The Australian Ballet‘s latest production for its Melbourne-only winter season is a double bill entitled Elegy ‘A meditation on Bach, beauty and the great beyond’.

The company’s resident choreographer (and former company dancer) Stephen Baynes has devised two works inspired by Faure’s Requiem and various Bach pieces. Both show a similar aesthetic style – clean classical lines and a flowing fluidity, a sense of poetic fragility.

The production opened with a silent, eerie march of people down the stage, lending a sombre and funereal atmosphere to the shimmering darkness. Members of the Victorian Opera mingled with the black-clad dancers then retreated to behind a translucent silvery-grey backdrop, although they were integral to the effectiveness of the piece. I loved hearing the choristers during in each of the segments (often backlit in a ghostly aura), as the richness of their voices added a depth of emotion that a recorded version could never have replicated.

My favourite part of this work was the first pas de deux with Robert Curran and Madeleine Eastoe. I almost held my breath as the two dancers worked together to move with strength and grace in constant circles, never standing still as if propelled by an imaginary centrifugal force. It was a sweeping, passionate moment and the audience clearly found their dancing as stunning as I did, as the flow of the full work was uncharacteristically interrupted by enthusiastic applause.

My only issue was with the single middle-aged woman who would weave in and out of the dancers and occasionally react to them. I felt that it gave the allegory of life and loss an unnecessarily literal element (woman remembering her past? contemplating her future? seeking long-lost loved ones and reliving memories?) when the dancers themselves successfully conveyed the elegiac elegance of the work.

In the second act the stage had been transformed to a stylised Baroque mansion. Once again a lone female figure traversed the stage in period garb until the dancers took the stage. The waft of incense immediately transported me to the dusty Baroque churches of Europe where Bach’s work would have first been heard.

Here the logical, mathematical purity of Bach’s music was manifest in groups of dancers moving in perfect unison (something that was occasionally missing in the first act). The four male dancers leaping and almost frolicking together to the contrapunctal lines of melody were a highlight, as was the introduction of the numerous pairs of dancers one by one in a scene remiscent of the entrance of the swans in Swan Lake.

The Elegy double bill is a understated, refined production which resonates with intelligence and beauty. It is playing at the Arts Centre until 18 June and you can buy tickets here.

Thank you to The Australian Ballet for the invitation.

Elegy, The Australian Ballet, The Arts Centre State Theatre, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne, ,,