Dancing to the tune of Parliament
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Dancing to the tune of Parliament

It might be difficult to visualise a ballet that sums up a building, but 25 years ago, it was equally difficult to visualise the concept of a structure built into a hill in the centre of a capital.

But, as the Australian Ballet's tribute to Parliament House, Monument, demonstrates, it's all in the execution.

The Australian Ballet dances the dance of the building of Parliament House - The Monument.

The Australian Ballet dances the dance of the building of Parliament House - The Monument.

Photo: Karleen minney

Monument is one segment of Symmetries, a specially commissioned ballet put on by the company as part of the Canberra Centenary, and will be running exclusively in the capital for the next three days.

Speaking to The Canberra Times ahead of the opening night performance on Thursday, choreographer Garry Stewart said coming up with a dance to embody a building was a unique brief.

"I think in dance there have been probably plenty of works about dance and architectural principles, but it's not often that a choreographer is asked to respond to a specific building," he said.

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The dancers perform in minimal white costumes with black stitching on a bare set, with only video projections as a backdrop.

"The piece does start off though as a sort of an essay into general architectural principles, of recta-lineal planes and curva-lineal planes and forces and physics and gravity and so forth, and the notion of construction and building," he said.

"Then from that point we bring the actual Parliament House into the piece itself, or a representation of Parliament House through video, [using] CAD animations."

The dancers are engaged in a dialogue with what's happening in the backdrop, which shows computer images of the building being constructed, and the segment culminates in a digital fly-through of the building, Grand Designs-Style.

"In the middle section of the work where we the show the House of Representatives and the Senate on the video screen, the dance becomes more about polemic and argument and debate and discourse," he said.

"It's sort of like two opposing sides and this sense of conflict and, at times, resolution. That's the only moment in the piece where it hints at the human content of the building, the human action within the building and its function. But the rest of it is more allegorical for the actual architecture and the structure of the building itself."

In dreaming up the choreography, Stewart had the opportunity to walk through Parliament House with the original architect, Romaldo Giurgola, and learn how the building was conceived.

He said their discussion heavily informed the final work onstage.

"In many ways, Aldo was unwittingly the dramaturge for this piece," he said.

"I think the thing for me was I was wanted to reflect as much of the building as possible within the choreography... It's very symmetrical, it's very classical and quite minimalist."

He said there was a link, too, between the 300-year-old medium of the classical ballet technique, and the fact that Giurgola had wanted to create a building that would last for 200 years.

But ultimately, Stewart wanted Monument to reignite an interest in Parliament House.

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It really is absolutely stunning and there're a lot of public areas, it actually has more public areas than most parliament houses around the world," he said.

Symmetries is on at The Canberra Theatre until May 25.