The Australian Ballet’s latest production, a show-stopping triple-bill, shines the spotlight on the company’s male dancers.

Male dancers haven’t traditionally been the main focus of ballet performances, their female counterparts, forever the love heroine and feted stars on pointe, instead receiving most of the attention. According to Cameron Hunter, a coryphée with the Australian Ballet, the tide began to turn in the 1960s, a great period of evolution in the dance world. “A lot of the ballets [choreographed] around this time started to feature men more predominantly, and men were starting to push harder rather than just being a complement to the beautiful, ethereal women. They started to take a greater role.”

Along with his male colleagues, Mr Hunter will perform in the company’s forthcoming production of The Dream, a triple bill of the work of Frederick Ashton in which the focus is more firmly placed on the ballerinos. The performance comprises Monotones II, last performed in 1979, is renowned for its elegant pas de trois (a dance performance by three); meanwhile, Symphonic Variations is well known for the physical demands placed on the dancers, demonstrating their technical virtuosity; and, lastly, the presentation of the bill’s namesake, The Dream, Mr Ashton’s innovative balletic interpretation of William Shakespeare’s charming comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, last performed by the company in the late 1960s, and in which the male dancers perform in pointe shoes, those rather dangerous-looking and physically challenging slippers typically reserved for females.

“For a guy to be on pointe is one of the hardest and funniest things,” explains Mr Hunter, who described his first experience in them earlier this year as akin to the young doe Bambi walking for the first time. “But,” he adds, “considering what we’ve achieved in the past six or so weeks is pretty amazing.” For this, it’s important that the dancers keep in peak physical shape, including class every day, during and out of show season, as well as regular gym and conditioning sessions. “The challenge is more about how you prepare for each night; some roles you really need to get pumped for, and others you need to conserve energy on stage. The Dream is hilariously funny but it’s technically demanding because you’re on pointe. There’s as much mental preparation as there is physical.”

Of course, the tide has been turning in the decades since the 1960s, with men appearing more predominantly in dance productions, mainstream television programs and films, such as Billy Elliott, evidenced by the increasing number of male dance students. Today, the Australian Ballet school’s student enrolment is 40% male, with a specially dedicated boys days. And some of the world’s leading dance figures are gracing magazine covers, too – Roberto Bolle for Vanity Fair, David Hallberg for C.R. Fashion Book and, locally, the Australian Ballet’s own Rohan Furnell for Manuscript – leading to further mainstream appreciation.

Mr Hunter believes audiences will relish the opportunity to see more of the company’s male dancers. “Having come off the back of Giselle, which doesn’t have much male presence beyond the principal, will be a bit of a shock because all of [The Dream’s] pieces feature a lot of men. It’s kind of unheard of to have more guys on stage than girls,” he says. “But we’ve got a company of really strong men and that shows in this program: they can go from pure classicism to something really modern.”

Luke Marchant and Cameron Hunter rehearsing The Dream, 2015. Photography Lynette Wills Rohan Furnell rehearsing The Dream, 2015. Photography Lynette Wills

Chengwu Guo in The Dream 002. photography by Georges Antoni
Symphonic Variations 1. CREDIT Tristram Kenton  Royal Opera House ArenaPAL

The Australian Ballet will perform The Dream at the Sydney Opera House (29 April-16 May), Melbourne (4-13 June) and Adelaide (8-9 July).