Get together, right now in Melbourne in the spring

Alice Topp's new company

Alice Topp

 

Australia is rich with dance companies. According to Ausdance we have 50. Most were established years ago but now there’s a new and unique company. Alice Topp, a resident choreographer at The Australian Ballet and her longtime collaborator, Jon Buswell, the technical director at The Australian Ballet, announced in June a brand new national dance company titled Project Animo.

Project Animo is a platform for independent dancers and newly retired dancers who have performed at the nation’s leading companies including The Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet, West Australian Ballet, Bangarra Dance Company, Sydney Dance Company and the UK-based Studio Wayne McGregor.

Among them are Andrew Killian, Leanne Stojmenov, Madeleine Eastoe and Rudy Hawkes (former principal dancers in the Australian Ballet), Laura Hidalgo (a former principal artist at Queensland Ballet), Charmene Yap and Cass Mortimer Eipper (former dancers at Sydney Dance Company) and freelance dancer Kristina Chan. 

In the dance world “retirement” comes early.  Dancers, especially ballet dancers, have a short career. Starting at a dance studio that accepts children as young as 3 or 4 they continue their love of dance for a while or give it up. Those who don’t have two options. They can travel the world to find a company that accepts them or, if they’re lucky, they join an Australian company in their late teens. So far, so good, but after years at the company they are well aware they may have to leave dance in their late 30s or early 40s.

In a recent interview with The Age, Alice Topp explained “There’s a point in your professional career where physically you’re at your peak but you’re only just maturing artistically, the physicality drops off, you might not be where you were in your 20s, recovery might be a lot longer. But your artistic growth just continues.

“I think it’s a great shame for mature artists with such celebrated careers… not to have a platform where that can continue to grow and engage with audiences. Quite often with dance there’s such a focus on physicality and tricks… how many pirouettes can you do, how high can you jump. But focusing on the value of storytelling, on artistry, on the way these artists connect with audiences – I definitely think there’s not enough places where that can be seen here in Australia. Quite often with dance there’s such a focus on physicality and tricks… how many pirouettes can you do, how high can you jump. But focusing on the value of storytelling, on artistry, on the way these artists connect with audiences – I definitely think there’s not enough places where that can be seen here in Australia. 

“A lot of people said they were still grieving, a lot said they still felt incredibly lost but it’s not something they felt they could talk about. It’s like running on a treadmill and someone suddenly hit the stop button”.

Alice felt that something needed to change. Now, with Project Animo she said “we’re coming together as a group of equals. We have such respect and admiration for each other. We’ve watched each other on different stages for many years and never had the opportunity or even thought that we would collaborate.”

(Animo, a Latin word, means “fill with breath” and “endow with spirit”) 

 

Based in Melbourne the dancers have already started workshops to build the first season.

They will be joined by leading choreographers – including Topp, composers and costume designers and the personnel will rotate and change each year. A small contingent of Animo’s dancers and creatives, including Topp, are now working on the first season in Perth.

Philanthropists have got the project on its feet and David McAllister, The Australian Ballet’s recently retired artistic director, has joined the board.

 

The company plans to debut in November at Melbourne’s Playhouse but of course, there could be a challenge, not only for Project Animo but also the off again, on again restrictions that have kept the performing arts off the stage since the pandemic crashed into our life last year.   

The Australian Ballet, Bangarra, Sydney Dance Company and Queensland Ballet are just a few of the companies suffering with cancellations and rescheduling however many have found ways to keep them front and centre.

Some are reaching out to the public for financial support while The Australian Ballet’s artistic director, David Hallberg, has announced upbeat plans for the second half of 2021.

 

 The first plan, announced late in May, is The Telstra Emerging Choreographer that offered “aspiring choreographers from all genres of dance the chance to create new work and the opportunity to take part in The Australian Ballet’s 2022 Bodytorque program, and to receive a cash prize of AU$10,000, courtesy of Telstra”.

 

“Aspiring choreographers” may be excited but if they’re chosen by TAB will they have an on going opportunities to show their ability and skills in the future?

 

In recent years the company’s choreographers included Stephen Baynes, a resident choreographer with The Australian Ballet since 1995, Tim Harbour, who began his debut as a choreographer in 2010 and continued to choreograph works for other companies including New York City Ballet, Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet and Stanton Welch who received his first choreographic commission in The Australian Ballet in 1990 from the company then many more for the following 14 years.

 

They were all dancers in The Australian Ballet before they were resident choreographers. 

Now their names aren’t on the company’s website.  

 

Early in July the second upbeat TAB announcement was DanceX an “inaugural event… conceived and curated by The Australian Ballet’s artistic director David Hallberg that will showcase the depth, range and diversity of the nation’s dance community. Eight companies – The Australian Ballet, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, Chunky Move, Lucy Guerin Inc, Australian Dance Theatre, Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet – will perform in two parts.

 

“This September, dance companies from around Australia will gather at Arts Centre Melbourne for this. DanceX is a two-part festival conceived and curated by The Australian Ballet’s Artistic Director David Hallberg that will showcase the depth, range and diversity of the nation’s dance community. Eight companies – The Australian Ballet, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, Chunky Move, Lucy Guerin Inc, Australian Dance Theatre, Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet – will perform in two parts”.

“The Australian Ballet will perform in both parts, presenting the Australian premiere of Johan Inger’s comic, romantic dance theatre piece I New Then, set to songs by Van Morrison.”

Depending on the up and down problems caused by the pandemic Melbourne could be the tentpole of ballet in Australia. DanceX will take place at Arts Centre Melbourne in late September and early October, a month before the debut of Project Animo.

In an interview with Limelight magazine Hallberg said he began to think about the project last year “in September or October when he was still in New York, preparing to move to Australia”.

At that time the NYCityCenter announced that the Fall for Dance Festival would premiere on October 21. There were five programs, the first by Miami City Ballet, a new work by a New York City Ballet soloist. After that the remaining programs included Pennsylvania Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Les Ballets Trockadero.de Monte Carlo.

Program 5 included a solo for David Hallberg, choreographed by Mark Morris an American dancer and choreographer who formed his own modern dance company, the Mark Morris Dance Group. 

When The Australian Ballet’s 2021 repertoire was revealed it came with a phrase that’s continued through the year so far. A New Era.

Promoting the new repertoire the company reached out to the public: “We invite you to experience a new era of artistry that will bring the world to our company and our company to the world”.

Since then, A New Era is almost a logo linked to The Australian Ballet

From September there will definitely be a new era that’s likely to change the way we see ballet in Australia from the end of the year and beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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