The Australian Ballet’s digital push with Van Cleef & Arpels

The French jewellery house Van Cleef & Arpels is behind some of the most exciting choreography of the past 60 years, including George Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’. Now it’s supporting The Australian Ballet’s digital push, which sees brave new work created especially for YouTube.

Article by Grace O’Neill

Bodytorque.Digital Australian BalletKaren Nanasca and Nathan Brook perform a reimagining of Alice Topp’s “Clay”, created for Bodytorque.Digital. Photography by Edita Knowler.

When the pandemic brought ballet to a standstill in 2021, David Hallberg, the new artistic director of The Australian Ballet, decided to take the company’s Bodytorque program online.

Established in 2004, Bodytorque was created as a way to unearth and nurture emerging choreographers. But when Covid-19 restrictions made it impossible to stage the work, Hallberg had the leading practitioners Alice Topp and Daniel Riley create digital-led pieces that were uploaded to YouTube, marking the beginning of Bodytorque.Digital.

“The Bodytorque program is the planting of the seed,” says Hallberg, a former principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Ballet (for more on Hallberg, see our profile here). “It’s about not just the final product, but the development of work, the development of the idea. … That’s where all the great ballets started.”

In 2022, Bodytorque will include pieces created for the stage and screen, thanks to the support of the program’s major sponsor, Van Cleef & Arpels. It’s the latest in a string of collaborations between The Australian Ballet and the French high-jewellery house, which has been the company’s official jewellery partner since 2017.

Van Cleef & Arpels’ long association with the dance world began in the early 1960s, when Claude Arpels — the heir to the Arpels fortune — struck up a friendship with the famed choreographer and New York City Ballet co-founder George Balanchine, which culminated in the company sponsoring Balanchine’s original ballet “Jewels”. Premiering in 1967, “Jewels” is divided into three acts, each dedicated to a precious stone and set to the music of a renowned composer: Gabriel Fauré for “Emeralds” in the first act; Igor Stravinsky for “Rubies” in the second; and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky for “Diamonds” in the third.

More recently, Van Cleef & Arpels has maintained a decade-long partnership with the French choreographer Benjamin Millepied and his L.A. Dance Project, which will this year debut a reinterpretation of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” at Paris’ La Seine Musicale. And, in 2021, the house launched Dance Reflections, an annual festival that it will both curate and sponsor (the first, to be hosted in London in March, will be held in collaboration with the Tate Modern and Royal Opera House).

A spokesperson for Van Cleef & Arpels, Hugues de Pins, says the new Bodytorque partnership is a natural fit for the house. “One of our maison’s values is transmission from master to apprentice,” he says. “Bodytorque is the encounter between the two, which allows the young dancers, ballerinas or choreographers to create from what they have learned and to be given, eventually, the trust, the resources and the time to perform or stage their own work.”

He adds: “It is not just about offering our financial support to the company, or offering some unforgettable moments to our clients, like when we featured Alice Topp’s pas de deux during a high-jewellery event in Sydney. It’s also about giving back to the community at large through educational programs, national and international exposure, and artistic projects.”

Hallberg, who, in a sweet moment of serendipity, happened to dance in the Bolshoi Ballet’s first performance of “Jewels”, in 2012, echoes these sentiments. “It doesn’t feel like we’re serving each other selfishly,” he says. “By supporting the Bodytorque program, Van Cleef is supporting choreographic exploration and the creation of art in the same way they nurtured George Balanchine in the creation of ‘Jewels’, which is now written in the history books of balletic repertoire. It’s partnership done the right way.”

A version of this article appears in print in our fifth edition, Page 27 of T Australia with the headline:
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