CELEBRATION GALA
Australian Ballet
Sydney Opera House
Until December 3
★★★★

The problem with calling a program of 10 pas de deux a gala is raising expectations of exceptional dance that goes beyond what the Australian Ballet can offer – at least, at the moment.

Nevertheless, it was an absolute pleasure to see work brought out of the company’s archives and to get a glimpse of future repertoire, as well as discovering new performers making their way to the top.

Yuumi Yamada and Chengwu Guo were dazzling.Credit:Daniel Boud

Also, of course, it was a celebration to see the dancers, sidelined for so long by COVID-19, back on stage and stepping out boldly, if at times a little nervously it seemed.

What a delight to see again the glorious duet from Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto (1966), to music by Shostakovich. Its clean lines and deceptive simplicity were beautifully executed by Robyn Hendricks and Callum Linnane.

Also, the welcome return of the duet from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain to music by Arvo Part: another relationship explored in a mixture of abstraction and intense emotion, this time by Rina Nemoto and Nathan Brook. Earlier, she appeared as an elegant Odette from Swan Lake Act II, with Jarryd Madden.

Current choreography put Karen Nanasca and Brook together in Clay, an enthralling excerpt of closely entwined movement from Alice Topp’s Logos, to music by Ludovico Einaudi.

Hendricks and Linnane were together again in an enticing excerpt from Anna Karenina, to be seen in Sydney next year. An all-too-brief and impressive excerpt from Wayne McGregor’s Chroma introduced Imogen Chapman, partnered by Christiano Martino.

The one outstanding performance with the kind of wow factor that would grace any gala was that of Chengwu Guo. His aerial pyrotechnics were truly dazzling in Petal Miller-Ashmole’s La Favorita, partnering Yuumi Yamada, and The Nutcracker pas de deux, with Benedicte Bemet, whose fine dancing and charm were better suited to this role than the Black Swan pas de deux she danced with Brett Chynoweth.

The perennial Merry Widow made no more than a pleasant interlude in the hands of Sharni Spencer and Christopher Rodgers-Wilson – highlighted by Franz Lehar’s familiar music played by the Opera Australia Orchestra, conducted by Nicolette Fraillon.

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