"I Love Being Pushed To Extremes"

29 February 2016 | 1:47 pm | Paul Ransom

"These ballets have been performed not just by the famous people but by everyone all over the world."

Talk about a troika; and nary a 19th century Russian in sight.

The Australian Ballet's high speed 2016 debut, Vitesse, is a triple-bill turbo charged with athleticism, adrenaline and an almost aggressive modernity. This will come as no surprise to those who know the work of Christopher Wheeldon, Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe. All three take hardcore classical technique and weld it to a contemporary aesthetic and each of the works presented as part of Vitesse seek to nudge ballet's frontier out into the future.

For company soloist Dimity Azoury the chance to wrap her frame around the choreography of two of dance's more punishing creators (Wheeldon, Forsythe) is a huge and welcome challenge. "I love being pushed to extremes and these guys all have a different way of doing this," she says. "The Forsythe work I found very challenging because it's very classical but it's extreme. It's different from a lot of contemporary where you don't so much have to worry about the lines you're making, but with this you do, and then some."

The piece in question, William Forsythe's brutally beautiful In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated made dance superstars out of him and its lead Sylvie Guillem when it premiered in 1987. With its stark, confronting geometry and relentless Thom Willems score it propels ballet into dangerous terrain.

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Indeed, as Azoury explains, "With the score for In The Middle they're not sounds we're used to hearing. In fact when we first heard it I didn't know how I'd ever recognise the music without having to count from the start of the ballet to when I came on."

This, in turn, underlines a point about the trio in Vitesse and perhaps about contemporary ballet as a whole. "They're definitely more difficult to learn," Azoury declares. "I mean, just in terms of the music, with a classical ballet we tend to count it in eights and the music will often tell you what to do, but in these works they're not round counts. It's a five, it's a seven, it's a ten; so that makes it challenging just to learn."

Any notion that the Australian Ballet are soft-pedalling here will surely be challenged by Wheeldon's bullet train-inspired Danse A Grand Vitesse (with its Michael Nyman score and ruthlessly minimal set), Kylian's sinuous and gorgeous Benjamin Britten-scored Forgotten Land and the sheer extremes of In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

Yet for all that modernity, ballet dancers, like Shakespearean actors, carry the weight of history, and even though all three works are post-1980, they already possess glorious pasts. However, for Dimity Azoury none of this is daunting. "It adds to it," she argues. "These ballets have been performed not just by the famous people but by everyone all over the world, so it's never that we're taught in a way that, y'know, this person did this and this is how it is. It's a lot more individual."

Great news for a soloist, but also an invigorating experience for audiences. In fact, patrons should expect to be kept in a heightened state of alertness by Vitesse.