in the space. Sometimes I come in and I think I need to have these big phrases and ideas and know exactly what I’m doing, but usually that’s when it interrupts the momentum and flow. Quite often the time when it’s most fluid and it’s best is when I go in and I’ve got no ideas and we start with one step or idea, and it just takes us on a whole different trajectory. And that for me is the most exciting part because you don’t know where it’s going to go, and you can’t plan that. It’s always really exciting and unexpected, and a really great surprise and it’s a journey of discovery for all of us. I tend to find that way of working really rewarding. Usually I come in with a few ideas and the structure set out in terms of where I want the piece to go and what I’m saying at those particular points in the music. But in terms of developing the material it definitely feels very bespoke and custom made on the dancers. It relies on them being so open and generous with me which is incredibly supportive with their time and energy. It’s just been so fabulous to watch and be a part of it.
Do you use them in different groupings?
I think I really enjoy doing partnering work. I’ve tried new things this time in terms of structure and solos and groups and that kind of composition. Naturally I really enjoy working with partners. For me I really enjoy working out how you can interact with another dancer. And those kinds of partnerships are so rewarding. I think naturally I tend to do a lot of that onstage, but it wasn’t something I set out to do with this piece, I think it just happens.
Does the work have strong design elements?
Yes it does. I’m collaborating with Jon Buswell who also worked with me on Little Atlas. He’s done all the designs including the lighting. He’s an incredible artist and that’s definitely a big creative relationship to have because I tend to take a lot of inspiration from that too. For me, it’s always about having a very synchronised effect so that the music is saying the same thing that the dancers are saying and the sets and the costumes are reflecting that. It always is a very unified effect so you don’t pick out any one element or find that something’s a little bit unresting on the eye, but that everything is very synchronised to really bring that concept and intention to life. Working with Jon, who is as passionate about the concept as I am, is such a special process. We’re all so excited to share it with the world. I just hope that that comes out in the piece.”
Verve runs at Arts Centre Melbourne, June 21 – 30. The Australian Ballet is offering special $88 tickets for 48 hours from 12 noon today until noon on Friday June 8 from the Australian Ballet website