It was always going to be a challenge. Artistic director David McAllister wanted to bring back to the Australian Ballet Jiri Kyli?s exquisite Bella Figura, first performed by the company in 2000, but needed to find two short works to accompany it. Rather than program two existing and perhaps similar pieces, McAllister chose instead to commission new dances from the company’s resident choreographers.

The result is three very different pieces showing under the broad title Bella Trilogy. Bella Figura is sublime and lyrical, performed to baroque music. Velocity (choreographed by Stanton Welch) is described by McAllister as high energy and high octane performed to the music of American composer Michael Torke; while Molto Vivace (by Stephen Baynes) is an irreverent romp which Neil Jillett praised as a blend of anaemic neo-classicism with 1950s camp.

The critical response so far to the season down south has been overwhelmingly positive, with one recurring criticism that’s very Melbourne. It seems the pieces clash.

The Age’s Hillary Crampton wrote that the disparate approaches of the three choreographers … make for an unsettling combination while the Herald Sun’s Blazenka Brysha proclaimed each piece is a stunner but put together, they beg the question: darling, what could you have been thinking?

It’s an odd but predictable response to any evening of short works and McAllister is nonplussed. They’re very much very different works and I think in a way both Stephen and Stanton really made a point of doing works that weren’t going to be like Bella Figura, because Bella Figura is such a wonderful work -¦ they wanted not to try and sort of do imitations -¦

I hate telling creative people what to do, added McAllister. I feel that when it comes from them, when it comes from their heart, then it really is the most interesting work. When people work to a prescription, I often find that it’s a bit soulless.

McAllister has become an expert at mixing it up since taking up the post of artistic director in 2000 -“ direct from his role as principal dancer. His reign has continued the Australian Ballet’s tricky balance of contemporary and classical works, perhaps exemplified by the stunning success of Graeme Murphy’s vision of Swan Lake. McAllister said his new role has become easier with time, and that the honeymoon is over.

I’ve got a much more realistic understanding of what’s involved in the position, McAllister said. There are always surprises, however, like the recent and premature retirement of principal dancers Simone Goldsmith and Joshua Consandine. The news shocked the dance world, and McAllister. While that’s really difficult, because it’s always sad to lose talent from the company, I think it’s also an opportunity to develop some of the younger dancers -¦ he said, with a hint of chagrin.

In some ways facing up to a few of the challenges we’ve been through lately has actually been really good, it refocusses you to actually look towards the future and not just get stuck into the day to day, he said.

The arts companies are doing it still pretty tough -¦ McAllister said, then laughed. It’s always that wonderful balance of art and paying for it -¦

I’m looking forward to 2004. Once again, there’s a lot of stuff there that’s unknown. But I think it’s going to be really exciting to see what develops from those works, he said.

The Bella Trilogy plays at the Sydney Opera House Opera Theatre from 5 to 24 November. Phone (02)9250 7777 for bookings.

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