Perpetual motion, states the first and second laws of thermodynamics, is believed impossible to produce, yet I unwittingly found it nesting within 20:21, the Australian Ballet’s recent triple bill. The continuous motion within George Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements (1972), Tim Harbour’s new work Filigree and Shadow (2015) and Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room (1986) circumvents such laws. Physicists, I’ll hear no more about it; you’ve been looking in the wrong places. There is a device that can make motion unstoppable and it can be found at the core of these three ballets.
Propelled by Igor Stravinsky’s score, continuous energy courses through Symphony in Three Movements as the dancers, explained Balanchine, “try to catch the music and do not, I hope, lean on it, using it instead for support and time frame.” Energy flexes its feet, and with outstretched arms, it flexes its hands too. Sometimes with palms visible and other times with fingers tipped upward as if emulating an aeroplane. Off-centred or with legs turned inward, it proudly alters the lines of the classical body. In choreography that is as transparent with its complexity-of-step and precision-required as it is bold, the feeling conveyed to me was one of an endless force. Though the curtain to my view came down and the dancers changed, somewhere, in some alternate world, it continued, unimpeded and unfading, a conversation between Balanchine and Stravinsky, between harp and piano, a great sweaty, unfailing machine. If you listen closely, you can hear the swish of a dancer’s long ponytail as it comes unstuck from her dampened brow.