Ballet International Gala = BIG!
Big in aspiration and big in its scope and execution, the Ballet International Gala (BIG), scheduled for new year performances in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, more than lives up to its acronym. Featuring guest principal artists from overseas performing alongside principals from the Queensland Ballet and alumni from the Paris Opera Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet, it promises to be an exciting seven-performance season.
Scheduled for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) from January 26 to 30, followed by a performance in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, BIG is being promoted as an international gala with all the traditional bells and whistles – the first of its kind to be presented in Australia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event was originally scheduled for a July last year, in a, season at South Bank’s Piazza Auditorium, but was postponed when a coveted spot at QPAC became available. Joel Burke, a Queensland dancer and one of the founders of Queensport Arts, the production company behind the Gala, says the postponement allowed welcome breathing space. He and Queensport co-founders Beck Phillips and Khalid Taraby believe, nevertheless, that Queensland has set the standard on how to operate public events safely. Having Brisbane host their inaugural gala, says Burke, therefore perfectly positions BIG to succeed like its counterparts in the world of sports, film and music.
Indeed, it appears that the sheer audacity of organising an event of this magnitude in the face of COVID-19 has garnered the interest of some of the world’s most notable ballet artists and institutions. American Ballet Theatre (ABT) principals, Skylar Brandt and Aran Bell, will take to the stage with a performance from Le Corsaire, while the Royal Ballet’s Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales will perform Swan Lake’s White Swan pas de deux. In an Australian first, principals from Kazakhstan’s Astana Opera, Bakhtiyar Adamzha and Shugyla Adepkhan, will dance an excerpt from Spartacus.
Brandt, who performed in Brisbane with ABT in 2014, says he cannot wait to return, this time as a Principal Artist. “I fell deeply in love with Australia during my very first visit, so I am beyond thrilled to be returning for the BIG performances,” he enthuses. “I am extremely honoured to be a part of the BIG initiative to bring international artists all the way to Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast to offer audiences an eclectic ballet program.”
Added to the mix will be Juliet Doherty, star of the upcoming ballet feature film, Red Shoes - The Next Step, as well as Paris Opera Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet alumni Dani Gibson and Alexander Smith.
Local artists are also featured, including Mia Heathcote and Victor Estévez (courtesy Queensland Ballet) and renowned tap dancer, Bill Simpson. A full orchestra (and rock band for the final performance) will support the performers.
One of the main aims of the Gala is to support the local live arts and entertainment industries, creating jobs for Queenslanders. Roger Field, President of Live Nation Asia Pacific, is therefore excited to see international live events coming back to life. “The team behind BIG has created a precedent, which the rest of the live events industry will expand upon,” he says, concluding that the Queensland region will become a world-leader in events that “help the live events industries in the post-Covid world”.
Live Nation’s head of production, Emmanuel Economidis, with production experience in world tours of bands like U2 and Metallica, is curating the gala. And in another nod to the devastating effect the pandemic has had on the live performance industry, especially the music industry, 10% of all profits will be donated to Roadies Retreat Inc (RRI), the independent not-for-profit organisation supporting secure futures for ageing stagehands.
The producers hope that the production’s local success will spark international interest in the gala (and recognition of BIG as a brand), ensuring it continues to grow. BIG is therefore not envisioned as a one-off event, but rather a blueprint for future events.
However, we are all aware of just how precarious life still is for the performing arts, which always bear the brunt of any Covid nervousness on the part of authorities. Hopefully, it will be smooth sailing from now on for artists, with BIG leading the charge.
– DENISE RICHARDSON
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