Two ancient traditions, one Western classical ballet, the other Aboriginal ritual and dance, are blended together in this collaborative work from the Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre.
The challenge for choreographer Stephen Page was to drive together his dancers from Bangarra and those from the Australian Ballet toward dance skills outside their own traditions.
This is especially so in his new work, Amalgamate, the first in this double bill, which by the end intends to whirl together their dancerly differences into a cohesive expression.
Amalgamate begins with a kind of stand-off between the tall fair classicists and the indigenous powers swirling up from the earth.
Midway there is a beautiful ensemble (reconciliation?) moment when, like a flower unfolding, dancers soar high and open, rising from the rhythmic churning of the other more earthy dancers.
This is to a score written by Stephen’s Aboriginal brother and frequent collaborator, David Page, here working with Elena Kats-Chernin, from a background in Western music.
The result is a quick-paced cinematic-style score, sometimes thrilling, sometimes banal, a bit like being in a Bonanza movie.
What distinguishes the work is Stephen Page’s ensemble inventiveness and the use of charismatic songman, Grant Nundhirribala, against an evocative set suggestive of a ruined stadium.
One segment is inspired by a traditional Aboriginal song about the surprising slowness with which saltwater blends with freshwater. It’s a nice metaphor for Amalgamate which is punctuated with rich dance contrasts and blends.
More satisfying still is Page’s earlier work, Rites, which he choreographed for the Australian Ballet 10 years ago to the famous Ivor Stravinsky score, The Rite Of Spring.
This taps Page’s dance traditions to explore, through different scenes and moods, the elements of earth, wind, fire and water. And the AB dancers show an ease now with Page’s indigenous inspiration wedded to his contemporary dance approach.
Classical dancers can so often look like brainless peacocks trapped in the spotlight, but this lot are now far more expressive, just as their Bangarra colleagues have learnt a few things about technique and precision.
Page has given the Australian Ballet a fascinating and ongoing marriage, and a passport to new audiences and international interest.
Gathering, a double bill, is at the Sydney Opera House until 29 April.