Face-Lifting

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By Michael Fitzgerald

Bella figura. in italian, it translates, literally, as beautiful figure. But in the cut and thrust of public life, where keeping up appearances is sacrosanct, bella figura is as much a philosophy as an aesthetic choice - even if your world is imploding, as long as you look the part, you're O.K.

"Bella Figura" also happens to be the first of three short works in a new dance program from the Australian Ballet, itself going through some inner ructions. Last month, within weeks of the company's announcing its 2004 season, three of its principal artists jumped ship. Or were they pushed? A perplexed artistic director David McAllister, who danced with the company for 19 years, could offer few answers. In the meantime, the AB keeps up appearances with "Bella Trilogy," now in its final week at the Sydney Opera House.

And how. In a program celebrating style over substance, the company looks a million dollars. Jirí Kylián's "Bella Figura," first performed by the AB three years ago and now peaking with poetic precision, sets the bar high - and the first of two new commissions, Stanton Welch's "Velocity," leaps over it. Here Welch has the company dancing as fast as it can in a crisp, classical wink at Riverdance. Then resident choreographer Stephen Baynes sends out the punk cupids and fops of "Molto Vivace," a soufflé-light rococo satire in which the sets and costumes star.

Now in its 41st year, The Australian Ballet might be going through a mini-midlife crisis, but who would know? With its "Bella Trilogy," the company succeeds in putting on a brave - no, bravo - face.