Review | Ballet at the Quarry never fails to impress

Ballet at the Quarry: Metamorphosis | Quarry Ampitheatre | Until 9th March | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

The Perth Festival is underway, and the West Australian Ballet have taken up residence at the Quarry Ampitheatre for their annual celebration of modern dance. It’s a season that is always guaranteed to present a captivating presentation of Australian and world premieres, and 2024’s offering is first rate.

It also comes as the company enters a new era. They are currently in a transitionary phase, Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella has departed after a decade which has seen the WA Ballet swell in its numbers, take on bold new work, and create pathways to develop dancer’s creativity and choreographic skills.

David McAllister has stepped in a Guest Artistic Director for this year, but fans of the company eagerly await what comes next, so it’s fitting that this year’s season at the Quarry takes on the name Metamorphosis.

As the dancers warmed up on stage, a tradition at quarry shows, they must have felt as if they’d signed up for some new form of Bikram Yoga, as Perth’s Friday temperature began to drop from a blistering 40 degrees plus afternoon.

The first half of the program featured two works from acclaimed British choreographer George Williamson whose works have been performed by the English National Ballet, Berlin Ballet, Polish National Ballet and many other leading companies.

First up was Wonderers, a piece that won Williamson the Milwaukee Genises Ballet Competition in 2017.

On a dark stage a spotlight captures a dancer swirling and twirling, before a second appears, then a third, but the lights begin to dim on the first. Slowly more and more performers appear until the stage if filled with six performers clad in jade coloured costumes.

The music from Edmund Shaw is filled with uneven beats, scratching noises and panting sounds, a highlight of the short work is a pas de deux between Candice Adea and Adam Alzaim – who has a new strikingly blonde haircut.

Williamson has described this work as an exploration of the rhythms of the human body. The work was just a taste of what was to come from the British choreographer.

David Dawson’s Metamorphosis is based around the five-part solo piano composition from Philip Glass. Dancers have always loved the repetitive motifs that are central to Glass’s music, and this piece has always been a favourite.

Glass recorded the work in 1989 but has recently released a new version he recorded during the Covid lockdowns.

A male dancer approaches a female dancer, he appears to whisper in her ear, and suddenly we’re off in a flurry of lifts and turns. Across the back of the stage more white figures slowly file out forming a sentry across the back of the stage.

As groups of dance weaves and sway past each other the intensity grows as the music becomes more complex with different piano lines intersecting. The overall feel though is one that is very meditative.

As we work our way through the different sections of Metamorphosis, we encounter the dancers in a variety of combinations of pairings, sometimes it’s all female dancers, other moments the men dominate the stage, then we break off into duets and other couplings.

Choreographer David Dawson has created many full-length ballets including new takes on Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake and Giselle, but this work is beautiful for its focus on movement over narrative.     

Each year at the WA Ballet’s Genesis season the company’s dancers explore their own choreographic skills, and usually one of the works from this season is given a bigger run at the quarry performances.

This year principal dancer Gakuro Matsui brought the stunningly romantic In 3 min 40. Set to music from Ennio Morricone it saw Kassidy Thompson and Jack Whiter deliver a piece that had unexpected moves, eye-catching detours from the expected movement, and a pas de deux where the two performers came across as equals.

The final work on the bill was the world premiere of a new work from George Williamson, commissioned for this season.

Extension to Boom was set to music from composer Bryce Dessner, who has forged a career in neo-classical music alongside his work in indie rock band The National, and collaborations with Taylor Swift.

The stage was filled was dancers in many different colours, green, aqua, dusty pinks, shimmering splashes of colour who zoomed around the stage like excited sprites. They leaped and spun with a furious frantic energy, hardly ever spending a moment in one spot. It was mesmerising.

Get tickets to see Ballet at the Quarry: Metamorphosis from Perth Festival. 

Graeme Watson 

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