Dancing back to Canberra

In its Golden Anniversary year, the Australian Ballet is bringing a gift to the capital - a free concert featuring three ballerinas who began their careers here, Janet Wilson writes

When dancers from The Australian Ballet perform in Telstra Ballet in the Park at Stage 88 in Commonwealth Park during the Canberra Festival it will be part of an Australia-wide celebration of the company's 50th anniversary.

Since the days when the Ballets Russes visited Australia between 1936 and 1940 and Edouard Borovansky's company performed its first season in 1944 Australians had flocked to see interpretations of all the classic ballets.

Then in September, 1962, The Australian Ballet was formed and audiences embraced not only the classic ballets performed by talented home-grown dancers but also exciting new works created by Australian choreographers. In this, its Golden Anniversary year, our national company is bringing a gift to the people of Canberra: a free concert on March 16, presenting outstanding dancers and, as a special feature, three ballerinas who began their careers here.

It was a delight for me to talk to David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, who so eloquently expresses the achievements and the dreams of the company.

''There's an incredible history of dance in Australia,'' he says. ''I don't think we've always appreciated what a dancing nation we are. It's a while since the full company has danced in Canberra and we're thrilled to be able to come back. This program is specially staged to bring there.

''For outdoors we like to do a program that's like the best bits of ballets so we've put together pas de deux and ensemble pieces that really show off the dancers but also highlight the great depth of the repertoire. Some of this program we'll also be taking to New York when we go there in June, so this is an opportunity to show that bit of the program before we travel there.''


McAllister says that the three Canberra-trained dancers are all at very different points in their careers.

''They're three really talented women. Rachel Rawlins has been a principal for almost 10 years now and brings a wonderful maturity. She's danced all around the world. She left the company and went to The Royal Ballet for a few years and then came back. She brings an incredible depth and wealth of talent and Giselle is one of those roles that she completely owns. She is our Giselle of this generation.

''Lana Jones is at the peak of her career and I think that we haven't seen the best of Lana yet although she is extraordinary. She's a dancer who's intelligent and physically gifted and a real risk-taker so she's incredibly exciting to watch. Her maturity is really developing and I think this year is going to be her opportunity to dance lots of diverse roles. In fact Graeme Murphy has created one of the central parts of his ballet, Infinity, using her and she's become a bit of the definitive Murphy ballerina because he created Firebird on her and she won three awards for that particular role. She's definitely a dancer who's going to have a huge career.

''Dimity Azoury is at that point in her career where it's all starting to happen. She's been nominated for the Telstra Ballet Dancer of the Year this year - a fantastic accolade from her peers. She's been doing a number of leading roles: her third movement solo in Concerto last year was a great success. She's involved in the Bangarra part of the Infinity program this year and she's definitely one of those dancers who's captured the eyes of many choreographers and repetiteurs. She's really on a bit of a roll at the moment.''

''Joyous'', ''effervescent'' and even ''supernatural'' are some of the adjectives that have been used by the critics to describe Lana Jones.

So how does it feel to have this sort of adulation?

''It's a lot of pressure,'' she says. ''You're always trying to better yourself as an artist so you want to grow and develop. When you become a perfectionist sometimes it's hard to put into perspective how your performance went because you have such high expectations of yourself that you don't always recognise when something wasn't good.'' But she laughs when I mention the film Black Swan. ''Oh no! Not that amount of pressure!''

Although Jones has shone in modern ballets such as Petite Mort, Forgotten Land and After the Rain she says that the classical, full-length ballets are her favourites. There's a role that she's yearned for but not yet danced: the principal role in Manon. ''I danced the Mistress in one production of Manon, but not the title role. I love the story and the romance of this ballet. It's heart-breaking and very dramatic,'' she says.

''It'll be beautiful dancing outside on Stage 88. It's lovely to be in the fresh air. I'm looking forward to coming home where I still have family. They'll have picked out their picnic spot pretty early, I'm sure.''

She thinks the highlight will just be the company being back in Canberra. ''Most of the main company doing lots of ballet. It'll be a feast, really.''

McAllister says Jones will be dancing two pieces. ''At the very beginning she's doing a pas de deux from La Favorita, a ballet created for the company back in the '80s. She and her husband, Daniel Gaudiello, will be dancing that and then at the end of the evening they'll be doing the leads in excerpts from La Bayadere. Dimity will be dancing one of the solos in La Bayadere and, of course, Rachel will be dancing the pas de deux from the second act of Giselle. We wanted to be sure that we have all our Canberra dancers on in ballets that fit them particularly well.''

And the rest of the program?

''As far as landmark successes,'' McAllister says, ''Don Quixote is there, the pas de deux that we did with Rudolph Nureyev and then made the movie. There's a pas de deux from Molto Vivace which is a piece that Stephen Baynes, one of our resident choreographers, created for the company back in 2003 and we've revived a few times. It's a beautiful, romantic ballet but parts of it are quite comic as well. There are a number of pieces that show the highlights from the company over 50 years. The program also shows the quality of the dancers that we have now. The company's always been very good at producing fantastic dancers - over the years we've had generation upon generation of fantastic artists and it's wonderful to be able to showcase the dancers of today.''

Will there ever be McAllister cameo roles in ballet?

''I love watching the young dancers of today and when I see them I can't imagine that I could ever have done that,'' he says. But of course, he has, as I have seen his brilliant dancing in ballets such as Don Quixote, when he quite eclipsed the dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.

''I feel my career was rich and incredibly long and I did everything I ever wanted and now it's really wonderful to watch the next generation and help them achieve their aims,'' he says. ''The one thing that I want to achieve by the end of this 50th anniversary year is for everyone, all around Australia, to have had a ballet experience, whether it be in a theatre or by one of the many broadcasts that we're going to be doing. That will be a highlight - if everyone in Australia is aware and has had the opportunity to celebrate their national company.''

Telstra Ballet in the Park is at Stage 88 Commonwealth Park on Friday, March 16, at 7pm. Admisson is free. For more information visit australianballet.com.au/park