Monumental moment in dance

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FOR many, creating a ballet about a building seemed impossible.

Karen Nanasca in “Monument” from the “Symmetries” program. Photo by Georges Antoni.
Karen Nanasca in “Monument” from the “Symmetries” program. Photo by Georges Antoni.
So when Centenary artistic director Robyn Archer asked the director of the Australian Ballet David McAllister: “Could there be a new ballet to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Parliament House, and could it be about the architecture of that iconic building?” it wasn’t just McAllister whose creativity would be under scrutiny.

However, the challenge was taken up, with Australian Dance Theatre director Garry Stewart as choreographer, backed up by the cast of brilliant young dancers, not least Canberra-raised principal artist Lana Jones, Queanbeyan-born ballerina, Dimity Azoury and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra playing a new score by Huey Benjamin. The new work, “Monument”, will soon take the stage of the Canberra Theatre under the slogan “classical meets architectural”, with George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” and the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain”.

Vivienne Wong, Jake Mangakahia and Ella Havelka rehearse “Monument”. Photo by Lynette Wills.
Vivienne Wong, Jake Mangakahia and Ella Havelka rehearse “Monument”. Photo by Lynette Wills.
One person who wasn’t fazed was Adelaide-based production designer, Mary Moore, maybe the very person you’d expect to be thrown by the challenge of combining ballet and architecture.

“Surprisingly, I have previously designed a dance work not of one building, but of a whole city,” Moore tells “CityNews”.

For the 1998 Adelaide Festival she designed a new dance work based on Jonathan Mills’ composition “The Ethereal Eye”, inspired by the Griffin design and reprised last year at the Canberra International Music Festival.

For that project, she visited Canberra for the first time, Moore reports, and came to understand “the significance of the positioning of buildings in relation to the landscape”.

But in “Monument”, Archer had asked them to create a ballet based on “a very specific building which… is also the most important constructed site in Australia.”

So, in December 2010, Moore and Stewart set out to visit Parliament House architect Aldo Giurgola.

“It was very insightful,” Moore says, “he talked about a range of areas from the specific ‘Paradise White’ Italian marble he had chosen, the symmetrical layout, his modernist approach and the many craftspeople he engaged to furnish the building.”

Giurgola told them that each room of Parliament House had been designed as a separate entity, but that as visitors journey through each room, they experienced the unfolding of the building and how it connected as a whole.

Armed with a thick manuscript called “The Architect’s Design Intent For Parliament House”, she and Stewart waited until 2012 for Benjamin’s music to get started and then got going – Stewart with 19 dancers exploring, through their body-lines, “symmetry and the unfolding of the various areas/rooms in the way a visitor would experience them” and Moore through the “animated drawings” that we will see.

In “Monument” she believes Canberrans will recognise the spatial dynamics of a much-loved building.

“Monument”, in “Symmetries,” at the Canberra Theatre, May 23-25, bookings to or 6275 2700.

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Helen Musa
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