The Australian Ballet describes its latest production, 20:21, as “modern ballet pushed to the physical extremes”, and certainly it demonstrates something of the dancers’ agility. A triple-bill celebrating three choreographic leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries, 20:21 presents a different side of the classical company, and one that will no doubt be well-received by audiences craving the thrill of continued climaxes.
“There’s been a bit of luck with the three pieces coming together,” says the company’s resident choreographer Tim Harbour, whose work, Filigree and Shadow, is one of three presented in the program. “It was hard to predict how they would all work together, especially when two of them are new pieces, but I think all three hold their own.” Bookending Mr Harbour’s new work is George Balanchine’s powerful Symphony in Three Movements and Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, an internationally respected dance phenomenon set to a Philip Glass score and performed for the most part in sneakers and comprising endless turns and leaps.
For Mr Habour, the choreographic process is a solitary one, with hours spent amassing creative material and developing movement ideas in front of his computer. “Because you have a very small window to create the work with the dancers, you really need to have a lot of material to play with,” he explains. “Once the dancers have that down – and they’re very quick to learn – we then play with it and it becomes more collegiate, there’s more give and take. These wonderful brains and bodies help to provide a counterpoint to what I’d developed.”
Like the other works in the program, Filigree and Shadow is fast and athletic, and lieu of soloists, the company works more as an ensemble, doing away with traditional hierarchy. Mr Harbour has introduced a new, more contemporary style to the dancers, pushing them into different territory with a piece that explores emotions of aggression and fear, as inspired by a particular breed of bird that is able to survive cyclones. “It’s a great metaphor for the ideas that I was exploring,” says Mr Harbour. “I think audiences will be thrilled by it, emboldened by it, arrested by it. You certainly won’t drift off.”
That image of birds whirling around in a storm is communicated with the help of architect Kelvin Ho’s set for the production: a stark white curved wall that wraps the stage. It’s the first time Mr Ho, known for his fashion retail store designs, has worked on a stage project, but this in itself injects an artistic freshness to the production in line with the choreographic values. “He really responded to imagery that I fed to him, the notions of what I was exploring, and I think it really completes the story.”