Symphony in C

Richard Watts

Juxtaposing contemporary works with a 20th century classic, this well-balanced program rewards ballet aficionados and newcomers alike.
Symphony in C

Amanda McGuigan in From Silence, part of The Australian Ballet’s Symphony in C. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Simultaneously demonstrating The Australian Ballet’s adherence to tradition and its commitment to evolving the art form, Symphony in C is a rewarding blend of old and new works, the latter created by two of the company’s junior members – a noteworthy occurrence in an artform as hierarchical as ballet.

The first half of the evening consists of five divertissements, including the opening work From Silence by corps de ballet member Richard House, and Little Atlas by coryphée Alice Topp.


House’s choreography explores the beginning and the end of a relationship, to a score by Michael Nyman. It’s a fluid, sensuous work which makes striking use of the female dancers’ flexibility, though it feels slightly under-developed – more a sketch than a finished production. The piece is most notable for Kat Chan’s eye-catching costume design, which provoked gasps from the audience.

Little Atlas, conversely, was beautifully realised. An exploration of memory set to two piano works by Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, it boasts compelling choreography and a striking lighting design by Jon Buswell. Two bare-chested men (Kevin Jackson and Andrew Killian), perhaps representing past and present lovers, fight for the attention of Leanne Stojmenov, who flings and twists herself between them. Though the woman is somewhat objectified, pulled back and forth by the men and held triumphantly above their heads like a hunting trophy, there is no denying Topp’s compelling aesthetic – she is clearly a choreographer to watch.

Not every divertissement was as engaging, with Brodie James clearly outclassed by Lana Jones’ remarkable whipped turns in Grand Pas Classique, although another such short piece gave us the night’s highlight: Chengwu Guo’s star turn in the Diana and Actéon Pas de deux.

Performing alongside the poised Ako Kondo, Guo’s athleticism and precision, his breathtaking double tours and barrel rolls, provoked gasps and cheers from the audience. Indeed, the crowd were so vocal one might almost have been at the circus. It was a thrilling performance, and worth the price of a ticket alone.

The headline act is served up after interval: George Balanchine’s neoclassical Symphony in C, a work from 1947 which gives the evening its name. Set to the four movements of Bizet’s Symphony in C (written in 1855 when the composer was just 17 and lost for many years until it was rediscovered in 1933), the production blends the classical symmetry of Russian ballet with a hint of Broadway, where Balanchine also worked. With the ballerinas in white tutus and the men dressed in sleek black, this is an elegant, confident and controlled work that builds to an exhilarating finale featuring more than 40 dancers on stage.

At times stately and controlled, at other moments full of dramatic, exaggerated movements, it’s a fascinating work – a celebration of ballet’s classical canon which evolves before one’s eyes.

Greater precision from the company in Symphony in C would have resulted in a more memorable performance; nonetheless this is an engaging production and overall, a delightful evening of dance which is sure to appeal to balletomanes and newcomers alike.

4 stars out of 5

Symphony in C
The Australian Ballet
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
24 August – 2 September 2017


What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves on the board of literary journal Going Down Swinging and on the Committee of Management for La Mama Theatre. He is a former member of the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel, a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts