The Australian Ballet has announced its 2020 season, dubbed Limitless Possibilities. It’s the farewell program from David McAllister in his 20th and final year as Artistic Director.
“We have three brand new full-length ballets in the 2020 program, and a world premiere and an Australian premiere in the two mixed programs so I hope [I have] pushed the boat out,” said McAllister at a Sydney media launch. He acknowledged that including so many new works means the program has cost a lot more money than initially budgeted. “But it is an extremely exciting program that I am so proud of [with which] to be finishing my time at The Australian Ballet.”
Callum Linnane and Robyn Hendricks in Broken Hill. Photograph © Georges Antoni
McAllister was sporting his 19th season launch shirt – this one coloured an earthy pink and teamed with a pale blue tie to match the company’s 2020 promotional film shot with the dancers in Broken Hill.
“It’s this weird thing that I did when I started [as Artistic Director]. I inherited the 2001 season and then for 2002 [which] was my first program I bought a new shirt. And then every year it became this thing I had to buy a new shirt for the launch and I had to try and do something that reminded me of the brochure,” he explained.
The season begins with Graeme Murphy’s new ballet The Happy Prince, which was to have had its world premiere this year but was delayed when Murphy became ill. Murphy was the first choreographer that McAllister spoke to about commissioning a new work when he became Artistic Director, and he featured Murphy’s Swan Lake in his inaugural season. It has since become one of the company’s most celebrated productions. So it feels fitting that McAllister’s final season will also include a new Murphy ballet.
Brett Chynoweth, Callum Linnane and Serena Graham, The Happy Prince. Photograph © Justin Ridler
Adapted from Oscar Wilde’s famous story by Murphy and Kim Carpenter, who has designed the production, The Happy Prince will be choreographed to a specially commissioned score by Christopher Gordon, who composed music for the films Ladies in Black, Mao’s Last Dancer and Master and Commander. Gordon and Murphy have collaborated before: in 2015 Gordon wrote an orchestral score for an 80-minute ballet by Murphy called Giselle and the Wraith Queen for the Universal Ballet, Korea. The Happy Prince will have its world premiere in Brisbane in February. It will then be performed in Melbourne in August/September, and Sydney in November/December.
In March, TAB opens a triple bill called Volt in Melbourne, followed by a season in Sydney. It features two works by British choreographer Wayne McGregor – one of the leading lights in the contemporary ballet world – both created for TAB, Chroma and Dyad 1929, as well as a brand new work by Alice Topp called Logos, choreographed to music by Ludovico Einaudi. Topp, who is also a dancer with the company, is an exciting young choreographer who has been nurtured by TAB. Her most recent work for TAB, Aurum, created in 218, won a Helpmann Award for Best New Ballet. In a nice bit of synchronicity, Logos began life in 2019 when Topp created a duet on Company Wayne McGregor for the Grange Festival in the UK. Interviewed at the media launch by McAllister, Topp said that Logos is “about your monsters, your fights, your fears, your demons, and how you wear them”.
Kevin Jackson, Robyn Hendricks and Nathan Brook, Anna Karenina. Photograph © Justin Ridler
The centrepiece of the 2020 season is a new ballet based on Leo Tolstoy’s devastating, classic novel Anna Karenina, created by Russian choreographer Yuri Possokhov (who became famous for his controversial production of Nureyev for the Bolshoi, which finally opened in December 2017 after delays). First revealed in 2017, Anna Karenina features music by Ilya Demutsky, costume and set design by Tom Pye, projections by Finn Ross, and lighting by David Finn.
A co-commission with Joffrey Ballet, it had its world premiere in Chicago in February. “I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was that night,” said McAllister who was in the audience. “Not only is it an extraordinary work but it’s the sort of work that I know our dancers are just going to revel in, and [love] working with Yuri – he’s such an extraordinary artist, he’s so Russian, the book is so Russian, he’s read the book five times, it’s just an extraordinary piece.”
“The Australian Ballet has a long history with Anna Karenina,” added McAllister. “We did a production back in 1980 [with choreography by André Prokovsky to music by Tchaikovsky]… This is a very different interpretation.”
Next comes Molto, another triple bill, which McAllister describes as “the most hybrid program” he has ever put together. It features Tim Harbour’s elegant, sleek Squander and Glory, Stephen Baynes’ very funny Molto Vivace, and Sir Frederick Ashton’s sought-after 1976 ballet A Month in the Country based on Turgenev’s famous play.
“A Month in the Country is probably one of the many jewels in the crown of Sir Frederick Ashton,” said McAllister, adding that Sir Frederick’s work was “the bedrock of the repertoire of The Australian Ballet” in its early days. Sir Anthony Dowell, a former Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet, will come to Australia to stage the production. Molto plays in Melbourne in June and in Sydney in November.
Brett Chynoweth, Harlequinade. Photograph © Justin Ridler
The final production in the season is Harlequinade by Marius Petipa, which will be performed in Melbourne in September. A co-production with American Ballet Theatre, it is being reconstructed by Alexei Ratmansky, with beautiful costumes and set by Robert Perdziola, based on the original designs. “It is a bit of a lost work,” said McAllister. “It is so exciting that we will be staging a 19th-century classic in its purest form but with the kiss of life from Alexei.”
Full details of the program can be found at The Australian Ballet website