Choreographed by Stephen Page for the Australian Ballet, Alchemy premiered in Melbourne at the State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, on 13 September 1996. A commissioned work, it was part of Maina Gielgud's all Australian triple bill. The other works on that program were Meryl Tankard's The Deep End and Stanton Welch's Red Earth.
In four parts - 'Mercury', 'Salt', 'Lead' and 'Gold' - Alchemy was, in Stephen Page's words, 'a metaphor for mankind's propensity to quest for gold, versus our need to respect the spiritual essence of nature'. In his choreographer's notes, Page also explained the essence of each part:
Mercury: mother earth calls/a life force awakens/running hunger/she nurtures its journey
Salt: tears of salt/expose the soul/taste the earth/a sacred medicine
Lead: a storm brewing/industrial initiation/the harbinger of destruction/scars the earth
Gold: a morning star/abundant riches/earth's jewels/the power to corrupt
Alchemy was danced to music by David Page, created as a commissioned score. The score included vocals by David Page, Leah Purcell, Kirk Page, Connie Mitchell and Ningali with acoustic guitar by Steve Francis. Indigenous language groups represented in the vocals were Umpila, Yugambeh and Walmadjarri. Set design was by Fiona Foley, costume design by Jennifer Irwin and lighting design by Jo Mercurio. The opening night cast included principal artists Lisa Bolte, Miranda Coney, Steven Heathcote, Adam Marchant and David McAllister.
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Steven Heathcote begins this interview with a discussion of his family background, his education and his early dance training in Perth with Kira Bousloff and Shelly Rae. He recounts some anecdotes about first seeing Rudolf Nureyev and discusses his student scholarship with West Australian Ballet and his work with Sian Stokes. He goes on to talk about moving to Melbourne to join the Australian Ballet School, his friendship with Paul Mercurio and his teachers and his fellow students, including teacher Bruce Morrow and student colleague David McAllister.
Heathcote then turns to his career with the Australian Ballet and discusses some of his early roles including those in Spartacus, Beyond Twelve, Equus and Romeo and Juliet and gives his opinion of the importance of the Australian Ballet's John Cranko repertoire. He talks at length about the nature of the Australian Ballet under the directorship of Maina Gielgud and also records his impressions of Anne Woolliams. The Australian Ballet's international tours are analysed, especially the Bicentennial tour to Russia, London and Greece, and the company's several tours to Asia and New York. There is also some discussion of the need for the Australian Ballet to tour.
Heathcote continues by talking about his guest appearance with American Ballet Theatre and in Cuba and spends some time talking about being coached by Gelsey Kirkaland while with American Ballet Theatre. Some of the choreographers in whose works he has performed and whom he talks about throughout the interview include Graeme Murphy, Stephen Page (including his role in Page's Alchemy), Stanton Welch, Natalie Weir and Jiri Kylian. He also discusses his own interest in choreography, talks briefly about coaching and teaching and discusses the differences in the company while it was under the directorship of Ross Stretton and as it is under David McAllister.
This interview was recorded at the end of Heathcote's twentieth year as a dancer with the Australian Ballet and the contents of the interview reflect the breadth and depth of Heathcote's experience and knowledge about the Australian Ballet. It also contains his thoughts about the responsibilities associated with his role as principal artist. Heathcote concludes the interview by discussing his wife and children and their attitude towards his career.