By Gemma Keliher
Walking through the unusually quiet complex of HOTA to reach the Lakeside Room, it was a reserved atmosphere for what was meant to be Queensland Ballet’s 60 year celebrations. Reaching the serenity of the Lakeside, the crackling warmth of the fire chasing away the last of the winter chill, you could only wonder what a socially distanced performance could look like. Upon entering the space I was greeted with small tables spread throughout the room, each lit with the soft glow of a candle. The stage itself was small and simple; only two barres lined upstage. There was palpable excitement from the noticeably smaller audience to be back enjoying a night of dance.
As the lights dimmed, Li Cunxin AO, Queensland Ballet’s Artistic Director, took to the stage to share a heartfelt introduction of the night’s program including his gratitude at being able to put it together at all. He explained that as part of the digital program they had developed, he had set a task to the dancers to create and film an original piece of work based on the theme of “love”. Working in collaboration with their talented musicians and mentored by choreographers, the results were posted online daily throughout June. This new format showed dancers performing in their homes, inspiring viewers with the resilience and passion that flowed as these creatives and their company were forced to adapt to a new world. I was certainly curious to see how this digital program could be successfully adapted to the stage. The night’s performance was separated into three sections. The first, linking pieces on the theme “Where is Love?”, the second taking us to “Looking for Love”, and finally the third, “In Love”.
With soft light illuminating the first dancer on stage, it was clear this was not going to be the ballet performances one is used to - there were no complex, elaborate sets, no dazzle of beading and jewels on intricate costumes. What remained the same, however, was the dancers’ ability to weave story and emotion through movement. Opening on a beautiful piece titled “Reflection”, we were taken through each selected work with thoughtful linking between, blending them all into the same emotional journey. Showcasing the loneliness and longing of a life without love, each dancer took to the stage alone, with some passing interaction between the cast as we wove between stories.The costumes were simple and bare which didn’t distract from or inhibit the dancers bodies. Nothing came between the dancer and audience as the pure, raw emotion radiated from the powerful choreography.
Moving into the second section, the brighter lighting and 50’s style costuming provided a mood shift into the lighthearted hunt for romance. The pieces were reworked into more of a long format narrative, as we saw the characters' tales unfold together. The dancers and choreography brought the right amount of cheekiness as we watched a group of young men attempting to woo a group of young ladies, to mixed results. The moments of comedy that elicited giggles from the audience made me feel like the audience was a part of this story, as it reminded me of the giggly state during the flirtatious beginnings of courtship. Noticeable laughter was heard during the piece “Cy-gents”, a clever and witty role reversal of the famous “Dance of the Cygnets” from Swan Lake.
Soft blue and pink lights spilling across the centre of the stage shifted the mood into the third and final section. Two dancers emerged into the light, with slow and gentle touches of romance. The ensemble that filled behind them were all in soft, neutral colours and fabrics. We moved through the pieces in a similar fashion to the first section, catching glimpses of each couple's love stories. Some centered on passionate embraces, others creating a sense of reliance and stability with their partner. The emotions shone, showcasing two souls dancing as one, the world seemingly disappearing around them. Gentle gasps from the audience resulted from complex, beautiful lifts and coupled movement. The final piece ended with the cast performing synchronised choreography that reminded us of the commonality of pure and simple love.
What really shone through was the passion and love these creatives have for their craft. It would have been no easy feat adapting these works into a flowing performance, but it was pulled off with grace and beauty. The creative team, dancers, musicians, choreographers and crew should all be commended for an evening that filled me with emotion and awe. It was an intimate night of stunning dance, certainly filling me with life and of course, love.
The program will next be performed in Toowoomba, so be sure to secure your seats for a guaranteed joyous evening of beautiful ballet.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.