What’s next for the Australian Ballet and Australian Ballet School
As principal artists of the Australian Ballet, Lisa Pavane and David McAllister were colleagues for more than a decade.
And although Pavane left the company in 1994, she returned to the fold in 2007 when she began to work with the Australian Ballet School and last year she was appointed director of the school.
Next Sunday (3 July), they will be speaking at a Friends of the Australian Ballet event in Sydney, discussing the way they see the evolution of the Australian Ballet and the next generation of dancers at both the school and company.
I asked McAllister for a few insights on where the open discussion might go and was especially interested in the direction he sees for the company in the next decade.
â€śUltimately I would like the Australian Ballet to reflect the population of Australiaâ€ť, he said.
â€śThatâ€™s been very important to me during my tenure and I think as we develop it can only become more important.
â€śI hope we continue to have more indigenous members of the company through the training program. That would be fantasticâ€ť.
He thinks the next wave of dancers may also include the children of those people who have migrated or will migrate to Australia from the near Pacific islands, from the Middle East and Africa, just as there are now dancers who are the second generation of Asian immigrants and previously, the second generation of post war immigrants from Italy and Greece.
Underpinning all of that are â€śthe fundamentals, all the things needed to be a great ballet dancer, musicality, technique, theatricalityâ€ť and he said, â€śthat innate sense of performance qualityâ€ť that all ballet schools and companies look for.
I asked about the direction that the company might take in the way it commissions choreographers and the balance in the companyâ€™s future repertoire between ballets created by international choreographers and Australian choreographers.
It was important, McAllister said, that the company dancers felt they are working with â€śinternationally recognisable people. To build your own choreographic talent is vital but if we only ever commission Australian choreographers it would make the company feel they were a little bit more isolatedâ€ť.
Choreographers such as Alexei Ratmansky, Wayne McGregor and Liam Scarlett (who he hopes might work with the company), are the kind of people who really excite the dancers.
â€śThatâ€™s a very important thing for the company but equally important is to have the next wave of Australian choreographic talent.
“Tim [Harbour] showed he took a really great step forward in his last work and Stephen Baynes and Stanton Welch have become quite mainstream for us now so I guess it’s important to discover the new.
â€śFor dancers itâ€™s important to be choreographed on. While itâ€™s nice to do existing repertoire, thereâ€™s nothing like having something created on you for youâ€ť.
As for the number of dancers in the company, 85 would be the limit, and thatâ€™s the number the company is aiming for by 2019.
â€śItâ€™s a good number for us because it does give us a bit of extra latitude for those big ballets, for example for the Baynesâ€™ Swan Lake and for Sleeping Beauty we had to employ a couple of extra people to make the numbers workâ€ť.
The first stage of building the company meant the numbers jumped from 70 to the present 77.
â€śWe canâ€™t grow company any more until we increase our facilities”.
In terms of venues in Australia, next year the company will perform at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney, as the Sydney Opera House will be undergoing major renovations.
â€śWe would love to have every three years a season at the Capitol or Lyric Theatre where we could do some of those bigger works in that sort of enlarged and featured venue, but obviously the Opera House is our home.
â€śThereâ€™s talk of a new theatre being built in Brisbane. There are various people lobbying the Queensland government to make that happen. In some ways a second lyric theatre in Brisbane would really help us. Either that will free up QPAC (the Queensland Performing Arts Centre) to make our seasons a bit more regular or it will mean somewhere else to goâ€ť.
The company did have a regular slot at QPAC but if thereâ€™s a big musical production there then of course there will be a problem with availability.
McAllister plans to continue international touring to the big cities in Asia, Europe and the United States with two tours to take place within every three year period.
â€śItâ€™s important to keep that international relationship goingâ€ť and, he adds, â€śIâ€™d love to take the company back to Russiaâ€ť.
The Australian Ballet School.
I asked how many graduates a year are usually offered contracts by the company.
â€śIt fluctuates on who is leaving. For a couple of years it was quite static and until this year there were quite low numbers.
â€śBut I feel that the company is in a phase of regeneration. By the time we get to the end of the London tour (23 July) weâ€™ll have five gentlemen leaving the company and I think there will be a couple of ladies that retire from the company as well so I think weâ€™re in that space of regeneration.
â€śItâ€™s a really good time for people to be around and for us to look at these kids and obviously we look at the ballet school first, they are our first port of call but there are often other dancers who have either been at the school and gone somewhere else or who have been to international schools and come back.
â€śYou know Iâ€™ve never been of that mind that we wonâ€™t take them because theyâ€™ve never been to the school. I think thatâ€™s limiting but I think equally we have a commitment to the ballet school so we want to make sure we look at their graduates firstâ€ť.
At the new school residence in Melbourne there is a mix of level 7 to level 4 students. Many fulltimers already have accommodation in Melbourne so it will be the students of tomorrow who will build up numbers in the new facility.
â€śThereâ€™s much more duty of care within that facility and it feels like homeâ€ť.
Pavane asked five choreographers to create works for the school this year – Graeme Murphy, Stephen Baynes, guest flamenco teacher, Areti Boyaci and school faculty teachers, Margaret Wilson and Christine Howard.
â€śWhen Marilyn (Rowe) was director Leigh Rowles had a claim over the choreographic work and I think Lisa wanted to open that up and I think she wanted choreographers who work for the main company.
â€śObviously the kids training are aspiring to join the company so itâ€™s great to have choreographers who are in our rep going through that training program with them.
“The interesting thing is that those choreographers have been really excited about working with the students. Theyâ€™re the future of what theyâ€™re going to work withâ€ť.
The full time students at the school will be performing at the Sydney Opera House next December in what will be an annual event.
Generation Next: In Conversation with David McAllister and Lisa Pavane is on Sunday 3 July at The Ivy/Sunroom, Level 3, 330 George St, Sydney.
Friends of the Australian Ballet-Contact: 02 9252 7322 (9.30am-4.30pm Mon-Fri) www.fab.org.au