Simon Hoy, artistic director of Melbourne Ballet Company, is frequently asked a fairly predictable question: does Melbourne need another ballet company? Melbourne is, of course, home to the Australian Ballet and, to some, indeed to many, another ballet company based in Melbourne is superfluous. But Hoy is adamant there is a place for Melbourne Ballet Company. Since graduating from the Australian Ballet School in 1997, Hoy has worked around the world with small, classically based groups, including in New York with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and in Denmark with Schaufuss Ballet. He sees a real opening for this kind of company in Australia.
"There is no shortage of modern dance companies in Australia," he says. "We, on the other hand, are a company of highly trained dancers working with a movement vocabulary that is contemporary but classically based and we can achieve a lot that larger companies can't manage. We are small; we have just 12 dancers, which means touring to regional areas is easy and affordable. As well, we are a platform for emerging choreographers who can take risks with us. But, at the same time, they have the opportunity to work with our very capable and athletic dancers, and they can have their new works produced in a very professional manner."
Hoy, who grew up in Canberra, was educated at Canberra High, and had his early ballet training at the Betsy Sawers School of Dancing (now the Classical Ballet Centre Canberra), is bringing Melbourne Ballet Company to Queanbeyan for a short season at the Q in July. It is part of an extensive regional tour that has already taken in towns and cities in regional Victoria, NSW, and the Northern Territory.
The Queanbeyan program will comprise three works: Divenire, Illuminate and Lucidity. Divenire, which is also used as the overarching name of the triple bill program, is Hoy's work and is danced to music by Italian new-age composer, Ludovico Einaudi. Illuminate has a score by Philip Glass and is the work of Rani Luther, former dancer with the Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Kiel Ballet and Nederlands Dance Theatre. Lucidity is also in essence Hoy's choreography, although it incorporates a duet by Tim Podesta, also a graduate of the Australian Ballet School with an international career behind him. It has music by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds.
The program is exceptionally diverse, musically, choreographically and in design, although all three works are abstract in intention. Divenire (it means "to become") is in three movements and examines change, movement and the unfolding nature of reality. Hoy describes this work as "dynamic" and he has taken a saying by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus as a starting point: "Everything changes and nothing remains still … you cannot step twice into the same stream."
Luther's work, Illuminate, holds the middle spot on the program and has two movements. Danced en pointe, it displays the classical skills of Melbourne Ballet Company's dancers whose careers before joining the Melbourne company have included engagements with a range of classical companies in Australia and elsewhere. The work is inspired in part by Pablo Picasso's anti-war painting Guernica and its design refers to a small element of the painting, a hand holding a candle. The ballet is a search for light and hope in life. Hoy describes the choreography for Illuminate as having "exceptional fluidity of movement, and pure classical line" and he singles out its "glorious duets".
The closing work on the Queanbeyan program is Lucidity, which Hoy says is "technically demanding, frenetic and intricate in its patterns". With its black, minimalist costumes, he believes it is a very chic work. Musically, it is a physical representation of Arnalds' music, which is powerful and gripping, standing in contrast to Einaudi's smooth and restful score for Divenire. Hoy maintains that it is always music that inspires him to create and that choosing his music is the longest part of his creative process. With his works for the Divenire program, he has opted for experimental music, although he admits to a love of Mozart, Vivaldi and other classical composers.
Hoy is not dancing this year, saying that it is enough to be directing and choreographing. He also has plans for a film. But his aspirations for this small classical company know no bounds. "I'd like Melbourne Ballet Company to be a neo-classical company that can do anything from Balanchine to McGregor," he says with confidence. And if George Balanchine represents the epitome of the neo-classical choreography of the 20th century, Wayne McGregor has to stand at the forefront of the latest approach to making classically based dance in the 21st. Divenire may well help us decide whether Hoy's enterprising ideas and ambitious aspirations can become a reality.
Divenire. Melbourne Ballet Company. The Q, Queanbeyan. July 8-9. Bookings theq.net.au