Luminous: Celebrating 50 years of the Australian Ballet
Edited by Kate Scott and Lorelei Vashti
(Australian Ballet, $99)
The photographic book Luminous is magnificent in size and appearance. Packaged in a matching box, its dimensions are not so much coffee table as the tabletop itself. Add the jewel-like colours of the photographic collage of dancers that adorns the cover and you have quite the dramatic statement.
A quick glance through the magical, poster-size images that capture the Australian Ballet's evolution since its foundation in 1962 might trick the reader into thinking the text is secondary in this chronicle of the company's history. Not so - the choice of Helen Garner to write the foreword (a delicately crafted treat in itself) makes it clear from the get-go that the words accompanying this photographic feast will hold their own. While the six essays may be somewhat dwarfed by the photographs, each provides a fascinating insight into the triumphs and travails of Australia's flagship ballet company.
An historical account of the evolution of a dance company runs the risk of being dry and dull but the six writers - Alan Brissenden, Valerie Lawson, Jill Sykes, Lee Christofis, Michael Shmith and Deborah Jones - for the most part steer clear of monotonous lists of achievements. Instead, each chapter focuses on charismatic individuals, cut-throat politics and artistic visions - enlivened by the odd, well-placed anecdote.
Homage is paid to the photographers who helped capture each decade of the Australian Ballet. The changing nature of dance photography, both in terms of the product itself and the role that product plays, is discussed, though perhaps not in quite enough detail for lovers of dance photography.
That said, it is the photography that stands centre stage. From the dynamism of Branco Gaica's shot of Nicole Rhodes in Red Earth (1996), to the cool, crispness of Justin Smith's image of Madeleine Eastoe for La Sylphide (2005), this book is a sumptuous banquet of dance photographs.