Melbourne Ballet Company Presents EMPYREAN

Be transfixed

By Joana Simmons

Melbourne Ballet Company brings us the second chapter of their 2016 trilogy season: Intention and Desire. Empyrean is taken from the Ancient Greek meaning ‘highest form of heaven’, and described in the program as an intellectual light full of love. The show comprises of three separate works created by three distinctly different Australian choreographers – Timothy Harbour, Simon Hoy and Rani Luther – who have created individually fantastic works that bring life to this lofty idea.


The first piece “Illuminate”, by Rani Luther with music by Philip Glass, explores the idea that heaven is there to be found in all of us on multiple levels. The beginning is breathtaking. Three male and female couples beautifully weave in and out, using choreographic devices, technical lifts and turns to create a world that is mesmerizing to watch. There is a great variety of movement, the partner work was solid and innovative and the dancers’ musicality and timing was en pointe (pun intended). Set on the backdrop of a projection focusing on the woman holding the lamp in Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica (which represents a world reigned over by harmony and light amid suffering and destruction) each dancer had a moment to shine, lead by principals Kirsty Donovan and Alex Bayden Boyce. You know a dance work is good when you feel the audience let out a breath when the sweating athletes stand still at the completion of the 30-minute piece.

“Zealots”, by Timothy Harbour and with music by John Adams, is a dynamic contrast to the previous piece: the dancers in their yellow high neck costumes, black socks and shoes do not touch or manipulate each others’ bodies, yet still are rarely apart. There are moments of strong company unison, because they were separate you could appreciate the tricky choreography, with its quirky hip placement and arm lines. The music is electronic and choppy, and the powerful sharp movements blended it to make it bounce off the stage. I loved how you could see each dancer’s unique contribution to the work, and how the women and men were dancing the same, powerful steps. Samuel Harlett’s incredible, almost rubber-limbed movements show impeccable control. “Zealotry” is defined in the program as “fanatical commitment and belief” and you can definitely see the dancer’s full commitment to this hard-hitting sharp movement. The 15 minutes feels like longer as it is dense with complex dance.

The final work hit the nail on the head. In “Lucidity”, by company director Simon Hoy and music by Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter captivatingly combines complex floor work and sharp technical movement. The projections on the giant backdrop synchronised with the electronic beats and hard-hitting movement making it a full physical sensory experience. The thing that stood out for me was how there was real connection between the dancers, making me feel them, not just watch them and it was – dare I say it – sexy.

Hoy and Alisa Finney have put together a delightfully varied and high quality production. Lighting designed by Craig Boyes and costumes by Santha King add so much to make this show memorable. There’s a lot of sad things happening in the world at the moment; this is why we are lucky to have the theatre, where we can escape and be mesmerized by stories and talent. Make the most of it, and look out for the Melbourne Ballet Company‘s upcoming productions.

Empyrean was performed at the Alex Theatre from June 17-18, 2016.