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Alice Topp's Aurum, as part of The Australian Ballet 'Verve'. Image: Jeff Busby

Beauty between the cracks:
Alice Topp's Aurum

The Australian Ballet’s new triple bill unravels the Japanese art of kintsugi

Justin Tam

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Dancers make ballet look like it’s about perfect—its strong forms, precise choreography and elegant costumes. In Alice Topp’s Aurum—part of The Australian Ballet triple bill Verve—imperfection is at the centre. Topp frames her dancers and her stage with kintsugi (金継ぎ), the Japanese technique of repairing broken pottery with golden fractures.

An ancient legend revisited

As the story goes, in the late 15th century the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a cracked bowl back to China for repairs. Unsatisfied with the job that came back, he asked his craftsmen to find a solution that looked more appealing.

In Aurum (the Latin word for ‘gold’), dancers shift their bodies into the shapes of the cracks present behind them in the Joan Sutherland Theatre. Beneath, a golden floor reflects their movement back to them. In its visual presentation and its dance, Topp’s new work allows dancers to confront damage and their flaws, to see its balance with beauty, and reflect on the process of mending.

Topp is a former dancer with The Australian Ballet, known for her roles in Krzysztof Pastor's Symphonie Fantastique (2007/2008), Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (2014) and Wayne McGregor’s Infra (2017).

The pas de deux is an important part of her work—it’s a way to explore emotional layers, chemical charges and the reaction between two human bodies. The Italian contemporary classical pianist Ludovico Einaudi (an Opera House regular) provides the heart-wrenching score.

But the artform goes beyond aesthetic beauty. Jun Morooka, a local Sydney ceramicist, says many of his customers give his pottery as gifts to friends going through illness or personal issues—a symbol of the beauty to come after mending takes place. Kintsugi encourages us to expose our failures, not cover them up.

Alice Topp's Aurum, as part of The Australian Ballet 'Verve'. Image: Jeff Busby
Alice Topp's Aurum, as part of The Australian Ballet 'Verve'. Image: Jeff Busby

Women in choreography

In 2017 Dance Australia noticed a pattern: In an artform that is otherwise so dominated by women, why were there so few female choreographers?

Developing an artist voice through dance is not something a dancer is offered, said Alice Topp, coryphée and now choreographer at The Australian Ballet. She noticed the regime of being a company dancer made it difficult for her to create her own work, a common story with women in her field. Currently, Sydney Opera House is working in partnership with The Australian Ballet and Dance Australia to provide a scholarship opportunity to an emerging female classical choreographer.

 


Choreographer Alice Topp discusses 'Aurum' with The Australian Ballet

Alice Topp's Aurum, as part of The Australian Ballet 'Verve'. Image: Jeff Busby


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