Review By Regan Baker
It’s a cold and dreary Brisbane night with speckles of rain hovering in the air, and after a big week of work there is no better way get settled and ready for the weekend than with a glass of wine and a new performance celebrating young and upcoming artists. Now, I must admit straight up that I am about as qualified to review ballet as Donald Trump was to run the United States, but when an opportunity arises to broaden my horizons and expand my artistic intakes, who am I to say no? So, is this going to be a highly technical breakdown of the artists performances? Absolutely not. But for every ballet lover in the audience there is at least one of ‘me,’ the clueless chaperone. Be it a father wanting to spend time with his daughter, or a clueless spouse that is supporting their loved one, this one’s for you – the layman’s review of the 2022 Queensland Ballet Academy Gala!
Housed within the newly renovated and stunning Thomas Dixon Centre, the Talbot Theatre is an impressive purpose-built space that allowed optimal viewing of the large 15-meter-square stage from every seat. I was a little worried at first seeing the sheer scale and depth of the stage, but Director of the Queensland Ballet Academy, Christian Tatchev, worked splendidly with his team of choreographers to ensure the entire space was utilised and the stage never felt empty (unless it was intended). After cancellations in 2020 and 2021, this will be the first time these young artists have performed in front of an audience at the Talbot Theatre and is a true celebration to their commitment, hard work and dedication to the program.
The evening opened with the largest of works, incorporating a corps de ballet of the level 2, level 3 and pre professional program dancers that beautifully filled the stage with an amazing classical dance titled Le Nouveau Classique. Choreographer Paul Boyd’s creation pays homage to the art nouveau period of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s and the traditional style of many classical works. It challenged the artists to execute in-sync movements on a large scale, which they did flawlessly as well as testing their versatility and timing. The pas de deux of this piece, performed by Hana Nonaka Aillon and Joseph Moss was beautifully performed and a super demonstration of grace and strength through Aillon’s pointe work.
Following on from this were two smaller pieces that lead into interval, which transitioned away from traditional ballet and into a more contemporary, high-energy dance. Umbral, by choreographers Louise Deleur and Grant Aris was possibly one of my favourite performances of the evening, utilising shadows and spotlights to create a dark but captivating routine. The dancers from the level 1 transitional course flowed beautifully into the cascading light at the front of the stage and slowly rolled back into the shadows at the back, creating a mystical tale.
After a short interval the second act comprised of several shorter routines as well as a handful of solos choreographed by some of the students. Personally, I really like this style of ballet, where several smaller pieces are stitched together that tell a range of different stories and showcase varying dance styles, costumes, and music. I like being challenged in the way I think and showcasing a range of smaller performances continues to keep you on edge throughout the evening in wonder of what story will unfold next.
The second act opened with a fun little rhythmic piece called L’il Liza (by Louise Deleur) that celebrated the joy that musical instruments bring to the lives of children. Incorporating several Tamborine’s into the dance, the artists from the level 3 program showed fantastic form in their movements and delivered an easy-to-understand story of fun, excitement, and child-like wonder.
Kluster (Grant Aris), Tanguedia (Paul Boyd) and Playtime (Louise Deleur) as presented by the level 2, level 1 and level 1 transitional course dancers respectively, were all stunning short numbers that continued to build on the versatility that had been presented in the first act. In lieu of any form of set throughout the gala, the dancers interpreted the stories in their dancing with wonderous ease and allowed the audience to follow on their journey.
Before the big finale, each night presents audiences with a different selection of two solo pieces that were choreographed and performed by the students themselves. For the Friday evening show that I attended, these two pieces were The Experience by Lily Paige, and Deep Blue by Xaiver Xue. While only quite short works (less than five minutes each) it is remarkable to see how diverse their talents are in not only being able to perform, but also create moving and engaging dances. The emotion of the stories they were representing was clearly demonstrated through their movements and facial expressions, and each number was executed superbly. In addition to the two pieces mentioned above, audiences may also have seen French Fog by Cooper Tate or Grit by Jessi Hough if they attended the Saturday or Sunday performances.
In a special appearance, Queensland Ballet Principal Artist Yanela Pinera and Senior Soloist Patricio Reve performed the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux from La Esmeralda, to conclude the evenings performances. It was an unexpected treat, and these highly trained professional dancers wowed the audience with this beautiful number from one of the most celebrated ballets globally. Their strength, balance and elegance were an incredible foresight for what the younger students can look forward to with their continued dedication and training.
Even though I had no idea what I was walking into when accepted the invitation, I was delightfully pleased with the professionalism and skill level of all dancers that took the stage. As students, of whom most are still in high school, there was no evidence that they were only at the beginning of their careers in dance and for all of them, there are bright, bright futures ahead.