• A rehearsal still from 'Salamander'. Photo by Justin Nicholas.
    A rehearsal still from 'Salamander'. Photo by Justin Nicholas.
  • The Queensland Ballet in 'Strictly Gershwin'. Photo by David Kelly.
    The Queensland Ballet in 'Strictly Gershwin'. Photo by David Kelly.

What was the best in Queensland dance in 2023? Denise Richardson narrows down her choices.

With Covid restrictions all but a dim memory, it was business as usual for dance across Brisbane in 2023. Queensland Ballet (QB) had another packed season, as did the city’s contemporary dance company Australasian Dance Collective (ADC) with three world premieres. Added into the mix the independent dance scene bubbled away with the launching of a year-long program focused on professional development and capacity-building for independent dance artists, operating out of Studio1 in Brisbane’s Yeerongpilly. And for the first time since 2019, the Australian Ballet performed in Brisbane with a sell-out seven-performance season of Swan Lake at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

Within this broad range of performances however, there was not one that stood out markedly from the rest, but rather a couple that were equally notable, although for different reasons. Salamander, a centrepiece of the Brisbane Festival, was the most successfully realised original offering of the year. Collaboratively conceived by choreographer Maxine Doyle, and stage designer and artist Es Devlin, it was a masterful example of dance-theatre. A warehouse in Brisbane’s Northshore was transformed through light, design, sound and movement into an apocalyptic dream-like world of steaming heat, inhabited by characters in a desperate race against time.

A team of national and international team of artists, including the six ADC dancers, and the extraordinary Australian composer and singer Rachael Dease, brought this hauntingly beautiful, albeit rather dystopian, world to life through movement and song. Although it could have been judiciously pruned in the final moments of its 80 minutes, Salamander was an extraordinary tour de force – by the dancers especially – every one of them remarkable.

QB’s Strictly Gershwin is the other work of note. First performed by the company in 2016, this return season of Derek Deane’s homage to the great musical partnership of brothers George and Ira Gershwin is a grand production in every sense of the word – 60 dancers, 45 musicians (from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra), four guest vocalists and a concert pianist on stage, often together, delivering all the razzle-dazzle of early 20th century Broadway and Hollywood. For sheer enjoyment, it stands above the rest.

With fresh, scintillating orchestrations bringing the familiar melodies to new life, the thematically grouped numbers segue across the dance styles of ballroom, tap, ballet and jazz, building to a show-stopping “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” finale. A significant nod is also given to the modernist ballet of the film, An American in Paris, encapsulating the busyness of its opening moments, as well as a pairing of the classical idiom of tutus and tights to the jazz rhythms of Rhapsody in Blue. Strictly Gershwin delivered musically in spades, while the dancers embraced the various nuances of each style to also guarantee a visually classy show. With Artistic Director Li Cunxin retiring prematurely this year, we’re unlikely to see Strictly Gershwin again in Brisbane.

See Melbourne highlights here.

This is an extract from the complete, Australia-wide survey, published in the Jan/Feb/March print issue of Dance Australia. Buy it before it leaves the shelves! Available from your favourite dance shop or online here or here.

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