Review By Gemma Keliher
Welcome to Queensland, the “sunshine state” where of course any major outdoor event must be at risk of being rained out. After nervously checking the weather app all day, I arrived at Brisbane’s Riverstage set with ponchos and ready to experience Queensland Ballet on the Lawn in rain, hail, or shine. Thankfully, the weather remained mild, and along with the opening speech from Artistic Director Li Cunxin AO, set a beautiful atmosphere to lead us into Act I.
The first half of the program included highlights from the 60th Anniversary Gala, which was developed from excerpts of past works under various Artistic Directors. The opening excerpt, Chopin Pas de Deux, was a piece of beautiful choreography that dancers Yanela Piñera and Joe Chapman poured grace and warmth into. Enhanced by the light and delicate costuming, the piece evoked images of watching an old romance film of a couple in love, dancing through a meadow with the rest of the world fading around them. The second piece, Pas de Deux, Act II from Cloudland, brought an emotionally evocative performance that felt so full of longing and shifted the tone to something a lot deeper and tinged with sadness. Originally created as a homage to nostalgia, the skill of dancers Neneka Yoshida and Joel Woellner and their on stage connection created a piece full of powerful imagery. Noelene Hill’s costuming and the piece of music allowed us to see a bigger story, beyond the snippet of time we were witnessing. This piece felt ripped straight from a time of war, watching a woman cope with the loss and longing of her love. The final image, after an embrace left Neneka alone in a spotlight, with Joel disappearing into the darkness behind, created a moment of heartache.
Our first group performance came to us from The Little Mermaid Finale, Act II. This scene portrayed the Spirits of the Air which was reflected in the simplistic but almost ethereal costuming by Selene Cochrane. Former Artistic Director and Choreographer of the piece, François Klaus, created entrancing images and movements that seemed pulled directly from the fairytale itself. We were transported into another, more magical, world and from the distinct diving and twirling hand movements performed in synchronisation to the moments of story that wrapped up the tale of The Little Mermaid, it was fascinating to watch. A fierce change of pace was then brought by the Wedding Pas De deux, Act III from Don Quixote. With bolder, brighter costumes honouring the Spanish flair of the piece, the energy increased as we moved through the performance. With the emphasis being on technical skill rather than emotive storytelling, dancers Lucy Green and Victor Estévez really showed their skills as they successfully moved through the choreography with ease, to much applause rolling down the hill from the audience.
Act II was designed to showcase a selection of solos from 60 Dancers: 60 Stories, each choreographed by Queensland Ballet dancers during their time spent online during 2020. Unfortunately for the first two performers, Luke Dimattina with his piece 11W, and Neneka Yoshida with Afterglow of a Nocturne, the opening of Act II brought with it the heavy rain that had been anticipated all day. The first two pieces had an unintentional effect of a soft mist blowing across the stage, creating an accidentally beautiful effect to accentuate the performances. Of course, the safety of the dancers comes first and this new hazard unfortunately meant that once again the performances of the Queensland Ballet were halted by external circumstances. Huge commendations must be made to the Act II cast for continuing in such a professional manner while the rain and scrambling audience provided what would have been much distraction. While it was a shame not to see the remainder of the pieces that had been selected for the evening, we were incredibly lucky to experience a relaxing evening of ballet that had truly been created for everyone of all ages and walks of life to enjoy.
The evening was wonderfully curated, with great tonal range between the selected excerpts. The differing dynamics showcased the extent of some of Queensland Ballet’s best work over the past 60 years, as well as the range of talent, technical skill, and artistry from the company dancers, past and present Artistic Directors, and all creative teams. The Queensland Ballet prospered through a hard year in lock down during a pandemic, and spirits won’t be dampened now by wet weather. This performance showcase has set the stage for the 2021 program which is sure to be an exciting and magical year of ballet.
Image Credit: Gemma Keliher