A ballet based on Alice in Wonderland and a new Wayne McGregor work with a Steve Reich score are the new season highlights.
Australian Ballet Artistic Director David McAllister is hopeful that a ballet based on Alice in Wonderland will be allurement enough for Sydney audiences to follow the Company to the Capitol Theatre in 2017 while its usual home at the Sydney Opera House undergoes an upgrade.
Australian Ballet dancers Christopher Rodgers-Wilson, Vivienne Wong and Robyn Hendricks. Photo by Justin Ridler
Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of three story ballets in the AB’s 2017 season, each with a young woman at its heart. As well as Alice, there’s Aurora in McAllister’s sumptuous production of The Sleeping Beauty and Clara in Graeme Murphy’s renowned reimagining of The Nutcracker set in Australia. The season also features a triple bill called Faster with works by Wayne McGregor, David Bintley and Tim Harbour; and Symphony in C featuring ballets by George Balanchine, up-and-coming Australian choreographers Alice Topp and Richard House, along with various divertissements.
“I’ve got to say the second half of the year is very much about putting together repertoire that would be compelling, getting people [in Sydney] to come to the Capitol,” says McAllister. “And also [taking advantage of] the opportunity that the Capitol offers because it’s a big stage. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland probably wouldn’t have been able to fit into the Sydney Opera House so it’s great to be able to do that while we are out of there, which breeds excitement.”
The AB certainly had no trouble attracting audiences to the Capitol when it staged a short season of Murphy’s Swan Lake there in 2015, and both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and McAllister’s Sleeping Beauty have proved real crowd-pleasers.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at The Royal Ballet. Photo by Charlotte MacMillan
Wheeldon’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic, trippy novel premiered in 2011 at The Royal Ballet in London, where the young Brit is a Resident Choreographer. The AB has previously had great success with Wheeldon’s sublime After the Rain and DGV: Danse à grande vitesse. With an ingeniously hallucinatory design by Bob Crowley (who collaborated with Wheeldon on his 2015 Tony Award-winning production of the musical An American in Paris) and a sophisticated, danceable score by Joby Talbot, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was well received by critics even if the staging was deemed more thrilling than the choreography. Featuring a tap dancing Mad Hatter, a spoof Rose Adagio for the Queen of Hearts, a shape-shifting Cheshire Cat and the Duchess’s gory kitchen, audiences flocked to it.
“I’ve been talking to Chris about it for a number of years now. It’s a magnificent production,” says McAllister. “They have just done it in Sweden and they are about to do it in Denmark and their seasons have completely sold out, the same as The Royal Opera House in London and The National Ballet of Canada. I think it’s probably one of the most successful new, full-length ballets that has been done in a number of years.
“It’s like a musical without singing. It has an amazing score by Joby Talbot but the set, costumes, scene changes and audio-visuals – there is a big film component – really is as complex as a musical. It’s so funny, The Royal Ballet keep saying: ‘she’s a big girl, Alice!’” says McAllister with a laugh.
Wheeldon did some initial casting while in Australia recently for DGV: Danse à grande vitesse and will return in June, then again in September for the premiere in Melbourne. McAllister says that there will be two guest artists from The Royal Ballet – “one for Melbourne, one for Sydney” – as well as a number of extras given that the ballet was created for The Royal Ballet which is a bigger company than the AB.
The AB’s 2017 season – which McAllister has dubbed “a season of wonderment” – opens in Brisbane in February with The Sleeping Beauty, first staged in 2015 when it had sold out seasons in Melbourne and Sydney. Featuring an intoxicatingly beautiful design by Gabriela Tylesova, McAllister’s approach is traditional, retaining key passages of Marius Petipa’s original choreography. The production will also be staged later in the year in Melbourne and Sydney.
David McAllister’s lavish production of The Sleeping Beauty designed by Gabriela Tylesova. Photo by Jeff Busby
“In 2015, we said this needs to come back pretty quickly because a lot of people couldn’t get tickets because it was sold out,” says McAllister. “And it will be nice for Sydney audiences to see it at the Capitol as I think it will be a beautiful setting for Gabriela’s lavish production. It’s also good to start the year with it in Brisbane.”
Murphy’s Nutcracker – The Story of Clara, created with designer Kristian Fredrikson, celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2017 with seasons in Sydney in May and Melbourne in June. The reimagined production sees Clara as a former star of the Ballets Russes who settled in Australia. On Christmas Eve, the elderly former dancer relives her past: her childhood in Imperial Russia, the Revolution, her world travels and stage triumphs.
“It’s such a beautiful work. I think it’s one of the great Kristian Fredrikson/Graeme Murphy creations,” says McAllister. “We don’t do it at Christmas because it doesn’t necessarily feel like a Christmas Nutcracker. But the importance of the work to Australia is really cool so it’s important to stage it every seven or so years. It’s also a really great vehicle for some beautiful senior dancers and there are 21 children as well so it’s a very multi-generational production, which is quite lovely.”
Kevin Jackson and Leanne Stojmenov in Nutcracker – The Story of Clara. Photo by Justin Ridler
After a successful season in Sydney this year, Symphony in C will have an exclusive Melbourne season in August. The mixed bill features Balanchine’s gorgeous white tutu ballet Symphony in C, Richard House’s Scent of Love, Alice Topp’s Little Atlas and a selection of classic gala divertissements. In a four-and-a-half star review of the Sydney season, Limelight said: “If variety is the spice of life, then Symphony in C is a multi-flavoured terpsichorean smorgasbord, which like the very best divertissement, sports something for every taste and a great deal more.”
The triple bill Faster, opening in Melbourne in March then going to Sydney, takes its name from a work by David Bintley, Artistic Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, made in 2012 – the year of the London Olympic Games. Set to a pulsing score by Australian composer Matthew Hindson, it requires an athletic physicality. “It sort of feels like a work that Australian audiences will really understand because it’s all about sport, the Olympics and various styles of athletics,” says McAllister.
Faster also features a new work by Wayne McGregor, a Resident Choreographer at The Royal Ballet who created Dyad 1929 for the AB in 2009. This new work features a specially commissioned score by Steve Reich called Runner, written by the American composer to celebrate his 80th birthday in October. The ballet premieres at The Royal Ballet on November 10.
“The work with Wayne McGregor is super exciting because it’s a co-production with The Royal Ballet,” says McAllister. “In fact, it’s a three-way split as The Joffrey Ballet [in Chicago] is also picking it up.” The third piece in Faster is a new work by AB Resident Choreographer Tim Harbour, following his success with Filigree and Shadow in 2015. McGregor and Bintley will both come to Australia and Harbour will, of course, be here too. “When we looked at the programme, except for George Balanchine, I think just about every work has a living choreographer,” says McAllister. “And that is quite unusual.”