‘Tricky’ moves are not the only thing testing Australian Ballet stars

Artistic director David Hallberg says that what interests him particularly in this ballet – and also in Romeo and Julietwhich the company will dance later in the year – is helping the artists find their own interpretation of their character and the story.

“What I choose to do is look at the person in front of me and look for their version of authenticity, their interpretation, because that’s what creates individual artists. It’s not my way of how I would interpret it, it’s finding ways of how they would interpret it and allowing them to bloom through their characterisation.”

Traditional classical ballets can often be prescriptive in terms of interpretation, but Hallberg wants to change that. “I want everyone to feel different in that role… So this feeds into asking them, ‘how do you want to interpret?’ You’d be surprised how many dancers aren’t asked that question.”

Hallberg never danced Anna Karenina during his time on stage, but having spent 10 years dancing with the Bolshoi Ballet, he sees the story as at once very Russian, but also intensely human.

“I always go back to the fact that humans feel what the characters are feeling because it is primal human emotion: desire, love, responsibility, family, passion,” he says. “A lot of people have that conflict in their lives.”

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The way the story unfolds has a Russian feel to it, he says, but the emotions it explores are universal: attraction, affairs, leaving everything, responsibility to a child, desperation and then an extreme resolution. He approaches it differently as a director from how he would have tackled the story as an artist.

“Now as a director I’m coming into repertoire that I’ve never danced,” he says. “That’s why I’ve respectfully let the Joffrey creators set and coach the work in its initial stages, because I don’t know the choreography in and out, and that’s common as a director.”

He believes that what Possokhov brings to this interpretation of Anna Karenina is a modern sensibility: while this version is still set in the 19th century, audiences can expect a minimal, stark set design, projections, and even singing.

“Narrative work in dance is still so valid when it’s seen through a modern perspective,” Hallberg says. “I feel like what this version brings is a really fresh perspective of a really famous story.” The ballet was scheduled to be performed last year, but was pushed to 2021 when the pandemic trashed the company’s season. Melbourne’s latest lockdown has meant that New York Dialects, which was due to open on June 3, has been pushed back to October. Hallberg seems sanguine about the delay, saying it was good for the dancers to have a short break after they returned from their Sydney season.

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The dancers, too, have learned to take these interruptions in their elegant stride. Hendricks says that having been through last year’s tumult, the company was prepared for more interruptions this year.

“I think everyone’s just remaining calm – we can only do what we can do with what we’re given,” she says. “And I think we’re all very grateful to be here in the studio and to be working.”

Anna Karenina is at the State Theatre, Arts Center Melbourne, June 18-29.

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